Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Chico Magnetic Band—
The Slow Death In Mind


Released 2005 on 69
The Seth Man, February 2006ce
The primal eruption of the French freak rock ensemble Chico Magnetic Band in action can be found here on “The Slow Death of Mind” EP. Comprised of cover versions of four of the five ‘heavy’ tracks off of Jimi’s “Axis: Bold As Love” LP (“You’ve Got Me Floatin’” is MIA but I ain’t gonna complain ‘specially how the guys had the presence of vibe to tackle “Ain’t No Telling”) with the fearsome title of this archival release refers not only to the rejected title of their once and future album “Slow Death In Mind” (vetoed by their record company and replaced with the far less alarming eponymous designation) but also to ‘Chico & The Slow Death,’ the band name that they were operating under at the time of this recording. In this pre-Magnetic state, the lineup consisted of guitarist Bernard Lloret, bassist Alain Mazet, drummer Patrick Garel and Chico himself on vocals and dammit: they do kick up a more than suitably noisy, stinky and garagey dust in the process.

They said it was a gas and they weren’t lying: they were from Lyon. Lyon in France. Where they saw underpants...and a whole lot more, besides. Lyon: second biggest city in France and no one knows it...Which is about as apropos a place of origin for Chico Magnetic Band/And His Slow Death, for they were an unknown entity for far too long until recently celebrated by Christophe Simplex, a native son d’Lyon who turned it all around with a comprehensive article in Jukebox Magazine on ‘em illustrated with photos that previously existed only in a box in the drummer’s closet and the slow death of my mind with several revelatory images of Chico peering out from under the hood of an abandoned car at his bandmates, taking a bath onstage, and wearing a crash helmet bedecked with hundreds of fireworks lit during the evening’s big finale...one that would more often than not wind up smoking the audience out of the room.

The transcendental yet brief recorded history of Chico Magnetic Band can be shaken out into three categories: One: Hendrix covers; two: Jean-Pierre Massiéra-augmented electro-lux-imbrolgios, and three: original songs that well and truly kicked ass and were freer, heavier, dripping with soul and were far more extreme than most anybody woulda coulda ever dreamed, cared or care to dream all at once. And this EP is squarely on the one with the sound that was so vaguely promised (and in turn, by yours truly...on public saxophone, and learnin’ all the time ‘cause brother I ain’t dead yet) with The Fremont’s Group album. As it would happen, it weren’t Chico and company at all but a whole other budding band of gypsies altogether and what did they do but record a fat LP of Jimi covers under an alias only to promptly vapourise back into the mists of the unknown before getting some credit down on the typically under-designed, black type on a white background back sleeve so favoured by French rock LPs of the day. Although many points of the Fremonts’s album were convincing enough, the fact that it wasn’t Chico Magnetic Band does finally explain the alien thinness of the vocals that always seemed a trifle toned-down and lacking in their usual wild and inimitable gibberspeak that would, could and did careen to occasionally halt and drop out syllables, words and even entire sentences (as they did bumper-to-bumper all over Chico Magnetic Band’s subsequent LP version of “Crosstown Traffic.”)

“The Slow Death In Mind” EP isn’t a polished offering by any means. Appropriately, neither were the early records by Jimi Hendrix Experience (esp. in mono on Track) either, and since this is transferred from an acetate Chico plus Death crew cut in early 1970, the tracks are lacking only the expensive amenities of the production skills of an Eddie Kramer, the sci-fi gear of a Roger Mayer or a sophisticated sound studio. But the music? It turned its liabilities into assets by just trashing all of Jimi’s tunes into a loud, spirited abandon easily accomplished with Chico at the hollering helm, an excellent rhythm section and the guitarist’s fuzztone permanently set at the ceiling of a cranky, nasally staccato. Four complete run-throughs hit the ground from the moment they first burst open with “Spanish Castle Magic” as it’s eerily apparent that even at this earliest stage, Chico & The Slow Death were tight enough to forego all overdubbing and just play it like they had for the past half year, twice to thrice a week during their residency at the West-Side Club, Lyon.

The cover versions within aren’t strict adherences to the original arrangements in either the lyrics or music, but they do maintain to the umpteenth degree the loose, casual grace of Jimi’s soulful inflections and stabbing reflections of wonder, woe and why. Chico’s vocals are given a wide breadth of reverb, as though the recordings were made in the basement grotto-cum-rehearsal space depicted on the front sleeve and his casual read of Jimi’s lyrics barely adhere to the originals, but capture their candid soul all the same. It all sounds like an uncoordinated blast at first, but the rhythmic dislocation and the bleeding volume and the vocals yelling from the far end of a mineshaft all conspire to create this otherworldly exhibition of Hendrix’s original sketches of reclining Odalisques into frenzied magic marker stick figures being savaged by randy abstractions cause they truly GOT the heart, mind and soul of Jimi in their bag and they got it bad: only letting it out after knocking it around the room some.

First up is “Spanish Castle Magic” where the unenviable task of tackling both Jimi’s rhythm and lead guitars fell to Bernard Lloret, who does both simultaneously with energetic presentation mixed high and extra abrasive with fuzztone of strangely unresolved settings. Chico’s vocals are a loud cavernous whisper that is about as “very far away” as the location of the selfsame Washington state music club he’s singing about, shifting to louder effect on the chorus. “Ain’t No Telling” follows and unlike the original, there’s no call and response vocals as Chico DIY’s both in real time. And the killer doubling-up of guitar on the “Oh, Cleopatra/She’s driving me insane” bridge sees Chico freely unstuck from the script and wildly spirited as he recants the lyrics haphazardly with errant inflections amid his bandmates’ blustery blow.

The second side of the EP opens with “Little Miss Lover” and a perfectly tight replication of Mitch Mitchell’s opening drum pattern as Chico’s vocals scatter hither, thither and yon only to collect sometime during the next phrase with all the unyielding force of square pegs being hammered into the original lyrics’ round holes. “Little Miss Lover” always was a heavy soul track dripping with sex, and here its molten animal magnetism is no less: with the bass right on the money, it’s a kick ass ski run around bad vibes with that rhythmic contrapposto tilt of a woman’s hips in walking motion, swaying at the same angled tilt as the earth’s own axis, while Chico swaggers vocally all around and over it. “If 6 Was 9” was a keen expression of Jimi’s individuality although paradoxically, one that many seemed to gravitate to naturally. And since Chico was a spiritual freak brother with similar freewheelin’-ness, they had to do it up and do it up they do -- by drawing it out for five minutes at the pace of caterpillar crawl. The already dank studio reverb suits this track with the same atmospheric approach of the original, setting the mood perfectly with claustrophobic tenseness. Even though singing the line “I ain’t gonna copy you” Chico’s doing just that but he does punctuate the whole thing with ‘hey’s and ‘whoa’s while running sentences into each other or completely halting mid-verse so that it derails Jimi’s thing into something else entirely. Like when they take the freak-out ending and dispense with the flute trills and footsteps and just mess it all up into a distended freak out with the guitar’s sharp careening, bass runs galore, Garel’s fantastic bursts of drum fills and Chico’s clamourous exhortations.

Within a year’s time, things would look up for Chico & The Slow Death. They signed to CBS later that year and recorded a single for the label newly-rechristened as Chico Magnetic Band. Guitarist Lloret would drop out just after the single’s completion, replaced quickly by Bernard Monerri as to facilitate recording sessions for their upcoming album. They were arranged on a CBS package tour of France with other newly signed French bands and consequently re-signed to Disques Vogue’s subsidiary Box Office label with an album deal -- an achievement that would not only elude the greater population of contemporary French Rock bands, but was one that went down a storm all their own so quickly it was recorded and mixed in a period of only three days.