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Just Like Heaven: Inside The Cure’s European tour

Gordon Masson speaks to the team that pulled off the band's biggest-ever outing on the continent while in the midst of a global pandemic

By Gordon Masson on 12 Dec 2022

The Cure's Robert Smith

The Cure's Robert Smith

image © Matthias Hombauer

Having entertained millions of people on their 2019 festivals tour, a headline outing the following year was very much on the cards for The Cure, before the pandemic halted every act with such ambitions. But determined to reconnect with fans following the enforced lay-off, the band are currently in the midst of their biggest-ever European tour.

With most dates already sold out weeks in advance, bar some last-minute production holds and restricted-view tickets, the tour is an unmitigated success. But the planning involved to get the band back out on the road has been gruelling, with agent Martin Hopewell confessing it has been the hardest tour he has worked on in his 50-year career.

“Robert Smith and I started talking about this tour not long after the 2019 festival run. Originally, we were looking at stuff for 2020, so effectively, this tour has been two years in the planning,” says Hopewell.

“When the pandemic hit in 2020, things that were due to happen that summer got moved to the autumn. In the autumn, those postponed shows and the scheduled autumn shows got moved into the spring of 2021. And then, when it became clear that that wasn’t going to happen, stuff from the spring of 2021 got moved to the autumn of 2021 on top of the stuff that was already planned for the ultimate 2021. It was like blowing leaves: you just end up with a bloody great pile of them somewhere! And in this case, it was five touring periods that got moved and ended up on top of each other in autumn 2022.”

“Trying to get availabilities was just a screaming nightmare…this is probably the most difficult tour I’ve ever booked”

However, as it became clear that Smith and the band were adamant about pressing ahead with a tour, Hopewell and his Primary Talent International colleague, Charlie Renton, rolled up their sleeves for what proved to be a mammoth exercise.

“Trying to get availabilities was just a screaming nightmare,” says Hopewell. “This is probably the most difficult tour I’ve ever booked. Putting something together during the pandemic was unbelievably challenging, and it took a big piece out of everybody involved in trying to put it together.”

He continues, “The biggest problem that we had was deciding when might be a safe time to do it. That, and the fact that every act in the world seemed to be planning tours in 2022 and had pencilled in holds at venues to the point where you might be 6th or 8th in line for any one particular date!”

Unperturbed, Hopewell and Renton hatched a plan. “Charlie and I collected the availabilities and made these monstrous spreadsheets, so that in the end we had six tours on hold: two for the autumn of this year – one starting in September, one starting in October; my favourite one was starting in the spring of next year – we had three different schedules lined up for next year; and we also put together an outdoor proposal for a summer 2022 tour with a whole load of beautiful parks and lakes and stadiums and castles in case there were still indoor restrictions.”

Charlie Renton tells IQ, “Not knowing what the Covid restrictions would be in certain countries was difficult, hence the reason we planned six different options, which is the most I’ve ever done – plus this is the biggest tour I’ve ever been involved in, so it was a huge challenge.”

“We’re playing 46 shows, which is the longest European tour that The Cure have ever done”

That drawn-out process allowed the agents and Robert Smith – who is the band’s de facto manager – to have a conversation about a number of different touring possibilities. “And, of course, he chose the trickiest one,” laughs Hopewell.

The routing sees the band travel roughly 12,000 miles across 19 European countries before finishing with the UK’s four home nations – Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England. That schedule should see them entertaining more than 500,000 fans, thanks to a hardworking clique of European promoters who Hopewell affectionately refers to as ‘The Cure team.’

“We’re playing 46 shows, which is the longest European tour that The Cure have ever done,” states Hopewell. “Even then we weren’t able to include everything in the routing, but it was good to be able to put shows into some places the band haven’t played for a while – along with some new ones. We’d never been to the Baltic States before, so it was great to kick off the tour in Latvia. Our promoters did a great job at a very difficult time.”

Into the Dark
Production manager Phil Broad first worked with The Cure in the 1980s when he was a rigger, but he’s been the chief for the three most recent tours – the 2016 arena tour, the 2019 outdoor outing, and the current extravaganza.

Observing that many road warriors were a bit rusty when live music resumed, he says the early experience of tours being short-staffed seems to be resolving itself. “We’re not experiencing local crew shortages, really, but there are a lot of new people, so the crew situation definitely is not back to where it was,” he reports. “The Cure have a fairly sensible core crew of 32 people, so even where we’re turning up and there are inexperienced people on the local crew who are just there to make up the numbers, we can handle it pretty well.”

“The Cure don’t do production rehearsals, so there’s no room for error”

One complication is the band’s approach to touring, although given the history that most individuals on the crew have with the act, Broad takes it in his stride. “The Cure don’t do production rehearsals, so there’s no room for error,” he tells IQ. “Starting off a tour with them can be a bit nail-biting, as you need to have enough trucks, and there’s no point having one truck too many because it’s still going to cost you if you have to send it back. Basically, we arrived at the Arena Riga, loaded in, the band rehearsed that night, and then the next day we had the first show.”

…Happily Ever After
It’s not just the fans who had been clamouring for the band to restart their live activities. Promoters throughout Europe are reporting impressive ticket sales across the 22 territories the band are visiting.

“To be honest, I’d forgotten how extremely good The Cure are and how much I like them until they played the show in Stockholm,” says Thomas Johansson, Live Nation Nordics chairman. “They have some of the best pop songs ever written, and I noticed that they are attracting a younger element to their audience than ever before.

“The band are a true rock & roll outfit, and they do extremely well in our part of the world – they sold out in Norway and Copenhagen, and they were very close to selling out both the Avicii Arena and the Gothenburg shows in Sweden.”

In France, Alias Production founder Jules Frutos has eight sold-out dates. “I’ve been working with the band since before they even released their debut album Three Imaginary Boys [in 1979], so I’ve seen them play very small clubs in the likes of Orleans and Tours, right the way up to the venues they are doing now,” he says.

“To be honest, I’d forgotten how extremely good The Cure are…they have some of the best pop songs ever written”

Paying tribute to The Cure’s approach to the French market, Frutos notes that they have previously played all the venues they are visiting in 2022 – in Lyon, Montpellier, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes, Strasbourg, Liévin, and Paris – but not all on the same tour. He adds, “They understood early on that the provinces are sometimes easier to play than Paris, where there are a limited number of venues, so the way they built their career in France has been very classical and special.”

Frutos also testifies to the band’s multigenerational appeal. “When they headlined Rock en Seine in 2019, that day of the festival sold out quicker than the others. The festival attracts a young audience, and when I went to see The Cure, it was very special – the people at the front, closest to the stage, were two or three generations of fans.”

Across the border in Spain, Live Nation’s Gay Mercader is also a long-time partner. “I’ve worked with the band for close to 40 years, and it has been a privilege – Martin Hopewell and the band have been incredibly loyal to all of their promoters over the years. It’s a big responsibility because when someone relies on you, you can never fuck up.”

Highlighting the band’s enduring – and growing – appeal, Mercader says, “I found out during the pandemic that many people in my life are massive fans of The Cure: my lawyer, some of the people who work on my estate. And they are not all ‘goth’ people. Cure fans are everywhere.

“I always sell out with The Cure. They last visited Spain in 2019 when they played Mad Cool Festival in Madrid, where their performance was televised on national TV, and they attracted the biggest audience of the whole festival.”

“The set is always crazily long – up to three hours – so they play literally every hit that’s out there: it’s an amazing show”

In Germany, Karsten Jahnke Konzertdirektion has been working with The Cure since 1980. But it’s Ben Mitha, who has taken over as managing director of his grandfather’s business, who promotes the band. “I actually got involved on their 2016 tour,” says Mitha. “I did all the settlements regarding those shows, and I’m really looking forward to getting back out on the road with them for our seven shows in Germany.

“It’s gonna be fun. The set is always crazily long – up to three hours – so they play literally every hit that’s out there: it’s an amazing show.”

In Italy, Barley Arts founder Claudio Trotta has four dates lined up – Bologna, Florence, Padova, and Milan. He’s been the band’s promoter since the 1980s and is in awe of their work ethic. “Many years ago, I had a sold-out show at the Forum in Milano, and all the audience were already in the venue, but [bass player] Simon Gallup was feeling so sick that he couldn’t even stand up,” recalls Trotta.

“We were at the point when Barry Hunter was ready to play instead of him on bass, but Simon said clearly, ‘I will play even if I’m gonna die on stage.’ So he did the show seated because he was in such pain. And after the show, he was three or four months in hospital because of an infection. From that day [on he’s been] my hero. I mean, we’re talking about a great human being with a lot of passion and who has a lot of respect for the audience.”

And remembering another instance, where the band played an outdoor show near Venice, during a rain storm, Trotta adds, “Robert and the band didn’t give a damn – they were soaked, but they played the show to the end. In my heart and in my mind, The Cure are in a different league.”

“In my heart and in my mind, The Cure are in a different league”

While Trotta also reports healthy ticket sales, it’s not all plain sailing for every promoter. In Austria, Alex Nussbaumer, of al-x concert promoter GmbH, believes the cost-of-living crisis is preventing many fans from buying tickets. But still, The Cure’s date at the Marx Halle in Vienna pulled in a packed crowd of over 8,000 fans.

“I’m super impressed with how solid they are in the live discipline – it’s a two-and-a-half-hour show, so the fans definitely get value for money,” says Nussbaumer. ‘That’s maybe why when I walked through the audience, I saw lots of families with children aged eight, nine, ten. It was a great atmosphere for a legendary band.”

He adds, “The Cure are fantastic. They have remained very loyal to me on the touring side, for which I am very grateful because they bring with them a very smooth production, thanks to the same kind of set-up and the same people remaining in the tour party.”

Thankfully, the feedback from the road is overwhelmingly positive. “The fans are loving it and are having a great time, and so are Robert and the band, so we are very happy,” comments agent, Renton.

She notes that with Covid cases on the rise again as the seasons change, the touring party are taking their own precautions against the virus. “The band and the core crew are in a bubble, and there are no aftershows on this tour, to try to mitigate against the virus. It’s worked well so far, so the plan is just to be sensible to hopefully avoid any issues.”

“Robert is the only artist I know in the world who discusses ticket prices, sightlines, scalings with every promoter”

The Perfect Boy
Revealing the depth of Robert Smith’s involvement in the band’s career, Mitha tells IQ, “Robert is the only artist I know in the world who discusses ticket prices, sightlines, scalings with every promoter – it was the same with the 2016 tour. So, when you send over scaling plans with those colour seating maps and everything, he literally goes into every detail and changes the colours. It must be crazy time-consuming for him, but he’s very involved.”

Spanish promoter Mercader comments, “They care deeply about the ticket prices – the only other act I can think of who care to the same extent is AC/DC. Robert wants sensible prices to make it as affordable as possible for all fans.”

It’s something that Hopewell knows well. “Promoters will put forward a ticket price they think is achievable and a lot of the time Robert will come back and say thank you very much, but I think the prices should be lower,” he says. “He’s also very keen to see ticket scales that are neatly structured rather than appearing to be haphazard from the fans’ point of view.”

Production manager Broad notes the positives, “Robert is like management. He wants to know the sales numbers, how everything looks, where everything is – he is very hands on. It actually has its advantages: if anyone asks ‘Why do you do X?’ we can answer, ‘Because Robert wants to!’ And that’s the end of the conversation.”

Another anomaly is that Smith is also very particular when it comes to the direction of travel. “Robert is a perfectionist when it comes to routing,” discloses Hopewell. “If you join up the dots on a map and there are any loops in there, he hates it. That makes it fun finding routings that will work, but it makes sense. After all it’s not us office-types who actually have to go out and do it.”

“Robert is a perfectionist when it comes to routing”

Out of This World
Transport suppliers Transam are certainly impressed with the ‘no loops’ policy. “The routing and schedule is very good considering the length of the tour – the agents did a really good job,” says Transam Trucking director Natasha Highcroft.

With ten trucks involved on the tour (nine for production and one for merchandise), Highcroft reports that Transam has had longer to plan for the tour than normal, such has been the extended Covid situation.

“The first quote we did was in April 2021, and we booked it last November, so we were well-prepared,” she says. “In fact, we’ve only had to use relief drivers in one spot on the entire tour, and that was so our drivers could take a mandatory 24-hour break. Otherwise, we’ve been organising our own shunt drivers, where necessary, because we’re trying to avoid the need for hiring local drivers, as productions are telling us that is proving problematic at the moment.”

Bryan Grant, at audio specialists Britannia Row, tells IQ that he has been working with The Cure since 1979, and they are one of his favourite clients. “They did some long stints in the 80s and 90s, but 46 arena shows in Europe is a significant tour by anyone’s standards,” he observes of the current tour.

Grant continues, “The tour is all going smoothly, but that doesn’t surprise me because they have a longstanding and loyal crew of key people who they can rely on. The crew are treated very well, and a plus point is the band and their music, which helps make it an enjoyable experience for all.”

“I’ve been working with [The Cure] for the last 44 years, and it’s genuinely been one of the great privileges of my life”

And he agrees with the ‘perfectionist’ description given to Smith. “Robert looks at every detail and communicates very well with the people who work with the band,” says Grant. “He constantly listens to the previous night’s performance to hone things. He’s the consummate professional and a meticulous planner. He would make a top-notch production manager.”

On stage, The Cure rely on PRG for lighting and video screens. While elsewhere on the road, Phoenix Bussing are providing the means for personnel travel, with Eat Your Heart Out keeping everyone fed and watered and Freight Minds ensuring the band’s equipment gets safely from A to B to Z.

Never Enough
At IQ’s press time, The Cure are roughly halfway through their 46-date run, but such is the following that they are continuing to build that enquiries are already circulating about future live plans.
Despite the financial restraints, Nussbaumer sums up promoters’ hopes by voicing his desire for the band to be back in Austria before too long. “All the talk is that they will be doing something next year, as we’re expecting there might be a new album,” he says.

“They played four new songs during the gig here in Vienna, so we’ll have to wait to see what their plans are.” Noting that he’s looking forward to seeing the tour finale at Wembley, Bryan Grant states, “The Cure have quietly become one of the best performing bands on the planet. They don’t make a lot of media noise, but the production is very creative and quirky but not over-elaborate –
they don’t have to rely on style over substance.”

He adds, “[lighting director] Angus McPhail has been there from the beginning and always has an interesting look for the production. At the same time, the audio has to be excellent, but it’s not there to mask anything – it’s simply to amplify whatever the band do on stage.”

Hopewell admits that the fact the band is on the road at all in 2022 is something of a miracle. “We have half a million fans going to see The Cure – about 11,000 people on average per night – which considering it’s just after a pandemic, people have less money than before, and have less confidence that shows are actually going to happen… it’s really humbling,” he says.

“I’m finding it hard to believe that we did it, because when you’re setting it up, there’s just a handful of us involved – in this case all working from home on laptops and cell phones during the lockdowns. And then bizarrely, this monster tour comes out of it and actually happens. After the last couple of years, I think I can be forgiven for feeling it’s all a little surreal at the moment.”

He concludes, “Personally, I’m always very aware of the debt that I owe to Robert Smith, especially for his loyalty over all these years. I stumbled across The Cure when we were all painfully young and started trying to help out with some club gigs in London. And now I’ve been working with them for the last 44 years, and it’s genuinely been one of the great privileges of my life.”


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