The True Story of “A Forest”

If you’re a fan of The Cure, you might have had the pleasure of seeing the over-the-top live version of “A Forest”. The original version – from the band’s second album, Seventeen Seconds – clocks in at 5:55. Live versions can run as long as 15 minutes. And why not? It’s one of the band’s most popular tunes, and the song’s moody, spartan atmosphere makes it ripe to extend by several minutes.

But unless you’re a hardcore Cure fan, you might not know that the extended version of the song was neither accident nor artistic decision. It was to flip a finger at Robert Palmer.

The Cure played a festival called Rock Werchter in Werchter, Belgium on July 5, 1981. A couple of local acts opened, followed by The Undertones, Toots and the Maytals, then Elvis Costello. The Cure played, to be followed by Robert Palmer and Dire Straits.

As it sometimes happens at festivals, the bands started running behind. Before The Cure even went on, Robert Palmer’s road crew started hassling The Cure about keeping their set short. During the set, various members of Palmer’s crew kept motioning to the band to speed it up or, later on, end it already. After The Cure finished the penultimate song of their set – “A Play for Today” – a member of Palmer’s crew rushed on stage and threatened to cut the power if The Cure didn’t leave.

The Cure, of course, didn’t take too kindly to this. Robert Smith introduced their final song thusly:

“This is the final song because we’re not allowed to carry on anymore, ‘cos everybody wants to see Robert Palmer… I think. It’s called ‘A Forest’.”

Just to be dicks, The Cure improvised an almost 10 minute version of the song:

At the end of the song, you can hear Cure member Simon Gallup scream “Fuck Robert Palmer! Fuck rock n’ roll!” Palmer’s people had the last laugh, though, tossing all The Cure’s equipment off the back of the stage.

Over the years, the band has refined the live version of the song. Where the Werchter version is raw and improvised, later versions were much more cohesive, like this version from 1992:

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