When you ‘do the singles’, as we in the trade like to term the chore, it’s a harrowing task.
You get a selection of around a hundred singles, on a good week 90% of which should be stamped upon like so many rotten grapes, and you spend the week-end slowly screwing-up your brain to their noisy senselessness. Then you go into the office on Monday morning, correct your multifold typing errors (which in any case are usually three to a sentence) and blankly search around the office for late arrivals that might merit, or simply require, immediate reviewing. Yawn.
You’re fed up with the task which once, as a reader, you fancied as being SO appealing and goddamned cool. Yawn, What’s this then. The Cure? I’ve heard of them. I heard The Word about them some time back from some record jockey who was trying to sell me his soul in a sleazy pub. Mmm. I put the single ‘Killing An Arab’, on the endearingly decrepit Sounds record playing machinery. In the wake of Billy Mozart’s ‘Baby, You Are Everything To Me’ on the Ameola Fizz label, the effect that the single had upon my weary and battle scarred brain was astonishing. I felt alive again.
‘Killing An Arab’ is unfair in a way as a record. O.K. The, ah, ‘A’ side (well, the side that gives you the impression of being the ‘A’ side) is nice and fresh and crisp and funny. Quaint. You immediately LOVE it. But it’s the reverse side, entitled rather magnificently ’10.15’, that stops you right in your tracks as you walk lifelessly back from the dust covered record deck.
Music this good and original is always done a grave disservice by being gauchely filtered through the medium of words, words, moreover, that are being hurriedly and excitably hammered out by an over impetuous, over rushed CHILD of a writer, but I’ll have to make the effort (as usual).
’10.15’ hits upon the value of sparseness in rock and roll like no other record has in, oh, as far as I can think back. There’s scarcely any playing on the song at all! Everything is left to your imagination and your only clues along the wispish way of "sitting in the kitchen sing... thinking of yesterday..." are, yes, the bored effortlessly tired vocals, as I called them in the rapidly rapped out review that followed, and the background colours, the splashes and slashes of hues. The music.
"...the tap goes drip, drip, drip, drip, drip..." on a Monday morning. I suppose I was even whistling a pleasant air as I dive-bombed for my trusty phone-book that was to lead me on the trail of this band, this medicine, this, ahem, Cure. Go.
Who are they, what are they, what do they look like, am I going to be disappointed? The inner questioning. It’s SO long since I’ve had a band to believe in musically in the way I can believe in The Clash and The Fall, band’s whose music stands heads, eyes and ears above the scrambling mass of silly nowhere combos. Will they be old men? Is it all a con trick? Are they really Genesis or Whatever you call them slyly playing down to their audience? Small Wonder put me quickly in contact with Chris Parry, the band’s person in charge. We arrange to meet in The National History Museum South Kensington. The band’s idea. Can this be a clue to their nature and character? I don’t know.
I merely skid along the tube line to the stately rendez-vous where Chris Parry is waiting for me in the security infested foyer. "Can I look in your bag, sir?" Then: "Oh, you must be Dave". The band are round the corner in the car. Bands are ALWAYS around the corner in cars.
The Cure are Robert Smith, Mick Dempsey and Lawrence Tolhurst. Yeah. A three piece. That much I knew from the sleeve of the single, but, you know, god, they look so young it’s not true! They emerge from the trendy car and race along the street to a pub near the museum nearly killing themselves (and me) in the process. They’re like little school kids running across the road, weaving in and out of cars, lead singer and guitarist Robert resplendent in baggy, singularly silly and unhip pants. He’s skinny and alarmingly handsome, his neat blow-wave enhancing the overall effect of ‘the good looking one in the group’ I suppose. Well, that’s what my big sister used to call that type.
We talk in the pub while the ironing-board chested bar-maid gets our orders confused and grows to hate me like everybody else does I know. Robert is 19 and like the other two guys comes from Crawley in deepest Sussex. He’s polite and affable. A likeable lad. He and bassist Mick Dempsey are 19 while drummer Lawrence is a year older.
They look younger I guess in the way that most grammar school kids from fairly safe family backgrounds look younger. Unexposed and clean. This isn’t a put down. It can’t be elsewise I’d be criticizing MYSELF too closely for comfort.
The Cure have a strange and rather long winded history, but I think it’s important to understand a little of it in the sense that the band that I witnessed later that same day in W. Hampstead’s Moonlight Club convinced me that they have the essentials to be, in short if terribly hackneyed terms, one of the most successful and worthwhile bands to surface in the coming year. I kid you not.
Shall I tell you about the live performance first? Yes. I think it’s best. The band wandered around the Moonlight looking apologetic while I nursed my throbbing head.
Parry had bought new equipment and they were unsure of it. Obviously nervous. The club was as usual these days (I hear) packed with the sort of pathetic tinsel hearted posers that make my stomach turn. "Oh, dearie, you’ve just GOT to meet..." No thanks.
Gio Dadomo stalks around. The word is about. The Cure are on the rise and it’s all hands on deck as H.M.S. Hipness starts to cruise from her dock-yard moorings. They stride onstage looking 50% non-descript in a sort of Buzzcocks way, all sweaters and tight narrow trousers.
They kick into ‘It’s Not You’ and I’m surprised. Again. The sound is not at all the new-musical squeal that maybe I’d subconsciously expected. Very poppy, but still kept low-key and clipped to the bare essentials. They follow with ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ and again your attention is held tight to what’s going on up on stage.
Short sharp 2 ½ minute monsters that seep into your head half way through and stay there while you rush to the downstairs loo for an urgent pee. Like the early and late lamented Buzzcocks. Nothing is spared, the whole set is minimal glory and when they do lay both sides of the Single your heart really lifts to them.
‘Killing An Arab’ makes sense live, fiercer and harder than on record. It’s amazing how this trio kick out that much controlled energy live. The framework, the bass, the drums, guitar base is simply immaculate. Robert’s lead is killing, but it’s that bass sound that steals the evening’s honor’s , Mick using it like a lead instrument and pushing the whole sound along quite superbly.
‘Fire In Cairo’ follows, intriguing and with a lovely hidden niche of chorus line, while their disco tune, ‘Do The Dansa’, glowed with the promise of a staggering hit single, believe it or not. The end, and even the poseurs have recognized the ban’s excellence and they gape, stupefied over their gin and tonic intensely.
People APPLAUD as well. In Hampstead that means REAL approval.
"We formed in 1976. Well, me and Mick used to play with a few friends, six or seven kids were involved I suppose. We used to hire a church hall. We were still at school..."
As I said, it’s a difficult history. The ban started off as a three piece, Mick and Robert being the establishing members, and shifted through various line-up changes and being forced to move in various musical directions, the sum total of which I’m sure is what has provided the three piece with their sheer proficiency. Direction through indirection or something like that I suppose. Robert does nearly all the talking, the other two leaving it quite calmly in his hands to present the band’s case.
Again, smart organization and again an inkling of the qualities that shall pave The Cure a fruitful future I suspect.
"We did old Bowie stuff then and the usual new wave sort of thing. Suddenly we started rehearsing properly and we got this guitarist who was going out with my sister".
The new lead player Paul, led them into a "straight new wave" period, while they got a couple of lead vocalists, Robert then finding it hard to handle the duel task of singing and thrashing out rhythm guitar wails. The first gig was at their school, St. Woolfords, and ...", we didn’t go out much after it. They hated us."
At the end of ’77 they, lo and behold, got a deal with Hansa, the MOR/disco label. A fairly bizarre occurrence I’d guess, but one that has also obviously added to their wealth of experience. Sort of like, y’know, the ideal training for a good rock and roll band.
"We replied to this ad and got signed up as a result. We were a bit naive, a bit green. They just wanted us for what we looked like, not for our music, they didn’t even listen to the demo tape we gave them. They just liked the photograph of ourselves that we sent with it!"
At this time they had ‘Killing An Arab’, but Hansa refused to put it out: "They said even if it was a good song (sic) they couldn’t put it our cos we had to keep in with the Arabs... it was so ridiculous".
And so The Break came. They realized the lead player had to go, so while he was upstairs one evening, eating scones with Robert’s sister, the three ran down to the latter’s greenhouse, where amid tumbling tomatoes and shivering cucumbers The Cure of today was conceived.
A demo tape was done, consisting of ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, ‘It’s Not You’, and ‘Fire In Cairo’. They sent it to all the usual big companies but, of course they didn’t want to know, but there had to be one glimmer of hope through the gloom and that’s where Chris Parry enters the scene.
Parry at that time was working for Polydor but was nursing the ideas of starting his own label. The Cure’s tape impressed him and the start of his label Friction are reaching the first stages of fruition. The fact that ‘Killing An Arab’ has come out on Small Wonder is the result of a one-off deal Parry negotiated with them.
"The single’s a taster of what’s to come. Small Wonder had initial orders of 2,000 so there was a flood of interest, people phoning up and things".
Since then Peel has phoned and quickly repeated an excellent Cure session and things are moving rapidly.
Flash back to the gig on that day and the impression of Chris sitting at the mixing desk throughout the set, meticulously charting the best sound for the band. No expense will be spared for The Cure, no effort neglected. So how would HE describe his band’s sound?
"Very musical. Almost rootless, which makes it very contemporary."
The description is accurate and sincere. But the set started that evening amid the hustle and bustle of getting the gig together. Parry turned to me and through even MY disliking band managers and producer men with the flat statement "It’s all great fun, but isn’t it?".
I had to agree. They brought back the spark of rock and roll to me. Yes Energy. Character. Even potential and hope.