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8/1/1993  Record Collector
A History of The Cure (Part 2)

Last month, we looked at the Cure's formative years, charting their bumpy ride from obscurity in their native Crawley, Sussex, to full-blown chart success and their first, disastrous appearance on 'Top Of The Pops'. Our cut-off point was the September 1980 rehearsals for the group's third album, "Faith", which took place without keyboardist Matthieu Hartley, who'd left a month earlier after a fraught tour of Australia. In the early 80s, life within the Cure was never a bed of roses, but with "Faith", Robert Smith, Lol Tolhurst, and Simon Gallup pulled together to work as a cohesive unit- though this wouldn't last for long. On the following pages, we continue the band's story with the help of Lol Tolhurst, the Cure's long-time drummer and keyboardist, ousted by Robert in 1989.

"Faith" (April 1981) The Holy Hour; Primary; Other Voices; All Cats Are Grey; The Funeral Party; Doubt; The Drowning Man; Faith

Having arranged several new songs, including "Primary" and "All Cats Are Grey", the Cure entered Morgan Studios in late September 1980 to start demoing "Faith". It was clear from the start that there would be difficulties, and after just two days the sessions were abandoned. Robert was concerned that, on tape, the songs had lost thir resonant, "funereal" feel; but there wasn't much time to dwell on the matter, and with live commitments at home and abroad to honour, worries about the album were put aside for the rest of the year.

In early February 1981, the sessions resumed, though once again the band and producer Mike Hedges met with little success. As they traipsed from studio to studio in a vain search for the right atmosphere, a feeling of desperation began to set in. Robert explained later: "I was OK on my own with the words and music but, when I was with the others, it was wrong. It was too happy." Increasingly uninspired, the band resorted to drugs to boost their creativity, and matters went from bad to worse. Robert became very intense, and relations between him and Mike Hedges deteriorated rapidly.

The month wore on and the studio bills mounted, but still the band couldn't finish the album. Eventually, Fiction Records boss Chris Parry decided to visit the studio, and on his arrival, he was horrified by what he saw. By that time, Robert had given up singing altogether, and recording had virtually ground to a halt. Realising that a fresh approach was needed, he stepped in to smooth out things between Robert and Mike Hedges, and, after a lot of coaxing, and more wasted studio time, work gradually started again. Within a week or so, the album was completed.

The first tracks from the "Faith" sessions to reach the public's ears were "Primary" and "Descent", which were coupled on a single issued in late March. Lifted from the LP itself, "Primary" kicked off with an urgent, heavily-flanged bass-line, backed with a driving, measured drum beat. Robert's dry, yearning vocals rang out like a cry for help from deep within the mix; but despite its disturbing sense of imbalance, the song maintained a quietly poppy edge.

"Primary" was a modest success, reaching No. 43, but it gravely misled critics as to what "Faith", released a month later, had to offer. While the single was upbeat in tempo, if not in mood, the rest of album- bar the excellent "Doubt"- was a dour, deadbeat affair, built on slow, repetitive bass-lines and faint, atmospheric guitar motifs. This caused several reviewers considerable consternation, but many fans recognised that, far from being a noble failure, "Faith"- the first Cure LP to have a sleeve designed by ex-member Porl Thompson- was an understated masterpiece, with an authentic, calming mournfulness. The title-track, written partly about Robert's painful attempt to turn his back on Catholicism, had a semi-religious tenor that was genuinely touching.

"Around the time of 'Faith', there were a couple of things that happened to me and Robert that were quite upsetting," explains Laurence dolefully. "My mother was ill, and Robert's grandmother- who he was pretty close to- died. Both myself and Robert went to a Catholic school, and were very heavily immersed in religinon up until our teens. Organised religion tells you one thing, then as life unfolds you realise that there's an individual interpratation you can put on events. So there were a lot of personal things that went into that album."

In May 1981, the band set out on a U.K. tour to promote the LP. Instead of opening with a support group, the shows began with the screening of 'Carnage Visors', an animated film made by Ric Gallup, Simon's brother. Shot in Ric's garage, the short was put together in just three days, the original version- which had taken two months to make- having been binned when it came back from the developers under-exposed. Although none of them had actually seen the finished cut, the band recorded a soundtrack at Point Studios. Luckily, it gelled well with the film, though the project ultimately proved too avant-garde for most fans. In fact, 'Carnage Visors'- the opposite of "rose-tinted spectacles"- provided the band with a valuable barometer of how volatile the audiences were each night. "If there was a lot of catcalls and throwing of things at the stage, it would wind us up and we'd go out and be really aggressive," Robert later recalled. The soundtrack- scored well before "Faith" was released- was included as a bonus on the cassette.

All in all, the 'Picture Tour' was an extremely unhappy time. The album sessions had already jaded the group, and the intensity of performing the songs live left Robert an emotional wreck. Not even a raucous 20-minute performance at Dublin College's May Ball could lift the shroud of despondency that had descended on the band, but they ploughed on regardless, bewildering each audience with their acute, relentless solemnity. Robert's introspective search for faith and purpose was taking its toll on everyone, yet there was no escape from this inexorable spiral into decline. During the European leg of the tour that followed in June, the Cure were struck a further blow: Laurence's mother died. Stunned, the band returned to England for the funeral, but immediately resumed the foreign leg of the tour on the drummer's instistence. By the time the ailing 'Picture Tour' had moved on to America and, later, Australia and Canada, the group were physically and emotionally drained. The Cure's self-destruction was just around the corner.

"Pornography" (April 1981)One Hundred Years; A Short Term Effect; The Hanging Garden; Siamese Twins; The Figurehead; A Strange Day; Cold; Pornography

When the band returned to England in September, Robert began work on a new album. Borrowing Lol's drum kit, he recorded several dense, complex drum patterns, around which he wrote the music for "The Figurehead" and "Cold". Fully rested and with a fresh sense of purpose, the band embark on a French tour, but their spirits were sorely tested when audiences responded adversely to the "Faith" material. Frequently, friction was resolved by the band jumping into the crowd and 'sorting out' troublesome punters, and it wasn't long before the Cure were back on the edge of a collective nervous breakdown. Matters were compounded in mid-October when their fifth single, "Charlotte Sometimes", failed to reach the U.K. Top 30, despite Polydor's assurances that it would be a massive hit. A doomy, drawn-out pop song, driven by a sombre, chiming keyboard arrangement, it remains one of the band's best 45s, and established the tone for most of their subsequent material. But evidently the public had yet to be convinced of the Cure's talents.

As November 1981 drew to a close, the band set off on a U.K. tour, with And Also The Trees and 1313- Steve Severin and Lydia Lunch- as support. The dates went reasonably well, and Robert followed them up by retuning to the studio to demo new material. During the tour, he'd grown very close to Steve Severin, and just before Christmas, he stayed with the Banshee in London. Simon Gallup, who regarded himself as Robert's best friend and confidant, grew jealous, and when the band began recording "Pornography" in January 1982, the atmosphere between the two men was tense.

The producer chosen for the album was a young RAK engineer called Phil Thornalley, Mike Hedges having been passed over because of his handling of the "Faith" sessions. To begin with, both parties were optimistic, but it soon became apparent that Phil and Robert didn't get on. Robert became annoyed that the producer didn't like his guitar sound and, worse still, that he wouldn't tolerate his lack of punctuality. Finally, after matters had reached a head, the pair ironed out their problems and got down to work. But the trouble didn't stop there. With Robert throwing himself into the sessions, inspired to create by his hedonistic bingeing with Severin and the success of the initial demos, Laurence and Simon- whose artistic vision was always less focused- became increasingly marginalised. Once their rhythm parts had been recorded, they usually hid away in the corner of the studio and drank heavily, and Robert felt that they weren't taking as much interest in the music as they should. Laurence recalls: "Actually, I felt pretty serious myself. I think at the time, which was just before Simon left, there was a little bit of antagonism between Simon and Robert. But that's not always a bad thing, because it helped make a good record. Some of the best records are not made under the best circumstances."

As the album was slowly pieced together, tensions within the group rose. To save on hotel bills, they were staying at Fiction's London headquarters, and Robert- who'd constructed a "nest" behind a sette- grew increasingly irritated by Laurence, Simon and roadie Gary Biddles' continual drunken antics. In fact, so much alcohol was being consumed that a 'can mountain' big enough to get inside had grown at one end of the studio. "After 'Faith' everything had gone a bit manic anyway, and it was a pretty intense time," says Laurence. "We did a lot of recording at night. There wan't much daylight, and I think that contributed to the atmosphere. And there was a lot of drinking going on- the can mountain was true, I've got a photograph of it at home."

When "Pornography" appeared in May, it was greeted with a mixture of praise and utter confusion. Parry later described the album as a "mess"- a viewpoint shared by many critics struggling to come to terms with its mish-mash of clattering drums, scraping guitars and desperate caterwauling. Robert's psyche had been turned inside out for everyone to see, and it was a profoundly unsettling sight. Each song read like a confessional: "Siamese Twins" and "Pornography" pin-pointed his frantic attempts to reconcile the Jekyll and Hyde aspects of his moral character, for instance, while "The Hanging Garden" (chosen as a single) and "One Hundred Years" evoked an internal landscape of complete and utter desolation. But sadly, the album's underlying greatness was generally overlooked. "A lot of the myth that surrounds 'Pornography' came afterwards, when people had listened to it for a few years," Laurence comments. "I don't think at the time it was regarded as a milestone. For me, it's the LP which actually has the most feeling about what the Cure were. I think it was the best thing we did."

In April 1982, the group toured the U.K. with Zerra 1, before playing a European tour. "It must be said that not many people turned up," Lol remembers. "I recall large halls with about 50 to 100 people in them, and that didn't help matters." By this time, Robert and Simon were hardly speaking to one another, and their bottled-up feelings eventually erupted in a Strasbourg nightclub. Different versions of events exist, but what isn't disputed is that the pair had an ugly fist-fight, after which Robert went back to the hotel, packed his bags, and flew home. The others followed. After a few days' cooling off in Blighty, the tour resumed, but on its conclusion the band knew it was all over. Temporarily at least, the Cure were no more.

Going Solo, Pop Parodies And The Glove

On their return to Britain, the group went their separate ways, with Lol flying to Europe for a month's holiday, Simon setting up home at Fiction's offices, and Robert going on a camping trip to Wales with his girlfriend, Mary. Convinced that the band in its current form was finished, Robert decided to go it alone, and once back in London, he recorded a solo version of "Lament" for a flexidisc to be given away with 'Flexipop' magazine. "I was surprised I was writing again, but pleased," he later recalled.

Meanwhile, Lol had started piano lessons, having concluded that his drumming technique was relatively limited and unlikely to improve, and that rythm boxes and sequencers were the future of music. "I went to see a little old lady in Maida Vale, who looked like Miss Haversham. She was three-and-a-half feet high. She had two baby grands in her basement flat, and she'd slap me on the back of my hands if I got anything wrong."

Worried that the Cure were washed up for good, and that Robert had lost his sense of purpose, Chris Parry approached the singer with a proposition. He suggested that he and Lol should return to the studio without Simon- who was now unofficially sacked- and make a 'pure' pop record that would destroy the 'doom and gloom' myth that surrounded the group. Robert was intrigued, and embarked on a mission to write the most tacky song he could. Eventually, he came up with "Let's Go To Bed", which was structured around a cheery keyboard motif, and an off-beat drum pattern. With session-player Steve Goulding on drums, Lol on synthesizers and Robert on vocals, they recorded the track at Island's in-house studio, only for Robert to decide that it just wasn't bad enough. Parry remixed it, making it even more inane and, going against Lol and Robert's wishes, released the single in November 1982. "Chris had a bet with us to see how far we'd get with a simple pop song," Lol remembers. But Parry lost- "Let's Go To Bed" stalled at No. 44, though it was a surprise hit in California.

Around this time, Steve Severin contacted Robert, asking him if he wanted to stand in again as the Banshees' semi-permanent guitarist. Robert, who had attended the "A Kiss In The Dreamhouse" album sessions, was familiar with most of their material and agreed to join, believing it would distance him from the "Let's Go To Bed" debacle. Chris Parry was furious, but Robert pressed ahead, touring the U.K., Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan with the band between December 1982 and February 1983.

When he got back to Britain, Robert arranged for a local Crawley outfit, Animation, to issue a single on Dance Fools Dance, the label that he'd started three years earlier with Ric Gallup. It failed to make any impact; as did the eponymous album Lol later produced for And Also The Trees, and on which he played keyboards. "I wasn't worried at this point," Laurence recalls, "as I always had the feeling that the Cure would do more stuff together." Later, Lol also worked on records by Baroque Bouquet and Bonaparte.

In the early spring of 1983, the Cure reformed to play a spot on BBC 2's 'Riverside' arts programme. With Severin on bass and the Venomettes on strings, the band waded through a version of "Siamese Twins", while two dancers swept majestically around them. But despite a positive response from fans, Robert didn't feel inspired enough to revive the group premanently. In fact, during March and April he stayed in London with Steve Severin, hatching out the master plan for the Glove, a psychedelic, dance-oriented project featurning ex-Zoo dancer, Jeanette Landry, on vocals. during the album sessions, Steve and Robert gorged themselves on an unhealthy diet of pulp videos, junk magazines and various chemical stimulants, in an effort to overload their senses. The results of this outre experiment, the impressive "Blue Sunshine" LP and frenetic "Like An Animal" single, appeared in August, while a second 45, "Punish Me With Kisses", surfaced in the autumn.

"Japanese Whispers" (December 1983)Let's Go To Bed; The Dream; Just One Kiss; The Upstairs Room; The Walk; Speak My Language; Lament; The Lovecats

In April 1983, the Cure agreed to perform on BBC 2's "The Oxford Road Show". For the occasion, Robert recruited ex-Brilliant drummer Andy Anderson and SPK's bassist Derek Thompson, and the group performed "One Hundred Years" and "The Figurehead". It was obvious that Robert enjoyed the experience of playing these "Pornography" songs live again, and by May, he was itching to get back in the studio and start work on a 'proper' Cure record. Drafting in producer Steve Nye, who'd previously worked with Japan, the pair recorded "The Walk" at Jam Studios, and filmed a promo video with director Tim Pope. Issued in July with another Porl Thompson sleeve (his company, Parched Art, had refused to design a cover for "Let's Go To Bed"!), this 45 sounded like a head-on collision between the exaggerated 80s pop sound of "Let's Go To Bed" and the tumbling drums and morbid feel of "The Hanging Garden". An indication of its potential popularity struck Robert when his mum expressed a liking for it and, sure enough, "The Walk" sailed into the chart peaking at No. 12 Chris Parry, doing a bit of sailing himself- around Jersey- was ecstatic on hearing this news, feeling that his faith in the band finally had paid off.

The band themselves viewed their sudden chart success warily. "While we weren't having U.K. hits, we were still gaining support in France and America, and we thought we had a pretty solid following," says Lol. "From day one, we'd toured abroad. Other bands would wait till they had one big international hit, and then tour other countries. So there wasn't the pressure on us to have a U.K. hit. It was more of a cerebral challenge." The band performed "The Walk" twice on 'Top Of The Pops', with Porl Thompson miming the bass on the first occasion and Phil Thornalley standing in on the second. This latter line-up- featuring Robert on vocals, Lol on keyboards, Andy Anderson on drums and Phil on bass- remained stable, and the band were, in effect, back together as a full-time concern.

After headlining the Elephant Fayre festival in Cornwall, the Cure set off on a short tour of America, before flying to Paris to record their next single, "The Lovecats". "That was a lot of fun," Lol remembers. "The studio in Paris was an old record company studio, like Abbey Road, with instruments lying around. All the instruments on that session were acoustic, the opposite to what we'd done with 'The Walk'."

The single which was inspired by the film 'The Aristocats', was an instantly likeable piece of kitsch swing, and on its release in October, it shot into the Top 10. But despite this success, and the interest generated by the appearance in the U.K. of "Boys Don't Cry", a U.S. compilation of "Three Imaginary Boys"-era material, Robert continued working with the Banshees, touring Italy and Israel, and recording tracks for their "Hyaena" LP. When the Banshees' cover of the Beatles' "Dear Prudence" became their biggest UK hit so far, and "Nocturne", their live double album, met with critical acclaim, the pressure on Robert to leave the Cure grew; but for the time being, he seemed happy in his dual role.

In December 1983, the A- and B-sides of "Let's Go To Bed", "The Walk" and "The Lovecats" were collected together on a mini-LP, "Japanes Whispers". "Originally, the album was compiled to feed the different markets which didn't have the different singles," Lol explains. "But the record company got greedy." For years, the Cure had enjoyed cult success and a devoted following. Now they were suddenly a bona fide pop group.

"The Top" (May 1984)Shake Dog Shake; Birdmad Girl; Wailing Wall; Give Me It; Dressing Up; The Caterpillar; Piggy In The Mirror; The Empty World; Bananafishbones; The Top

In early 1984, the Cure started work on their sixth album, "The Top", with Robert taking time out during the sessions to finish the Banshees' "Hyaena" LP, and also to contribute backing vocals to Tim Pope's own stab at pop success the "I Want To Be A Tree" 45. "Hyaena" was proving a hard album to make, and Robert began to feel that life with the Banshees was no longer the invigorating busman's holiday that it once had been. "I suddenly wondered what the fuck I was doing there," he confessed later. "No-one knew what the fuck was going on." Lol recalls: "At first it was easy for Robert with the Banshees. Although he was writing some stuff, he mostly just turned up and played guitar. It was different with the Cure because he was frontman, singer and guitarist."

While recording "The Top" at Genetic- Martin Rushent's studio near Reading- the band lodged at a nearby pub. A few weeks earlier, Phil Thornalley had departed to sunnier climes to produce Duran Duran's latest LP, so Robert played all the bass-lines on the album, helped out by engineer Howard Grey. During the sessions, the musical talents of an old friend were called upon: "Porl Thompson came down and played saxophone for a bit of fun," remembers Lol; and before long, Porl found himself back in the band on a full-time basis. It had been nearly six years since he'd been ousted from Easy Cure for his unwanted guitar heroics.

In March, Robert played several foreign dates with the Banshees, before returning home to appear with the Cure on 'The Oxford Road Show', this time with Norman Fisher from the Umbrella handling the bass duties. In April, "The Caterpillar" was issued, a loveable and catchy number with the same acoustic feel as "The Lovecats", but built around the sound of pattering percussion. When "The Top" LP surfaced a month later, critics were again perplexed, unsure whether Robert was creating a new sub-genre of pop, or merely losing his way in a maze of musical ideas. Nonetheless, most people admitted that "The Top" was, for the Cure, a very accessible record, with a coherence that became more wailing of "Piggy In The Mirror" and the violent "Give Me It" stood out as possible future crowd-pleasers, but the highlight of the album was undoubtedly "Shake Dog Shake", a slow, surging metallic masterpiece that the band often used as their show-opener.

In contrast, the Banshees' "Hyaena" was a dull, uninspired LP, and its artistic failure made up Robert's mind as to which direction he was going to take. During the European tour to promote "The Top", which featured Phil Thornalley on bass, Robert- now suffering from nervous exhaustion- phoned Steve Severin from Hamburg to say that he wouldn't be able to play on the forthcoming "Hyaena" tour. Severin understood, but Siouxsie was bitter and, in the end, only a sick from Robert's doctor convinced her that he had a valid reason for not honouring his Banshees commitments. Relieved, Robert spent the summer buying a flat in London while the rest of the group generally relaxed, and after the release of a live album, "Concert" (the cassette version of which also featured a compilation of early rarities), the group embarked on a tour of New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Canada and America. Sadly, Andy Anderson was drinking too much, and after a show in Tokyo he went completely beserk and smashed up the hotel as well as a few of the Cure entourage. "He got a little bit ill," Lol explains diplomatically, "and had to go home. So we didn't have a drummer at all."

For the American dates, the band drafted Vince Ely, a friend of Phil's who'd played in the Psychedelic Furs, but he left after a few dates to be replaced by Boris Williams, formerly of the Thompson Twins. Boris fitted in well, having already learnt much of the set in the few days before his first gig, and on their return to Britain, he was asked to join permanently. His only hesitation was the money- which was considerably less than he was getting with The Thompson Twins. "But we kept saying, 'Boris, Boris, think or your art,' and he eventually agreed," Robert claimed later.

But with Boris's promotion to the rank of full-time member came Phil Thornalley's departure. "The thing with Phil was that he had solo things that he wanted to do," explains Lol. "A couple of months later when his solo stuff wasn't going well, he wanted to come back, but by then we'd moved on. In some ways, I think he wished he hadn't burnt his bridges." In the autumn of 1984, Gary Biddles- the Cure's old roadie- arranged for Simon Gallup and Robert to go out for a drink together, which led to the pair patching up their personal differences, and Robert's private decision to ask his erstwhile colleague to re-join the band. Simon had spent the past two years playing in a group in Horley, with Gary, which was initially called Cry, but eventually became Fools Dance. They'd achieved a small measure of success, playing a handful of European dates and releasing an eponymous mini-LP, and, at first, there was no question of Simon leaving them. But gradually, Robert eased him back into the band, initially by asking him to contribute various bits and pieces to demos for a new LP.

"We did some demos for the next album, and Simon came along, and then he was back in," Lol recalls. "There's always been many versions of Cure, but Simon was always one big part of it. So it was better to have Simon because he's the Cure's bass player."

In the spring of 1985, with ex-members Porl and Simon safely back in the fold again, the band began recording their mid-period masterpiece, "The Head On The Door".

Special thanks to Laurence Tolhurst, Jon Eastwood from 'Hey You!' fanzine (at 48 Lea Road, Pennfields, Wolverhampton WV3 0LR), Polydor, Fiction, 'Ten Imaginary Years' (Zomba Books), Darren Butler, Heather Flanagan, David Deere and Dave Wilson.

 

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