Flashback: Fascination St - The Cure jam and party with Wellington's post-punks

The Cure with bassist Simon Gallup, left, singer Robert Smith, second from left, and drummer Lol Tolhurst jamming with Wellington musicians in the basement of Mt Victoria's Clyde Quay School in August 1981.
CHARLES JAMESON
The Cure with bassist Simon Gallup, left, singer Robert Smith, second from left, and drummer Lol Tolhurst jamming with Wellington musicians in the basement of Mt Victoria's Clyde Quay School in August 1981.

It's become the stuff of underground legend – the night the three imaginary boys who would go on to become alternative-pop royalty jammed with Wellington musicians in a school basement after partying at an Oriental Bay flat. Matt Stewart looks back to the time English post-punks The Cure collided with the capital.

They would go on to become one of an era-defining quartet of English bands, including New Order, The Smiths and Depeche Mode, whose global influence and devoted following have endured through decades.

But 36 years ago on August 3, 1981, post-punk trio The Cure played and partied with a select group of fans and musicians in journalist David Maclennan's Hay St, Oriental Bay, flat.

The Cure party with local musicians at a Wellington flat in August 1981. From left, Dan Birch (Beat Rhythm Fashion), Aidan (Cure roadie), Domestic Blitz singer Dave McLennan (with glasses at back), Sherryn Congdon (back to camera - singer with Domestic Blitz), Robert Smith (crouching with cup), Nigel Elder (Neoteric Tribesmen guitarist, sitting, back to camera), Simon Gallup (The Cure bassist, standing in corner), Stephen Norris and Kate Walker (Naked Spots Dance).
CHARLES JAMESON
The Cure party with local musicians at a Wellington flat in August 1981. From left, Dan Birch (Beat Rhythm Fashion), Aidan (Cure roadie), Domestic Blitz singer Dave McLennan (with glasses at back), Sherryn Congdon (back to camera - singer with Domestic Blitz), Robert Smith (crouching with cup), Nigel Elder (Neoteric Tribesmen guitarist, sitting, back to camera), Simon Gallup (The Cure bassist, standing in corner), Stephen Norris and Kate Walker (Naked Spots Dance).

Maclennan had been writing for Wellington's In Touch music magazine and he and his mates had jacked up the party while hanging out with the band – lead singer Robert Smith, bassist Simon Gallup and drummer/keyboardist Lol Tolhurst – after their Palmerston North gig a day earlier.

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McLennan picks up the yarn with an excerpt from his forthcoming book on the capital's punk scene: "It wasn't a huge party – basically just members of various local bands, including Beat Rhythm Fashion, Naked Spots Dance, Neoteric Tribesmen, and Domestic Blitz, plus some of the In Touch crew and a few other hangers-on.

Peter Urlich, at centre, with Th' Dudes, from left, Ian Morris, Bruce Hambling, Lez White and Dave Dobbyn. Urlich got to know The Cure when he was their roadie in Europe.
JULIAN RAETHEL
Peter Urlich, at centre, with Th' Dudes, from left, Ian Morris, Bruce Hambling, Lez White and Dave Dobbyn. Urlich got to know The Cure when he was their roadie in Europe.

"The Cure brought a couple of their road crew with them, as well as plenty of beer and other stimulants, and an enjoyable time was had.

"By 1am we were all flying, and one of the Neoterics suggested heading down to their practice room under (Mt Victoria's) Clyde Quay School for a jam session, so off we went, either on foot or in The Cure's van.

"The jam was very noisy, but a lot of fun. The Neoterics played a few of their songs with The Cure's Lol Tolhurst on drums, then The Cure themselves did a few of theirs and sounded like a real garage band. We then did one of my band's songs with Robert on bass and Lol on drums, finally packing it in around 3am."

In Touch magazine editor Gary Steel and deputy editor Redmer Yska in June 1981.
CHARLES JAMESON
In Touch magazine editor Gary Steel and deputy editor Redmer Yska in June 1981.

Cranked on speed, some of the entourage ended up back at The Cure's hotel on Oriental Parade. "We talked about all sorts of things and listened to a rough mix of the new Cure single Charlotte Sometimes over and over and over … I think I left around 6.30am. It had been quite a night."

Later that evening The Cure would play two sold-out shows at Wellington Town Hall.

Smith came back in 1983 to play guitar for Siouxsie and the Banshees and remarked on what a wonderful night he'd had in the capital when  Maclennan showed him the photos of the 1981 party/jam session.

Former Th' Dudes lead singer Peter Urlich had become friends with the West Sussex trio when he roadied for them as they were breaking through in Europe, so naturally he hooked up with them on the New Zealand tour.

"Everyone had a jam and a few drinks and it was a bit of a riot – it's really hazy, I can barely remember the room we were in – but it was just a lot of fun," Urlich said.

In that session the gathered musicians played A Forest, a single from The Cure's second album, Seventeen Seconds, released the previous year.

In Touch deputy editor Redmer Yska​ remembers the basement as well as the bassline from A Forest, which still echoes around in his mind's ear to this day.

Smith, Tolhurst and Gallup were friendly and approachable and he suspects they felt at home in Wellington. "They felt the love – they could be themselves and not be mobbed." 

The magazine helped nurture a stable of writers, including Steve Braunias and David Cohen, while Ruth Laugesen, Russell Brown, Jane Clifton and Mark Cubey​ were also affiliated.

In Touch was also involved in a campaign to get Joy Division records sold in New Zealand, culminating in the doomed Mancunians' singles Love will Tear Us Apart and the funereal Atmosphere climbing to the No 1 spot in June and August 1981 as the Springbok protests split the nation.

In Touch editor Gary Steel wrote in 2014: "It was a time when it was still possible to interview major stars on our terms, so we had Helen Collett hanging out with New Order and folding their laundry, Helen Collett drunkenly arguing with Ian McCulloch after Echo & The Bunnymen​'s Palmerston North gig, two infatuated schoolgirls interviewing The Police, and all of us hanging out with The Cure at David Maclennan's flat." 

At the time Steel described the impromptu gig as "not an elite musicianly display of chops, nor is it quite a drunken dirge. It's rather a type of communion twixt fans/bands/BAND – a show of respect."

And while his recall of a night out with the post-punk pioneers was less than pristine, Steel said it was certainly "a moment in time".

"What I do remember from that jam session is David (Maclennan) leading Robert Smith into one of his songs and everything grinding to a halt, and Robert declaring that what David said to play wasn't even a note.

"I thought that was pretty funny at the time. It was an amazing scene in this cramped school basement."

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