6. Madness – Night Boat to Cairo

It’s just gone noon, half past monsoon, on the banks of the River Nile.

Madness entered my musical world with “Hey you, don’t watch that, watch this, this is the heavy heavy monster sound, the nuttiest sound around,” line from One Step Beyond. They were all about fun. If they lived next door, they’d force you to hang out at their place drinking and singing all night.

I loved Baggy Trousers. A song from a London band about schoolkids was spot on. I was a London schoolkid myself. But over time Night Boat to Cairo took over as my favourite Madness song. The song is glorious entertainment. It isn’t telling much of a story, just evoking simple images while playing happy ska. With so much of the song instrumental the sax gets lead billing, but the rest of the band are great players. Mike Barson, the piano player, is particularly impressive. Suggs sings with his usual unique sound.

The video works the same pointless way. They dress up in old-school desert military uniforms complete with pith helmet and dance around the blue screen studio with images of pyramids projecting in the background. Half the song is an instrumental but the guys keep us entertained by horsing around in their sand-filled studio. Someone added in the bouncing-ball lyrics so we can sing along: “It’s just gone noon, half past monsoon…”



Play this song and the house starts jumping. I can’t help but bounce as I type. My kids dance (usually with me) and they love watching the video of the seven young guys having a blast. They look like they can’t believe they can make a living out of their nutty sand dance. Then fifteen years later Madstock played to 75,000 people.

In his autobiography, Suggs says,

“I seem to remember that we got the inspiration from two blokes who regularly used to perform the dance outside the Odeon in Leicester Square. And so the echoes of these funny old routines continue.”

This song captures an era for me, a time when singing and partying was the most important thing to do, before career advancement, the accumulation of wealth, child-rearing and relationships took over. When this song plays the life of quiet desperation stops and you can be a nutty kid again.


Next: 5. The Smiths – This Charming Man

Previous: 7. PJ Harvey – Dress


4 Responses to “6. Madness – Night Boat to Cairo”

  1. 1 Deb Lloyd
    August 19, 2009 at 06:19

    Definitely one of my favourite — if not THEE all time favourite — Madness songs. Good Choice!

  2. August 20, 2009 at 15:25

    I figured all their hits would be more popular, but this one just keeps being great. The lyrics are insane. WHat’s your top 40 Deb? (Or 30, 20, 10, whatever.)

    It is quite an exercise to figure it out and it changes all the time. There are essays I wrote on songs that I later threw out of the top 40 – New Pornographers, Sleater-Kinney, Clouds.

  3. July 7, 2013 at 16:58

    Hi, I would like to subscribe for this website to get most up-to-date updates, thus where can i do it please help.

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