- “At our workshops, we used to say that if you write a song that goes to No 1, we’ll knight you,” explains Miles Copeland III, the American music impresario who owns Château Marouatte. So, hanging from the beamed ceiling in the ballroom are silk pennants honouring “Lady” Carole King, “Sir” Mark Hudson (record producer and vocal coach on The X Factor) and “Sir” Greg Wells, a Canadian songwriter, who co-wrote the Céline Dion hit The Reason during their stay there.
- Copeland, 63, is a music-industry veteran, whose most famous protégés were the Police – featuring his younger brother, Stewart, on drums. In the 1990s, he turned the fairy-tale castle, seven miles from Brantôme, in southwest France, into a hit factory. Here, promising unknowns and industry “names” could strike creative sparks off each other. Cher, Jon Bon Jovi and Keith Urban have stayed here, as has Ted Nugent, whose hunting bow and arrows hang on a wall.
- “I had to validate it. I hit on the idea of songwriting retreats, and quickly organised the first one, for about 10 musicians, mainly Brits, including Chris Difford of Squeeze.”
- The idea grew. “We converted the outbuildings and added rooms to expand to 25 songwriters. We did deals with companies who gave us equipment, and we installed a recording studio.” The synergy between country musicians, heavy rockers, household names and aspiring talent has produced hits such as Aaron Tippin’s country No 1, That’s as Close as I’ll Get to Loving You.
- Urban, now a multimillionaire and married to Nicole Kidman, was virtually unknown when he wrote But for the Grace of God, with Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Go’s, at the chateau. Cher would hold court on a four-poster bed in the garden tower, urging fellow musicians to reveal their first sexual experiences.
- Copeland plans to resume [the songwriting workshops] next year. He’ll still invite the British and American A list, but will also involve many of the Arabic musicians, such as Hakim and Tania Saleh, both from Lebanon, with whom he has been working for the past few years. Then there are his Bellydance Superstars – the Riverdance of Middle Eastern after-dinner entertainment – who will be coming for a week with their drummer to a workshop. Another barn will be converted into their studio.
- Copeland is looking forward to the sound of music rocking the thick stone walls again, after his research into the history of the region revealed a centuries-old musical heritage. “Four of the top 10 songwriters of the Middle Ages came from near here,” he says. “This castle was almost central to the land of the troubadours.”
- Perhaps it will be where the superstars of tomorrow find their voice.
I wonder if I can finagle an invite?