Memories of making the album…
People often ask me what I remember about making Disintegration, it’s over twenty years since it was released in April 1989 and perhaps now is a good time to put my thoughts and memories into words. I know that this record is important to a lot of people for many reasons and in many ways it has had a big effect on my life.
The whole process of Disintegration started for me while on tour in 1987. I had joined The Cure on the basis that I would just tour in support of the Kiss Me album, I was hired as a musician for just the period of the tour and that was it. I really didn’t know very much about the band at that time and was on tour with the Psychedelic Furs, all I knew about the Cure was that one of my best friends was the drummer Boris Williams. When there was talk of adding a keyboard player he asked me if I was interested and initially I wasn’t until I heard KMKMKM and realised what an amazing band this was aside from all the weird hair and make up! After about a week of the tour in a hotel room sitting on the floor next to Robert he said to me “I want you to be a part of the group, I want you to play on the next record and be a member of The Cure.”
I was living in Toronto at the time and had bought my first Mac computer and set up a recording studio in my apartment so in early 1988 I started writing songs with The Cure in mind. It was my first studio in a long time and my first studio which centred around a computer based system. I was recording using software called Performer which ran on a Mac Plus computer and synced up to a multi track cassette recorder which I had forgotten about until I wrote that so I could add real recorded instruments like guitar. I presented about an hours worth of music to the band when we had our first listening session at Boris’ house in Devon, England. I took my songs on a DAT tape which was the first consumer digital tape format. I had no idea what to write and Robert didn’t say write like this or like that so I just went with what felt right. I had been writing music for a long time and by this time had been in the band a year so I knew what would work and what wouldn’t, interestingly though the songs that I thought Robert and the band wouldn’t like they did. I learnt not to second guess and just to record songs that I liked and made sense to me within the framework and history of the Cure. When we did get around to playing some of my songs and then ultimately recording them it was a great feeling and I felt quite proud. I had been in bands before and written songs for them but this was something quite different. When I heard the finished vocal version of Fear of Ghosts for the first time I was blown away by it.
My home demo of “The Other Side” (“Fear Of Ghosts”)
Im trying to remember the chain of events of early 1988…. I know in January we made the Hot Hot Hot video which was the last single to be released from KM KM KM. There were two demo sessions at Boris’ house and I have tapes from them which I think have the dates on them so I will check… Of course Robert and Mary were married in August of that year. (The cassettes didn’t have any dates on them sadly)
So the first session started off with everyone playing their tapes of the demos they had written. We all listened to them one after the other and gave them all scores, Paul thought it would be very arty to not score them but do drawings, then we went through all the lists and the favourites were chosen, I think three or four of mine at this stage. Bruno who was the band’s personal assistant at this time and the keyboard tech had set up a very simple recording studio in the dining room and we had bare essential equipment and we played the songs live, just kind of worked them out quickly and recorded them as a band. This was a really fun time and very relaxed, we bought our own pool table (mainly because we were unable to win our way on to the table at the local pub) had lots of barbeques and drank a lot! We also had a clay pigeon shoot which left us all deaf and bruised…
We played boules on the pebbles in front of the house and Boris and I played a lot of cricket which usually ended in a window being broken or a slate knocked off his roof. I had a tiny wreck of a car, an MG Midget which I used to drive maniacally around the lanes and take Lol to buy cigarettes in at the village shop. It really was in the middle of nowhere.
The next door neighbour farmer’s wife and daughter used to cook for us, sometimes we would go to the pub and some times we would get pizza from a tiny local restaurant called Poppins. The restaurant was owned by two gay guys who thought it would be hilarious to cover one delivery of pizzas with magic mushrooms and not tell us, it was quite funny but we had no idea what was going on. I thought I was losing my mind hahah
Boris’ house was in the middle of Devon which is in the south west of England, it is very very rural and at the time I thought it was like a bit of a time warp. It was how I remembered England, friendly and old fashioned not the nasty place London had become since Margaret Thatcher had come to power. I was still living in Toronto and was seriously thinking about moving back as commuting was getting a bit silly and I thought it might be nice to live in Devon too; it’s where I spend most of my time today. During this time my girlfriend Leslie and I spent a lot of time house hunting around Devon. We eventually found this amazing Lodge house about 15 minutes from Boris, it was made of stone and had lots of land but it was close to a river which flooded and squeezed between a railway line and a main road but it didn’t seem to matter and I bought it taking possession on my birthday 1988 right in the middle of the recording sessions. It was in a very bad state of repair and took a lot of work to become habitable but I loved that house.
The demos that came out of this first listening session were pretty rough but you could hear the songs and you could tell there were some good ones. There were no vocals at this stage in fact the vocals for the entire album were only added in the last couple of weeks in the studio so all through the process we had no idea what the songs were going to sound like. We all went away pretty happy from this stage and it was decided there would be another session at Boris’ later in the year which would be more formal demos recorded on a 16 track tape machine with real sounds rather than just bashing through the songs. It’s difficult to explain that we had no idea really how great an album this was to become, to the others it was just another Cure album, to me it was the first real full length album that I had ever been involved in.
We all got back together probably around June/July in Devon and recorded the songs properly, sort of pre production so that we would know what we were doing when we actually went in the studio. It was at this stage that all the final writing was done and Simon and I re wrote Homesick. It started as one of Lol’s demos and it was ok but didn’t really have much going on I think we only chose it to make Lol feel like he wasn’t being left out. One night after dinner and a lot of drinking Simon and I went back into the playing room and started just playing through the chord changes and improvising and it sounded really nice, we called it “meshing” we just kept playing around and around the changes and then the others came in and joined in. Boris would always come and sit in and play drums when anyone was jamming, he had a very natural talent and having played with him for so many years and in so many bands it was a joy to play with him again. Simon on the other hand always liked to know what he was playing and really didn’t like jamming or making stuff up as he went along which made this situation even more different and interesting. Of course when it came to recording it in the studio for the album it was really difficult to re achieve that spontaneity but I think we did a pretty good job, live on tour some nights it was great and others it was rubbish but thats the beauty of playing live. When you play with backing tapes it’s always the same, it’s always good, when you play live it has the opportunity to be fantastic and also to be rubbish. I know which I prefer and which most people prefer.
I’ve been asked about the working titles which I will list here and put the real titles next to them. The titles changed when Robert had sung them and were obviously descriptive from the lyrics or the mood of the song. Im getting the working titles from my keyboard notes, they may have been called something else before this stage as well but I will check… R is for Robert, S is for Simon
The Same Deep Water As Me / Unchanged – Simon
R7 / Pictures of You
RMY / Disintegration
R12 / The Tale of the Lonely Badge – Homesick
S2 / Lovesong
R19 / Lullaby
R17 / Fascination Street – I can actually work out what these songs are from the keyboard sounds
Strings Only / Plainsong
S11 / Untitled
SAH RB / Sensational Alex Harvey Band / Out Of Mind – Roger
R15 / Last Dance
Can’t Talk Now Busy / Another Delirious Night – Paul
Roger 1 / The Other Side, my title; The Fog, Boris’ title / Fear Of Ghosts
We packed up after this session with pretty much a completed album, without vocals and it sounded good, I still don’t think anyone thought it was anything special. I remember Boris saying “what do you think? There aren’t any singles on it are there, it will never sell” hahah little did we know. We thought Lullaby was pretty commercial and I remember when Robert finally sang it and it was all about spiders and death and we said thats that then hahaha. The biggest surprise of the album was the success of Lovesong, we didn’t even play it on the European leg of the tour (according to my very reliable sources we did in fact start playing it on the last couple of weeks of the European tour) and Chris Parry fought against all of us to get it released. I remember there being very heated discussions about it being released we didn’t really like it that much and it went on to the be the most successful single in the band’s history.
Chris Parry always known as Bill was the owner of Fiction Records and publishing and was the un credited manager of the band. The relationship between Robert and Bill was strange to say the least and I still don’t think I understand it. Robert I think thought Bill was the acceptable face of the business side of the music industry and was a necessary evil but Bill had a huge influence over everything that was done and Robert at that stage still respected Bill. The relationship went sour in around 1999/2000 when Bill sold Fiction and informed Robert by fax telling him if he had any problems he should contact his lawyer. To give Bill some credit though by this time the relationship between them was disastrous but after over 20 years it was a sad way for it to end. He had guided the band through its most successful period always got great deals for the band and made him and Robert a lot of money. He had also fought for and started XFM in London, England’s first alternative radio station.
Robert’s wedding was in August of 1988 and we all got together for what was an amazing day and I remember everyone was now getting excited to start the record. I think it was Paul that told me that Robert was really happy to have me in the band and for me to play all the keyboards and allow them to concentrate on guitars. I had no idea at this stage how important the keyboards would end up being on the record and how little guitar there was which was something that really upset Paul but then he was always upset about something.
Recording started in mid October at a residential studio called Outside which was near Reading about 40 miles west of London. It was a very old Manor house that used to be home to the Bishop of Reading or something bizarre like that. You can see the house in a Morrissey video for the song Ouija Board. Next to the house in a converted barn was the studio, it was state of the art at the time and very impressive and very very expensive, it was around £2000 per day. You can see the inside of the studio in a filmed Eric Clapton special shot there a few years ago. We were going to record to 48 track 2 inch tape which was two 24 track machines synced together. There was a Bosendorfer grand piano which I ended up using quite a lot, obviously on Homesick and Prayers For Rain which I will talk about more later. The live room was very big with lots of wooden beams and it felt very nice in there, grand enough to get the performances but warm enough so as not to be intimidating.
Pretty much the whole band were into 4×4 vehicles at the time, I had a Jeep Wrangler, Boris and Paul both had Landrovers and Robert had a Lada 4×4. Boris, Paul and I all met up at Boris’ house and drove up to Reading in convoy together we even had walkie talkies so we could talk to each other on the way. Very big toys for big boys. We never did have an off road race but I’m sure I would have won hahaha. The only thing that ever went off road at the time was the brand new band van, it came in a horrible blue colour but we sent it away and had it sprayed black and a huge sound system installed, it was Bruno’s pride and joy and was around into the late 90s by which time it had literally fallen to pieces. You can see the van in the outtakes on one of the video collections when we were making Pictures Of You in Scotland.
The recording didn’t get off to a great start when a heater put in Robert’s room caught fire and destroyed everything in it including all his lyrics. Perry, who was at the time Robert’s personal assistant, made a brave effort to save them but all was lost. Robert had opened the window in his room as he is always hot and likes fresh air, one of the cleaning ladies went in the room and shut the window and thought it was cold so put the heater on! We were at Dinner and somebody smelt smoke, it’s lucky the entire house didn’t burn down as it was very old and all made of wood. So Robert was left with only his memories of the lyrics, I never asked him if he used his original ideas or wether he just started again fresh, I think I would have been devastated.
OK Cure world has a very interesting habit of rewriting history, we’ve all been victim to it from time to time but this last story about the infamous lost lyrics which is in itself very entertaining and has been passed on into myth is apparently untrue! Two sources have told me that a leather satchel of lyrics and photos was indeed saved along with most other things. Nothing was lost ! Believe what you want, I was there and I still don’t know the truth or rather the truth was lost over the years.
More information has come to light in the form of a radio interview with Robert during 1990. According to Robert the whole band formed a chain with towels to enter the burning room and the lyrics were indeed saved but the whole wing of the house was burnt down. It seems the truth is that Dave Allen managed to get into the room on his own and save the leather satchel of lyrics, there was some cosmetic damage to the room which was redecorated by the end of the sessions. All along I thought they had all been lost!
The first few days were spent getting a drum sound which was usual in those days, Dave Allen was again producing the album and I got to like Dave pretty quickly. He is a very funny, very intelligent person with great ears and most worth noting stood up against Robert and had his own ideas and opinions. Robert and Dave had a really good relationship it was very healthy and very productive. The engineer was a guy called Richard who we ended up calling Tricky, from Tricky Dicky. Everyone in the Cure world had a nickname in those days apart from me hahah I eventually had to give myself one during the recording of Wild Mood Swings that ended up sticking. Boris was called The Count as everyone said he was 300 years old, Perry was Teddy, Im not sure why that one came about and Simon and Robert called each other Bub. Bruno was Billy Bongo and so it went on, Paul was called Pozzle I think or Poz?
I set up just about every keyboard I owned in the live room and all the other keyboards were set up in the control room. Unlike all the other instruments the keyboards usually go straight into the desk so you don’t need to be isolated for sound. This is good in some ways and really bad in others, it means you can more easily interact with the producer and Robert but there is usually some kind of party going on in the control room and so you have to put up with people laughing and joking and bumping into while you are trying to play. Also everybody thinks they have a better idea of how you should play what you are playing so it becomes “keyboard parts by committee”. We had a pretty massive collection of keyboards including the state of the art Emulator 3 which Lol had just bought. I think it was Teddy and Simon who thought it would be hugely amusing to change the voltage on the back of the E3 , they thought it would blow a fuse when Lol turned it on and we would have a good laugh. Unfortunately it blew the entire power supply and it had to go away for a very expensive repair.
I think it’s pretty much common knowledge how Lol was treated in those days, very very badly. Im not innocent either but then again he didn’t really do himself any favours, he was drunk most of the time and when he was trying to stay sober we would do all we could to get him drunk again. He barely played anything on the record and I think some of the things he did play I had to play again while he wasn’t there. It was pretty sad looking back the way he was victimised but it was sort of funny at the time, or was it ? He would usually be so drunk after dinner that he would go straight to bed only to get up at about 2am and come wandering into the studio and say everything sounded like shit. He would then decide he was hungry and would go and cook himself something which we would all do our best to ruin, he would still eat it though… Happily Lol is now healthy and happy and not drinking and hopefully he forgives us for what went on then…
So the average day started around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, it was late Autumn in England and it gets dark around 4, 4.30 so we didn’t see much sunlight during this time. I had my bike there and would go cycling in the woods after breakfast which was my only real escape from the studio. We would work from 4 until dinner which was at 8 and would take forever, it was a huge ritual with lots of drinking and story telling and laughing, I always thought it was just a huge waste of time but it was one of those Cure rituals that had become entrenched over time. Then back into the studio usually until about 4 or 5 in the morning. For the first few weeks we were recording the rhythm tracks, the bass and drums and I would play along in the control room with a kind of guide keyboard line to give Boris and Simon more of an idea where they were in the song. We knew the songs pretty well by now as we had done demos and pre production. Everything was played to a click track so the tempo stayed the same, not that Boris needed it but it was useful I suppose in some ways. One of the weird things that I never understood and still don’t to this day is that Dave replaced all of the kick drum hits with a sample. It was a sample of one of Boris’ hits but the same one was used all the way through. Thinking about it now it seems pretty insane and I think in some ways was the result of the technology being available, not that it was good to do but that you could actually do it. Dave was going to write an addition to this piece but I think he is really busy, anyway when I asked him about the kick sample he simply said “it wasn’t that simple” hah still not sure exactly what went on.
Once all the backing tracks were done we started putting on the keyboards and guitars, we would argue who was going to go first as it’s always nice to have more to play to than just bass and drums. Like I said most of the keyboard parts were played in the control room and thats where I created most of the sounds. The biggest signature sound on the album are the strings which were layered and a combination of about three and sometimes four instruments. We used lots of samplers and most of the sounds were real and not synthesized as such. The only time I got to play in the live room was when we used the grand piano so that was quite special. For Prayers For Rain it was decided that a piano solo going through the whole song would be nice but to put a twist on it I would play to the tape going backwards therefore making it less musical. When the tape was put back on the machine going the right way the piano would then be backwards and it was an incredible effect. It was very weird doing it though as it was after dinner and I had been drinking and the entire song in my headphones going backwards was very tricky to deal with haha. The band and Robert in particular struggled with that post punk ethic that you shouldn’t really be that good a player, there should be no displays of virtuosity or musicianship but the band had progressed to such a stage that these elements were now to a degree necessary. I came from a totally different musical background where excess and musicianship were required but I learnt a lot of very valuable lessons from Robert that ring true in my music even today.
I just remembered that when we started the album the idea was that we would play the songs live in the studio every night and there would be parallel recordings. The kind of worked out multi tracked versions and these live late night versions. I think the idea was quickly abandoned but I don’t know why or what happened to those recordings. We were probably all too drunk, I do remember them sounding pretty rough.
Often at the end of the night Boris in particular would ask if we could listen back on the “BIG SPEAKERS” and we would all sit and listen to what we had done very loudly. It was incredible to listen back to the songs at this stage and now finally I think we were starting to get excited, starting to think how they would sound live but at this time there were no plans to tour the record.
Once Boris had finished the drum tracks we started to play a lot of table tennis and we got pretty good at it, we even bought huge bats with like inch thick foam on them. At the end of recording we had a big tournament with everyone playing doubles with their wives or girlfriends. Steve Sutherland was a close friend of the band at the time and he and his wife played and he was insanely competitive and got really pissed off at her when they lost! When we went over to New York to start the tour Boris and I would play table tennis every day on the QE2 the ship we sailed across on.
We were working 6 days a week and only had Sundays off, we would go into Town to Reading now and again to have a wander around the shops and buy random stuff that we didn’t need. We also played a lot of computer games, there’s a lot of waiting around in studios when you have nothing to do so playing games on the computer became quite addictive. We played this space trading game where you made money and bought stuff for your space ship like automatic docking and shields and weapons. I cant remember what it was called now (Elite) but eventually it was banned from the control room as it became a bit distracting especially when Dave was spending as much time on it as we were hahahah…
One of the other amusing things to do was to use Lol’s brand new computer, that we made him buy, to draw obscene pictures of him on and then pin them on the wall…. How old were we ?
Another thing I remember but I don’t know how widely known this is was that Tim Burton had asked Robert for the Cure to do the soundtrack to Edward Scissorhands and the script was lying around the studio. I don’t know why we didn’t or what happened, I don’t think we knew who he was at the time
Around this time there was talk of the artwork and that Robert was thinking about using somebody other than Paul and Andy who had done most of the cover art up until then. The Cure album covers had always been very abstract and never had images of Robert or the band on them, suddenly Paul and Andy delivered a cover with Robert’s face on it. There were murmurings that they had done this so their cover would be chosen, I had no opinion on it. It was chosen….
OK so we had all the tracks done and then Robert started playing his parts, six string bass and a little bit of guitar, there was very little guitar on the entire record really. I remember the day we recorded Plainsong, it was all done in the control room and Robert showed me what to play and for some reason that day he wasn’t talking, I think he was massively hung over so we did it all with him writing notes hahah it was hilarious. He played the big chords, they were very Robert, just sort of playing every note you could at the same time. The song is in C so it’s all the white notes and just about every one of them was played in that song. We kept accurate notes of what sounds we used, what instruments and what the chords were for all the keyboard part which actually came in very handy in 2002 when we re created the album for the Trilogy DVD. Obviously we had no idea in 1988 that we were making a Trilogy but anyway I was able to use the original sounds for the Trilogy shows based on the notes I made in 1988 and still had/have.
We were getting close to the end of the sessions coming up to Christmas and Robert still hadn’t sung anything, we had no idea of melody lines of lyrical content even at this late stage. When he did start to sing it was quite incredible, Robert has an amazing powerful, emotive and unique voice and watching and listening to him sing all these songs for the first time is something I will never forget. I remember some time later during another recording session Robert explaining that it didn’t really matter what genre of music or style we played because as soon as he sang on it it became The Cure and it is so right. He would usually just sing the entire song three times and then comp together his favourite parts from each take to make the final vocal track. I remember very clearly laughing and joking and fooling around in the control room while Robert was singing Disintegration and then all of us trying to be serious when he came in to listen back, I don’t know how he put up with it really. It was never a serious atmosphere in the studio and when you think about the album and how dark it is I’m sure people think we were sitting around slitting our wrists with candles and chains hanging from the walls. In fact years later working with Ross Robinson, he actually thought thats how we should work and he had this presumed idea of what the Cure should act like. It was completely wrong and false and just felt fake like we were trying to be the Cure, we were the Cure … He never really understood that but thats another story..
So to answer another question no, the mood didn’t change in the studio when Robert started singing, it was exactly the same very happy and jokey. Lots of laughing and fooling around, I was there for all of the vocal takes and I don’t remember anyone breaking down or being overcome with emotions. It sounds very dramatic and probably fills out some peoples fantasies of what the band is like but it’s just not true. We are all very English, The Cure is probably one of the most English of groups you could imagine, the closest we got to showing emotion to each other was saying “good morning”.
One thing that I was just reminded of are those horrible sound effects that were put all over the record. I hated them and fought against them, I hate anything thats too literal and why do you need thunder and rain on a song called Prayers For Rain? Isn’t it obvious? Robert had bought a collection of sound effect CDs which ran on the Emulator and loved them I suppose as he put them all over the record. Boris of course loved them live, anything that made a horrible sound and had the possibility to deafen somebody.
The vocals were all done in a couple of weeks and then they started to mix it but it didn’t turn out right so ended up being mixed in January of 1989 at RAK Studios in London. I wasn’t there for that as I was still living in Toronto. I remember Robert phoning me one day to tell me they were mixing one of my songs Fear Of Ghosts and that it was one of his favourites. He told me once that it was in his top ten favourite Cure songs. My demo was called The Other Side and I wrote it in my apartment in Toronto which had a view across Lake Ontario, on a clear day I could see the “other side”. When I played it to Boris before the first listening session he said it sounded like the soundtrack to the film “The Fog” he was always very encouraging hahah What is weird is that the eventual title Fear Of Ghosts , the initials are FOG … Weird !!!
I think the title of the album was very much decided before we got to Outside and the song Disintegration already had a name so it seems that was pretty set, there was no debate about it. There was debate about Wild Mood Swings which I hated the name of and said so which is probably why Robert chose it hahah There were always enough people around him that would say yes to everything, I didn’t always agree and said so. When somebody asks for your opinion what are you supposed to do try and guess what they want or say what you think?
I had a cassette of the instrumental rough mixes with me when I returned to Toronto for Christmas 1988 and played it to a few people at a party haha they had no idea what they were listening to. The first time I heard the finished record was actually on a cassette and I was hugely disappointed with the mastering, of course it didn’t help it was on a cassette but even now I think it sounds really flat and compressed and without any life in it. Entreat, the live version recorded at Wembley in the Summer of 1989 always sounded way way better. Again I think it goes back to the issue of recording to a click track and the dynamics in the performance. Boris is such a creative drummer that he was able to speed up and slow down songs by as little as a couple of BPM but at the right moment the effect is incredible.
It was always said through the making of the album that we wouldn’t tour it and that was that. In January of 1989 I was living at Boris’ house in Devon while I was working on my house which I had bought around the corner from his. We both received the same letter from Robert which was addressed to Lol and basically said that we would be touring the album that year but as a five piece and Lol was no longer in the band. So two shocks in one, no more Lol and a World tour to support the record. I think it was absolutely the right thing to do for Lol and it was for his own good, he would probably have killed himself or worse with drink if he’d of stayed in the band. The tour was also great news but now I had to play all the keyboard parts myself which was a challenge but thats another story, The Prayer Tour…… To Be Continued?
One funny story I remember from after the release of the album when the first single in the UK was released Lullaby. We were all at Boris’ house probably rehearsing and it was Sunday night at the end of the week of work and we were waiting to hear the chart position it had entered at. One of the wives said that if it went top ten she would drink a whole bottle of Champagne and she didn’t really drink so this was all pretty funny. We all sat around in the kitchen with the radio in the middle and on came the charts, well we sat through 30 – 20 and nothing… Then 20 -10 and still nothing, either it had charted very high or not at all… Then 10 – 5 and still nothing hahah finally I think it appeared at number 3 or something, Im sure somebody knows and all hell broke loose. Bruno was sent on a mission to scour every pub in North Devon for bottles of Champagne, it’s still part of local legend. The wife did indeed drink most of a bottle and then was chasing everyone around for another one, Robert had given Paul and Janet one of those huge bottles for their wedding which was still at Boris’ but we managed to hide it from them. The party went on late into the night and everyone was pretty sorry for themselves the next day especially as we had to drive up to London and do a performance on Top of The Pops.
Robert wanted us all to dress up like the Tin soldiers in the video but either we refused or they couldn’t find the uniforms anyway luckily we didn’t have to but he decided to wear all that black make up. When we arrived on stage for the run through the director just about had a fit and word came down from the control room that Robert had to take off the make up otherwise we would be allowed to perform. He of course said no and there was a lot of discussions and negotiations between the record label and the BBC. Finally we were allowed to perform but there weren’t any close ups of Robert just Paul and I hahah Oops I got that wrong I just found the TOTPs video on YouTube and it says we were a new entry at number 12 hahah amazing how you build things up in your mind. So with that in mind read everything else I have written with a pinch of salt ! That is a pretty nice suit I’ve got on, no wonder I didn’t want to wear the Tin Soldier outfit, unfortunately we weren’t to get our way a few years later when we had to dress up as a Mariachi band for The 13th performance on TOTPs!
I had a special request to include a section about the making of the Disintegration videos which I suppose falls under this heading.
A couple of years ago I got in touch with Richard Earl the art director of most of the Cure videos and I asked him for his recollections of making the videos…..
I began working with Tim Pope, video director during the 1980′s having already, as a music fan, enjoyed Tim’s distinctive creativity as a film/video maker. As always with with Tim, creating the visual imagery for these little video films was thrilling as we developed ideas to be turned into cinematographic events. And the videos we created for the Cure during this period I feel were the epitome of the style. I know that from the moment I got the call from Tim that “there was another Cure Video to shoot” the next week or so was going to be very satisfyingly intense and creative. The process usually began when I received a cassette tape of the Cure number, listened to it and got into the atmosphere of the piece. And being the same sort of age of the band members I was already a huge fan of the Cure and their music. I am very happy that my involvement creating the film imagery has reinforced my love of the songs to this day.
So, a couple of hours later, after hearing the new song for the first time, I would be with Tim running through ideas that he had for his shoot. From this standing start we came up with all the story/cinematographic elements that we could invent and started generating the ambience for this, about to happen, four minute film. By the end of the day I would have drawn up some visuals for the sets and scripts so others could begin seeing and sharing our thoughts.
I felt very precious about the Cure material and did my best to reflect the atmosphere of the music as I understood it. As the designer it was much like being an artist working with the media of film making, it was all a genuinely a creative process with Tim Pope and the situation allowed a reign to the imagination like no other film making. Through all the films we made for the Cure we gave everything we possibly could to the event and looking back it seemed like a great thing to do, but of course I hardly had a moment from start to finish to appreciate this bubble of creativity. Just got on with it, it was a big struggle to give Tim the imagery we talked over with the money and time budget provided, as film making needs lots of it. And so from the artistic creativity seed I then started patting the concept butter into shape, trying to come up with clever answers to all the practical problems of carpenters, painters, sculptors, riggers, prop makers, special effect people prop hiring transportation and on an on. All necessary for something to shoot on in a few days time.
And so, a few very long days later we would have a finished film set on a London film stage ready to work, for me this was the first time I had a chance to stop for a second, catch my breath and see what we had. Tim Pope would by now be on set and start thinking through his work with the various elements. Next the lighting would begin, I wished I could have lit the sets myself as I had a better visual understanding of the sets than the other technicians, but this was not to be, and finally the “Boys” would arrive, this is how the band were known by production. From now on the shoot moved up a gear as all the other technicians began their work and the band were readied for their performances on camera.
That has described what would take hours as day became night and we all worked through the night with cameras, lights, props, sets and special effects etc. For most people on set, we had either frantic, hectic moments or long, long hours of waiting as the next shot was developed and perfected.
“Lullaby” was a great creative film to make with lots of innovative cinematic techniques, a really fun set to build and some good makeup stuff on Robert. A few all nighters of course on this one but it all looked great. I felt especially proud of that film when ever I saw it play on TV.
“Lovesong” was again created on a London film stage and I think I did it in a couple of days start to finish, building the caves with Expanding foam, plaster and paint, all the usual stuff, then we plumbed it in with dripping water and all the effects necessary for the shoot. I remember buying some fun socks to hang up in the cave as this had by now become a running motif through out the Cure Videos. Tim loved all these filmic/Cure type references. It was always good once we got started on the shoot as the other technicians, the make up, costume/wardrobe people and production arrived, people that we would spend most of the next couple of days with, living together on the stage. The band would arrive, get into the mood and get down on to the set, …. time to play their part, Robert seemed convinced that Tim spends his time inventing difficult set ups for Robert to endure, but we did all seem to get on with the film work, making it all happen.
When I got the call for the next Cure video “Pictures of You” I was told it was to be shot in Glencoe, Scotland. For me the usual procedure followed through except that this time we were on the move t’up north, and that oh, there would be palm trees. OK ….Very Tim! Having found a collection of prop Palm trees and a few other props and tried to work out how we could set them up on the day with no advanced preparation, I set about sorting out “the cutting it fine” logistics and bundled it all up in a truck from London to Glencoe with the Propman Roy.
The next day, we the film crew, flew up to Scotland and arrived at Glencoe. Tim and I scouted and found the location for the shoot, which at that point, had no snow cover. Even so the Valley that evening, was very moving with lots of vibes echoing back from the past. I think it was impossible not to feel it. Having chosen the location I was very anxious about all my key essential props and set arriving in the back of a truck on time, nail biting. This was before the universal mobile phone but much to my relief, arriving back at the hotel, everything seemed in place, under control and ok.
We were as usual, scheduled for the next day, a very early morning set up/start. Because of the short daylight hours, it was of course imperative to get set up and be ready as quickly as possible, ready for the band to arrive …
Next morning, snow …. wow… and although we knew that this was to make the going difficult it would give the whole film a very special extra dimension. It really didn’t seem funny at the time dealing with the weather, we fought with the gale force wind blowing up the valley to get the palm tress stood up and the props nailed down, however I did later, watching a Polar Bear wandering around drinking coffee, have a moment to stand back and and see the funny side… bizarre!
During a short meal break I had the chance of peace full minute with Roy our prop man, (I had met Roy at Camberwell art college years before and he had worked on most of the Cure videos with me) to absorb the magic of Glencoe in the snow, I can still feel the cold dampness we had all by now, succumbed to. We both stood silently up to our knees in snow and stared across the valley and felt for all those souls that had fallen in the 17th century battle.
Back to work, the band did their performance with the snow and wind being as much a part of the film as the Palm trees, we did all we could, the band were very stoic, we fought against the failing light and then inevitably when darkness came we “wrapped.” Cleared up and cleared off we all began our eventful individual journeys home….. but that is another story.
At the time of making these Cure films I perhaps regret not having the time to know the Band better, finding out about the creative music making process, I was really very interested in music and especially the Cure’s vividly rich music but I was wound up with designing TV commercials and feature films as well at the time. But I have to say none of these other disciplines gave me the artistic and creativity reward that interpreting visually the Cure’s amazing music allowed.
In those days videos were incredibly expensive lavish affairs which took hours and hours to film and edit. Robert and Tim Pope had a very big idea for the video for Lullaby which was very expensive but they had a plan to off set the expense by shooting the video for Fascination Street very cheaply and doing them side by side. I think they were shot one after the other and the budget combined.
Fascination Street was basically just a live shoot, a film of us performing the song in an old power station in South London. We just set up and played the song a few times with a lot of smoke and then all kinds of effects were added in the editing suite. There are two versions floating around, I remember when we first saw it Robert thought there was too much of me hahahha so it was sent back and I was taken out. The original edit is around though and you can see me in all my glory!
Lullaby was by all accounts a huge production on a sound stage somewhere in London, I cant remember the exact location and it was all the more interesting as MTV were making a documentary about us making the video. The whole video revolved around Robert in a sort of dream sequence and we were to play some tin soldiers who popped up for a couple of seconds now and again. There were bird eating spiders, Robert being pushed through the mouth of a giant spider which was all rather sexual in fact as they pushed him through it the first time I very humorously shouted out “it’s a boy” which made everyone laugh. I remember getting very drunk and explaining to the MTV camera how to make a proper English bacon sandwich. I’ve never seen that documentary which is probably for the best as I’m sure it’s very embarrassing!
The Lullaby video went on to win an award at the following years Brit Awards in London which marked my last public appearance with then band before I rejoined in 1995. I think it was a pretty good video, very 80s very Cure and very MTV.
We hadn’t planned to make any more videos but then Lovesong was released and did well in America and in the break between the Euro and US legs of the tour we were forced to go back into the studio and shoot it. Everyone was very grumpy about this, we all hated the song and didn’t want it released and time off was also very valuable at this stage. The original idea was to shoot it in Cheddar Gorge a group of amazing caves in western England but of course they weren’t too keen on having their caves trampled over by a bunch of weird looking music people so the caves were recreated in a studio in London. The art director Richard did an amazing job and it was all made out of polystyrene and plaster. I have one of the stalagmites in my studio. The best thing about this shoot for me was that I was in my own cave away from the others and as soon as they had shot my bits I could leave! I think that video has a great look to it and another Tim Pope triumph.
I had all but forgotten about Pictures Of You, I have probably blanked it out as it was such a bad memory. It was shot long after the end of the tour in January 1990 I think. The atmosphere within the group was terrible, there was very very bad feeling between Simon and Boris which was later turned on me. Lot’s of shit going on, very personal shit. I took Leslie my girlfriend with me to Scotland but I was the only one so that was a bit weird as well. We travelled up to Scotland where it was shot, by train the day before, it was a long way. It was in Glencoe I think and luckily for Tim it did snow the day we shot the video and it didn’t stop. Somebody actually died on the mountain behind us that day. It was freezing and miserable and of course took hours. Bruno was roaming around in a Polar Bear suit and was probably the only person who was warm. There’s quite a lot of b roll video of this floating around of us pushing the van in the snow, practising “Hello I love You” which we were about to record for an Elektra special album. Things were so bad that Simon actually didn’t play on that recording.
So we were all set up in the snow and playing the song over and over again in front of some fake palm trees in the freezing cold drinking brandy. We actually had battery powered amps and played the song for real, I think you can hear a bit in it. The next day we tried to get home but the whole of Britain was gripped in this massive storm and we only got as far as Birmingham I think. Yeah not very good memories of that trip and it was the beginning of the end for me. I couldn’t take the drama and the back biting and all the shit anymore, four months later I got in my car and drove away.
Answers to Questions from Fans
Which keyboards were used during recording and the subsequent tour?
There were a lot of keyboards and samplers and modules used here is the studio list;
Prophet 2002 Sampler
Emulator E2 Sampler
Emulator E3 Sampler
Akai S612 Sampler
Moog Mini Moog Model D Synthesizer
Roland JX8P Synthesizer
Arp Solina String Machine
Bosendorfer Grand Piano
Yamaha mother keyboard with weighted action
Midi Step Midi foot controller
rack including Oberheim disc readers which read Prophet, Mirage and Emulator samples
If we knew we recording an historical record and if it was hard to play the songs live?
No, as I said many times in the piece we had no idea, it was just the next Cure record to us. The songs from the album weren’t difficult to play live but some of the older songs with multiple parts posed a challenge for only one keyboard. There was a lot of pressure on me to do it alone as Boris and Paul were adamant they didn’t want Perry to be asked to join the band. This of course changed when I left.
Originally a song written by Lol although if we ever said that in the studio Robert would get angry and threaten to take it off the record. The chord changes were based on Lol’s demo but Simon and I re arranged the song and basically re wrote it one drunken night. The piano and bass parts were entirely improvised which made it difficult to recreate in the studio, I don’t think it was ever as good as the first time we played it but it came close. The Trilogy version was the most difficult as I had moved on as a player from those days and found it hard to go back to playing like that.
Song inclusion and running order?
There was only one song which wasn’t used in some way, Paul’s song “Another Delirious Night” which had a working title of “Cant Talk Now Busy.” I’m sure it will be on the re release next year as it’s one song nobody has heard. Robert chose the songs and the running order, there was never any discussion in those days. I don’t think anyone really liked Lovesong and we were upset Last Dance was left off the vinyl but it was on the CD.
We were always talking about cutting all our hair off, the idea was for everyone to get a crop before starting the record hahah I was the only one that did it. Then I think Simon got drunk and cut his hair on New Years eve 1988? But I can’t remember, he hated it anyway so wore the scarf and hat all the time on that tour and in photos.
I think Robert was the only one who ever got upset about the band being called Goth. I never cared and it’s a bit hard to dispute really isn’t it? I mean even if the Cure didn’t think they were goth their audience did.
The loss of Lol?
I think it was a huge relief after he was gone however I do remember there being a certain uneasiness as to who was going to take his place as the band scapegoat or escape valve. He wasn’t missed in any sense, he had become ridiculous and sad. Nobody did take up the role of official scape goat and that probably led to the tensions within the band becoming so unbearable during the Prayer Tour.
Alcohol and Drugs?
As far as I am concerned I only drank and as for anyone else taking drugs I can’t comment.
Always pretty happy and funny, lots of joking all the time…
Playing the piano solo on Prayers For Rain
The songs naturally evolved but they all started out with a pretty good idea of what they wanted to be so no great changes in sound probably apart from Homesick
Each person’s demos for the songs were finished entities so for example when I brought a song like Fear Of Ghosts it had the drum parts, bass and keyboards. People didn’t really write new parts for other people’s songs. Simon wrote Lovesong and his demo sounds exactly the same as the finished song, he wrote Same Deep Water and Untitled as well. I will have to check who wrote what.
It wasn’t an oppressive atmosphere at all it was very much and has always been recognised as Robert’s band nobody disputed that and worked within that framework. There were grumbles usually from one direction and murmurings of leaving but nothing ever happened and everyone got on with their jobs. I enjoyed working in that way with a clear musical director who had a vision
Robert never talked about his lyrics not to me anyway, I have no idea what moved him to write those songs and strangely I never asked. It all seemed so personal to me and at the time I didn’t have the kind of relationship with Robert where I would just walk up to him and say “so what’s that all about then” …
Yes a wonderful song especially if you are a keyboard player. I loved to play that song live incredible feeling starting the show just Boris and I.
Yes it was very uncomfortable for me to be brought in to do somebody else’s job who was clearly not capable of it and had been in the band since the beginning. It was however his own fault and nobody forced him to drink, no wait yes we did actually hahah…. I was never intimidated by Lol he’s not that sort of person…
Like I said before, the situation is indescribable, it was bullying at its worst and I am afraid to say I was a part of it. I am very sorry for the part I took in it all but it was such an entrenched part of the culture of the band it was very hard not to get involved. Lord of the Flies springs to mind…..
How on earth can you rank one kind of music against another, one group of songs against another? I think it is a fantastic collection of songs from a band at their peak of creating and performing. The live performances of the songs I have always believed though are way better than the studio versions. That band on stage at that time was amazing, it was so sad however that barely anyone spoke to anyone else after the shows and it was such a horrible experience off stage.
Musically yes, emotionally I’m really not sure. Life does have a very strange habit of repeating itself though doesn’t it?
I can’t speak for the others and I don’t talk to them so can’t ask… My favourites are Last Dance and Prayers For Rain
I don’t think any of us were listening to anything other than what we were working on. I rarely listen to music when I am making it.
Hahahhaha no we were all in relationships
The toll of time?
I personally think that any band or musician has a finite amount of things to say, maybe the Cure used up their quota? Maybe it’s time to go in a totally different direction? I certainly never saw the point in playing and recording the same songs over and over.
Well I won’t answer questions about that here as it’s not about the tour but maybe some other time
Disintegration my first album?
Yes it was my first real time in a band making a record which is a bit insane when you think about it isn’t it? I loved every minute of it, I loved being directed by Robert, obviously playing with Boris and Simon. It all felt amazingly good …
Yes I felt like a full member of the group I was the keyboard player and doing my job and I loved it.
Not sure if I have ever used any demos I wrote for the Cure for anything else they are quite specific. I was amazed that any of my songs were used and love the way Fear of Ghosts sounds and how it turned out which isn’t too far away from how it started.
I think I addressed that in the piece and I had no idea it was public knowledge that there was some unrest about it and it was such an obvious ploy of Paul and Andy to get their design used. I can’t say I blame them and the cover was ok but it was such a band record and a shame that they had to use Robert’s face in that way.
Robert told us to bring a colourful shirt to the photo shoot so Boris and I went shopping before hahah and we couldn’t find anything good but that stupid flower shirt. I still have it, I have everything!
OK this isn’t strictly Disintegration territory but I will answer it. I left the group in May 1990, I walked out. I wasn’t sacked or forced or anything, the reasons I walked out are quite complex but had a lot to do with Simon. I love Simon and we have long since forgiven each other for anything that may have happened then. I was very unhappy…
In May 2005 I received a phone call from Robert after he sent me an email. I had found out prior to this conversation that I was no longer in the group. If I hadn’t been pushed I would have jumped, there were several things that would have made me leave, playing Live8 in Paris for example and the TV thing with Korn but those are other stories…..
Dave had a huge influence on everything and Robert respected his opinions as he has never respected anyone since. Dave is a very intelligent creative force and I really enjoyed working with him. Dave was instrumental in the sound of The Cure and I think his influence has been hugely missed since.
Simon wrote this song and the keyboard parts I simply played them, Simon is very good at writing keyboard parts and I’m good at bass parts hahah maybe we should swap ?
Only one song was never used, Paul’s song “Another Delirious Night” which is I am sure going to be on the re release which comes out in 2010
We were all in the dining room eating dinner, Robert didn’t save anything it was all lost. Well apparently not as you can read above.
I had an hours worth of music including one song I sang on! I have never used any of them for anything since and doubt I will they are 20 years old and if I am unable to write new songs perhaps I should give up trying ?
Yes I was there in New Orleans in 1987 and it is about that I think. Robert had a list of possible names for the street and we all chose Fascination.
Prayer tour, why did I fly?
OK this question has come up before and maybe I should set the record straight here. The wives and girlfriends were coming on the second half of the tour so that’s a lot of people, we were given the choice of having two tour busses or if two of us wanted to fly we could save money and have one bus. I agreed to fly and so did Paul but then he changed his mind and it looked like I didn’t want to travel with the band which isn’t true. There was an incredible amount of shit going on on the tour and at any minute we thought it might all collapse but that is another story a pretty sad one at that….
Palm trees not real, it was shot in Scotland as far as I know they don’t have Palm trees there hahah. The Lovesong cave is in a studio as we couldn’t get permission to use the real cave
Top Of The Pops?
We all love Top of The Pops it was a British institution and meant you were selling records. There was a lot of trouble about Robert’s make up in Lullaby which nearly caused us not to do it but they said we could and there would be no close ups of Robert. The director felt it would scare people! The BBC didn’t like the Cure really I dont think hahahh.
IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS ARISING FROM THIS PLEASE EMAIL ME
AND I WILL DO MY BEST TO ANSWER YOU
Thanks and credits; Special thanks to Craig Parker at Chain of Flowers for the fan questions and draft reading and additional questions. Bruno Brunning for a lot of photos and his memories. Dave Allen for answering some tech questions. Brent Graham for some very detailed information. Robert for asking me to perform and contribute to such an amazing record and everyone who has enjoyed this record over the last twenty years and to whom it means so much.
Photos; By request any photos containing images of non band or crew members have been altered to preserve that person’s privacy. Any photograph containing unaltered images are and have been previously available to view on the internet.
Disclaimer; I should point out and this really is obvious but these are my personal recollections, the way I remember it happening. We all know if you put four people in a room and ask them to talk about a shared experience they will all recount it differently. This is no different and the other people involved in this project all had very big personalities and opinions and Im sure they would disagree with at least some if not all of what I have said. I can only say that this is honestly as I remember everything happening.
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