Dressed in tuxedos and long, elegant dresses, the chief executives, company directors and wives that made up most of the Henley audience transformed into a pack of completely different animals when Madness took to the stage.
Usually so calm and collected, they suddenly started flinging their arms in various directions, shaking their heads and desperately shuffling their feet as Baggy Trousers was played. Even the people in the grandstand were compelled to stand up and bounce along with one of Britain’s best-loved ska bands.
Mind you, it had taken a while for this crowd to warm up. After all those years during which artistic director Stewart Collins tried to persuade Madness to perform at the festival, and after Suggs’ gate-crashing of Sting’s performance last year, the first half of this set was a bit of an anti-climax.
They opened brightly with One Step Beyond, but the performance thereafter seemed to lack the usual energy of these national treasures. That didn’t stop fans dressed in bowler hats and sunglasses from playing their inflatable saxophones.
The crowd began to get involved in My Girl and Wings Of A Dove and some of the ridiculous dancing only Madness could get away with was still evident in a taster of what was to come.
Suggs, who also covered Frank Sinatra’s theme song from the film New York, New York was very talkative with his audience, speaking after most songs and commenting that they were “very well-travelled people”.
Madness’ music may not have travelled quite as far as some of the audience but their appeal is that they are quintessentially British.
The band, which began life in Camden in 1978, has been a constant presence and as Suggs and Co launched consecutively into House Of Fun, Baggy Trousers and Our House we were reminded that there is nothing else quite like this band.
At this point they were proving that age has not left any scars and their enthusiasm still burns fiercely.
Barely anyone remained seated in the grandstand and amongst standing members of the crowd, toes became severely under threat as men and women stomped around on the lawn to the funky beat of the saxophone.
Every word was echoed around the riverside area before bouncing bodies took a breather during an excellent rendition of It Must Be Love. Arms that had been flung around aimlessly were now hoisted in the air in salute at a great performance, at least in the second half.
By the end of the night, including a three-song encore, Suggs was wiping his sweat-drenched face with a towel. They finally exited the stage with Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life blasting out of the speakers. As the crowd of thousands sang in unison it showed that not only is the raw energy and fun of Madness still alive but they are still fuelling others along the way.