Nico & Jean-Marc Philippe Quilichini
UK LP Aura AUL 715
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Recorded at Music Works Studio, 43 Capel Road, Watford, Hertfordshire, 1981-04-00—1981-05-00
Producer: Jean-Marc Philippe Quilichini
Engineer: Mike Pela
Muhammad Hadi: lead guitar, bouzouki, simisha, backing vocals, piano
Jean-Marc Philippe Quilichini: bass, african percussions, rhythm guitar, synthesizer, backing vocals
Steve Cordona: drums
Davey Payne: saxophones
Andy Clarke: organ, piano, synthesizer
SEECD 449 Liner Notes
As one critic memorably put it, when Nico spoke it was like coffin-lids creaking. When she sang it was like listening to ravens taking off 13 at a time. Nico was like nothing rock music had ever seen or heard before or since.
Her eerie, haunting voice appeared to have come from out of nowhere. And it might just as well have done, for all that she was willing to reveal of her true past. Nico enjoyed surrounding herself in mystery, taking delight in building her own legend. The first of the supermodels, she had pioneered a career path that took her from the pages of the glossy style magazines into film and then into the recording studio. At the time of her death, she was reputed to be working on her autobiography. She wanted it to be, she declared: "Half true and half not true, a mixture that cannot be untangled."
To that end she had been spinning her own version of her life story through the years in countless interviews — adding, subtracting, embellishing and inventing things at will. By 1981 when Drama of Exile was released she had more or less put together a version she was happy with. It was of course a mixture of truths, half-truths and downright lies. Records company boss Aaron Sixx who signed her to Aura for the album recalls: "About 80 per cent of anything you read about Nico could be false. Most of it put about by her. She would say anything to get a reaction. And people would write it down.
Anyone willing to piece together the cuttings could get the true story of Nico's life as she chose to see it. She was born Christa Päffgen (or Päffgens or even Pavloski) in Cologne on October 16, 1938. Her father was either the son of a well-to-do brewing family who disowned her at birth, or in another version of the story was a Turk who was imprisoned by the Nazis and died in Belsen.
She and her mother fled to Berlin where the teenage Christa claimed she was later raped at 13 by a soldier in the American occupying army, who was himself then sentenced to death after she gave evidence at his court martial. A beautiful child, she was encouraged by the Berlin couturier Ostergaard to become a model. Coco Chanel discovered her next and then she moved to Paris where she took amphetamines to stay thin and earned enough from photo shoots to buy herself a home on Ibiza, the Spanish island where she first adopted the male name of Nico, and where she would eventually die.
In the Sixties she was one of the beautiful people. Fellini cast her in the film La Dolce Vita. Brian Jones took her to the Monterey Pop Festival. Andrew Loog Oldham signed her to his super-cool Immediate Records label in London where she recorded a single produced by Jimmy Page. Dylan wrote I'll Keep It with Mine for her in Paris, where she became pregnant by Alain Delon. Andy Warhol persuaded her to go to New York where she sang in the Blue Angel and studied acting under Lee Strasberg in the same Class as Marilyn Monroe.
Warhol filmed her in Chelsea Girls and then linked her with his protégés the Velvet Underground. Together in 1967 they recorded one of the classic albums of all time The Velvet Underground & Nico.
Three solo albums followed in 1968, 1969 and 1971 — each on a different label. There were affairs with Velvets' Lou Reed and John Cale, plus Iggy Pop, Jim Morrison and a teenage Jackson Browne. And then she returned to Europe because, popular legend had it, she was on the run from the Black Panthers.
In self-imposed exile in Paris she worked with French film-maker Philippe Garrel, and then in 1974 signed again to another label, Island, for a live album with Cale, Brian Eno and Kevin Ayers and another solo release called The End.
There were sufficient verifiable facts in such a colourful CV to lend the rest of it a ring of authenticity, and only the tidiest of minds ever tried to unravel the threads to discover where the truth ended and the fantasy began.
In Paris in the seven year gap between the recording of The End and the release of Drama of Exile Nico appeared to be doing little more than feeding a heavy heroin habit When she met Sixx after a gig there she told him that she was eager to start recording again. He told her to contact him when she was next in London. When she arrived it was with a new harmonium in tow — Claiming the previous one had been stolen and that its replacement was a gift from Patti Smith. She also brought with her the Corsican record producer Philippe Quilichini and his girlfriend — a half French half Vietnamese creature who Nico would introduce as her new manager, though really she was little more than her pusher. She and Quilichini had already finished the demos of the seven new songs and two cover versions that eventually they would record for the album.
I'm Waiting For the Man — Lou Reed's sleazy drug-buyers anthem — was a willfully ironic choice. Nico's life by then centered pretty much around the need to score for her habit. It was anyway, she would insist, a song that she felt she should have been allowed to sing on that first Velvets' album. "Lou wouldn't let me sing it. But it was more about me than him. I was the junkie in the band", she declared proudly. The other cover version — David Bowie's self-mythologising Heroes — she claimed was also written about her.
As for her own new songs, they were observations drawn from life she told Kris Needs in an interview for Zigzag magazine. "The Sphinx. I can actually meet the sphinx because there's a sphinx in many persons I've met. Things like that make me write songs," she revealed.
"And I met a young English boy who looked like Genghis Khan. His name was David Brown and he lived in Spain. And I wrote this song thinking he was really Genghis Khan because he looked so much like the way I imagined Genghis Khan to be. The songs are different from what I've done in the past. They are more oriental sounding, I would say. Middle Eastern, Arabic or Moorish. I've been to Egypt and to Morocco. Egypt is the best place of all." On a similar theme she old Kerrang magazine that she wanted to go to Lebanon and record amid the chaos of the civil war which was then still raging there. In truth by that time Nico didn't really care where she was, as long as she was not too far away from the next fix.
Quilichini's production on the album and in particular Mahammad Hadi's guitar parts emphasised the eastern promise of the numbers and provided a stirring counterpoint to Nico's heavily accented teutonic vocals which gave the whole thing a stark beauty.
Less happily Quilichini and his girlfriend also hatched a plan to steal the tapes in a bid to cheat Aura Records and sell them on to another company. Aaron Sixx managed to rescue them with a last minute dash to the studios, but with their plan thwarted the couple severely delayed the release of the album by trying to take him to court.
But with the record finally released and lauded by many critics as her best ever, Nico embarked on the usual round of promotional interviews. Mick Brown of the Sunday Times asked her what it was that she thought people expected from her.
Playing her role as the diva of decadence to the hilt, she replied: "I guess they expect me to drop dead." Sadly before the decade was out, she was to do just that — robbing rock of a unique and enigmatic talent and of one of its most extraordinary voices.
— Fraser Massey
Cleopatra CLEO10792 Liner Notes
Nico was unique. Named by Chanel; filmed by Fellini; discovered by Andrew Loog Oldham; enshrined by Warhol; courted by Cohen; companion of Brian Jones, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Jim Morrison, Iggy Pop; by the early 1970s she was already a legend. Kevin Ayers and Eno recorded her, Patti Smith and David Bowie wanted to.
Nico rebuffed or rebuked them all. Only John cale, with whom she'd worked in the early Velvet Underground, had the temper and temperament to capture Nico on wax; left to her own, or others' devices, she was complaining and contrary, subversive and scary. By the end of the decade, she'd reached the end of her tether.
But the fascination lingered on, like her beauty, haunting the ravages of time, drugs and hopelessness, and in 1978 Nico drifted into friendship with reggae bassist Philippe Quilichini and photographer Antoine Giacomoni. Both were aware of who she was, and why, both had seen the hordes who poured to pay obeissance at her feet when she played, a stentorian valkyrie pumping her sonorous harmonium. And both were clutched by the same mad idea. For the first time in fifteen years, since Warhol's Plastic Inevitable exploded in Velveteen shards - Nico with a rock'n'roll band.
"My record is called Drama of Exile", said Nico, "Because my life has been a drama of exile. I've become a total stranger to myself." The album would chart her travels, through time Genghis Khan, Henry Hudson — and space... the self-prophesying New York of Lou Reed's I'm Waiting For the Man, the bitter Paris of Orly Flight, the suffocating Berlin of David Bowie's Heroes. Keyboard player Andy Clarke cemented the Bowie connection — he was engineer on Scary Monsters; The Sphinx reiterated Nico's German origins: it was dedicated to terrorist Andreas Baader.
The band, too, reflected intransigence. Quilichini was Corsican; guitarist Mahammad Hadi was Middle eastern; Davey Payne was an English pop star, headline hustling saxophonist with Ian Dury's charp-topping Blockheads. Soaring in all directions from Steve Cordona's solid thunderbolt percussion, each played the praise of his homeland. Eastern rhythm coupled with western roots, the mystic melody of the snake charmer plying his trade in a New Jersey mall. And above it, Nico sang the void.
"Having been a member of the Velvet Underground, rock'n'roll is something I have to do at one point, even if only for one album," Nico explained . "All that quiet stuff I did before... it was really boring!"
She continued: "I always wanted to sing I'm Waiting For the Man, but Lou wouldn't let me. Anyway, I know more about the subject now than I did then." Her voice trailed off. "I find it something to occupy yourself with, running up and down the city."
And: "Heroes was written for me. I know that as a fact. I was living in Berlin at the same time as Bowie was there. He recaptured my past, I guess. I can hear it from the lines 'Standing by the wall, the gun shots above our heads and we kissed.' That didn't happen of course. That was his fantasy."
In 1983, Nico's version of Heroes was released as a single in the UK. it didn't sell, and Nico joked, "that was a fantasy as well." Her keyboard player, James Young later wrote a book about Nico called Songs They Never Play on the Radio.
Drama of Exile was released in Holland alone, in 1981. Controversy surrounded its appearance; according to Antoine Giacomoni, Nico had sold the still incomplete master tapes for $4,000, then returned to the studio with Philippe Quilichini and recorded the whole album all over again! Granted a limited release some two years later (it hit the shops in the same month as Quilichini died in a car accident), this second Drama of Exile has attained almost legendary status amongst Nico fans, yet remains a mere shadow of the album the same team created before, and which is now released for the first time ever in America.
Unfinished though this original Drama of Exile apparently was, it nevertheless captured Nico absorbing, and, in the process, mutating the rock'n'roll disciplines her earlier albums had treated with such disdain. The frozen warnings, the janitors of lunacy, the innocent and vain still stalk its corridors, but it's the razor-edge of electricity, the band contorting its own training to the demands of Nico's music, which truly haunts the drama; the sense that though Nico embraced rock'n'roll, rock'n'roll could never embrace her. It would perish at her very touch.
Dave Thompson / Contributing Editor, Alternative Press