Tibo: Thunderstorms and Fire Day

Laurent Thibault was one of the most intriguing interviewees for Open Up And Bleed. The Idiot, David Bowie's masterful production for Iggy, was the most mysterious of albums, and together with Phil Palmer, who'd overdubbed guitar on several songs, Laurent shone a light on this prototype for Low. Laurent had been the bassist for Magma before joining the newly refurbished and restaffed Chateau D'Herouville, where Bowie recorded most of The Idiot. For much of the time, Laurent had been the only other person alongside Bowie and Iggy; then, Laurent became the main engineer for the beginnings of Low, until an argument with David's producer, Tony Visconti. Apart from Open Up and Bleed, and an interview with Christophe Geudin, “Tibo” has rarely spoken about his work with Bowie. So, for Starman, I ventured out to Laurent's house in the Loire valley.

By the time I'd finished the book, I'd interviewed Laurent five times; soon, I built on his recollections with other Chateau staff, notably Pierre Calamel, the studio manager, who'd also dealt closely with Bowie and his assistant Coco Schwab. One day I'd like to collate more of these various interviews into a longer Q&A. But, for the moment, here are some snippets that give a taste of this enigmatic period. They're very roughly edited, but give some good impressions of the mood during Low and The Idiot. Laurent's English is good, lyrical, and sometimes enigmatic, rather like the recordings on which he worked. Incidentally, elsewhere in these interviews, Laurent mentioned a third French musician who played on The Idiot, namely Michel Mari, who later played with Jacques Dutronc. Michel played on at least one song, Iggy Pop Don't Stop – apparently a comedic tune, which might not have suited the dark, goth vide of The Idiot!

For much of the time on The Idiot, it was just you, David and Jimmy. Did you ever get out of the studio?

During all the recording of Iggy we had very private instances.  I was really with them.  We were always together and David brings me too in the big hotel [the Sheraton, in Munich] with Americans, with long shorts with flowers [on them].  And there was a nightclub downstairs and sometimes David said, “Let’s go to the nightclub.”  But it was impossible with the Americans.  David feels that it is.  Even the engineer says, “OK we leave.”  With David one day, we went to a place where you have to go downstairs, and [the bar looks like] a kitchen, white ceramic, with tables and no chairs and at each table you have a transvestite and a guy who we called ‘rag man’ after a beer advert - the guy with the attaché case, business man with a girl/boy.  Yes because it was the time of Cabaret and these movies and sexual things.   We stayed about half an hour.  David just looked.

When recording moved to Munich, you were recording in the basement of the Arabella Sheraton buildings where you were staying, sleeping by day and recording by night. You mentioned one daytime there was a storm, directly in between the two buildings.

Yes - the lights would flash under us.  We were at the 22nd floor and there was a flash of light between the two towers and under us this terrible noise.  And [yes], we worked during the night and it was terrible.

Carlos mentioned how David and Jimmy were true friends, no kow-towing. And you thought so too?

Yes they were friends.  They were discussing very seriously.  One day during Low, Iggy came with Rock et Folk [magazine] and said, “Can you translate this for me?” And in it was a [review] of Raw Power produced by David Bowie.  “This record is proof that Iggy Pop is a real [punk], like the Flaming Groovies  and MC5 has nothing to do with that smart whitey guy, who is David Bowie.”  I tried to translate that and he became very angry.  “I’m not the successor of  Flaming Groovies and MC5.  And David is the greatest.  I’ve learned a lot of things from David.  He makes me understand so many things about music and about everything.  I have a big debt for David.  This guy [ie the reviewer] is a [idiot].”  It was interesting for him because he explained to me about the intimacy when you make something to be more intense and David taught him the control – how to be extreme with control.  He said that David has touched a lot of music; black music, rock’n roll and he brings something new and he opens new doors.  So he has a lot of true respect for him. Even in private.

During the Low sessions, Angie only turned up briefly?

There is one night  a sort of fight between David and  Angie - a guy came with Angie.. I was not here the hostess called me and said we have a problem, when I arrived it was finished. [This confirms an account by Tony Visconti, of the inspiration behind Breaking Glass]

You showed me photos of Duncan in the Chateau – did David spend much time with him?

Yes [in between sessions]. One time Zowie was drinking Coca Cola and his father said, you must be paranoid to drink that - and Zowie said, the more of paranoid of the two is not that one we will believe... I didn't know if it was a [standing] joke between them.. David thought it was funny rather than being annoyed..

You had a falling out with Tony Visconti, there seems to have been some rivalry or distrust. What was the cause?

There’s a story where Tony said a lot of things in Melody Maker during an interview. He said that he was called by David saying, ‘come for The Idiot because the engineer is useless.’  And I try to remember afterwards when David could have said that and I just see one day.  One day we worked very hard.  We were tired and this day was very long and it was late in the night and I don’t know why, I start to put music tape, the red tape, the leader tape, red, into a [head-dress] like an Indian chief.  David saw me by the [control room] window and he came in and he asked me something and I had the thing on my head and he acted as if it was nothing, exactly the same.  Then after he asked me for a china pen.  I didn’t know what he wanted.  A china pen?  “Yes, every studio has a china pen! It is white on black like this!” [ie, David wanted a Chinagraph, for writing on the desk or a tape spool]. For me it was white pen.  I didn’t understand.  So he was out for 10 or 12 minutes and I think that was maybe when [he phoned Tony]. When he came back after it was normal.

Many people speculate David was still on cocaine over this period – but you mentioned that his vices were beer, and girls.

I was working with some girls for the Chateau. It was a difficult job because they are there for the day and night, for the coffee, for everything, not see if they need a girl.  But with David I had to change maybe five of these girls. [Because they got involved with David]. So we find a Dutch girl and David, nothing. He tried and tried and tried, and she was not interested in him.  So the last day Michel has his room close to the room of the girl.  So we finished the session it was a big shock.  In fact David came and was waiting for her in her bed.  He went in her room and was waiting in her bed.  So when she came and she was tired she went in her bed and screamed.

Pierre said that some of those escapades were serious, but sometimes, it was maybe a joke. Possible?

Yes. There was a lot of difference [ie variations in David’s mood], sometimes in Low he was very excited and very happy and we had a lot of small adventures for that and also The Idiot. For example the son of Jacques Higelin had an accident – he broke his lip and David himself took him to the hospital.  It was the son of Jacques Higelin who at the time was famous in France but is Vietnamese.  And for my birthday, it was  St Jean day, the 24th June, so we had a big fire in the Chateau and the birthday of the Chateau was the same.  And on that day you make a big fire everywhere.  Now it’s forbidden in many of the countries in Europe because it was the Fire Day [an old pagan festival] for the Nazis. To celebrate David gave me a gift I have here – it’s a white hippopotamus, quite ugly, but so strange a gift.

You mentioned how David was short of money?

During the recording of The Idiot I saw they had all sort of problems then because all his money was blocked in the United States.  He couldn’t make the money come.  He told us he has to sell his Mercedes.  He came with a big Mercedes and a chauffeur.  In fact he asked us to find a garage to sell it.  It was a big class Mercedes and the value of the car was terrible because he’d had a car crash [David has crashed the car, drunk, and depressed, in what might have been a half-hearted suicide attempt].  So they offered only a very low price.  David was very angry because he said that the Mercedes was paid for by RCA as an advance in royalties and it was very very expensive and they wanted him to sell it for nothing.