Oh Glastonbury. Cancelled again. One begins to wonder whether…no, no, no. Let’s not go there. Glastonbury will return in 2022 as part of the ‘new roaring 20s’, when the virus lifts and we can all celebrate humanity once again: connection. In real life connection.
The recent news about Glastonbury’s enforced 2nd year of hiatus had me drifting in thought back to summer 2019 — surfing from stage to stage (VIP areas only), getting close up to the action. Drink in hand and with access to gourmet food options left and right, Glastonbury is always a joy when it’s really ‘Hamtonbury’ i.e. hosted from the comforts of my own home — separate ‘stages’ (i.e. different telly screens up in the kitchen, garden, lounge etc.) and everything.
Anyhow, that Sunday night back in the good times of 2019 proved to be something of a cultural revelation to me. When I first heard The Cure were to headline Glastonbury I was nonplussed. The Cure? Pretty legacy focused compared with say, Stormzy — I hadn’t considered it an appointment to view, because I had never really been a fan. But after a highly sociable weekend with friends and neighbours dropping in here and there to watch various sets, everyone had gone home to face the Sunday night winddown. It was just me, the big screen (+ soundbar) at the bottom of the garden, and The Cure’s headline slot.
Wow. I was blown away. They had me from the opening bars of the slow intro to Plainsong, which seemed to drift across the late summer air of the Glastonbury village like a wave of highly concentrated goodwill. If it came across to me this way on the television, I can only imagine what it must have been like to actually be there in the Pyramid Stage crowd. The only time I’ve experienced a gig opening like that was Live 8 in 2005 and Pink Floyd’s reunion (I was lucky enough to be there ‘IRL’ that time). The opening bars of Breathe took one’s breath away (literally, I mean that).
I couldn’t quite get my head around the sound of it — how good it was. Having never been too familiar with The Cure, recorded or live, I really had no idea. That’s the thing with music. You can be a superfan of music, but you cannot be a fan of every band. Like any music obsessive, I have blind spots all over the place, which causes me mild anxiety from time to time. But the wonder of music discovery is the gift that keeps on giving, especially when it comes directly in the form of live performance. There’s nothing better. And the idea that you can discover a band at any time and connect with them — even if they’ve been around for 40 years well, that’s a cultural phenomenon to be grateful for. It’s what you should always remain open to the idea of becoming a fan, and let go of your prejudices and pre-judgements. I’ll make Thin Lizzy fans out of all of you all yet, Song Sommelier fans!
But back we go then to June 30 2019. What a set that was! I was converted to a Cure fan within a dozen minutes, as the band coursed through Plainsong, the illustrious 7+ minutes of Pictures Of You and then into territory genuinely new to me. It was like a walk deep into the forest as night falls. And since there’s plenty of trees and forests in The Cure songs that seems an appropriate enough metaphor. I admired that show on so many levels though. The poise of the band for one thing. There were no stage props, gimmicks or guests — none of that would have made any sense — it was just a band with faultless playing, incredible songs and that element of magic that seems rare today: charisma. It added up to something magical. At one point on the televised footage, the camera focused on the crowd and there was Ed O’brien of Radiohead: mesmerized. I wondered what might be going through his head then, since it seems that the cohort of bands able to do what The Cure and Radiohead do live is very small indeed — in a league of their own so to speak. The look on Ed’s face was one of pure joy and admiration I feel.
On it went deeper and darker into the Enchanted Forest, with a mid-set run of songs: Last Dance, Burn, Fascination Street, Never Enough and Push. From this point on I was completely transported. My acid test of all live shows (god we miss them so much) is whether or not they transcend — take you to a place outside of yourself. It’s never happened for me via the medium of television though, not until that night. Having been taken aback from the beginning at the quality of Jason Cooper and Simon Gallup’s brum & bass combo, this part of the set revealed The Cure’s unique guitar lines — beautifully rendered by veteran session player Reeves Gabrels but also Robert Smith himself. No wonder sales of his signature Schecter guitar surged after that performance. Then there was Smith, cutting a dishevelled, darkly comic, awkward and very English figure. At the centre of all that energy, he channeled such emotion. His voice was just incredible. He had me choking up.
For several weeks after the show I was in the grip of a very powerful after-effect. I was imbibed with an energy part joy, part comfort, part wonder. I blew off a swanky music industry party to attend The Cure’s cinema release (nicely timed) of their 40th Anniversary Hyde Park show from the previous summer. Again, enraptured.
I might have watched the Glasto set three or four times more. The words “where’s Dad, oh he’s watching The Cure again” might have been uttered a few times around the house. There’s only one way to go from here and that’s to see them play IRL, which is rather high on my cultural priority list. Until then, the hidden pleasures of their vast back catalogue of four decades invites endless wanderings through the forests and the trees.
I have been wanting to write this post for a long time — since June 2019 in fact, but have been inspired to do so now by the sobering news of Glastonbury’s continued pause, but also by the recent discovery of Lina Moon’s wonderful Cure and Robert Smith fan art. Lina’s work illustrates the piece and below are a few words from someone much younger than me who has been a fan of The Cure for far longer. Wonders never cease…
For more discovery, with context, of classic & new music go to https://www.songsommelier.com/