With their two previously announced dates all but sold out, Madness have announced the addition of a third date - Thursday June 26th - to their Hackney Empire run, where they will be showcasing their 8th studio album and first original record in almost a decade; The Liberty of Norton Folgate.
A tribute to an area of London that became a byword for creativity and cultural diversity, you can walk across the Liberty of Norton Folgate in a few minutes. Underfoot, down into the soil, is old London. The past is very close in Norton Folgate. Always has been. Shakespeare probably lived there, and his fellow playwrights Ben Johnson and Christopher Marlowe certainly did. Them and a whole world of humanity stretching back as far as records go, and beyond, squeezed into a tiny patch of a giant city.
For centuries, Norton Folgate, just north of the City, was a Liberty – free from the rules that governed most of London. Here lived actors, musicians, artists, writers, thinkers, louts, low-lifes and libertines – outsiders and troublemakers all. Now, in danger of vanishing beneath corporate steel, glass and concrete, the area’s last old Victorian power station, an important historic survival saved from dereliction is threatened with demolition. The Light stands in the way of a planned 50-storey skyscraper, part of a 650,000sq ft development of offices and shops. A petition to save it has been signed by more than 5,000 people. Across the road, even more high-rise office buildings are planned. Another is just being completed.
But now, ancient Norton Folgate is coming alive. An accidental discovery of documents in an archive earlier this year led to the realisation that the old independence of Norton Folgate, which gave Madness the inspiration to celebrate it in song, might just survive. Campaigners fighting the spread of skyscrapers at Norton Folgate are now investigating its legal status and history, and hope soon to reconvene the Liberty’s ancient government to repel the skyscraper threat. But the battle for Norton Folgate isn’t only against one development plan; it is for the protection of the best of familiar old London – shabby perhaps, but soulful – and against the corporate blanding of Britain’s cities and towns.
Above all, Norton Folgate is a state of mind as much as a place, a celebration of difference, of variety, of the human spirit – a slice of urban magic. Madness wrote the songs on their new album long before they found out about the anti-skyscraper battle there – and campaigners didn’t know the band had named their new release after the area. Coincidence? Magic? "A little bit of this, a little bit of that”….