Epitome: The Cure – “a Forest”, live from Glastonbury, June 1986

A Forest is probably the most iconic track that the Cure have released.  Do I think it is their finest hour?  No, although I am sure many would disagree with me, but it is definitely up there (personally I am more of a Pornography man).

So why, if I am writing articles about bands’ finest moments why am I starting with a Forest by the Cure?  Well, it’s because this version of a Forest – live at Glastonbury 1986 – is, in my humble opinion, the BEST version of a Forest (well, that I have heard, to date, anyway).

Have a listen to all of the glorious 9 minutes and 32 seconds of it and judge for yourself.

A Forest

A Forest was released on 7” and 12” on 28th March 1980, and it was their first chart single in the UK, reaching #31 in the UK single charts.  The seven inch has a shortened version of the track (trimmed at either end), and the B-side for both is “another journey by train”.

The track is the only single from the Cure’s second LP Seventeen Seconds (remember the days when they only released one single per LP?), and Seventeen Seconds is regarded, by all right-minded Cure fans, as the first LP in their dark trilogy: Seventeen Seconds, Faith and Pornography (but if you agree with Bob that it should be Pornography, Disintegration and, errrr, that other one, then let me know!).

This track is the sound of the Cure emerging from their musical cocoon.  They had spent a couple of years writing and recording mid/up tempo pop/rock songs (Killing an Arab, Boys Don’t Cry, etc.) but Seventeen Seconds saw them slower, more considered and far more down-beat than before.  It is not the finished article – Faith takes this sound on a step, and Pornography is the crowning glory – but all of the elements are here.

Glastonbury 1986

Glastonbury 1986 was my first visit to the festival and the first time I saw the Cure live.  My crimped hair turned inexorably into a soapy mess as the rain came down, but the lightning lighting up the sky and fields behind the stage as the Psychedelic Furs headlined on Friday was amazing.

Tanked up on cheap cider we headed to the front for the Cure and proved to be a truly exceptional gig.  The line-up was probably my favourite Cure line-up – Robert Smith, Simon Gallup, Porl Thompson, Boris Williams, Laurence Tolhurst – the playing was tight and the energy and effort that went into the performances was vast.

A Forest was the highlight – a nine and a half minute epic, with the final five minutes being a psychedelic guitar work out, a veritable flanger-fest.  These were also the days when the crowd expected Simon Gallup to bang out the “dung-dungs” on the bass at the end, and it doesn’t disappoint – you get a full 90 seconds of dungs! then that delayed outro “ga-dung, ga-dung, ga-dung, etc.”.

Also, the set list was amazing – three encores with the last one comprising Faith and Pornography:

  1. Shake Dog Shake
  2. Play for Today
  3. Kyoto Song
  4. Primary
  5. Charlotte Sometimes
  6. A Strange Day
  7. In Between Days
  8. The Walk
  9. A Night Like This
  10. Push
  11. One Hundred Years
  12. A Forest (9.32)
  13. Sinking
  14. Close to Me *
  15. Let’s Go to Bed *
  16. Give Me It **
  17. Boys Don’t Cry **
  18. Faith ***
  19. Pornography ***

Later in 1986, the BBC broadcast an hour of this set via their “In Concert” series.  It included all 12 tracks from Primary to Let’s go to Bed.

The recording quality is absolutely fantastic.  the mix is really full and nicely balanced and, when  coupled with the fine performance, the result is out-standing.

The embedded track (above) was ripped directly from the vinyl, which also adds a little something to the sound.

Mike Hedges

One of the main reasons that a Forest, and Seventeen seconds, has such a distinct sound is because it was produced by Mike Hedges (who co-produced Killing an Arab and would go on to produce Siouxsie, the Creatures and the Manics, among many).

Mike Hedges likes to experiment and the way he recorded the drums are instrumental to the unique sounds on the L.P. – they sound as though they could be electronic drums, even though they are live and acoustic.  Details of his recording of a Forest is covered in this extensive Sound on Sound article (from which the following extracts are taken).

Mike Hedges withdrew from the Cure fold after co-producing and engineering the band’s third album, Faith, because, by his own admission, “it was so introspective and so depressing, it did us all in. It was a dark, dark, dark record, and when you work on something like that you’re not laughing and smiling the whole time. You get heavily affected by the music, and by the time we finished it I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. God, was I depressed. …. Robert had a cathartic outpouring of emotions on that album, and because of that it affected all of us.”

Thanks to budgetary constraints the entire Seventeen Seconds album took a total of seven days to record and mix, which, although about 40 percent longer than the time accorded the preceding Three Imaginary Boys, still speaks volumes for the ingenuity, craft and rapid-fire innovation of the musicians and technicians.

“It really was the drum sound that largely defined the album’s sonic direction. The C-ducer contact mic had just arrived on the scene at that time, and after testing it in another studio I decided to mic the entire drum kit with C-ducers. I had initially tested the mic on other instruments, not drums, but then when I briefly tested it on drums I thought ‘God, they sound fantastic like that. ‘ There’s absolutely no spill between the different drums when you use a C-ducer — each drum is completely separate.

Continue reading: Sound on Sound article

The Cure – “a Forest”, 1980

Come closer and see,
See into the trees,
Find the girl,
While you can.
Come closer and see,
See into the dark,
Just follow your eyes,
Just follow your eyes.

I hear her voice,
Calling my name,
The sound is deep,
In the dark.
I hear her voice,
And start to run,
Into the trees,
Into the trees.

Into the trees

Suddenly I stop,
But I know it’s too late,
I’m lost in a forest,
All alone.
The girl was never there,
It’s always the same,
I’m running towards nothing,
Again and again and again.

Glastonbury 1986 memorabilia

 

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