Mad, Bad and Dangerous: Dan ‘Woody’ Woodgate

Dan ‘Woody’ Woodgate remembers concentration problems with Madness while under the influence

Words: Spike Webb   Image: Andy Aitchison

United Kingdom - London - Madness launch their new albulm at Hackney EmpireDan ‘Woody’ Woodgate was brought up in London’s Camden Town. His dad was a photographer to the stars, taking pictures of people like Peter Cooke, Albert Finney, John Hurt and Joanna Lumley. His brother Nick took up the guitar and Woody joined in by playing along with him on anything he could find like cushions, sofas or the piano stool.

Soon Woody and his mates were jamming at parties in and around Camden. Then bass player Mark Bedford introduced him to a recently formed ska-pop group called Madness. Quite a timely introduction, as shortly after joining the band they became an overnight sensation. The band’s unique visual presentation of their songs became part of their trademark and is as fun and stimulating today as it was 30 years ago.

I met with Woody just as he’d come off a British tour. We met a few days before Christmas, near Covent Garden. He told me about a worrying on-stage experience while under the influence.

“We’re about to go on stage supporting the Dead Kennedys at a club in San Francisco. Someone passes me a tiny, single skin roll-up containing a bit of blow. I’m thinking ‘Well it’s only a tiny little rolly – surely one drag won’t hurt? Yeah, what the hell…’

Next thing I know I’m sitting behind what I assume is my drum kit wondering where the hell I am. Somehow I’ve got to play an entire Madness set in front of a couple of thousand people.

I really don’t know how, but my autopilot kicks in and I find myself playing the drums reasonably well. My mind wanders a bit and I’m having to concentrate on keeping myself in check; it’s not easy but it looks as though I’m going to wing it, but at one point it gets really scary. We’re into ‘My Girl’ and my mind wanders a bit too far. Suddenly I wake up from my reverie to discover I’ve no idea how far we are into the song.

We seem to have been playing this song for ages, so I begin to go into what I think should be the ending. I start crashing the cymbals, one after the other, which is what happens towards the final stop. However, at the very last moment, something stops me from stopping. I’ve no idea how, but somewhere deep at the back of my mind, a rational voice quietly informs me that we have only just come out of the piano solo that’s featured in the middle of the song. I pull myself together and go back into the song. Ever since then I’ve never smoked anything before playing the drums, it’s just not worth all the problems it can cause. In fact, I don’t bother with drugs or alcohol at all these days.”

Not much choice for Woody but to carry on really. His muscle memory must have been working overtime that night – all that cymbal crashing after the piano solo would have sounded totally wrong. Lucky he realised just in time: imagine if he had stopped altogether.

About Spike Webb…

Drummer and author Spike Webb spent three years tracking down over 40 drummers including legends like Nick Mason (Pink Floyd) and Topper Headon (The Clash). He met them in cafes and bars to collect a mass of stories and create the ultimate drummers’ anthology. Since the publication of Mad, Bad and Dangerous, Spike has continued on his adventures and interviewed some of the drummers live on film, meeting even more legends like Kenney Jones, Mel Gaynor and Derrick McKenzie. With so many world class drummers coming on board, Mad, Bad and Dangerous is fast becoming the official voice of the boys at the back. Well, someone had to do it and about time, too…

Mad, Bad and Dangerous is available on order from Drummer, in bookstores and online at Amazon both as a paperback and Kindle e-book.

MBD is in association with Gridlock media and Jerome Marcus Consultancy.

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