In this installment of our series profiling famous studios, we cover Château D'Hérouville, which hosted Elton John and The Grateful Dead. By Jim Evans.
Château D'Hérouville is a French château of the eighteenth century located at Hérouville, in the Oise valley near Paris that has become something of a legend in recording studio history. One of Elton John's LP titles gave the studio its nickname - Honky Château. David Bowie went there to make the LP Pinups. The Grateful Dead also recorded there and the local villagers still recall the summer's night when the Grateful Dead played a free concert in the grounds of the Château. According to the Studio Sound archives, there are 16 track tapes and photos to prove that, while the Dead played like never before, the local fireman swam fully clothed in the swimming pool and the schoolteacher danced a polka with a priest.
Composer Michel Magne purchased the Château in 1962. He was best known for having been nominated in 1962 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment for Gigot. He converted the building into a residential recording studio after a fire devastated its left wing in 1969. The musician, director and sound engineer Laurent Thibault took over management of the studio in June 1974.
During David Bowie's time spent at the château, whilst recording Low with Tony Visconti and Brian Eno, the three claimed to have felt super-natural or 'haunting' experiences. Visconti stated, "There was certainly some strange energy in that Château. On the first day David took one look at the master bedroom and said, 'I'm not sleeping in there!' He took the room next door. The master bedroom had a very dark corner, right next to the window, ironically, that seem to just suck light into it. It was colder in that corner too."
Out of the dark
Legal and financial problems surrounded Magne's sale of the Château in 1984. The studio closed on 25 July 1985, one year after Magne's suicide, Thibault and his team having been expelled by the liquidator of Michel Magne's estate. The Château and its gardens were abandoned to squatters and overgrowth. In 2013, the Château was put up for sale with an asking price of €1.29m, needing an estimated €300,000 of renovations. According to media reports, the studios will re-open this year, 2016.