Love Letter To A Record: David Gray On The Cure’s ‘The Head on the Door’

Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become. 

In this Love Letter To A Record series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.

David Gray – The Cure, ‘In Between Days’ and The Head on the Door (1985)

A song from my youth, and a perfect piece of pop, this is a track that is bound up with a host of vivid teenage memories. Drinking, dancing, chasing girls, back-combing my hair, hanging out after school smoking and listening to music on someone’s ‘ghetto blaster’. Getting into fights at the disco because I was wearing a bit of Robert Smith style lippy and ‘weird’ clothes.

When I was 8 years old my parents moved from Manchester down to a tiny fishing village called Solva in West Wales, and all my formative years were spent in this beautiful but remote corner of the windswept Welsh coast. Getting to see bands wasn’t really a possibility, and even buying records required a 17-mile bus journey to the local record shop in Haverfordwest. There wasn’t really much of an alternative crowd, so those that did see things a bit differently pretty much stuck together. It was very much a drinking culture where a good punch on the nose was seen as a perfectly valid cure for someone who dressed differently and hence obviously thought that they were special.

When you’re a teenager you’re in the process of making yourself up, and a big part of that is creating yourself from the images and sounds around you. The bands that you listen to aren’t just musical choices, they form a part of who you are. I was already a big Cure fan when this record came out and I loved it from the moment I heard it. It sounds so bright and melodic and the hooks are just instant. Somehow though, Robert Smith always manages to fold a little edginess and ambiguity into the mix. Even when he’s being completely poppy he ultimately comes across as believable, because he just never sings a word that doesn’t feel 100% committed.

Both ‘In Between Days’, and The Head on the Door, the album that it came from, were definitely a far cry from earlier Cure albums and very much the sound of The Cure hitting the mainstream. It was always a nightmare trying to get the local DJs to play anything remotely left of centre but this song along with others like New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ were a godsend, as they were not only cool but also hugely popular, and hence considered a fairly safe bet by Disc Jockeys who were in the main attempting to get farmers to dance.

The summer this song came out was the same year that my best friend and I had decided to head to Glastonbury Festival for the very first time. I remember arriving at the site on Friday evening and crawling in through a gap in the hedge, there was no security fence in 1986. The moment that we realised we’d actually made it was when The Psychedic Furs came on to the main stage and started playing ‘Pretty In Pink’. We quickly put up our tent and set about making up for lost time by trying watch as many bands as was humanly possible – Half Man Half Biscuit, Fuzzbox, John Martyn, Loudon Wainwright, The Housemartins, That Petrol Emotion, The Go-Betweens, Madness!, we spent every waking moment literally running from one stage to another. We were having the time of our lives but as our first full day at the festival was drawing to a close I had butterflies starting to flutter in my stomach. The Saturday Night headliners on the main stage that year were The Cure.

For me, at that moment it was a case of the perfect band in the perfect place at the perfect time, and it was a gig that I’ll never forget. Without doubt, my favourite show ever. As The Cure took to the stage not only was the moon rising as the sun was setting but there was also a small thunderstorm blowing in. Winds from the storm dragged the dry ice across the stage and at one point each band member had weird dry ice shadows stretching out beside them. As well as songs from The Head On The Door, the set featured loads of old faves and I sang along to every single word. When it got properly dark, they fired up the famous Glastonbury lasers and my mind was officially blown. It was such a powerful experience that I think a part of me will always be back there, singing my 17-year-old heart out and cheering them back for one more tumultuous encore.

David Gray’s new album ‘Skellig’ is out now. The album is centred around atmospheric soundscapes and rich, layered vocals, and features the single ‘Heart & Soul’. It takes its title from a rocky outcrop off the coast of the most westerly point of Ireland, inhabited by monks for hundreds of years despite its remoteness and conditions. He is scheduled to tour Australia this November.

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