Nico in Manchester: ‘She liked the structure – and the heroin’ – The Guardian
A Nico, a commanding blond German ex-model with a voice that was once described as "a body that falls through a window" was extraordinary when she leaned her vocals to songs like Femme Fatale and All Tomorrow & # 39; s Parties on the first classic Velvet Underground album produced by Andy Warhol.
Soon afterwards she began a solo career and made records like The Marble Index, which were even darker, with desperate lyrics and a wheezing harmonium that accompanied Nico's Germanic tones. At that point she was no longer blonde – she despised her traffic-calming looks – and was addicted to heroin.
Music and drugs led her to Manchester, where she lived for much of the 1980s. When a new show about her, The Nico Project, comes to the Manchester International Festival, the Guardian spoke to some of the people who worked and were hanging around with a cultural icon.
Nigel Bagley (Co-Manager, Promoter): In 1981 we booked artists for the Rafters night club in Manchester when I received a call from an agency telling me that Nico was in a pub was in London. was a mess and borrowed money from everyone. The person said, "You can book it, but I have no idea if it will show up." I had the Kevin Ayers, John Cale, Brian Eno and Nico live album from June 1st, 1974 since I was 12 which led me to The Velvet Underground & Nico so it was a chance to attract my childhood heroine. I booked it for £ 200. Then the agency called back and asked, "Can you get heroin?"
Phil Jones (Co-Manager, Promoter): She appeared with her harmonium. Her arms were terrible, but otherwise she didn't look like she'd taken heroin for years. What an icon she was later became clear to us when we showed her up in London and Siouxsie [Sioux] Duran Duran and all these film stars. New orders, Tony Wilson and the Factory Records lot were on the guest list for this first appearance by Rafters. She sang Femme Fatale, All Tomorrow’s Parties and I am waiting for the man. Alan Wise [her manager] was thrilled. She couldn't stay and he said, "We can't just let her go."
Nigel Bagley: We put her in a Polish B&B. She stuck a "do not disturb" sign on the door and was there for three weeks.
Phil Jones: She had to perform to get money for drugs, and next we knew that Wise had led her to work with us. A Polish ex-soldier club gave her a room for a while. She moved into people's houses because they liked the idea of having Nico in the guest room, but then they said the kids were afraid of her, so she got an apartment in Sedgeley Park, Prestwich. We brought them together with musicians and Manchester was their home for years.
Martin Bramah (guitarist): I think she knew there was a scene – Joy Division, dark music – or she just liked cheap heroin. When we were on the road there were many waiting times in unsavory neighborhoods – she wrote letters full of heroin to herself in the next hotel – while she had a dealer in Manchester. But she didn't see the grubby industrial city I grew up in. She looked at the Victorian architecture and said, "This is so romantic."
Phil Jones: She liked the fact that she was a bit of a celebrity, and people were a bit in awe of her – Tony Wilson called her "Ma & # 39; am" – but she did also liked normality. On Sunday evening we went to Kwok Man in Chinatown to enjoy a Chinese meal. Alan brought her to his family for Christmas. She liked the pubs in Prestwich where they could play billiards and be anonymous.
Richard Hector-Jones (Spectator): I saw her being searched by the police in the Spinners Arms – a notorious pub in Hulme at the time. My friend whispered, "This is Nico" and I thought, "What the hell is a Velvet Underground star doing in this shitty hole?"
"Spider" Mike King (guitarist): She was a real bohemian. Her whole world was in a travel bag: a change of underwear and a blouse.
Jane Goldstraw (girlfriend): Sometimes she just longed to be herself, and it could be because I didn't want anything from her – I didn't take drugs. She loved my soup. We watch a movie or sing. I would play the piano. She rode a bike through Manchester and we took my dog and kids with us and walked across the bogs. I think she was very lonely, but so was I.
"She liked the fact that she was a bit of a celebrity." Photo: Peter Noble / Redferns
Nigel Bagley: She didn't really talk to the Manchester glitterati or hang out in clubs. Hooky [Peter Hook from New Order] showed up occasionally. She later shared an apartment with John Cooper Clarke in London, but her heroes came from an earlier generation. the Bob Dylans and so on. She invited me to dinner once, and there was this bizarre scene in which Nico cooks couscous with one hand and cooks heroin with the other. I thought, "I hope she doesn't confuse her." She has such a dark picture, but there was so much funny stuff and she was wonderfully expressionless. We met film director John Waters who asked if she would sing at his funeral. She said, "Call me when you're dead."
Una Baines (Keyboards): She was on a ferry between Hook of Holland and Harwich and was read the last rites. Then we were all searched by customs and Nico just sat there, cool as a cucumber. They found nothing and she said, "Did you see how I hypnotized the dog?"
Jane Goldstraw: She loved to shock. We went to the local shops and she said, "This is Jane, my friend" – which I was not – "I love her". And of course, people's jaws would fall in the 1980s.
Graham "Dids" Dowdall (drums): She was very factual, very down to earth: "Let's just do it." The microphone didn't work on my first rehearsal. So she sang without a hair and my hair stood on end.
Una Baines: She let me check her Indian pump organ. Patti Smith bought it for her. They were with her and they learned songs like David Bowie's Heroes and they thought, "Is that real?"
Martin Bramah: In the car she would rock beautifully and remember her lovers – Bob Dylan, Brian Jones, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Jim Morrison. She knew that people loved it. Lovely, romantic stories.
Mike King: I think the relationship with Alain Delon [with whom she had a son, Ari, in 1962] had caused her great pain. She carried the separation from these worlds with her.
James Young (Keyboards): When she retired [from heroin] she became very angry. So a lot of anger was suppressed.
Phil Jones: When she didn't take heroin, she started to feel things and couldn't cope with it because she didn't know where it was going.
James Young: There was a sea of darkness. She was born [Christa Päffgen] during the Nazi era [in 1938] evacuated to her grandfather's house [on the outskirts of Berlin] and saw Berlin in flames. And the guilt of being German after Hitler and having to do things that she didn't want to do to escape. She was an alpha woman. As a teenager, it took courage to go to Paris and find the right circles in the post-war ruins of Europe. When she was modeling for Chanel, she was given amphetamines to stay thin – which was legal at the time – and normalized drug use.
Nigel Bagley: I once asked her why she took heroin. She said, "Well, if I were drunk, I would be fat." In the early years when she was doing La Dolce Vita with Fellini and everything else, she was the equivalent of today's reality TV stars: famous and voted the 10 most beautiful women in the world. Then she was a superstar at Andy Warhol in New York and there were drugs.
James Young: She said: "Bad thoughts come when I don't clap." She once told me that she had been raped as a teenager. People doubted their stories, but why did you make it up?
Jane Goldstraw: When she was three years old during the war, she lived on a farm near an extermination camp and remembered having stumbled over dead bodies. But there are conflicting stories. She was a pretty overwhelming woman if you let her be one.
She said: "Bad thoughts come when I don't clap." Photo: Peter Noble / Redferns
Nigel Bagley: During a performance she introduced Germany to everything and said: "My father was homosexual and died in a concentration camp." And of course the audience was in tears. The background story was part of the performance and was constantly changing.
Phil Jones: When she told you something personally, it was usually true. There is a scene in Oliver Stone's Doors film in which she gives Jim Morrison a blowjob in the elevator. That would have really offended her. She had read something like that in books and said to me: "Damn it never happened." She was never a femme fatale. She was just hit hard by very famous people. I think she was abused on the way. She told me five times, "Jim Morrison was the only man I ever loved." She was annoyed, but she must have done something right because she secured her status in the Velvet Underground and then created an idiosyncratic canon that could not be compared to anything else in music.
James Young: She found her artistic direction at [1968’s] The Marble Index. Paul Morrissey [a Warhol collaborator] concluded that wearing heroin and black clothes is a renunciation of the world so that she can focus on being an artist, almost like a nun would. Black on black, motorcycle boots, pre-Gothic, badass.
Una Baines: I don't think she would have called herself a feminist because she hated some form of ideology. She said her only regret was not having been born a man. I think she wanted the same privileges and powers that men have. She felt that people were only interested in her looks. She wanted something more essential. She wrote songs in her second language. She spoke seven fluently. The song "Nobody is there" is about Nixon. It is well written. She is still not valued for her talent.
Nigel Bagley: There are so many stories about her. Racism … We never saw that in Manchester. She was in a multicultural city and was good friends with Yankee Bill, our American-Jamaican doorman.
Graham Dowdall: She played an Indian instrument, worked with North Africans and brought this into her music. She was certainly capable of very occasional racism about the Jewish Alan [Wise]but that was one way to take on Al. Their relationship was among the most complex I have encountered. They were interdependent. He loved Nico, but it was not returned.
Phil Jones: She laughed at herself and the absurdity of everything. She would say, "How did I get here?" And I would say: "Nico, you appeared for this appearance and you are still here. And Alan leads your life." And she would say: "I hate him!"
Nigel Bagley: The regret is that she no longer made music in Manchester. She had signed some dirty contracts that prevented her from being accepted. She used to sing torch songs in the car. We brought her to the studio with Martin Hannett, who shared certain behavioral habits [a heroin addiction]. One, Procession, worked well, and All Tomorrow & # 39; s parties on the B side were sensational. So we gave her £ 1,000 for an album and she ran to London. It turned out that she didn't have any songs, but didn't want to admit it. Like John Cooper Clarke, heroin stopped writing.
Jane Goldstraw: I don't think she was interested in the local music scene. When the audience of the Haçienda was loud, she only shouted in this penetrating voice: “Shut up! You are so rude! If you're silent, I'll keep going. "And there was silence. She could do that.
John Keenan (Promoter): The last time I put her on, she was in her leather pants and asked, "Why don't more people see me? I'll be dead soon." I think she thought she was through at 49; this generation believed that everyone was over when they turned 50.
Phil Jones: Al finally persuaded her to start a methadone program, and we finally got her royalties for her – a lot of money. So she could take drugs, settle in Ibiza and live a normal life with her son. Then I saw the headline in Melody Maker: "Nico tot". I was hysterical. I didn't know I could be so upset. [She died in 1988 of a cerebral haemorrhage while riding a bicycle in Ibiza. She was 49.]
Jane Goldstraw: It broke my heart. She liked to hold my hand.
James Young: She was wonderful, crazy, beautiful, a monster, incredibly talented and phenomenally lazy. Very contradictory. I learned more musically from her than anyone else.
John Keenan: I saw how she was asked, how she would like to be reminded. She swayed dead: "At a gravestone."
Maxine Peake plays Nico at The Nico Project International Festival in Manchester at Stoller Hall, Hunts Bank, Manchester, 10-13. July and 16.-21. July. James Young's book Songs They Never Play on the radio appears on Bloomsbury.