Rock Rule #3975: for the sake of your sanity, avoid the château. It might sound like the isolated Dukedom where you can knuckle down to your new album free of distractions, dealers and A&R ne’er-do-wells, but it might well end up a prison of paranoia, self-destruction and parties you can never leave.
When Pink Floyd picked Studio Miraval in a remote French château to record ‘The Wall’, it led to a terrifying claustrophobia and an irreversible split in the band. When Muse picked the same location for ‘Black Holes & Revelations’ they grew beards, tortured insects and started believing the world had ended without anybody telling them.
But by far the most classic example of châteaumania occurred in Villa Nellcôte in the south of France in the summer of 1971, when The Rolling Stones somehow pieced together ‘Exile…’ in the middle of scenes that Keith Richards would later describe as a cross between Hitler’s bunker, Versailles and Dante’s Inferno.
Amid a tsunami of heroin, “drunks and junkies” and celebrities – Gram Parsons, William S Burroughs, Anita Pallenberg – the permanently-wankered band (when they managed to turn up) recorded day and night in the villa’s sweltering basement while the groupies and dealers ran riot upstairs. At one point, so open-house and loud was the 24-hour party, country-rock legend Parsons was kicked out after partying there for a full month, and local drug dealers apparently walked out in broad daylight with half of the band’s instruments as ‘payment’ for Richards’ smack debts.
The Stones eventually vacated Nellcôte with the French plod’s boot up their arses, a couple of drug convictions and a two-year ban from the country. Oh, and one of the greatest rock’n’roll stories ever.
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