Nico- Icon

  1. Vegas (3:41) [1]
  2. Sãeta (3:53) [2]
  3. One More Chance (4:10) [2]
  4. The Sphinx (4:05) [2]
  5. Orly Flight (2:50) [2]
  6. Henry Hudson (3:46) [2]
  7. Sixty/Forty (4:39) [2]
  8. Genghis Khan (3:32) [2]
  9. Mütterlein (4:08) [3]
  10. We've Got the Gold (4:02) [3]
  11. Nico Melbourne Interview 1986 (29:53) [4]


US CD Nico-Icon
US CD Cleopatra CLP 9709-2
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Note: Liner notes song titles are wrong
[1] 7" single
[2] FR LP Invisible Record C 3813 version (some dubbed off vinyl)
[3] The Library Theatre, St. Peter's Square, Manchester, 1985-06-00
[4] Interview by Steven Walker, 3RRR FM, 25 Victoria Street, Melbourne, 1986-02-19

It was just another irony in a life full of the things that prompted Nico to title her fifth solo album Drama of Exile. That the drama itself would go on for five years, and encompass not only Nico's own self-imposed exile, but also her return from half a decade in the critical wilderness, only compounded the fact. Nico first started talking about Drama of Exile in the spring of 1978, three years after her last album, The End ... , had scarified a generation of blissful, sun-soaked, mid-70's hippies. She was surprisingly buoyant; in 1978, after all, she had no record deal, she had no band, and the handful of shows she had played over the last few months had ended in humiliating chaos. Her old group, the Velvet Underground, was widely regarded amongst the most influential ever, but Britain's Punk Rock community, faced with the reality of the Velvets' own 'Femme Fatale', alone on stage with her harmonium and voice, reacted as though they were under attack. They might as well have been. "If I had a machine gun, I would shoot you all", Nico threatened the crowd as she cut short her set opening for Siouxsie and the Banshees in Cardiff (a city in Wales). "John Cale was born just up the road", she mused a few years later. "I expected more from those people." It was her meeting with a young Corsican reggae musician, Philippe Quilichini, which changed Nico's fortunes. Nico's career to date had been as haphazard as her public profile. Her 1968 debut, Chelsea Girl she had all but disowned; certainly the records which followed it, Marble Index (1969), Desertshore and The End ... (1974), were a far cry from the lush orchestrations and hateful flutes which characterized that first album, cornering instead a sparse, edgy landscape on the far side of sanity. The Banshees' audience was not alone: rock'n'roll itself never had much time for Nico. But that's because Nico never had much time for rock'n'roll. Drama of Exile was going to change all that. "It was really boring, all that quiet stuff", Nico said of her past albums. "And having been a member of the Velvet Underground, rock'n'roll is something I have to do at some point, even if only for one album." In 1979 ; met Aaron Sixx, owner of Aura Records. They met backstage at the Bataclan Club in Paris, where the Aura artist Annette Peacock was giving a concert. Nico asked A.S. if he was interested in a new album she was planning. Six months later, Nico turned up in London and played A.S. some recent demos she had quickly recorded. Interested, Aura offered to finance one album, to be recorded in London and produced by P. Quilichini. Contracts were drawn up, Aura advanced the production costs and recording began almost immediately. Recorded at Gooseberry Studios in Tulse Hill, London, with a band comprising of Quilichini, guitarist Mahammad Hadi, drummer Steve Cordonna, Ian Dury's sax player Davy Payne, and Andy Clarke, the keyboard player who so sparkled on David Bowie's Scary Monsters album. With the album nearly finished, and sounding great, A.S. received a tip-off from the studio that N. Duget (Nico's unofficial manager) had arranged to steal the master tapes from the studio and sell them, without reimbursing Aura. A.S. scuppered those plans by taking possession of all the tapes. A legal battle ensued, which was to last almost 3 years. Duget claimed Nico had not signed the contract. True, but an agreement was made and Aura had paid out considerable sums in production costs. Ownership therefore rested with Aura. During this period of legal machinations, Nico recorded a single Sãeta/Vegas which emerged on the Flicknife label in 1981. In 1982, Nico, tired of all the legal wranglings, abandoned N.D. and P.Q. and asked Aura to finally release the Drama of Exile album. At that time she also signed over the publishing rights to her original Drama songs to Aura Music. In 1983, having won the legal battle, Aura proceeded to release the album. P.Q. was angry and taking no notice of the legal restrictions involved, went back to Paris with some tapes he had secretly copied during recording, he remixed those tapes and had an illegal version of the album released in France. Aura quickly put a stop to this album and it was subsequently withdrawn. Despite these unconventional circumstances, Drama of Exile would see Nico receive some of the best reviews of her career. The album, a brittle amalgamation of New Wave-influenced rock and the traditional Eurasian influences which Quilichini, Hadi and Nico herself injected, was indeed a far cry from its predecessors in Nico's cannon, and encouraged by the critical response, she returned to the live circuit. Her timing could not have been more fortuitous. The early 1980's saw the British underground firmly in the grip of the so-called Raincoat Brigade; bands like Echo & The Bunnymen, Joy Division and Doll By Doll, whose own frame of musical reference drew a straight line from Jacques Brel to recent (Low/Heroes era) Bowie, and thus bisected Nico at a dozen different spots. Neither was there any shortage of bands wanting to bathe in her revitalized limelight. In June, 1982, for instance, The Sisters of Mercy played one of their earliest London shows at The Venue supporting Nico and paying musical homage with a cover of the Velvets Sister Ray; Even The Cult's Ian Astbury still talks enthusiastically of seeing her at Dingwall a couple of years later. On another occasion Bauhaus invited her on stage for a riotous encore of Waiting For The Man, later released on that band's Ziggy Stardust EP, Nico responded with equal enthusiasm giving some of the most lucid interviews of her career, and devising a live set which embraced every aspect of that career, from the Velvets on. The rare radio interviews which close this album and the two live cuts recorded at Manchester's Library Theatre in 1981 indicated how deep into her past she was prepared to delve: Mütterlein originally appeared on 1971's Desertshore album, We've Got The Gold dates from The End ..., which was four years later. Amidst all this activity, the demand for a fresh Nico project was immense, but little was forthcoming. Neither Nico nor the tapes legal owner, Aura, were involved in the sessions, although Quilichini would argue that the new versions which emerged were closer to the spirit of how Drama of Exile had originally been envisioned. These are the tracks which open this collection. Compared with their official counterparts, available on Cleopatra's reissue of the original Drama of Exile album (CLE0 10792), the intensity factor had been undeniably increased on the six songs which Quilichini reworked, and where substantial revisions have been made, they are considerably broader-based. The monkish backing vocals added to Genghis Khan; One More Chance, contrarily, has an undeniably synthpopish keyboard line running beneath the stentorian rhythms! Nico notoriously avoided hitching herself to any contemporary musical fashions, but if she had considered doing so, the results could not have been much different than these. Tragically, Quilichini would not live to see his work bear fruit. Just as the revamped Drama of Exile was released, in France in 1983, he and Nadett Duget were involved in a horrific traffic accident. Quilichini was killed, Duget died three years later, having remained in a coma since the crash. Again the irony, and the drama, is inescapable. Drama of Exile barely outlived its maker. Assailed by legal difficulties, it was deleted very shortly after its release, and this album marks the first official release of Quilichini's Drama of Exile since then; the first time, in fact, that these so-called "final remixes" have appeared with the full sanction of Aura. Its own dramatic exile is finally over. Sadly, Nico's own life and drama ended in 1988, the victim of a freak bicycle accident.

Dave Thompson

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Serge Mironneau