In the studio

To contrast the England-themed song selection, Bowie decided that the new tracks would be recorded in France. On Monday 9 July he took a train from Victoria Station to Dover, from where he crossed the English Channel and headed to d’Hérouville in the Val-d’Oise area of northern France.

Château d’Hérouville

The Château d’Hérouville was built in 1740, and had been made popular by Elton John’s Honky Château, recorded there the previous year and engineered by David Bowie’s producer Ken Scott.

Sometimes known as Strawberry Studios, the château had been recommended to Bowie by Marc Bolan, who had recorded parts of the T. Rex albums The Slider and Tanx there.

Another motivation was money: by recording the album in France, Bowie would avoid paying British tax on royalties. With the enormous expenses of his recent tour, and RCA’s stoic reluctance to loosen the purse strings, it was advantageous for Bowie to make as much as possible from his next release.

Recorded a short time after the Hammersmith gig, it was decided to record in a small village thirty minutes outside of Paris, France, at a studio known by different names: Strawberry Studios, Château d’Hérouville and the Honky Château. I had already recorded two albums there and so was quite comfortable with the choice. There was a small amount of recording done back at Trident to complete the project and then, as usual, I mixed there too.
Ken Scott, May 2015
Five Years book

There were two studios at Château d’Hérouville, one named after former owner Frederic Chopin. The other was the George Sand Studio, in converted stables in the grounds. It was there that much of Pinups was recorded in a three-week period in July 1973.

Being a creature of habit I used my usual microphones, the major difference came with the piano. It wasn’t the Trident piano I seem to rave about so much, but, luckily, during the other recordings I had done there, work had been done to get the studio’s piano a lot closer to it.
Ken Scott, May 2015
Five Years book

In contrast to Bowie’s previous albums, there was frequent tension during the sessions, due to Bowie’s mishandling of the Spiders From Mars and Bolder’s knowledge that these were his final days with Bowie. Nonetheless, the band played tightly and forcefully, sprinkling some glam rock magic dust over Bowie’s 1960s song choices.

The recordings lasted until 31 July, with sessions often lasting 12 hours or more. When not working on new tracks, the multitrack tapes from the final Ziggy show were mixed.

Pinups was briefly put on hold on 16 July for the recording of Lulu’s single ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ and its b-side, ‘Watch That Man’. The performers were Bowie, Ronson, Bolder, Dunbar, and Garson.

Ken Scott was not contracted to work on the Lulu songs, and his manager advised him not to be present for her sessions. Bowie produced the Lulu, with in-house engineer Andy Scott manning the board.

It was a really ridiculous situation where we’d put down a track for Pinups, I’d have all the sounds together, then Lulu would walk in and I would walk out. Everything was already set and they didn’t have to do anything except press the record button, but that’s what I was instructed to do. Because of all the legal wrangling going on, I had to follow instructions. Nearly every time Lulu came in over the next couple of days, I had to go.
Ken Scott
Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust

Scott also excused himself “for a couple of days in the middle” to return to England for the birth of his twins.

I caught a flight back from France the night before it was supposed to happen and, of course, in typical rock ‘n’ roll style, I still got to the hospital late the next day. While I was away, they may have done a bit of Lulu recording but nothing on Pinups.
Ken Scott
Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust

NME reporter Charles Shaar Murray was present during some of the Pinups sessions. He interviewed Bowie, which resulted in two features. The second of these was published on 4 August 1973, with the headline “Bowie-ing out at the Chateau”, and described the period after Garson, Bolder and Dunbar had completed their work on the album, and Bowie, Ronson and Scott worked long hours to record overdubs for the record.

Apart from Pin Ups, there are also the tapes of that last Hammersmith gig to work on. Without exception, each live track cuts its studio original completely dead, and the guest appearance of Jeff Beck on ‘Jean Genie’ and ‘Around And Around’ was definitely an inspiration.

When the famous retirement speech comes up on the speakers, Bowie grimaces slightly. To say that his face shows mixed emotions is definitely an understatement.

The session finally breaks up at around three in the morning. Ronson goes up to bed, still declaring his intention to write some more string parts. Bowie commandeers the piano in the dining room to work on a new song, and by eight o’clock he’s still working.

He genuinely doesn’t know how to stop. After all, there’s another album to come after the live tapes (provisionally entitled Bowie-ing Out) are released, and already there’s a backing track laid down for one of the songs, not to mention the production of Mick Ronson’s solo album, and the movie, and God knows what else…

NME, 4 August 1973

There were various other visitors at Château d’Hérouville, including former Velvet Underground singer Nico, and guitarist June Millington from the Detroit rock band Fanny. Her sister and bandmate Jean Millington sang on Young Americans, and later married Bowie’s guitarist Earl Slick.

Another guest was singer Ava Cherry, with whom Bowie collaborated on a demo recording. The pair had first met in Detroit earlier in 1973, and while in France embarked on an affair which lasted over two years.

Mick Rock had worked with Bowie on a number of photoshoots and films since 1972, and photographed a number of the Pinups and Lulu sessions. Ken Scott told Rock about a new British group, Queen, and upon returning to London Rock tracked them down and worked with them.

Another photographer, Terry O’Neill, visited Château d’Hérouville and photographed Bowie and Angie modelling clothes for a fashion shoots. These ran in the Daily Mirror newspaper over two days from 23 July, under the headline “Have you met Jipp Jones?”, a reference to the name Angie said she would take for a hoped-for modelling career.

Trident Studios
Eventually we did a few overdubs back at Trident and mixed it there as usual. Even though we recorded in France partly for tax reasons, you could still mix it back in England as long as most of the album was recorded elsewhere.
Ken Scott
Abbey Road To Ziggy Stardust

The most significant change made at Trident was to ‘I Can’t Explain’ which, aside from drummer Aynsley Dunbar’s part, was wholly re-recorded. The band had originally performed it at a similar tempo to The Who’s original, but Bowie’s team weren’t happy with the result.

Somehow we came up with the idea of taking the tape speed down and it immediately felt better. There was just one problem, slowing it down took it completely out of the key it was supposed to be in, so everyone but Aynsley had to re-record their parts, but, because it felt so different, they would probably have done that anyway.
Ken Scott, May 2015
Five Years book

Pinups was the final album Scott produced for Bowie. They worked together on an unused version of ‘Dodo/1984’, and the 1980 Floor Show television special in October 1973. But the ever-restless singer was moving ahead, using different musicians in new locations, and wished to draw a line under the past.

Bowie returned to the Château d’Hérouville in 1976 to produce Iggy Pop’s album The Idiot, remaining there to record Low with Tony Visconti and Brian Eno.