Saturday 16 December 2017

La maison where it happened

VILLA Nellcote was a match for the glamour, notoriety and charisma of the barefoot, elegantly wasted hippies who lived there through the summer of 1971.

"Upstairs, it was fantastic -- like Versailles," said Keith Richards. "But down there ... it was Dante's Inferno."

It was in Villa Nellcote's cellars that Exile on Main Street was recorded. Upstairs, the glittering 19th-century Côte d'Azur mansion provided the backdrop for the most drugged-up house party ever. Today, worth £100m-plus, Richards rented the villa for $2,500-a-month in April 1971.

The house was notorious as a Nazi HQ during the French occupation. Swastikas had been painted on the heating vents, which accounted for the "weird vibe" in the cellars.

It didn't take long, says Robert Greenfield, author of a book about Exile, for Richards to make it home, turning the place into something between a backstage dressing room and a half-ruined hotel suite.

From midday onwards, hangers-on, liggers and dealers would arrive; typically, supper would be for 25.

Sound engineer, Andy Johns, recalls: "They had this amazing cook. There would be a table with everything on it that looked like a work of art. And Keith would ask for fried eggs."

Taylor was miserable throughout. His partner Rose said afterwards: "It was a lousy place to record an album. Absolutely awful." Atlantic Records executive Marshall Chess saw it differently: "A kind of spontaneous creativity happened there that was unique. You woke up at three in the morning, you could have whatever you wanted. It was living the album."

Richards and girlfriend Anita Pallenberg left for the US in November. They continued to rent Nellcote for a year, leaving the housekeeper to sort out the mess. They never returned.

-- Kylie O'Brien

Irish Independent

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