The Cure: Part 3

Record Collector
September 1993
Pat Gilbert

Pat Gilbert outlines the last eight years of the band's career, helped by ex-member Lol Tolhurst.

For much of the eighties, the Cure's day to day existence was an emotional white-knuckle ride. To make albums as utterly bleak and compelling as Faith and Pornography, the band had to pay a price. Often it was Robert Smith's psychological well-being, though others undoubtedly suffered their own share of anguish, too. Simon Gallup, the group's much-liked bass player, was possibly the most celebrated victim of the era. He failed to survive the intense Pornography tour in 1982, quitting the group after an ugly punch up with Robert in a Strasbourg nightclub. Luckily, Simon was reinstated in early 1985 - unlike hapless drummer Andy Anderson, who was permanently dismissed in 1984 during an equally testing jaunt around Japan.

But from 1985 onwards, the Cure's rock'n'roll rollercoaster began to slow down. With Gallup and ex-Easy Cure member Porl Thompson now back in the fold, and Thompson Twins drummer Boris Williams settled in on drums, the band regained a fresh sense of purpose, and with it, a new feeling of unity. Since then, that harmony has been badly shattered only once - by the ignominious departure of in 1989 of Robert's long-time sidekick, keyboardist Lol Tolhurst. In this, the third and final part of our Cure history, we look at the last eight years of their career, with Lol himself providing an exclusive commentary, culminating in his own account of his unceremonious sacking.

The Head on the Door (August 1985)

Although Simon Gallup had attended the demo sessions for The Head On The Door, held at F2 studios off London's Tottenham Court Road, it wasn't until the group began recording the album in earnest that he decided to rejoin. To begin with, he was understandably apprehensive - he'd hardly spoken to Porl Thompson for six years, and didn't know drummer Boris Williams at all. To make matters worse, Boris was a seasoned session player, and Simon was concerned that his bass lines might be too rudimentary to complement his style. But he needn't have worried: the tracks taped at Angel Studios, in Islington, were tight and resonant, and the band seemed more content than ever. Robert recalled later, We played pool and had a lot of fun. The atmosphere was stupid, almost childish, and we were in a hurry to get back in the studio every day. But despite their enthusiasm, the album took longer to make than expected, with the group having to move on to the Townhouse in Shepherd's Bush to finish off several tracks. When The Head On The Door was finally completed, it was mixed at Genetic, Martin Rushent's studio near Reading.

In July 1985, the public got their first taste of the new LP when Inbetween Days was lifted as a new single. Clean, uplifting and emminently hummable, the 45 breezed into the top 20 with the help of an intriguing Tim Pope promo video, featuring - amount other things - a pair of dancing flourescent socks. It was obvious that the band had shaken off the intense, cluttered atmosphere that had permeated 1982's Pornography, and even parts of their last album, The Top. In fact, with its gentle keyboard riff and upbeat clunking bass line, Inbetween Days was more reminiscent of the straight forward pop of 1979's Boys Don't Cry, and strongly suggested that the band's internal accord had resulted in a simpler, more consummate sound. The Cure were a band made up of friends, explains Lol. It wasn't really how good you were at whatever you did, it was whether you had the same ideas creatively. We had a much better feeling with The Head On The Door. We were a bit more accomplished - Boris was there.

Following their first gig together as a five-piece, in Barcelona, the band spent the summer playing a handful of European dates, before returning to Britain to prepare for the release of The Head On The Door. When the album finally appeared in August, it met with favourable reviews, many of which expressed pleasure at the band's new, less frantic musical vein. Among the tracks singled out for particular praise were A Night Like This, a slow simple rock song built around a driving major chord progression; and The Blood, a light Latin-tinged number, celebrating a special Portuguese wine, puported to induce horrific visions when consumed in quantity. Later, Robert said of the album: It was the most accomplished thing we'd done, more coherent than The Top and yet really spontaneous.

To promote the album, the band spent September 1985 playing more dates around the UK, apping the tour with a blistering performance at the Wembley Arena. Against all expectations, this show had sold out, confirming the Cure's mantle as pop's most unlikely superstars, as well as putting the band in a positive frame of mind for the short U.S. tour that followed at the end of the month. Meanwhile, back in Britain, a remix of the lilting track, Close To Me, became the band's fifth Top 20 hit, and on his return from America, an increasingly famous Robert was grilled by the tabloid press about everything from his drinking habits to the occupation of his girlfriend, Mary. (The singer drolly claimed she was a stripper). Much to Robert's amusement, The Cure were unwittingly becoming a bona fide household name.

At the end of 1985, following several dates in France, the band's contract with Polydor expired. The year had been the Cure's most successful to date, and Fiction boss Chris Parry was able to negotiate a lucrative new deal with the major. With the Cure's career now entering a new phase, Polydor felt the time was right to issue a retrospective compilation but, concerned about how the label might handle the project, Robert seized the initiative, taking charge of the venture in the early months of 1986. To complement the album, he decided to piece together a video collection, using Tim Pope's imaginative promos and odd bits of Super 8 footage, including his father's unique chronicle of the band's performance at the open-air Crawley Peace Concert, in June 1977. Sadly, no promo for Killing An Arab had ever been made, so Pope was commissioned to shoot a clip to accompany the track. The result was a fairly unsettling vignette, featuring a wizened old man peering enigmatically out to the sea, like the character in the song. Standing on a Beach - The Singles appeared in May, preceded by a taster 45, a reworking of Boys Don't Cry, boasting a new Robert Smith vocal. The 7 inch version of the single was backed with Pillbox Tales, a recording dating from one of the 1977 Ariola Hansa sessions, while the 12 inch boasted a bonus track, Do The Hansa, an amusing ditty taped soon after they'd left that label in 1978. Spirited along by a Tim Pope video that brought together the original Cure lineup of Robert, Lol and Michael Dempsey, Boys Don't Cry cruised into the Top 30, amply compensating for the song's failure to chart on its original release.

Besides their success in Britain, the Cure were also enjoying healthy sales abroad. The French in particular had recently taken a shine to them and, a few weeks prior to the release of Standing On A Beach, the band were asked to make a prestigious TV appearance on a Gallic version of Wogan. Unfortunately, Porl and Boris were on holiday at the time, so Lol's flatmate, Martin, was roped in to mime keyboards.

A couple of weeks later, when Boris and Porl had returned to the U.K., the group headlined a Greenpeace benefit at the Royal Albert Hall, before flying to Holland to play the Pink Pop festival, and to promote Standing On A Beach on various European TV shows. With hardly time to pack their bags for a trip to Venice - on the Orient Express. Arranged as a publicity stunt, the journey turned into a holiday when the gig the band were meant to be playing in Verona was cancelled. With journalists from the tabloids in attendance, as well as the film crew for the Whistle Test, the 15000 pound sojourn generated a wealth of positive exposure, including a whole page in the Daily Express, whose David Wigg observed, wild-haired songwriter Robert Smith was wearing as much mascara as his girlfriend, Mary Poole. The piece also revealed that, far from being a stripper, Mary was, in fact, a nurse for mentally handicapped children.

In June, the Cure played a succession of German festivals, before returning home for a triumphant performance at Glastonbury, marked by a torential summer downpour and what one scribe called the band's random ransacking of their back catalogue. Once again, the Cure were coasting, but for the first time, Robert Smith looked firmly at the controls.

Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me (May 1987)

In July 1986, the band embarked on a month-long U.S. tour. Eight weeks earlier Robert had flown to the States to publicize the dates, and as a result, the band found an expectant American press and public waiting for them on their arrival. In fact, Curemania was rife, and when the band ambled on at Mansfield for their first gig, fans tried to invade the stage. Other gigs proved to be just as riotous, and not even Elektra's decision to reissue Let's Go To Bed against Robert's wishes could dampen the ecstatic mood in the Cure camp. I think if we see any more of New York, we're dead, a worn-out Simon told Boston Rock.

Surprisingly, the internal tensions that had characterised previous tours were conspicuous by their absence. Echoing Lol's earlier comments, Robert revealed to Musician magazine: Noone's in this band because of technical profiency, they're in it because of something they bring as personalities. Laurence, for example, was an atrocious drummer, and he's even more atrocious now that he's on keyboards - but I can't imagine him not being in the group. Obviously the rot had not yet set in.

Following the final gig, in Los Angeles, which was marred by a fan's unsuccessful attempt to commit suicide with a hunting knife, a shattered Cure returned to Europe to honor live commitments in Spain and France. the last French date, at the 8,000 capacity Roman amphitheatre in Orange, Provence, was filmed by Tim Pope, and later released on video as The Cure in Orange. Sadly, it featured a fairly pedestrian performance, though there were several highlights - one being when Simon pulled off Robert's spiky wig to reveal the singer's recently cropped head of hair.

After a brief holiday in Toulon, where their hotel came under siege from hundreds of local fans, the band hid away at Jean Costa's studio in Draguignan to work on a new album, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. Four months earlier, in May, the band had demoed over 20 new tracks in North London, and it was clear even then that their next album would be a double. After two weeks, the group left Draguignan for a plusher studio at nearby Miraval, where they set about recording the album live. Although most of the songs were recorded in just one or two takes, the LP still took nearly three months to make. Nonetheless, the work was relatively easy and the surroundings idyllic. Lol recalls: We were in the middle of this vineyard, watching the grapes grow and drinking lots of wine. We played a bit of football, went swimming, and for the latter part we had our girlfriends and wives down there. It was great.

The studio was fifteen miles from the nearest town, he continues, and totally isolated from the rest of the world. It was a good way to work. I think that if you're recording, it's a good thing to lock yourself away from the big cities, and get your head down. That way, it becomes a much more personal document. You don't have to answer the phone, or go out and deal with the city life.

In December, Robert and co-producer Dave Allen flew to Compass Point, in the Bahamas, to mix the 18 tracks selected for the album, before finishing off the task in Brussels, a month later. With Kiss Me... in the can, Robert flew on to Ireland, where the group were rehearsing for their forthcoming South American tour. Having worked out live arrangements of several Kiss Me... tracks, the group left for Argentina, where they played two nights at the 20,000 capacity Buenos Aires football stadium. Both gigs were sold out, prompting ticketless fans to riot outside the ground, and the Argentinian army to take care of all their further security arrangements.

In April 1987, after eight concerts in Brazil, the group returned to Britain for the release of Why Can't I Be You, a taster for the new album. A fast, punchy dance number, punctuated by sharp stabs of funky brass, the single marked a radical departure from the stately eloquence of The Head On The Door. Nonetheless, its confidence and catchiness made it irresistable, and it was clearly evident that that the band could still mix the earnest and the kitsch with an effortless charm. When Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me appeared a month later, the Cure gained even more plaudits, with several writers drooling over the band's ability to tackle so many musical styles with so little self-consciousness. In fact, Kiss Me... was the first and only Cure studio album to lack a definitive sound. While several tracks, including Snakepit and Torture, harked back to the bleak, guitar-driven dirges of Pornography, others echoed the lively 80's synth pop of The Top. Just Like Heaven and Catch took yet another route, fusing gentle but robust percussion to lovelorn lyrics and rhythmic acoustic guitars. Without pandering to anyone, the band had produced an album that pleased everyone. Not surprisingly, it sailed into the Top 10.

By that time we'd realized out strengths, comments Lol, and how we could play on them. We knew what we did best. Some of the songs are parodies of other bands, some are parodies of the Cure. We felt a lot more comfortable as a band. After Pornography, I think Kiss Me... is my favorite album.

After appearing on the last episode of The Tube, and later, at the Montreux Pop festival, the Cure laid low for the summer, though they did find to promote Catch, issued in July, and Just Like Heaven, appearing in September. Fully rested, the band reconvened in October for a European tour, having recruited ex-Psychedelic Furs keyboard player Roger O'Donnell to help out Lol, whose heavy drinking was allegedly affecting his ability to play live. Later, Robert told Rolling Stone magazine: Lol just drank his way through the tour to such a degree that he didn't bother retaliating. It was like watching some kind of handicapped child being constantly poked with a stick.

After Kiss Me... we did an awful lot of touring, Lol explains. Not only did we play concert everywhere, which involved three blocks of concerts for six months, we also had to do a lot of promotional work, which we hadn't done before. We did every newspaper, radio station and TV show. After a month, it becomes more work that playing a concert every night. Press-wise, things tend to change at the last minute so it's more chaotic than a regular tour.

The tour ended with three celebratory performances at Wembley Arena, the Cure were undoubtedly still going from strength to strength.

Disintegration (May 1989)

Throughout the first half of 1988, the Cure took a well-earned rest, though they did surface briefly in Februrary to publicize Hot! Hot! Hot!, the fourth single to be lifted from Kiss Me.... Meanwhile, in America, trouble was brewing over Killing An Arab. Once again, the song had been misinterpreted by several right wing factions as an acerbic piece of Anti-Arabic polemic and, once again, a very weary Robert had to step in and put the record straight.

But the year brought happier times, too. In August, Robert married Mary at Worth Abbey, in Sussex, the scene of a gig nearly 12 years earlier. No journalists were invited, though all the band were in attendance, with Simon playing the role of Best Man. After the wedding, the couple moved into a house on the South Coast, where Robert attempted to write some solo material, though eventually the songs were used as the basis for the Cure's new album.

In December, the band met up at Boris' house to start work on the demos for the Disintegration album. After knocking a dozen or so ideas into shape, they booked themselves into Outside Studios, a 48-track set-up buried deep in the Berkshire countryside. By this time, Robert had become completely exasperated by Lol's relentless drinking, and tensions withing the group began to rise. Later, the singer told Select magazine: During Disintegration, he didn't once set foot in the studio. That's fact. He went there so he was physically in the building, so that he could pick up his pay check. As a result, the band had to piece together the album as a four-piece, with Roger O'Donnell playing most of the keyboard parts. One the sleeve of the ominously-titled Disintegration, Lol was credited with playing other instruments.

After the album had been mixed, at RAK Studios in London, the band threw a party. It proved to be a nasty affair. According to Robert, Lol got very drunk and, as the evening wore on, started abusing the singer, the other members, and above all, the album. After Christmas, Robert fired him. The two men haven't spoken to each other since.

He wrote me a letter, recalls Lol. After that, he said, Give me a ring and we'll talk about it. So I did, but he'd decided he didn't want to talk to me. And so that's the point when I thought, I shouldn't be here any more. I think it was on a completely personal lever, musically, I don't think we had many differences.

It was halfway through Disintegration that things weren't working out to great, he continues. I wasn't feeling that well in mysef, and I guess the Cure psychosis struck again. Big time! I was wondering about continuing, when I got the letter, which I didn't think was the best ide, having known someone all that time. But I thought the whole ethos of the Cure had become slightly warped as far as I was concerned. For many years it was fairly democratic, and it was a happy situation. And then it became very undemocratic, and a lot of people around the band, like the record company, found it better that way because they only had to deal with one person. And that was a bit upsetting, as over the years I'd put a lot of my life into it.

I talked a little bit with the others. They must have thought it was for the best, because they didn't say otherwise. But I think they'd been put in a position where that had to be seen as satisfied with the way things were. Otherwise, they would get to feel rather uncomfortable, shall we say. That's the kindest way I can put it.

In April 1989, after the press had been told of Lol's departure, a new single, Lullaby, was released. The accompanying video showed Robert being eaten by a huge hairy spider, the perfect image to complement this gentle, teasing elegy. Not surprisingly, Lullaby scurried to No. 5, preparing the ground for the release of Disintegration a month later. Ostensibly melodic, but underpinned with a profound, all-pervasive poignancy, the album was hailed in every quarter as a masterpiece. Lovesong, Pictures of You, and Fascination Street evoked a melancholy atmosphere which was both spiritually uplifting and morbidly enthralling. Disintegration itself was as bleak as anything they'd recorded in the early 80's. For the first time since Faith, the band were crafting songs of almost unbearable sadness and beauty, and the trauma of Lol's departure was soon forgotten.

Wish

In June 1989, the Cure set off on the European leg of The Prayer Tour, which began at the Glastonbury Festival, and ended with three nights at wembley Arena, in September. With another hit single under their belts, Lovesong had charted in August, the band then sailed on the QEII to America. On their return to Britain, Robert hinted that the band wouldn't tour again, though luckily this wasn't to be the case. But for the next six months, the Cure went to ground, emerging only to promote a third Disintegration single, Pictures of You, in February. In June 1990, the band played Glastonbury again, though this time roadie Perry Bamonte played keyboards, O'Donnell having quit the group after falling out with Boris and Simon. Sadly, a fan was crushed against the crash barrier during the CUre's set, and had to be flown by helicopter to the hospital, an instance which marred one of the band's greatest performances ever. Following several summer dates in Europe, the new line-up returned to London to play an open-air festival at the Crystal Palace Bowl, before embarking on one of their most mischievous projects yet - their own pirate radio station, Cure FM. It's one broadcast was made during the early hours of 1st September, from Fiction's offices in central London, and was so plagued with technical difficulties that the group commandeered a real radio station the following month, to try again. This time, Cure 102 was a complete success, with the band airing songs from their forthcoming album of remixes, Mixed Up, as well as their new single, the jagged rock workout, Never Enough. Also played that night was the Cure's cover of the Doors' Hello, I Love You, which later turned up on Elektra's 40th anniversary compilation, Rubaiyat.

In January 1991, having notched up another hit single at the end of the previous year with a remix of Close To Me, the Cure headlined the Great British Music Weekend, staged at Wembley Arena. Clips from this show were screened a month later, during the BRITS awards ceremony, held at the Dominion Theatre. Having been handed the award for Best British Group by Roger Daltrey, the Cure launched into a screaming live version of Never Enough, no doubt venting some of their anger about the gratuitous back-slapping going on around them.

In March, after an appearance on MTV's Unplugged, Fiction issued Entreat, a live album of eight Disintegration songs, which had been available a year earlier as part of a special HMV promotion (fans buying two or more Cure albums got Entreat free). The band's decision to give the album a full release was prompted by the high prices the original copies were fetching, though, ironically, many fans bought the new version as well because of it's different colour sleeve. As a gesture to Cure completists feeling unhappy with the situation, the band donated their royalties from the album to charity.

In July 1991, a second compilation of promo videos, Picture Show, was released, followed in November by another visual collection, The Cure Play Out, which featured 124 minutes of rare interview and home movie footage, interspersed with several new live clips of then unreleased material. During the summer, the band had begun recording a new album, then provisionally titled Higher, at the manor, in Oxfordshire. While it was being demoed, Robert had received a memo from Lol, now fronting his own group Prescence, advising him that he planned to take legal action over the royalties he was getting for sales of back catalogue material. Robert told Select: I'm determined to go to court. What he is basically implying is that I have cheated him out of his fair share, and if anything, he owes me five years of my life. Two years on the matter is still in litigation.

In March 1992, the Cure released a new single, High. A taster for their new album, Wish, the song evoked the sad, rounded mood on Disintegration, but had a far more upbeat feel. In fact, it's melodic bass-line seemed influenced by the recent indie-Manchester scene, as did Boris' trippy drums on From The Edge of the Deep Green Sea, one of the many outstanding tracks on the album.

When Wish surfaced a month later, it was clear that the band had drawn upon many different styles - most of them their own. The magnificient Open, for example, recalled the rolling metallic swirl of Shake Dog Shake, though Porl's guitaring was far more delicate and controlled. And while Doing the Unstuck was classic Kiss Me... style angst, with the song outwardly purporting to be about happiness, but never firmly shaking off a deep-seated irritability, Apart could have easily come from Disintegration. Breaking new ground though, were Friday I'm In Love and A Letter to Elise, later lifted as singles in May and October respectively. Both of these songs were pure, beautifully crafted pop songs, the logical conclusion of the musical strand linking Boys Don't Cry and Inbetween Days. During Wish I was quite jolly, Robert told Q magazine recently. And you can hear that.

After the release of the album, the band embarked on a lengthy American tour, before travelling to Australia last autumn for their first gigs in that country for eight years. This trip was the first time the Cure had been on a aeroplane for months, Robert and Simon having developed a fear of flying after Disintegration. In April 1983, having had their version of Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze (as yet unissued) aired on Virgin 1215's first ever programme, that band announced the September release of The Cure Show, a new full lenght live video, to be accompanied by a double album in October.

In June, the band - now without Porl thompson, who'd left to spend more time with his family - headlined the Great Xpectations festival in Finsbury Park, an event organized by Chris Parry to raise awareness about the XFM radio station, which is currently aplying for a broadcast franchise. A month later, a love album of the festival appeared, featuring the Cure tracks Disintegration and Just Like Heaven. In the 16th year of their career, the Cure are evidentally still going strong. But for how long"? At the moment, there are no signs of the band splitting; and in terms of their musical output, why ever should they? They're just as invetive, resourceful, infuriating and damn right brilliant as they have ever been. However, one clue to the possible timing of their demise was given by Tim Pope, in the mid-80's: The Cure's like a big roly-poly, it can just turn over and it will be something else. You never know with Robert - but I can see him giving it all up one day.

Special Thanks To: Laurence Tolhurst, John at Hey You ( a cure fanzine based at 48 Lea Road, Pennfields, Wolverhampton WV0LR), Polydor, Ten Imaginary Years (Zomba Books) and Dave Wilson.


Last Revised: Monday, 15-May-2006 20:00:06 CST

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