Graeme Thomson

In a world of increasingly few certainties, it’s gratifying to discover that some things remain as constant as the north star. Anyone who has caught a glimpse of The Cure this summer, perhaps via the BBC broadcast of their headlining Glastonbury slot, will have been reassured to discover that the world’s biggest outsider band remain firmly on brand.

At 60, singer Robert Smith still comes off as a cross between late-period Liz Taylor and Edward Scissorhands. The birds-nest tangle of hair, smudged scarlet lippy, rouged eyes and shapeless dark clothes remain firmly fixed. He still twists his toes like a shy toddler and crinkles his nose when he sings; still meows like a happy kitten and squeals like a stuck pig. Even Smith’s longest-serving lieutenant, Simon Gallup, continues to brandish his bass at knee height with a cavalier swagger.

Musically, too, the band which returns to Scotland to play Summer Sessions next Friday, 27 years after their last visit, seem satisfying familiar. Their gargantuan live performances promise the same sweet-and-sour blend of twisted nursery rhymes and Goth-rock grandeur. There are songs about fluffy caterpillars and Jungian striped spiders; romantic innocence and emotional pornography; the giddy thrills of love and plunging misery of despair.

The only real difference between then and now is that The Cure have finally achieved national treasure status. “Their music has evolved over the years, but they’ve never changed because of fashion or trends, and I think people appreciate that,” says Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai, who are also appearing at Summer Sessions. “We grew up with their music, and it’s just lovely that they’re still playing it.”

Mogwai have been sharing bills with The Cure since 2002 and have spent much of the summer touring with them. As a diehard fan, Braithwaite sometimes has to pinch himself. The first record he bought was Disintegration, in 1989. His first ever gig was The Cure at the SECC the same year. He literally stalked them on their last Scottish tour, in 1992. “I went to all the shows,” he says. “Dundee, Glasgow, and two nights at the Edinburgh Playhouse. It’s been a funny leap, from skiving school to go to those gigs to being on the same bill as them.”

The Cure started life in 1976, formed in the Sussex town of Crawley by Smith and his schoolfriend Lol Tolhurst. “We were automatically outsiders,” says Tolhurst. “It felt good and exciting from the very start. To find at the advent of punk that we could join in the conversation ourselves was very liberating for boys from the sticks.”

The abrupt shift from the skewed post-punk pop of their 1979 debut, Three Imaginary Boys, to the magnificently gloomy shadowplays of its follow up, Seventeen Seconds, would prove typical. The Cure rarely stayed in one place for long. For aficionados, their unrelentingly bleak fourth album, Pornography, marks the zenith of their more uncompromising side. Tolhurst regards it is as “the pinnacle” of early Cure. Braithwaite also loves this “singular, heavy, dark, weird record”.

For fans of their more pop-orientated fare, later albums The Head on the Door and Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me offered a kaleidoscope of delights, including classic singles Close to Me, Inbetween Days, Catch and Just Like Heaven. “Some bands have brilliant miserable songs, and some bands have brilliant joyful songs – there’s not many, or any, who have both,” says Braithwaite. “They’re really unique in that way. And it doesn’t jar. It’s always them.”

Tolhurst is puzzled why anyone should be surprised at the band’s reach. “I can’t think of any other art form where the artist is required to repeat the same work again and again for their whole life,” he says. “We changed the music as we changed. We were authentic with that, I feel.”

The key, perhaps, lies with the “multi-faceted” Smith, whose various incarnations have included eternal adolescent, drug-fuelled nihilist, bedsit miserabilist, frolicking lovecat and big, burly fan of football and beer. He remains something of an enigma, rarely granting interviews, and offering little insight into the life he lives away from music with his childhood sweetheart and wife of 30 years, Mary. “The thing about Robert is that he is certainly the person you hear in songs and see on stage,” says Tolhurst. “There’s no artifice there. He is also a really normal type of bloke, too. This sometimes doesn’t sit well with people as they expect you to be one thing or the other. Why be limited by a label?”

His songs often appear to honour a state of suspended teenage-dom, in which every passing emotion, fleeting experience and perceived injustice is heightened to cosmic proportions. That painfully self-absorbed ping-ponging between giddy joy and utter desolation became Smith’s set text. “The Cure spoke to a particular time in people’s lives when they were going through the change from teen to adult,” says Tolhurst. “Importantly, it wasn’t glamorised and made to seem something you could only experience if you were fashionable or lived in a fashionable place. It had an authenticity that resonated with people that lived in places like we grew up in. I mean, Crawley was far from glamorous! I think this is a universal experience and still holds true today. The records we made between 1979 and 1989 spoke to that because it was our twenties and we were very close to that experience still.”

Despite the passing years, those records still ring true. “They do connect on a romantic teenage level, but as I’ve got older, I’ve found that a lot of the songs have double meanings,” says Braithwaite. “They maybe even resonate more as an adult than they did as a kid. I can see why, if you’re a fair-weather fan, you might think of them as a teenage band, but watching them this summer, there were all different ages [in the crowd]– and it’s nice that they still resonate with teenagers now, as well.”

This summer’s run of festival shows has celebrated the 30th anniversary of Disintegration, with the band performing the bulk of the album alongside selections from across their catalogue. For many, it remains their masterpiece, an unyielding interrogation of The Cure’s darkest themes: dread, hopelessness, panic, ennui. If Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me made a virtue of the band’s identity confusion, squeezing all their alternate personalities onto four sides of a double album, then Disintegration fixated on a single vision and mood, the rainbow flavours of old chewed into deep purples, greens, blacks and blues.

Yet it was stadium-sized alienation. Disintegration became The Cure’s most successful album and gave them a major US hit single in Love Song, although it proved a difficult period. By the time the record was released, a rapidly unravelling Tolhurst had been kicked out of the band. “My failing health just before I left at the end of Disintegration was definitely a low point in my life,” he says. “I was quite unwell and not really capable of contributing very much. It took me a while to come back whole and healthy.” Part of the healing process was the act of writing his excellent memoir, Cured, published in 2016.

In the ensuing years, his friendship with Smith has just about survived, despite periods of estrangement and a rancorous court case. “I don’t think my relationship with Robert has ever really been any different than it’s always been, even though we’ve been through many different times. It’s like being related to someone. We have all the love and contempt of a life of familiarity! And I’m immensely proud of what we achieved with The Cure. I hear our influence everywhere 40 years later. To be honest, sometimes it’s overwhelming.”

Although The Cure haven’t released any new material since 4:13 Dream in 2008, Smith has promised that their next studio album will arrive before the end of 2019. “I’m excited to hear it,” says Braithwaite. “We were hanging out recently in Lisbon, and Robert was saying that he’s really happy with the band just now. They seem in a really good place. The chat is that the new record is pretty heavy. I’m curious what all these new fans of their big pop hits of the 80s will make of it! I guess they just get to confuse people all over again.”

The Cure headline Summer Sessions at Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, on Friday. The bill includes Mogwai, The Twilight Sad and The Joy Formidable;

Cured by Lol Tolhurst is published by Quercus