1. My Heart Is Empty (4:18)
  2. Procession (4:03)
  3. All Tomorrow's Parties (2:53)
  4. Valley of the Kings (3:20)
  5. The Sphinx (3:07)
  6. We've Got the Gold (4:14)
  7. Mütterlein (4:15)
  8. Afraid (3:44)
  9. Innocent and Vain (2:53)
  10. Frozen Warnings (4:30)
  11. Fearfully in Danger (3:52)
  12. Tananore (4:10)
  13. Femme Fatale (3:38)

Nico live

Heroine UK CD Anagram Records CDMGRAM85
UK CD Anagram Records CDMGRAM85
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Recorded at the Library Theatre, St. Peter's Square, Manchester, 1985-06-00
Producer: Malcolm Whitehead. Engineer: oz p.a.
Post-Production: RA Studios. Engineer: Alan Dook

Nico: vocals, indian pump organ
James Young [James Edward]: piano, backing vocals
Eric Random: tabla, percussion, synthesizer
Graham Didds: ethnic percussion
Toby Toman [Phillip Tomanov]: drums

Nico: vocal a cappella (Track 3)

Nico: vocal, indian pump organ (Tracks 4, 5, 9, 10)

Nico: vocal. Eric Random: synthesizer (Track 8)

Liner Notes

Rock 'n' roll has produced more than is faire share of casualties, but few have been more tragic than Nico. Destined to be remembered as the German model who added a dark, Bohemian chic to the Velvet Underground's first album, Nico was in fact much more than that: she was a living embodiment of the power of beauty and ambition, and, at the end of her life, a withering symbol of the crushing emptiness brought on by heroin addiction. With hindsight, Nico's sordid demise was as firmly assured as her rise to fame was stellar. Born on the 16th of October 1938, her birth certificate named her simply as Christa Päffgen, but gave little hint that her mother and father were an ill-matched couple, speeding headlong towards tragedy themselves. Herr Päffgen, a wealthy gentleman of Cologne, had been widely admonished for marrying a lowly seamstress who he'd fallen in love with — though, in the end, her impetuosity mattered little.

With the onset of the Second World War, Christa's father was sent to the Front, where he suffered head injuries that proved fatal. Not that he died from his wounds: as a shell-shock victim susceptible to bouts of madness, he was helped to a quiet death by his Nazi doctors in the relative safety of the German heartland. There was no room for the mentally infirm in Hitler's Third reich. Or at least that's the way Nico told it. Whatever the truth, the young Christa and her mother were forced to move from Cologne to Berlin, where they witnessed the terror of the Allies' strategy of intense 'carpet' bombing. These early experiences left their mark on the sullen waif, and in 1953, when her country was busy rebuilding itself in the bewildering aftermath of the war, she left home to find freedom and excitement in the world of modeling. At 15, she was already the epitome of the stern, Teutonic beauty that a Garbo-hungry world craved, and offers of work came flooding in. At 17, she was lovelier still, and Coco Chanel contracted her to promote their products, though their claustrophobic maternalism prompted Christa to flee to New York, where she was happy to continue her lucrative career. However, with the U.S. dollars came a penchant for amphetamines, given freely to the glamour girls to control their weight, and to lift the tedium of long, boring photo sessions. From then on, Nico — as she now called herself, in memory of a friend's ex-boyfriend — slipped into the Manhattan fast lane, where, in the mid-60's she motored freely with the beautiful people of the art world. Her most notable friend was the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones, though her languorous looks didn't escape the attention of film director Federico Fellini, who cast her in his New Wave classic, La Dolce Vita.

In New York, in 1965, Nico fell in love with Bob Dylan, though it was camp aesthete and canny entrepreneur Andy Warhol who gave substance to her fantasies of becoming a star of film and rock music. Casting her in his avant-garde movie, Chelsea Girls, was a kinder act than teaming her up with his art-rock garage band, the Velvet Underground, with whom the model recorded the seminal Velvet Underground & Nico album in 1967. The deal had been simple and, of course, cynical: lead singer Lou Reed was to write Nico a handful of songs (Femme Fatale, All Tomorrow's Parties and I'll Be Your Mirror), and in return Warhol would supply his group with free booze, rehearsal space and equipment. Lou reluctantly agreed, but still had plenty of fun cajoling Andy's beautiful charge.

It may not have been a happy musical marriage, but Nico's low, Gothic singing, and sophisticated European accent certainly glided The Velvet Underground & Nico with a decadent, sombre, narcotic edge. And 'narcotic' was the watch-word, as Andy's stable of aesthetes happily indulged themselves in a daily orgy of drug-taking — an orgy that, for Nico, would never really end. With Lou Reed ever the antagonist, the singer's services weren't required for long, though her musical career was far from over. From 1967 to the mid-70's, a washed-out Nico made a quartet of great solo albums with fellow outcast John Cale at the controls. Here she mused in fearful Teutonic tones about art, life and death, while her gentle harmonium backing solemnly bleated away, voicing, perhaps, the sound of the white-light dancing in her heroin-addled brain.

By the early 80s, when this set was recorded at Manchester's Library Theatre, Nico's drug dependency had lost her all her worldly possessions. Seemingly unworried, she had relocated to Manchester, England, where smack from Iran was widely-available — and cheap. No longer the cheek-boned femme fatale of 15 years before, and shunned by her old friends who'd managed to escape the downward spiral into junkiedom, Nico began performing for just one thing: drug money. But, as this mix of contemporary songs My Heart Is Empty, Procession, vintage 70's favourites Valley of the Kings, We've Got the Gold, Innocent and Vain, late 60's glories Frozen Warnings and inevitable V.U. fare All Tomorrow's Parties, Femme Fatale shows, her live performances were still powerful, tragic, deeply compelling.

Once on stage, the heroin coursing through her veins, Nico appears to have become consumed and consoled, her body free to belt out those dark, melancholic notes while her mind gazed dreamily on. On hitting rock bottom, her need for musical catharsis seemed heightened, though she probably never realised that her music may have been a kind of reluctantly therapy. Life, by this time had ceased to be a real life at all.

For one whose life was bedecked with musty glamour, Nico died an absurdly ungracious death. While holidaying in Ibiza in 1988, she fell off her push-bike, and later died in hospital from a brain hemorrhage. No one knew who she was — just another junkie looking for drugs in the sun. Perhaps her accident was a blessing — she'd recently kicked heroin in favour of a rehabilitative methadone programme. But it was heroin that had kept her looking youthful, like some evil, insidious preservative — death, if it had come later, may have been a far more ravaged and ugly affair.

Nico was a heroin of sorts — but, ultimately, she was another sad victim of that word without its deathly 'e' suffix.

Pat Gilbert, Record Collector.

© 1996-2011
Serge Mironneau