Honky Chateau monument to whole generation of pop stars

Elton John.
Elton John.

To stroll through the grand faded salons of the Chateau d'Herouville is to take a walk through one of the sacred spaces of British pop music.

Elton John was one of the first to record at the imposing French country pile in 1972, pounding his way through Honky Chateau - instantly giving Herouville its nickname - then Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. David Bowie arrived in 1973 to record Pin Ups and then later, Low - though he was convinced the chateau was haunted and refused to sleep in one of the rooms.

Rumour had it that the ghost was that of Frederic Chopin, who is said to have lived at Herouville with his mistress, the French author George Sand. If so, the composer's ethereal bones would also have been shaken by the sound of Uriah Heep, Canned Heat, Rick Wakeman, Iggy Pop, the Bee Gees, Marvin Gaye, Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull, Cat Stevens and T Rex , who all checked into the chateau at various times to record hits.

Then, in 1985 the music stopped. The recording studio was shut, the chateau gates padlocked and the imposing pile and its gardens abandoned to squatters and overgrowth.

Now, after years of neglect, the chateau, one of the world's first "residential music studios" is for sale. For 1.29 million ($2.16 million), the buyer can buy the property.

The house, a 1740 staging post built in the austere Roman school of architecture, in the Val d'Oise region 30km north of Paris, became famous thanks to its previous owner, the late French musician and film score composer Michel Magne, who won an Oscar in 1962 for his music for the Gene Kelly film Gigot.

When Magne acquired the property in 1962 it was in ruins; today, it has 30 rooms, a swimming pool and tennis court set in 17,000ha of parkland.

Magne wanted the chateau, which had been painted by Vincent van Gogh, who is buried nearby, as a home for his family and a personal recording studio. However, word soon spread of its extraordinary acoustic qualities.

Seven years later it opened as a residential recording studio, nicknamed Strawberry Studios, and boasting everything that a demanding star could want: state-of-the-art recording equipment, ping-pong tables, mini-football games and a swimming pool.

One of the chateau's high moments was when Grateful Dead performed an impromptu concert in June 1971. The late Jerry Garcia, the band's lead guitarist, told his biographer: "We were there with nothing to do: France, a 16-track recording studio upstairs, all our gear, ready to play, and nothing to do. So, we decided to play at the chateau itself ... We didn't even play to hippies, we played to a handful of townspeople in Auvers. We played and the people came - the chief of police, the fire department, just everybody. It was an event and everybody just had a hell of a time - got drunk, fell in the pool. It was great."

Magne had no head for business and was forced to sell the property to his creditors in 1979.

The new owners allowed the recording studio to remain while pursuing plans to convert the chateau into luxury flats. The local authority denied permission and, apart from a brief period of rental, it has been mostly empty for the past 28 years.

- Observer

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