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The bar bill that almost split up The Cure

The touring process for The Cure’s 1982 album Pornography was a ghoulish period for the band, one that rather than toasting them as the group of the moment, nearly ended up with them being a thing of the past. Drug-fuelled arguments filled their days and band members found themselves in a seismically low place at night. The iconic record being perhaps the only slight blessing from this period, their future was hanging by a thread and the slightest little inconvenience could escalate into a hellish argument, with one petulant spat over a bar bill nearly cutting short the band’s vibrant career.

When the album was released, The Cure immediately immersed themselves into life on the road. Despite the inner turmoil that seeped into the recording of Pornography not yet being settled, the issue was silently simmering below the surface. Living in such a confined space with one another for a prolonged period of time can lead to disastrous results for any band and The Cure were equal cannon fodder. The band later claimed that they had never even had a single argument before this time. It was, however, their fourth record and the tempers were beginning to flare.

“During Pornography, the band was falling apart, because of the drinking and drugs. I was pretty seriously strung out a lot of the time,” Robert Smith later confessed to Rolling Stone. “I know for a fact that we recorded some of the songs in the toilets to get a really horrible feeling because the toilets were dirty and grim. Simon doesn’t remember any of that, but I have a photo of me sitting on a toilet, in my clothes, trying to patch up of some of the lyrics. It’s a tragic photo.”

Everything about the tour was disconcerting, from the band’s relationships with one another off-stage to their dark stage design. “[The stage] was confrontational compared to what had come before,” former drummer Lol Tolhurst wrote in his autobiography Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys. “[It] comprised of screens that were remotely operated to come down over the drum kit which was placed to the side of the stage. They also covered other areas of the stage to create different effects. It was stark, to say the least… The effect was similar to sitting in a pub or club with a mirror bar… A little disconcerting for the audience, which was part of our intention,” he continued.

Word soon spread about the nature of the live shows which seemingly put off some fairweather fans, with many concerts on the tour seeing The Cure play to half-filled rooms. In Strasbourg on May 27th, the tension between Robert Smith and bassist Simon Gallup reached breaking point following another disappointing evening. Tolhurst decided to stay away from his bandmates following the show, instead opting to hang out with support act Zerra One.

Whilst Tolhurst had a relaxing drink, it was anything but calm when Smith and Gallup found themselves in a vitriolic argument over an unpaid bar tab. It would put that era of The Cure to the sword, all for a few drinks. What started as a war of words over the bill ended with a full-blown fistfight between the two men. “I was about to leave when some guy came up and told me I hadn’t paid for my drinks,” remembered Gallup in Ten Imaginary Years, “He thought I was Robert. I was knackered but the bloke took me up to the bar and Robert appeared to see what was going on. I hit him, he responded and we had a fight.”

In the same book, Smith recalled: “I was on the first floor of this club when they came up and told me there was a problem downstairs. Simon was so wound up that no-one could talk to him – he was screaming at the barman, this young kid who was nearly in tears. By himself, Simon would have never behaved like that but he was surrounded by the road crew so he was behaving the way he thought a rock ‘n’ roller ought to behave.”

For The Cure singer, the reasoning behind the dispute can be squarely blamed on the bar bill and the perception Smith wasn’t paying his own: “He didn’t want to pay for his drinks because he thought I wasn’t paying for mine. I told him to shut up and he punched me. It was the first time he really laid into me, we had an enormous ruck and I said ‘That’s it’, walked out, got a cab back to the hotel, got my suitcase, my passport from the tour manager’s room and got on the first flight to London. That was at 6.30am and I was home by half-past 10. I left a note saying I wasn’t coming back.”

Smith then walked out on the band despite them still having Swiss, French and Belgian legs of the tour to finish but the frontmen decided instead to head home to Crawley with Gallup also vanishing. “In a bar in Strasbourg things got so out of hand that I just took the first flight home,” Smith later remembered. “For me it was over and out. But when I unexpectedly showed up home, my dad wouldn’t let me in. ‘You have a responsibility as an entertainer,’ he said. ‘People have bought tickets, get yourself back on tour’.”

With his tail firmly between his legs after a telling off from his dad, he and Gallup flew back to finish off the run of dates but that wouldn’t turn out to be a wise decision. On the final night of the tour, Simon Gallup shouted “Robert Smith is a c***” into the mic, while Smith threw drumsticks at Gallup, yelling “f*** off”. “That night… felt like death,” Tolhurst would write in his book. “It was the death of that version of The Cure.”

”I remember that we were in the dressing room and I thought in one hour The Cure is finished,” Smith would later add. “So I thought: let’s make it a memorable goodbye.”

Gallup would leave the band following the tour before rejoining in three years with a renewed vigour thanks to the much-welcomed break with him and Smith ready to put their previous troubles behind them. When he returned to the group, they began the ultimate hot streak of their career starting with The Head on the Door and were truly an unstoppable force with the bassist back in the fold.

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