Madam released their first album In Case of Emergency in 2008 on Reveal Records; home of innovative artists such as Joan as Policewoman. The record received widespread critical acclaim from press including the Guardian and NME. The London-based five piece followed this with an EP: Fall on Your Knees in 2009, before going it alone on singer Sukie Smith’s own label Shilling Boy Records to launch their second album Gone Before Morning in 2010.
All of Madam’s songs are written and produced by Smith. A woman of many talents, she also works as an actress, which may explain the cinematic quality of her music. This Christmas, Madam have released a reinvention of The Coventry Carol to raise money for Shoreditch Church; Running in Heels caught up with Sukie Smith to find out more.
What inspired you to record Thou Tiny Child?
I have always loved this song; it has a mysterious and melancholy atmosphere to it, whoever sings it. When we were on tour in Italy, we stayed in an extraordinary building. Down in the basement we discovered a disused church with vaulted ceilings, fading frescoes on the walls, a room full of abandoned religious statues and dozens of crosses stacked up in a corner. We were wandering around down there, looking at the crumbling altar and faded concert programme; the space was lit was a plugged-in floodlight. I just started to sing the tune of The Coventry Carol – the acoustics in the church were amazing – and my voice sounded lovely and spooky. Someone suggested a Christmas single, so that’s how the idea was born!
How did you add some Madam personality to the carol?
Whenever I take a song to the studio, I really have strong ideas about the sound of the track, which are all based on the atmosphere I want to make. This song is about a period in history when someone close to Herod predicts that his reign will be overthrown, and Herod orders the slaughter of young baby boys in his domain. Our news at the moment is full of wars, as well as the revelations about the abuse of care in children’s homes and I just wanted to record a song calling for the protection of the innocence of children to be safeguarded.
Sonically, I wanted it to sound delicate and beautiful but to have an undertone of menace and a sense of space; some kind of feeling of loneliness or abandonment. There are little chimes in the track at the end that remind me of children’s toys for example. In the verse talking about Herod, the cellist makes some really magnificent swells to underpin the terrible things he ordered. I think the Madam sound is always illustrative that way, whether that’s obvious or not.
Why did you decide to donate proceeds to Shoreditch Church?
We had played a show in there a few months before, and I was astounded at how little sound you need to activate the swirling and beautiful reverb of the place. It has been built specifically to amplify certain frequencies, like the voice, stringed instruments and harps. Handel used to rehearse his music there.
I asked the vicar if it would be possible to record my vocals in there, thinking back to the Italian monastery where we had first thought of the idea. He agreed and as gesture of good will, I offered proceeds from the sale of the track to him to say thank you. The church is mentioned in the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons (The Bells of Shoreditch) and the actor for whom Shakespeare wrote Hamlet and Richard III is buried there too. Amazing.
Madam’s haunting take on Thou Tiny Child is available to download here. To find out more about the band, see Madam’s website. You can also like them on Facebook, or follow Madam on Twitter @madammadammadam.
Madam’s recording of Thou Tiny Child