Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Cheval Fou
Cheval Fou (1970-1975)

Released 1994 on Legend Music
Reviewed by achuma, 19/08/2010ce

Never releasing anything at the time but playing live when they got the chance, France’s Cheval Fou (literally, ‘Crazy Horse’) were not Neil Young fans judging from this, but instead a great, unacknowledged underground space rock band who would evolve after this into the cult band Nyl (an unusual space rock band with some zeuhl twists who are best known if at all for their part-time association with Magma’s Janick Top on bass).
Cheval Fou consisted of the trio of Jean-Max Peteau on guitar and (infrequent) vocals, Michel Peteau on guitar, sax and (infrequent) vocals (presumably one of the two played bass guitar too), and Stephane Rossini on drums and (infrequent) vocals. Guest sax on one track is credited to Freequentin, and guest vocals on another track to Gina-lou. Throughout their existence from 1970 to 1975 they recorded some of their live shows and home rehearsals, which sat around for a couple of decades before the good folks of the now-defunkt Legend Music label put out a full-length CD collecting a selection of the best of these recordings. Needless to say the music no longer sounds hugely hi-fi (if it ever did), but the sound quality is certainly not too bad overall for something of this heritage. Just crank it up! You’ll notice in this review that a great deal of the music sounds like it could be some long lost outtake from a range of better-known groups – however, as these all happen to be great groups, for those who can’t get enough of the styles explored here, that needn’t be a problem. In this case, the merits of originality lose out to the merits of awesome music, plain and simple.

‘Mercury Messenger’ [2:11] opens the disc with horses galloping across the screen, leading straight into a wicked acid rock jam over a hypnotic bass groove, Gong’s ‘Continental Circus’ meets an early Ash Ra Tempel outtake. ‘Kheops’ [5:34] is a more organised affair, initially all big psychedelic chords awash with phasing and twinkly stuff, heading down a Who-circa-‘Tommy’ interlude before landing firmly in Amon Düül II territory, with occasional vocals likewise sounding more Yeti than Frenchy. ‘Etna’ [7:05] continues in a downer psycho-rock vein, although with an unfortunate dip in sound quality (it’s all a bit muffled and distant despite the fact that the guys are fairly rocking out much of the time). A few minutes in everything greases to a halt as an intergalactic gateway whoomphs ajar and we’re sucked into an evil dimension of shuddering phases drums and subgravity sound morphing before becoming a spacey, aggressive brand of ür-zeuhl not unlike some of what Nyl would later pull off.
‘Hannibal’ [18:04] starts out like a moment of low(higher)-key weirdness from a Cosmic Jokers outtake, panning out into a mesmerising patina of steady jungle percussion and sublimely psychedelic glissando guitar, building in strength and action and perfectly bringing to mind that netherworld where both Gong and Pink Floyd sometimes overlapped in their trancier moments. Some big rock moves in the middle of the whole track sound almost like they’d be more at home in the late-70’s post punk world, before melting into a vicious space rock excursion for a minute or two and landing smack in some idyllic lagoon where the ayahuasca flows like water and the Düülian psychedelic prog jams are kicked out like footballs into orbit.
‘Meteorites’ [5:55] sounds exactly like a random tripped-out moment from an early/mid-70’s Gong live bootleg. And of course, that can only be a good thing. ‘Isthar’ [1:48] is a little unexpected, as an instrumental ballad dominated by a fusion sax solo that borders on muzak, though cosmic muzak at that. However you rate it, it’s gone before you know it.
‘Actreids’ [2:46] at first sounds like early Chrome tuning up, then settles on a bare bones guitar and electronics meditation that would sound at home as a between-tracks interlude on a Hawkwind album. ‘Croisades’ [2:33] is weirdly reminiscent of an angry 13th Floor Elevators bashing out some instrumental mania, and is a lot more garage rock than anything else on here, even the next track ‘Dans l’Oleil del’Oleil’ [4:45], which creates a fierce acidic grunge attack on mucho phasing and barely one chord much of the time, before diversifying and spilling into acid-befuddled abstraction, finally picking up its shoes for a sublime moment that could be an outtake from Philippe Besombes’ ‘Libra’, as could ‘Birth’ [1:23], although in an entirely different way.
‘Marion Dreams’ [2:31] is a lovely delicate guitar instrumental with sighing psychedelic icing, and reminds me of early Steve Tibbetts. The zonked weirdness of ‘Sunset Laser’ [8:19] feels like waking up to sleepily deranged horn calls on an unspecified planet where the atmosphere consists of nitrous oxide and the local inhabitants are straight out of Jim Henson’s alien puppet workshop, though by the end it’s transmuted into more of a Gongish acid dream, even paying some kind of tribute to the roots of that band when someone cries out “why are we sleeping?” just before the track ends.
‘La Fin De La Vie...’ [12:44] is appropriately the last track. To a scenic setting of bird calls and the kind of simple repeated percussion riff that a very stoned person could listen to for an hour or so before noticing the record is stuck, gently spoken French vocals unfold, both from a young girl and an older guy (I have no idea what about, I don’t speak the language, but it sounds good). Organ weaves its Terry Rileyesque spell and glissando glisses as the whole enterprise takes on increasing flesh, winding a painless transcendental corkscrew into the heart and soul. This magical track also reminds me of the mood of Battiato’s wonderful ‘Sulle Corde Di Aries’ album, which is something so shimmeringly sublime that if you haven’t already heard it, you really must! There you go, an extra review within a review...

Rossini and Michel Peteau formed Nyl after this, utilising a great number of guest musicians through their short existence and recording one slightly patchy but still classic self-titled album in 1976. That’s worthy of an Unsung review of its own, for some other time. Incidentally, Legend Music were also responsible for the only CD reissue of the sole Nyl LP, along with other unreleased material, though not all of the album was included, and the album portion itself is a rough vinyl rip. It’s still worth hearing though, if you can’t find the LP, though I’m not sure which would be harder to find! Oddly, the CD is credited to Nil rather than Nyl.

Reviews Index