WHEN DID The Cure begin? Was it December 1976 when the band played their first gig? Was it 1972 when the original line-up, in their early teens, held a jam session? Or was it 1964, when seven-year-olds Robert Smith and Lol Tolhurst sat beside each other on the bus to school?
For Lol Tolhurst, all three events mark the beginnings of The Cure, one of the most iconic and successful British bands of the past 40 years; creators of numerous hitssingles in the 1980s and 1990s; and whose influence can be felt deep in the sound of many contemporary indie and alternative musicians.
While Lol has not been a member of The Cure for more than quarter of a century, he remains close friends with Robert Smith, as well as past and present Cure members ("The Cure is my family, it's never not going to be," he says ), and his time with The Cure - in many ways the band's most important years - are chronicled in his marvellous, often very funny, yet deeply poignant autobiography Cured.
Cured was published last year to great acclaim and Lol is about to tour Ireland, reading from the book and taking questions from the audience, including at the Róisín Dubh this month. Evidently his Galway trip stems from a personal recommendation. “One of the reasons I’m coming to Galway is that my son, Gray, has been a couple of times,” Lol tells me during our Wednesday evening interview. “He’s spoken so highly of the place that I have to come.”
For long-time Cure fans, Cured is a treasure trove of stories, explanations, anecdotes (the skinhead who defended the band at early gigs; peeing on Billy Idol; almost getting shot by Margaret Thatcher’s bodyguards; surviving riots in Greece ), insights, raw honesty, and a celebration of the genius of Robert Smith - but what prompted Lol to write it?
“A few years ago, my wife Cindy and I went to Hawaii - she’s an avid surfer - and The Cure were playing there," says Lol. "I called Robert and told him I was going to come over, but I was scared as it was during Hurricane Flossy, but he said, ‘No it’ll be alright, you should come’, so we got on a plane and saw the band - and it was that, and that evening, and me and Robert talking into the wee hours on a beautiful beach in Hawaii - it all crystallised in my mind, that one day I will write a book - and if not now, when? Let’s be truthful, I’m in the second half of my life and before I get too senile I want to remember everything and put it down. It was important to describe my life to myself.”
There was also the realisation that, as co-founder of the band, no one was better placed to do it. “Robert’s not going to write a book, he has said if he did it would be a 16 page comic!” says Lol. “Bowie never wrote a book about himself and I get that, you need to keep the mystique and the mystery, but I needed to do it. I’m the only person apart from Robert who could encompass a lot of the genesis of the band. It’s also more than 25 years since much of this happened, so you’re not too close to it, you’ve got some perspective.”
Cured contains a number of revelations which even Cure fans will find surprising - chiefly, that Robert Smith, far from just being the delicate, sensitive, artist of popular imagination, that in a fight - and there were a few with skinheads, rowdy audience members, and miserly bar owners - Smith can more than handle himself.
“I think that will surprise some people,” says Lol, “but I was talking about this recently with [former Cure member] Pearl Thompson, and it’s that we grew up in Crawley, which was one of those new, satellite towns of London that were built after the War. People felt what was going on in the big cities, but didn’t have access to it. Any musician who was touring at that time remembers it was in the satellite towns where the trouble happened. The Clash and The Police came to play and the skinheads went down to start kicking off. Robert Smith is not a violent person, but you had to be able to handle yourself. Pearl went to a school that was very violent. He’s also a very non-violent person, but he made friends with the bikers. ‘They liked that I could play guitar,’ he told me, ‘so they protected me.’”
Ask any Cure fans what the band’s finest work is, and they will plump for either Pornography (1982 ), The Head On The Door (1985 ), Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987 ), or Disintegration (1989 ). Fascinatingly, Cured argues that if 1980s Seventeen Seconds “was the last the world heard of The Cure” they would have been satisfied with that. “It meant that much to us."
“When we made our first LP, Three Imaginary Boys, we didn’t expect we’d have the opportunity to make any more,” says Lol. “It’s a good record of what we’d been doing for the previous three years, but we didn’t have any input into the production, the mixing, or it’ presentation. Our manager and producer Chris Parry had worked with The Jam and saw us as the new Jam - I recorded my drums for the album on Rick Buckler’s drum kit - but as we toured and the album got a modicum of success, we wanted the next one to sound like we wanted to.
“With the stuff for Seventeen Seconds, we produced it ourselves and Robert designed the cover. It said this is really who we are. With that album we turned a corner. That’s the point where The Cure become The Cure. I could have died happy if we got that out.”
Lol has the distinction of being involved in the making of The Cure’s finest albums, and many of their classic singles. “When I look at The Cure I see two bands - the three piece, the pinnacle of which was Pornography, and also the five piece, which many fans call the ‘Imperial Cure’ - a term I don’t really understand - which is more poppy and experimental, whereas the first phase was more post-punk. I also think Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me is a high point. When we started we had hundreds of bits of songs, we all did so much.”
It is a fan-boy question, but it has to be asked - does Lol have a favourite Cure song? “It’s different songs,” he says. “Sometimes it’s the contribution I made to it. ‘Hanging Garden’ is one because that all comes from the beat. Or I came up with a lyrical idea like ’Piggy In The Mirror’. They’re all like my children, but I find enough in those two songs to have pride in them.”
One of The Cure’s best loved songs is 1984’s jazz-pop hit ‘The Love Cats’, to this day heard regularly in indie club DJ sets. I ask Lol about its inspiration. “Oh I’m really outing us here,” he says. “We were in Paris when we did that. I think we spent a week in the studio. It was the first time Robert and I had a band around us, we’d been a two-piece for a while. Phil Thornalley was playing bass and Andy Anderson was on drums. We’d spent a lot of time on tour, and in the tour bus we’d watch videos, and one of our favourites was The Aristocats. We knew all the songs, we learned them all, and we sang all the parts while travelling from show to show. It was a strange thing for a band like us to do something that has elements of that.”
The good news is we can expect more gems like this in Lol's next writing project. "I have two things going at the moment," he reveals. "One is graphic novel with Pearl, the other is a sequel to Cured. With the sequel there will be stories not included in Cured. From talking to fans since I’ve written the book, there are other aspects about The Cure they would like to know - and I have more stories. I believe you should live in the moment and it’s a good way to live, but there were no iPhones when The Cure started, and there are no photos of much of that time, so I want to remember those things, but if I wake up in the middle of the night as something pops into my head, suddenly I’ve remembered why it was important - I can record it on my phone. Some people have collections of photos and when I go to visit them, it’s not the photos that prompt the memories, it the conversations prompted by the photos."
Lol remains close friends with Robert and the two are in regular contact, so does he know if Mr Smith has read Cured? “I’m sure he has,” says Lol. “I gave him the first copy of the book when The Cure were out here last May. I had it done then. I got involved in the copy-editing, which I enjoyed - I counted all the commas, 1,500 by the way. People have told me they’ve seen Robert walking around with Cured.”
Lol is speaking to me from his home in Los Angeles, where he has lived since the mid-1990s. Yet, when he moved there originally, it was a deeply unhappy time - he was no longer in The Cure; he was undergoing a divorce; and while recovered from alcoholism, he was still in the aftermath of its affect on his life.
“It is strange, but when I first came here with The Cure, on tour in the early eighties, I really liked the place and the amazing people,” he says. “Later, when I was topsy-turvey with the band and the court case, I asked myself, where was the place where I had been happiest? And it was California, and it’s turned out to be something I never thought it would be - it’s home.”
One of the high points of Cured has nothing to do with music, but rather with a surreal road trip Lol took through Death Valley early after moving to California, where the heat, the isolation, and utter strangeness and unfamiliarity of the terrain, allowed his head and heart to clear, enabling him to let go the past, and free him be able to look towards the future.
“To be out there, and not have anything for miles and miles, and to look around you, and not see any sign that humans have been there, the veil and bondage I was under lifted,” says Lol. “I’ll call it for what is was, a spiritual experience. It was a process of change I had to undergo, and when I came back I was different. I’m grateful for that. People don’t want to change, they often prefer their misery, but I welcome change as it’s going to come anyway.”
Lol Tolhurst reads from Cured at the Róisín Dubh on Sunday July 16 at 7pm, followed by Cure tribute band Fire in Cairo. Tickets from www.roisindubh.net; Ticket Desk at OMG Zhivago, Shop Street; and the Róisín Dubh.