“We wanted to capture the essence of what a power chord felt like and we managed to pull that one-off, that’s what it was all about.”

Richard Purden

It’s 30 years since The Cult released Sonic Temple, leaving no doubt that the genre-hopping outfit had shaken off their indie shackles to make a fully-fledged rock album. Sonic Temple managed to retain the group’s European sensibilities and avoided falling into the cliched terrain dominant in American rock at the time, allowing the album to age well.

“It was a different take”, says guitarist Billy Duffy. “It was less misogynistic; you never really saw scantily clad women in our videos. Ian [Astbury] wrote some of the lyrics in Paris and while travelling. It’s rock music from a European perspective with the sensibilities of punk, which was how we all learned to play.”

With long, flowing locks and an assortment of denim and leather, Duffy resembled a dishevelled biker, creating quite a shift from the bequiffed platinum blond indie-goth responsible for a string of distinctive riffs earlier in the decade. Along with frontman and co-songwriter Astbury, the pair straddled musical boundaries during the tribal 1980s. Notably, Duffy’s first significant musical pairing was with Morrissey in The Nosebleeds which was revisited in the 2017 biopic England Is Mine. “The film brought a bit of colour to a very dull period,” says Duffy. “My recollection of England in the 1970s was very grey and miserable, the movie was respectful, pretty accurate and close to what happened. I did introduce Johnny (Marr) to Morrissey outside the Manchester Apollo and they kind of took off after I went to London. I got an offer I couldn’t refuse which meant leaving Manchester and sadly, Morrissey or Steven behind which in retrospect seems crazy but at the time he was unproven.

"It was so early, we had played a couple of gigs and wrote six or seven songs; that was the first time I’d written music and he’d done lyrics. Those songs have drifted off in the sands of time but I remember some of the names. Johnny was around a lot growing up. I sold him his first amp and I threw in a shirt that he liked.” Between them, the pair who started playing together in 1976 when Marr was 12 and Duffy was 15, helped define the 1960s jingle-jangle influence on 80s indie guitar.

She Sells Sanctuary from seminal 1985 album Love, furnished The Cult with a transatlantic hit that sent nightclub patrons hurling towards the dance floor. The song’s swirling psychedelic guitar hook and anthemic chorus immediately left Duffy with a serious problem.

“We needed a follow-up to Sanctuary because it was like a miraculous accident. Once that happened in order not to be a one-hit wonder we knew we needed another song which scratched the same itch but was a little different. I was more proud of Rain [the band’s equally infectious next single] because it was born out of perspiration. Sanctuary was a thing out on its own.”

The Astbury/Duffy partnership forged during the early 80s proved to be one of the great rock pairings of the era. Duffy’s Mancunian/Irish front and guitar hero credentials were the perfect fit for Astbury’s powerhouse vocal range and Jim Morrison leanings.

The singer had spent a nomadic childhood living in Canada, Glasgow, Liverpool and Bradford and brought some of that transient energy to the band’s hoary image. “There's a fundamental simplicity of two people getting together in a room,” says Duffy. “Whether that is Bono/The Edge, Morrissey/Marr, Page/Plant or Mick and Keith that fundamental relationship has to be there for a great band. I’m not convinced groups who have individual songwriters make the same magic. I like the blend of the two styles, you sometimes get negative forces and that creates a kind of magical music when it works out. The partnership is almost needed, the singer needs the musician and vice versa.”

In Glasgow, before entering his teens, Astbury had considered a career in football when he played for Possil YM, treading the same pitch as Kenny Dalglish. It was while living in the city he heard The Doors for the first time describing his encounter with the band on the soundtrack to Apocalypse Now as a “religious experience”. Around the same time Duffy was inspired by the Celtic punk of the Skids: “It’s there for sure, that Skids' Stuart Adamson thing, and also the discipline on a practical level of trying to make such an interesting noise out of six strings because you are the only guitar player and there are only so many ways to do things.”

In Britain rock music, as Duffy suggests had become “a bit like forbidden fruit. Growing up in England you couldn’t do this or that and in the London-centric music press, they were pretty brutal about who they liked and who they didn’t! If you drank in the wrong London pub you probably wouldn't get a good review for anything you did when it mattered.”

It was The Cult’s 1987 album Electric that helped set the tone for a classic rock revival in the mainstream. “You have to contextualise it, looking back you would say, yeah, with Guns N’ Roses rock came back but a lot of other bands were involved. We were one of the bands that helped bring it back with Electric around the same time as Appetite For Destruction.

“There was a buzz around them and everyone felt it, we took them on their first tour of North America. A lot of those bands at that time were mouth and trousers but they were the real deal.” Electric had been a struggle to record and was becoming a problematic follow-up after Love had produced three hit singles. “That album was made as a reaction to the failure of making the record on our own in England. Rick Rubin’s quote is accurate, he said: ‘I didn’t so much produce The Cult, I reduced them.’

He took away a lot of the frills, we took Love on tour around the world and wanted to develop that sound and get a bit heavier. “It was lean, the band was just putting on a bit of muscle.” Along with Slayer, The Cult was one of the first bands he produced with a live drummer. “Before that, it was drum machines with Beastie Boys etc but he loved early Aerosmith, early Zeppelin and AC/DC …specifically Highway To Hell. Those were three bands that we all agreed were brilliant, with that in mind we went into the studio and started disassembling all the songs we had recorded in England.”

As one of the most definitive guitar players of the 1980s Duffy was now indulging in what his contemporaries and life-long friend Marr, by this stage in his final year of The Smiths, might consider taboo. “To my mind, you had the Bunnymen, Simple Minds and U2, obviously with most bands at the time riffs were there but you wouldn't call them blues-rock based riffs, they were melodic hooks. With bands like the Psychedelic Furs and people like Billy Idol there were all these guitar figures and hooks which linked back to the Sex Pistols and The Stooges, the lineage is there but as time passes you’re trying to find your variation, depending on who you are in a band with and what that band can get away with. It was exploratory, The Cult’s always been a riff-driven band, even in the early stages with the Death Cult and Southern Death Cult, it was just that we started to get into the more forbidden fruit which was blues-rock riffs. It changed the rhythmic sense of the band which was very tribal in the early 80s changing to a more rock, swing beat. “Electric was great but we were never going to make that album twice because it was so derivative and very cartoon, although a lot of people love it. It was necessary to make that record to have the longevity that we’ve maintained. To make such a ridiculously bold statement as that, it was less than two years between that and the Love album, it was quite a quantum leap.”

The guitarist suggests the album was a template for Sonic Temple, a long-player that would transfer The Cult into the rock mainstream shifting 1.5 million units in the United States alone, making the top ten Billboard album chart. It would peak at number 3 in the UK while producing a further run of transatlantic hits; Fire Woman, Edie (Ciao Baby), Sun King and Sweet Soul Sister. They would join She Sells Sanctuary in becoming mainstays on American rock radio stations.

The album’s artwork alone was a statement of intent with Duffy in full guitar-hero pose with legs apart, striking a black Gibson Les Paul borrowed from Sex Pistol Steve Jones. It was clear from the cover alone that The Cult had made an all-out rock album.

“It was mutually agreed by all concerned that we would go for that image; it wasn’t really about me – it was more the symbolism of the guitar. We wanted to capture the essence of what a power chord felt like and we managed to pull that one-off, that’s what it was all about.”

The Sonic Temple 30 box set and reissues are out now. The Cult: A Sonic Temple will arrive at Glasgow’s 02 Academy on October 22