Saturday, February 8, 1992
Shipton Manor, Oxfordshire
Layla and Jocelyn are sitting in front of the huge 17th century stone fireplace in Shipton Manor's main hall. Both clad in something tight and black and expensive, unmistakably PRs, they toy with their hair and blow smoke towards the ceiling as they chat with a nervous-looking lad in a stripey t-shirt and glasses.
"You're really very lucky you know," says Layla kindly. "This is their first day," she explains, "so they'll be fresh. They're giving interviews for the next two weeks solid, so you're lucky to be in there first."
"You're lucky to get an interview at all really," adds Jocelyn. "I tell you, all The Cure ever do is say no to people..."
"Wow," says stripey.
The studded wood front door creaks open and a man steps out on to the massive flagstones of the hall. He's about 5'10" and of indeterminate age, with a pale pudding face framed by a vertical shock of black hair. His jumper's too big for him and he's forgotten to tie the laces on his trainers. He looks sideways at the assembled company. "I'm just, er, nipping to the kitchen," he offers bashfully.
Layla looks at her watch, "You do know we're talking to Spin in five minutes don't you Robert?"
Robert Smith, leader of ironic gloomies, The Cure, smiles smudgily. "Yeah, yeah, I'm just getting a beer."
About 20 gentlemen and women of the US press are crammed into Shipton Manor's tiny recording studios to hear The Cure's new LP Wish. A photocopied list of songs rests dutifully on each knee. At the front, between the speakers, stands Chris Parry, head of Fiction Records, and he leads the listening.
His face is suffused with a wonderment and disbelief, that how-could-anything-be-this-perfect look normally confined to followers of God or Morrisey. His head is tilted back, his eyes clamped shut, and he sways in a gentle snake-like movement whilst (rather impressively) rolling a cigarette without looking.
Most of the other listeners follow his inspiring example and undulate politely. Some however, forget to sway, and concentrate on just keeping their eyes shut, gently nodding off until someone passes them the hand-held Nintendo game making its way around the less experienced Cure listeners.
Bits of paper are stuck up all over the studio. They cover the walls, the roof beams, even the speakers. There are snippets of Emily Dickinson, Herman Hesse and Wordsmith, mingling with cartoons of Marc Almond as an exploding blow up doll and various newspaper clippings-including one about a multiple schizophrenic who was deemed to have been raped despite the willingness of one of her many personalities (her other characters didn't consent). There are pictures of Tank Girl, a section on Haley's Comet, information about coughing ("when you cough, the stream of air expelled from your lungs can reach a considerable distance"), and lots of computer cartoons about an Oliver Hardy look-alike called Bill (the Cure's driver).
"Wooh, kitten as a cat, as smitten as that", wails Robert Smith from the speakers, and the final b-side comes to an end over two hours after the LP and single were put on. The listeners look relieved. Chris Parry opens his eyes, turns to face them and holds out his hands. "What can I say?," he murmurs helplessly. There's a burst of applause, everyone looks intense and moved. Chris shakes his head.
"Well," he says, and everyone laughs. Chris chuckles too and continues: "I tell you, I've heard this a few times now and it just gets bigger. And better. You'll never tire of it."
Everybody agrees it's brilliant. "Imagine this live?"
Phew yeah wow amazing says everyone.
The Cure and the journalist from Spin magazine are standing in the main hall. They're surrounded by advanced plushness: mammoth antique mirrors reflect heavy velvet curtains and sumptuous Persian rugs, a fireplace you could live in and a wooden table the size of Lord's (almost). But the group are concentrating on the hall's centerpiece: a huge trompe l'oeil mural of a country scene painted straight on the wall above the stairs featuring, it would seem, pop stars of years gone by.
"That's Boy George," says the Spin journalist incredulously.
"Yeah, and that's Mike Oldfield with the model of the house, Jim Kerr and Bono in the fields in the background and that's Phil Collins at the front. It took us ages to recognize him," says Smith helpfully.
"Who are the children?"
"They're Richard's kids."
Ah indeed. For the Richard referred to is none other than the Richard Branson, the bearded Virgin entrepreneur and ballooning expert. It's his place.
"We're running a very tight schedule, Mike, as I'm sure you appreciate," says Chris Parry, clapping a reassuring hand on the journalist's shoulder. "Take a look at the boys' itinerary and you will understand why we can't extend your interview time."
He passes him the six sheets of photocopied paper which list in detail The Cure's activities from February 8 to 20. Twelve days of international press interviews, album playbacks, photographs, radio and TV shows. Some days don't end until midnight and there are no Sundays off.
"Wow," says the journalist.
"Sorry," shrugs Parry.
The interview time, needless to say, remained unextended.
Time for Spin's interview. Anxious to use every precious second, he starts his tape recorder as soon as Smith sits down. He has to stop it again whilst the band organise who's getting the beers in. Simon is appointed lager monitor. The interview begins.
"OK. This place is really cool," the journalist announces, addressing his observation to Smith. "How long have you guys been here, is it about size months?" It is. He's done his research. He's done it a little to well, really, answering most of his questions himself before the band gets a chance to speak, but Smith gives patient and informative replies, answering around the the question to keep the conversation going.
The rest of the band lounge about, supping beer and saying little. Most of the questions are addressed to Smith. Porl Thompson, who in fact says nothing at all, lies across the sofa with his hand over his eyes, other arm dangling and Simon Gallup strokes his wrist for him. Boris Williams sits next to Smith, smoking small and pungent Indian cigarettes. Perry Bamonte, who the others call Teddy, talks animatedly and quite a bit - probably because he's the new boy.
It emerges that The Cure have indeed been in Branson's house for six months now and that they regard it as their own: "We feel really bitter about the next group coming in. It's our house." They've recorded about 25 songs since their arrival and at one point thought of making two LPs - one with vocals and an instrumental one called Music For Dreams - but they ran out of time. (The four instrumentals may later be released as an EP.) They're all very happy that "loathsome, stupid" founder member Lol Tolhurst finally left in 1989 and that Teddy, formerly their guitar roadie, has been brought in.
"I'd be with them backstage," remembers Teddy; "I'd walk up to the stage and then stop. It just felt really weird."
"I could never understand why you didn't come on, actually," puzzles Simon.
Tuesday, February 13, 1992
The Randolph Hotel, Oxford
Sixty or so gentlepersons of the press sit beneath glittering chandeliers in a carpeted windowless hall. The white podium on which The Cure are to give their press conference gleams in front of them. Before that, however, there's an album playback, and the international audience listen attentitively, taking notes and referring from time to time to their glossy red and blue press packs (which offer useful points of reference such as "Every person can connect with The Cure's dream world, where life can be insane, melancholy, angry, lost, lonely, hysterical, and joyful all at the same time."). The sound is terrible. The drums thud mushily. The wash of guitars, which sounded so heart-renderingly epic in Shipton's studios, now sound muddy and muted. Robert Smith's voice comes from deep within a bucket of custard. The press begin to get a little fidgety.
The photo call begins, three quarters of an hour late. The Cure stand silent and polite before a large blue piece of paper as urgent photographers say things like "Over here", "Could you all stand up now?" and "Simon, have you had another perm?"
"Yes," says Simon, resplendent, as are all The Cure, in a nice bright shirt and freshly applied eyeliner. Under the bright lights, the group look kind of saggy and thin-haired beneath their makeup. Porl seems to be wearing half a dozen jumpers, four of which are dangling from his waist creating a pinafore effect.
Fifteen minutes into the press conference and The Cure are looking uncomfortable. They've already upset a Moroccan TV crew by pushing the table mics away and replacing them with beer bottles, but they're clearly still very awkward with the situation. Boris and Porl gave up 10 minutes ago and lie on their forearms whispering to each other. Paddy sends nervous darting looks around the room. Simon drinks. Even accomplished interviewee Robert Smith is muttering to himself about the strangeness of the scene.
In fact, the person who seems to be doing most of the talking is a red-haired chap with a video camera, sitting in the front row. He's from a fanzine and he's attempting to reorganize The Cure's tour arrangement's for them at the moment.
"I don't mean to be nasty and it's not that the other songs aren't great but couldn't you change the encore? For the last God knows how long you've played the same four songs as an encore. And you felt more human playing the Town and Country gig, well you seemed like you did, so any chance of a series of intimate gigs this time around?"
Smith explains that , yes, they have decided that they prefer a smaller audience. Mr. Fanzine listens intently, furrowing his brow in sympathy when Smith talks about his worries that huge live shows just become "a spectacle rather than an experience."
Someone asks a question about The Cure producing other bands. Fanzine sticks his hands up: "Can I just jump in on that? I know you've produced And Also The Trees and I have spoken to them and they're a really great band. They should be given a chance. I think they should be the ones to support you on this tour, actually."
Porl raises his hand from the table, "Give us your address and we'll centre the whole thing around there."
The conference is on its last legs now. A doll-like Spaniard is enquiring about Smith's lyrics. "There are many cats. Do you love cats?" Yes, he's quite fond of them, but no, he doesn't own one. A gentleman from Sweden says: "You have called this album Wish. What kind of wishes are left to you now?"
"None", says Smith immediately. "We're going to live forever and be eternally happy."
Simon Leans forward. "Can I ask you something?"
The reporter from Sweden looks quite chuffed at the prospect.
"Do you ever get mistaken for Mel Gibson?"
Wednesday, February 19, 1992
It's the last interview of the day and Smith is getting edgy. "Can we start even though the others aren't here yet? It's just that we have to stop at eight. The football's on."
He and Boris are sitting on one side of a 15 foot table, facing the neat row of five interviewers on the other. It's as though they are being interviewed for a job. Simon's gone for the beers and Paddy and Porl have disappeared.
An Edingburgh freelancer dominates the questioning. He clearly knows Smith and asks a series if incisive questions about the LP, the band's morale and the studio decorations. Smith confesses that the only reason the Emily Dickinson quotes are up is because he waded through a collection of 300 of her poems and hated "nearly all of them. Any I found remotely interesting I put on the wall to justify my having wasted all that energy on her."
The subject of madness comes up and the questioner points to the illustrated chart on the wall/ Entitled Mary's Manor Mad Chart (Mary being Smith's wife), it lists 17 members of the Manor's staff and residents in order of instability. Porl is 15th, Boris joint 12th, Robert 8th (described as "suffering from PMT 365 days a year"), Teddy 6th and Simon a credible 4th. Mary herself comes 2nd. "We all voted," says Smith, "and we had an award night. It was very moving." The coveted number 1 spot, despite stiff competition, is occupied by Louise, who works in the kitchen.
Ten minutes before the England International. Can we have your final foreign questions, please?
"Is it time," suggests the French reporter, "at your age to become an adult? To forsake the lipstick?"
"Never," says Smith emphatically, passionately even. "I felt I was grown-up when I was thirteen. I haven't learned anything more since. I've faced the real world and denied it. As a group, we retain our childishness in that we get excited, we ignore obstacles and go for things in a determined child-like way. And I think that's good. Obviously we debate on things in a grown-up level, but I still despair when I look at the conventional world of adulthood."
It's an emotional response for one normally so consumed by lethargy. Keen to capitalize on this outburst, the Italian journalist, eye on the main chance, makes his move.
"Robert, do you still collect pens, please?"