Le Chateau and new wave

One of the jobs I took in France was as a residential assistant and dogs-body at the infamous studio outside Paris called Le Chateau. Elton John and The Grateful Dead came to make albums there. Much of Saturday Night Fever was recorded there. In fact, virtually every star of the day, including the 17 year old Jodie Foster, came through the doors and most of them, by then, I knew personally

I was introduced to a group called Extrabelle in the Pigalle, in Paris, who were right at the start of the new wave, pre-dating the Sex Pistols and the punk movement in London which would soon blow away the gutless, white music which was then dominating the business. It was raw, real, new, anti-establishment and low-brow, all the things which I loved. This was art, not marketing departments, changing things.

I played with Extrabelle and helped them make a single called Heroin. We sold it in the flea market in Paris from the back of a van. We played underground gigs and sold 12,000 records before being signed up by Warners to make an album at Le Chateau, with me producing. It won a Midem award in the South of France as the best newcomer’s album. Suddenly I was a producer with a respected and acclaimed record and I could work consistently with other French and Belgian New Wave groups.

I started playing with Nico, the ex-Velvet Underground singer with the beautiful downcast face, and haunting, Germanic voice. She was already iconic for me, someone the world believed was good, and I relished the challenge of playing guitar for her. But I still wanted to be a star, like Mick Jagger perhaps, although I would like to have been a more appealing entity. There was always something a bit squirt-like about Mick. Unlike Keith Richards, if you met Mick off stage and didn’t know who he was, he wouldn’t impress you much. A bit rude really, slightly infantile and awkward. One of those people at dinner parties who swears for the sake of swearing. But he loved his music and he knew how to promote it. I wanted an opportunity to get to as wide an audience as he did.

By 1980 I was profoundly frustrated and upset that I had a bunch of gold and silver disks by French and Belgian names that no-one back in England had ever heard of. I headed back to London, determined to set up my own studio.