For many, The Cure might be a byword for post-punk Goth austerity but that wouldn’t be the version of the group their official photographer Andy Vella recognises. “I wanted to present them as they really are,” he says of Obscure, a sumptuous 160-page book published today (18 September, with a foreword from Robert Smith) documenting his 33 years’ photographing the band. “Like a lot of great artists, their music had a heaviness but that wasn’t what they were necessarily like as people. They were playful and mischievous and always good fun to be around.” Vella first got to know The Cure in 1981, through their guitarist Porl Thompson with whom he created the band’s artwork as ‘Parched Art’. After providing the images for their 1981 album Faith, he was regularly employed to shoot them for record sleeve artwork, posters, video stills and magazine features, giving him a unique insight into their off-duty hi-jinks and gallows humour. “Robert Smith was great,” he laughs. “I was shooting them from the pit at a big show in America and told him I didn’t have an official pass. He said, ‘You don’t need one, you’re OK to shoot the whole gig.’ When I was thrown out by security after a few numbers he looked down from the stage and waved with a smile. That pretty much sums up my relationship with them!”
The Cure on Copa Beach, Rio, Brazil, 1987
Robert asked me to go out to Rio so he could approve the Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me album artwork and also to photograph the band for a French magazine. I checked in at the Rio Palace hotel and all of a sudden the door breaks open and the band burst into the room, picked me up, threw me in the bath and emptied the mini-bar over me. I photographed them on Copa beach and there were bouncers holding back hundreds of fans just yards away. It was crazy, I’d seen some Cure-mania but that was stratospheric.
Robert Smith, Ireland, 1987
Robert was staying out in Ireland and I went out there to show him the artwork for The Cure In Orange film. He said, “Bring a camera”, so I took a polaroid camera because he likes to approve stuff there and then. I took him round the grounds of this old ruined castle in the freezing cold and we took loads of pictures. He was incredibly relaxed – they’re not posed, we didn’t work that way.
Close To Me video shoot, London, 1985
I was asked to capture some stills from the Tim Pope-directed video to Close To Me, at one of those big sound stages like Shepperton where they do the James Bond films. They were jumping all over this bloody great wardrobe, then did the water scenes. Tim is visible at the back in a pair of Speedos, the guy standing in the middle was the cameraman. It was a nightmare – water, photographic lights, electronics, submerged filming. The band had aright laugh – Robert has a great smile in this.
Why Can’t I Be You video shoot, 1987
Robert is meant to be dressed as a polar bear – obviously he was way ahead of his time and realised that polar bears were under threat. This is where the beautiful creativity with Tim Pope’s videos. Fantastic concepts, like the funny dancing and costumes in this one. The weird one is [drummer] Boris Williams dressed up as Count Dracula and Simon Gallup is wearing lederhosen. I did stills for most of the video shoots.
Robert Smith, 1986 (main image)
That was me grabbing shots when I could on the set of the video to the remix of Boys Don’t Cry. That was one of my best roll of film. It was him just taking a bit of time out of the shoot, leaning on on the infinity sheet. Everyone’s difficult to photograph, unless you’re a model with amazing skin, but there was something about them that was naturally iconic.
Obscure is published by Foruli, priced £30.