16 Apr 2019

New Zealander Chris Parry on managing The Cure

From Afternoons, 2:19 pm on 16 April 2019

Legendary rock band The Cure was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame recently. But did you know the band has a Kiwi connection?

Chris Parry (L), Robert Smith, and Howard Thompson from A&R Records

Chris Parry (L), Robert Smith, and Howard Thompson from A&R Records Photo: Supplied/Audioculture

When The Cure were inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in March, lead singer Robert Smith said in his acceptance speech, "If I start naming people, we’ll just go on and on ... But there is one person.

"When we first started, we were a teenage trio in 1978 and at one of our very first shows, this small bloke came along, and we weren’t really sure who he was. And he saw something in us that most people didn’t. And that’s Chris Parry. So thanks a lot."

New Zealander Chris Parry was the band's manager for more than 20 years. He was also the drummer for famous Kiwi act the Fourmyula, and went on to start record labels and radio stations, and work with a who's who of music acts.

After The Fourmyula went their separate ways in London in the early 1970s, Parry, who had a British passport through his father, decided to stay. He told Jim Mora that he knew The Fourmyula had come to a natural end.

"I mean, by that time, things in the UK had changed ... there was pop and there was heavy, it was going heavy.

"So, a lot of the bands came through, Led Zeppelin just came through like a rocket. You know, there was a lot of those bands of based on soul and blues coming through like Fleetwood Mac

"We didn't have somebody to guide us I suppose ... if I look back now, with what I know now, I'd say well take that sort of that sort of acoustic, slightly organic sound which you had with 'Nature' and songs like that with harmonies, and then just forget the rocky stuff, because we were not a rock band."

With other members of the band heading back to New Zealand Parry decided to get some practical qualifications.

"I could see that we [The Fourmyula] weren't going to get any further and I wanted just leave and not drag it out.

"I just stayed back, I met a girl, got married far too young, and went to college for a couple of years."

Parry attended The College for the Distributive Trades in Leicester Square, London.

The Fourmyula circa 1970 with Chris Parry front.

The Fourmyula circa 1970 with Chris Parry front. Photo: Simon Grigg/AudioCulture

When he qualified, he wrote some speculative letters and got a call from the record company Polydor and was offered a job in A&R.

In London at the time, punk was starting to emerge and he got wind of a band called the Sex Pistols. His boss at Polydor, Freddy Hine, told Parry to check them out.

"Freddy, he was a bit of a wild boy, but he was the boss, the ultimate boss, for Polydor at the time.

"And he said I have just come back from a club and he said there's this weird band called the Sex Pistols, check them out."

Parry started to attend small gigs at clubs like The 100 Club in Soho. The Sex Pistols eventually signed with another label and The Clash also slipped through his fingers.

"I was determined to find something.

"It was actually Shane MacGowan [later of the Pogues] he was an original Sex Pistols punk. He came up to me one day he said 'Chris don't worry about missing out on The Clash and the Sex Pistols there's a really good band playing, they're opening up Saturday night at The Marquee'."

That band turned out to be The Jam.

"Everyone knows Saturday night The Marquee opening up is just a dead spot, but I went and I saw this band and I just really was impressed with Paul Weller."

Parry signed The Jam and also produced their first few singles. 'In The City', he says, was a struggle to get right.

"We were recording in the Polydor in-house studios which was a smallish area, there was not a lot of separation.

"Vic Smith was the engineer, I brought him in to help me, and we knew we had the recording, but now it's a case of getting the mix right, to get the sound so it pulsed, so it sounded exciting.

"Vic and I must have done 10 mixes before we got it right, I think we ended up putting a little echo in behind, a little pulsing echo, and it just seemed to pick it all up and then we got there."

Siouxsie and the Banshees

Siouxsie and the Banshees Photo: Wikipedia

Later he signed Siouxsie and the Banshees.

"I knew Siouxsie right from the beginning, because I was one of the alleged millions that were at the 100 Club when the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Clash played there.

"I was there on the mixing desk, not mixing but just as an honoured person able to stand there and watch it all, and Siouxsie and the Banshees did a 20-minute version of The Lord's Prayer it was just a rant and but they got better and better you know?

"I don't think anyone really took them seriously. And it was actually a colleague of mine, he worked in A&R, Allan Black, came to me and said, 'Look, I really want to sign Siouxsie and the Banshees'."

But the head of A&R at Polydor, Jim Cook, wasn't having any of it.

"I said well, what have you got on them? Because the last time I really saw them was The Lord's Prayer. He said well, I've got this is John Peel track.

"And I listen to it and said 'this is a hit what's Jim on about?'"

That track for the BBC's John Peel sessions was 'Hong Kong Garden'.

"And so I went to Jim and said, 'right listen to this Jim' and he went 'yeah, yeah', I said 'that's a hit record and they're playing on Friday at Alexandra Palace, you be there'."

Cook didn't turn up at the gig but did agree to sign the Banshees and 'Hong Kong Garden' was the band's first hit.

Parry first heard The Cure when he picked up a bundle of demos that would arrive at the record company every week to listen to over the weekend.

"I heard this tape and I really loved it so I called Robert [Smith], he'd written his telephone number on the tape, and he walked into my office and I said to him I really liked your music. He was kind of lanky, but I liked his look."

That started a 20-year relationship with the band; Parry signed them and managed them.

Chris Parry, The Cure's Robert Smith and US Elektra East Coast Head of A&R, Howard Thompson.

Chris Parry, The Cure's Robert Smith and US Elektra East Coast Head of A&R, Howard Thompson. Photo: AudioCulture

After a run of heavy, goth-flavoured albums the band were running out of steam, Parry convinced Smith to write some lighter pop songs.

"I convinced him that there was a place for The Cure which was in pop, forget the all the goth, forget all that stuff, just have fun, let's just write a few pop songs, you write the pop songs, produce them, and we'll see what happens.

"And if it doesn't work, you can walk away from the contract."

Smith agreed and a string of hits followed that brought The Cure to a wider audience.

"So, we did 'Let's Go To Bed', that became very popular and a big hit in America, particularly MTV and a great video.

"Then we did 'The Walk' and that was a top 20 in the UK, and then we did 'The Love Cats'  and that was a big hit."

After 30 years of success Parry sold his interests in the music business and now spends most of his time on the Coromandel.

"Well, I kind of retired from music if you like when I was 52 or 53 in 2001 when I sold everything out.

"And then now I'm very content with the few things I have to do, there's a dairy farm down the Coromandel that I own and a lovely coastal property and I travel and read and I'm happy. I'm with a very beautiful New Zealand girl - Susan."

His new lifestyle, a long way from rock 'n' roll, keeps him fit and happy, he told Jim Mora.

"I've been doing a lot of gardening and landscaping down at the Coromandel. You know shovelling and wheel barrowing and planting keeps you fit."

And he acknowledges he had a good run in the music business.

"I had a lot of luck but then again, I'll say about luck it's the occasional and wonderful filling that goes into the hard-work sandwich."