The Blues Muse – Nellcote – The South of France.

This is a patchwork of a novel that meanders through space and time to tell the story of Rock Music and put it in context with the world around it. It breathes excitement.


Nellcote – South of France

That was when Mick contacted me. They were splitting. Things were not at all good. I listened as he rambled on. He seemed very down and disturbed. They were still reeling from the Altamont fallout. The press had pointed the finger at the Stones, accusing them of being decadent, arrogant and stupid; as if they were to blame for Meredith’s death and the end of the sixties counterculture dream. It hurt. Marianne Faithful had nearly died from an overdose and, although they were estranged, it had affected Mick a lot. Then there was the constant harrying by the establishment in Britain and the obnoxious sniping British press. It looked like they were targets. The Redlands bust was still at the front of his mind. He thought it was brewing again. They were out to nail the Stones. It was a matter of time. On top of that they had managed to break away from Allen Klein and his empire of devious deals but it had cost them and there were still ongoing disputes about the rights to their music. It was going to rumble on. The upshot was that they had no money, they were sick of the hassle; they thought everyone was against them so it was the Stones against the world and – FUCK YOU. They were going.

Keith had a big old mansion that he’d rented in Nellcote, outside Ville Franche in the South of France. They were going to be tax exiles for a year or two. It should solve the financial problems. They’d be free of tax and they were going to record an album there. It was a huge mansion – idyllic and ideal for this project

Did I want to come along and help set it up?

I didn’t need asking twice.

I arrived at the Villa Nellcote and stood in wonder of it – a big rambling place sat like a palace, all windows, patios, trailing plants and beauty. It looked like the ideal place to me.

Outside, the mobile recording studio was already parked up.

Inside it was like I’d walked in on a party. Music was blaring out at full volume, scantily clad girls, wandered around, there was cocaine in a bowl on the table, joints doing the rounds and a big bottle of brandy. Keith was sitting on the balcony with an acoustic, guitar and cigarette in his mouth playing to himself and totally focussed. Though how he could hear anything over the noise was beyond me. Charlie had a big tumbler in his hand and seemed content to be knocking it back. Anita Pallenberg was sitting in an armchair looking totally spaced out.

Nobody seemed to pay the slightest attention to me. It was open house. People walked in and out. Anything went.

I found Mick with Jimmy Miller in the basement. It was hot, dank and claustrophobic down there but that was where they had decided to set up and record. It was cavernous but divided into lots of sparse, dingy rooms, some with swastikas daubed on them from when the Nazis had occupied the house during the war.

Mick Jagger was trying to supervise. Bill was morosely setting up his bass in one of the rooms. There was a drum kit in another and wires, microphones and guitars all over the place. The coordination looked to be a nightmare. I could see why he’d wanted me on board.

I set to work helping organise and set up.

Downstairs in that basement was like a different world. It was overpowering, stark, sweaty and basic. Upstairs it was light airy and one continuous party that went on without pause month after month.

It all centred round Keith. Much as Mick tried to instil some organisation it was Keith whose free and easy approach set the tone. He was impervious to Mick’s cajoling. He and Anita Pallenberg would spend days in a heroin haze. Then he got some songs together, absorbed himself in producing a riff or two and we were away. Charlie Watts put the bottle aside, Bill Wyman, who seemed to spend a lot of the time bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t get his Bird’s custard, Branston pickle or piccalilli, and that his PG Tips did not produce drinkable tea because of the bloody French milk, took up his bass. Mick Taylor drifted in from wherever he’d secreted himself, and they were away.

The continuity wasn’t helped by what was going on all around. It may have been Rock ‘n’ Roll heaven but it wasn’t exactly conducive to recording an album. After a few weeks Mick decided to marry Bianca in nearby St Tropez and bring the entourage back for a honeymoon in the mansion, Gram Parsons turned up with Gretchen and hangers on and immediately resumed as heroin buddies with Keith. I could see Mick boiling with frustration and the tensions mounting.

Dubious Mafiosi from Marseille would wander in with deliveries of heroin, cocaine and hash to keep the supplies topped up. Various musicians, friends and free-loaders would wander through. The party rumbled on. At one point seven guitars walked out – probably as a result of an unpaid drug bill to the Marseille underworld.

In the midst of this chaos the recording proceeded in fits and starts. It was free and easy, ragged and raw, lowdown and dirty. Somehow it was bearing fruit and sounding brilliant. I’d not heard them play so raunchy in a while. Mick Taylor certainly added some creative rawness and brought the best out of the others. His excellence made them respond.

It had to come to an end and it did. There was only so much that the authorities could turn a blind eye to. Ville Franche resonated to the roar of their non-stop Rock, night and day.

Eventually the bohemian dream was brought crashing to an abrupt end and they were busted.


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