There’s not much that’s unique about a pop group arranging a recording session. What is unique is that, for decades now, some bands have passed on the glitz and pressures of a big-city studio, in favor of the peace of the Welsh hills near Monmouth in the UK. Kingsley Ward and his brother Charles are farmers who diversified into the pop business, converting the outbuildings of their Rockfield Farm into a well-equipped recording studio.
Since its founding in 1963, bands have been turning up at Rockfield Studios to live and breathe their music, and commune with nature and the cows. Documentary director Hannah Berryman tracked down a number of the primarily British groups that have tracked at Rockfield. From the tripped-out space rock of Hawkwind to the chart-crushing hits of Coldplay, here are ten great tracks recorded at “the world’s first residential studio” and featured in the film, Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm:
Hawkwind – “Space is Deep”
from the album Doremi Fasol Latido (1972)
According to guitarist Dave Brock, “The essence of space rock music is having all these wonderful, sort of, weird electronics with relentless rhythm that pump away. Rockfield Studios was an interesting place to be. It was a bit rundown, really. Lots of the buildings were full up with hay and straw. We used to take LSD down there sometimes and record tracks on LSD. We were renowned for doing that.” This bit of video accompanying “Space is Deep” is purported to be from the Hubble space telescope.
Ace – “How Long”
from the album Five-a-Side (1974)
Rockfield co-founder Charles Ward claims that Ace’s “How Long” went to #1. Not sure where. It went to #3 in the U.S. & Canadian charts, and notched Top 20 in the UK. A killer single in any case from Paul Carrack and the lads; it boasts that natural “pig shed” reverb for which Rockfield is renowned.
Robert Plant – “Big Log”
from the album The Principle of Moments (1983)
“There were thousands of rock singers with no shirts on. I was already a cliche,” confides Robert Plant, who found refuge post-Zeppelin in “this green, pleasant land.” He explains that “Big Log” is a “jazz cigarette” or “African woodbine,” shared between Paul Martinez’s bass and the drum machine, and he bemoans the hand-claps and other sounds from the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer. He recalls the freedom he now had. “I was free to fail.”
Simple Minds – “Changeling”
from the album Real to Real Cacophony (1979)
Guitarist Charlie Burchill picks out his part on an unamplified hollow-body, while Jim Kerr shares his memory of recording this track. “Now that’s a cool riff,” admires Jim. “It’s nicked,” Charlie replies with a grin. Producer John Leckie declares “Changeling” the best track on the record. Leckie and Kerr are two of the most charming contributors to the film.
Stone Roses – “I am the Resurrection”
from the album The Stone Roses (1989)
“The Stone Roses saved Rockfield,” allows Lisa Ward, daughter of co-founder Kingsley Ward and his wife, financial controller Anne Ward, as the studio had fallen on hard times with the rise of “the dreaded dance music” that proliferated in the 80s. Producer John Leckie explains that the Roses weren’t clicking in London, so he arranged for them to move to Rockfield. Leckie recalls, “Most of all we did ‘I Am the Resurrection.'” The space at Rockfield allowed them to get “Resurrection” in essentially one take.
The Charlatans – “One to Another”
from the album Tellin’ Stories (1997)
Vocalist Tim Burgess recalls that after the success of their debut album, the record company thought it was a good idea to send The Charlatans away to concoct the follow up. Burgess agreed, but adds, “It was pretty nuts as well.” Guitarist Mark Collins chimes in, “You could get up to whatever you wanted. So you did.” The Charlatans great run came to a sad end at Rockfield, when keyboardist Rob Collins died in a one-car accident returning to the studio from town near the end of the Tellin’ Stories sessions.
The Boo Radleys – “Wake up Boo!”
from the album Wake Up! (1995)
Guitarist Martin Carr notes that Boo Radleys could’ve recorded at any fancy studio they wanted, but they preferred to go to Rockfield and “just play with the cows and stuff.” Apparently, Tom Jones’s horn section popped ’round to do the horn parts. “Still sounds a bit too chirpy,” according to Carr. He recalls that the record company turned up one day to check on the work. “I was the only one in the studio that day. I was lying down with my head in the Leslie speaker, tripping on acid. I’d been there for hours.”
Oasis – “Wonderwall”
from the album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? (1995)
Engineer Nick Brine remembers Oasis worked quickly during the Morning Glory sessions. Vocalist Liam Gallagher concurs. “That’s because there were loads of pubs in town that we heard were good, do you know what I mean?” Nick Brine confirms doing “lots of driving to the pub.” Asked if the band ever recorded after the pub, Liam admits, “You’d have a go, but it’d be fucking… you’d sound like The Pogues.” For his part, guitarist Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs thought “Wonderwall” sounded like a reggae song at first.
Manic Street Preachers – “If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next”
from the album This is My Truth What’s Yours (1998)
The Manics grew up in the south of Wales. James Dean Bradfield and the lads knew that at Rockfield “if something was sounding good to you, you just didn’t mess with it.” Nicky Wire recalls that they thought “If You Tolerate This” was a b-side, but “the magic dust [at Rockfield] turned it into our biggest number one.” Recorded in ’97, this song resonates even more today. My 5-year old son walked in while I was writing…
Coldplay – “Yellow”
from the album Parachutes (2000)
Songwriter Chris Martin considered Rockfield a “musical Hogwarts” for his young band, and shares the story of how the place inspired “Yellow.” They took a break to look at the spectacular night sky, and Martin recalls producer Ken Nelson saying, “Look lads. Look at the stars.” Martin then shares his adorable impression of Neil Young singing the word “stars.” He then got the title, quite literally, from the Yellow Pages stacked in the room. When he shared what would become one of the biggest songs of the 21st century, the rest of the band were engrossed in a football match, “and they were like, yeah, that’s ok.”
There are so many great acts that have booked in at Rockfield; these are but a few. For frequent-guest Robert Plant, “It’s just space,” but he’ll allow that there’s a mystique about this bit of the Welsh countryside. As producer John Leckie says, “You have to capture some magic and mystery.” Tim Burgess of The Charlatans can’t explain it; even though they could record anywhere, “It’s not as good as Rockfield.” And Ozzy himself will tell you, people can’t build fireplaces like that anymore. Rock-n-roll man. Cool, eh?