Rockfield Studios Amberley Court Rockfield Road Monmouth
Rockfield Studios is one of only a few surviving independent recording studios from the sixties and probably the only one that is still in its original location and still under the same ownership. It was, and still is a family run business with a simple philosophy, a great location and has always provided the right environment to record live musicians.
It was set up by brothers Charles and Kingsley Ward in 1964 on their family farm in Wales The brothers started out as musicians playing the pubs and clubs of Wales in the early sixties. They soon found themselves with a recording deal and travelling to London where they met producer Joe Meek and briefly worked in his studio flat, both recording and engineering. Their trips to London had demystified the recording process and they realised that they could actually record themselves as long as they had the necessary equipment. This led to the idea of setting up their own studio back home in Wales and a philosophy of "we'll do it ourselves, our own way". This philosophy would be maintained over the coming decades and lead to not only its survival (when most of its London competitors had fallen by the wayside) but a fantastic catalogue of recordings spanning six decades that would be the envy of most studios.
It started as a small demo studio in the main farmhouse attic and by 1965 accommodation was provided so the studios could give itself the title of 'residential'.
It was initially a mono studio with a Phillips valve two-track tape machine, an Elcon mixer and some basic outboard equipment. By 1968 the studio had moved into an extension built onto the farmhouse. They had a new mixing console built by Rosser Electronics of Swansea and added a second EMI TR90 2-track tape plus more outboard gear and an EMT echo plate.
I name this studio... 'Rockfield'
The studios were only officially christened 'Rockfield' in 1967, when Dave Edmunds came in one day and actually pointed out the fact that the local village name was perhaps perfect as a studio name. It was such an obvious and fitting title that nobody could understand why it had not been thought of before. Dave Edmunds would provide a second essential landmark in the history of the studios a few years later.
In 1969 Dave Edmunds discovered a local band called Shakin Stevens and the Sunsets and took on the production role to record their first album 'A Legend' for Parlophone Records at Rockfield. The album includes a cover version of the Smiley Lewis track 'I Hear You Knocking'. In 1970 Dave Edmunds would produce his own version of 'I Hear you Knockin' and bring about the second important milestone in Rockfield's history - a hit single. Featuring the famous vocal recorded through a telephone line it became a massive hit, reaching the top ten in both America and England.
In 1971 the studios became 16 track.
In 1972 they set up the 'Rockfield' record label, initially to put out Dave Edmunds future releases. They scored two hit singles in 1972 and 1973 with Baby I Love You (no 8) and Born To Be With You (no 5).
The Quadrangle A second studio was added in 1973 called The Quadrangle, built in what was the old stables and agricultural buildings that surrounded the courtyard. It saw Rockfield become a 24-track with the inclusion of a Studer tape machine and another Rosser console. With the amount of floor space available The Quadrangle would feature a number of different acoustic spaces that would become popular with rock bands and producers alike over the coming years.
A second studio was added in 1973 called The Quadrangle, built in what was the old stables and agricultural buildings that surrounded the courtyard. It saw Rockfield become a 24-track with the inclusion of a Studer tape machine and another Rosser console. With the amount of floor space available The Quadrangle would feature a number of different acoustic spaces that would become popular with rock bands and producers alike over the coming years.
Queen at Rockfield
In 1974 Queen would use the studios for sessions on the 'Shear Heart Attack' album. This was the first time that the band had recorded outside of London and the following year, after the rigors of an American tour, they would reconvene there with producer Roy Thomas Baker to start writing and recording their most famous work - one that would ensure Rockfield's legacy in the history of rock over the following decades.
On August 24th, 1975 Queen returned to Rockfield to begin recording the album 'A Night At The Opera', including the basic backing tracks for the three main sections of 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. Both 'Shear Heart Attack' and 'A Night at the Opera' would have the basic backing tracks recorded using the Rosser desks and Studer tape machines. The piano used for the track is still at Rockfield.
One night during these sessions, the band were watching an old favourite Marx Brothers film and the title seemed fitting for their new release.
"There was a room at Rockfield full of saddle bags. It was one of the many rooms we used to hide ourselves away in individually to get away from the studio - to clear our heads and re-energise our batteries. So if people wanted to hide away, there were loads of these little rooms full of saddle bags and farm type things. I remember Freddie playing me Bohemian Rhapsody for the first time on his piano at his place in London. Then later at Rockfield, with the basics mapped out, he focused on pinning down what was right. He played me the beginning part and said, “Right, now this is where the Opera section comes in” and he’d leave a gap and I’d have to imagine this dramatic opera style segment. And it just kept changing all the time in Rockfield. It took 3 weeks to record on a 16 track tape machine" Roy Thomas Baker.
In 1976 the desk in The Quadrangle was upgraded to a Rosser 42/24 and Allison automation added. The Coach House studio was still 16 track at this point.
The late 1970s were difficult times for most studios as recording budgets were being slashed by record companies. Many of the London facilities had followed the latest trends in equipment and acoustic design resulting in many 'state of the art' studios, impressive in presentation but actually virtually indistinguishable from each other in sound and often look. Much of the individual character that had given these places their reputation had been lost. Rockfield managed to remain outside of this trend partly due to its location but also due to a continuity in ownership and philosophy.
"Rockfield was developed by converting redundant farm buildings without the help of any design consultants," Kingsley Ward recalls. "We have always relied on our own ability for acoustics. To this day, Rockfield relies on natural acoustics to capture the sound of musicians." Kingsley Ward
Although the reputation of the studio had been built primarily on rock music the place easily adapted to the post punk and new wave era at the beginning of the 80s. Rockfield had always been a cool place to record and this never really changed over the years despite many of this next generation of musicians 'outwardly' rejecting many of the great bands and albums that had been recorded there. For Liverpool bands (and many Northern bands alike) including Echo and the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes, Rockfield had the feel of being a local studio even though it was over 160 miles away. Rather than going to some clinical, perhaps intimidating London studio, it had more of the feeling of going off on an adventure to summer camp for a working holiday.
In 1978 the studio changed from the Rosser desks to two Trident TSMs, one of which is seen here with producer Roger Bechirian and artist Robert Ellis Orrall
At the end of the 80s the Trident TSMs were replaced with Neve VR consoles ( the first VR to be built went to Rockfield) and both studios had Studer A820 24-tracks with Dolby SR. There was also an extensive list of outboard gear from AMS, Klark Teknik, Yamaha, TC Electronic, Tube-Tech, Drawmer, Orban, Eventide and others. The microphone collection included some classic vintage Neumanns - two U67s, five SM2 stereo mics and two KM56s. The main monitors were JBL 4350.
In the mid 1990s, 30 odd years after its opening, and after many of the other famous studios were long gone or still relying on past glories, Rockfield entered one of the most successful phases in its history. Oasis would spend six weeks there in the summer of 1995 whilst recording 'What's the Story Morning Glory'. Their success once again showed the music business that Rockfield was still the place to turn out great rock records. Over a twelve month spell in 1996/97 they had five number one albums from Oasis, Black Grape. The Charlatans, The Boo Radleys and Ash.
In 2003 the Neve VR60s were replaced by an MCI 500 with extra Neve eqs in the Quadrangle and a Neve 8128 rebuilt with extra Neve 1061 and API 500 series modules in the Coach House. One of the old Rosser desks had 16 of the channels removed and 8 racked in each of the studios in an acknowledgement of how great these desks really were.
"We realised not just these shortcomings but also that with the onset of Pro Tools, large automated consoles were no longer as desirable to clients and we needed to change once more. Smaller vintage consoles were easier to maintain, cheaper to run, didn't depreciate and, importantly, sounded better so we reinvented ourselves once again by going backwards and installing a 48-track Neve 8128 in the Coach House Studio and an MCI 500 Series in the Quadrangle Studio, a move that we have never regretted" Kingsley Ward
A big part of the of the success of the studios is the creative enviroment provided by it being on a farm in the middle of the countryside. In the wild days of 70s rock and roll bands were free and far enough away from normal civilisation (and record company executives) to indulge in the various antics that were so required of any self respecting rock band of the day. The courtyard has also been used to record the local birds for Rush's Xanadu on the Farewell to Kings album. Legend also tells the story of how Freddie Mercury came up with last line to Bohemian Rhapsody – “Any way the wind blows” – whilst sitting at the piano and watching a weather vane spinning round outside his window.
In later years a young bass player was standing outside in the courtyard one night and looking up at the clear night sky. He went back inside and said to the others,
"Look at the stars, look how they shine".
|Many thanks to Robert Ellis Orrall for the TSM and tractor pictures.|
Recorded at Rockfield :
ACE "FIVE A SIDE"
ACE "TIME FOR ANOTHER"
ADAM AND THE ANTS “KINGS OF THE WILD FRONTIER”
AGE OF CHANCE "MECCA"
AIRWAVES "NEW DAY"
ALBERTO Y LOST TRIOS PARANOIAS "ITALIANS FROM OUTER SPACE"
ALKATRAZ "DOING A MOONLIGHT"
ALQUIN "NOBODY CAN WAIT FOREVER"
ALTERED IMAGES "HAPPY BIRTHDAY"
AMIEL "THESE TIES"
ANDY IRVING / PAUL BRADY "ANDY IRVINE / PAUL BRADY"
ARTHUR BROWN'S KINGDOM COME "JOURNEY"
ASH "NU CLEAR SOUNDS"
AZTEC CAMERA "STRAY"
BADLY DRAWN BOY "BORN IN THE U.K."
BALAAM AND THE ANGEL "THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD"
BARRACUDAS "DROP OUT WITH THE BARRACUDAS"
BARRACUDAS "ENDEAVOUR TO PERSERVERE"
BAUHAUS "THE SKY'S GONE OUT"
BAUHAUS "BURNING FROM THE INSIDE"
BE-BOP DELUXE "FUTURAMA"
BETA BAND "HEROES TO ZEROES"
BIG COUNTRY "NO PLACE LIKE HOME"
BILL NELSON "THE LOVE THAT WHIRLS"
BINTANGS "GENUINE BULL"
BLACK GRAPE "IT'S GREAT WHEN YOU'RE STRAIGHT"
BLACK SABBATH "REUNION"
BLACK SABBATH "TYR"
BLACK SABBATH "DEHUMANIZER"
BLONDE ON BLONDE "REFLECTIONS ON A LIFE"
BOO RADLEYS "WAKE UP!"
BOO RADLEYS "C'MON KIDS"
BOTHY BAND "OLD HAG YOU HAVE KILLED ME"
BOYS "ALTERNATIVE CHARTBUSTERS"
BRITISH SEA POWER "OPEN SEASON"
BUDGIE "NEVER TURN YOUR BACK ON A FRIEND"
BUDGIE "IN FOR THE KILL!"
BUDGIE "IF I WERE BRITANNIA I'D WAIVE THE RULES"
BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE "SCREAM AIM FIRE"
CARLENE CARTER "C'EST C BON"
CATATONIA "PAPER SCISSORS STONE"
CHRISTIAN DEATH "ATROCITIES"
CHRISTIAN DEATH "CATASTROPHE BALLET"
CHRISTIAN DEATH "THE SCRIPTURES"
CITY BOY "IT'S PERSONAL"
CLOCK DVA "ADVANTAGE"
CREAMING JESUS "GUILT BY ASSOCIATION"
CRY BEFORE DAWN "WITNESS FOR THE WORLD"
CUBAN HEELS "WORK OUR WAY TO HEAVEN"
DALEK I "COMPASS KUM'PAS"
DAMNED "THE BLACK ALBUM"
DARKNESS "ONE WAY TICKET TO HELL AND BACK"
DAVE EDMUNDS "AS SUBTLE AS A FLYING MALLET"
DAVE EVANS "ELEPHANTASIA"
DEKE LEONARD "ICEBERG"
DEKE LEONARD "KAMIKAZE"
DELAYS "FADED SEASIDE GLAMOUR"
DR FEELGOOD "DOWN BY THE JETTY"
DR FEELGOOD "SNEAKIN' SUSPICION"
DR PHIBES AND THE HOUSE OF WAX EQUATIONS "HYPNOTWISTER"
DUB WAR "WRONG SIDE OF BEAUTIFUL"
DUCKS DELUXE "TAXI TO THE TERMINAL ZONE"
DUMPTRUCK "FOR THE COUNTRY"
ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN "CROCODILES"
ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN "HEAVEN UP HERE"
ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN "PORCUPINE"
EDIE BRICKELL "SHOOTING RUBBERBANDS AT THE STARS"
ENGINEERS "THREE FACT FADER"
FAIRWEATHER "BEGINNING FROM AN END"
FLAMIN' GROOVIES "SHAKE SOME ACTION"
FREESTYLERS "PRESSURE POINT"
GRAHAM PARKER AND THE RUMOUR "HEAT TREATMENT"
GRUPPO SPORTIVO "COPY COPY"
GYPSY "BRENDA AND THE RATTLESNAKE"
HAWKWIND "WARRIOR ON THE EDGE OF TIME"
HAWKWIND "QUARK, STRANGENESS AND CHARM"
HAWKWIND "SONIC ATTACK"
HAWKWIND "THE CHRONICLE OF THE BLACK SWORD"
HAWKWIND "LIVE CHRONICLES"
HAWKWIND "THE XENON CODEX"
HAWKWIND "SPACE BANDITS"
HAWKWIND "CHOOSE YOUR MASQUES"
HELP YOURSELF "STRANGE AFFAIR"
HERBERT GRÖNEMEYER "CHAOS"
HOME “THE ALCHEMIST”
HORSLIPS "DANCEHALL SWEETHEARTS"
HUSTLER "PLAY LOUD"
IAN McNABB "MERSEYBEAST"
ICICLE WORKS "ICICLE WORKS"
IGGY POP “SOLDIER”
JOHN SQUIRE "MARSHALL'S HOUSE"
JUDAS PRIEST "SAD WINGS OF DESTINY"
KENNY YOUNG "CLEVER DOGS CHASE THE SUN"
KT TUNSTALL "DRASTIC FANTASTIC"
LAKE "LAKE II"
LET'S ACTIVE "EVERY DOG HAS HIS DAY"
LINDISFARNE "BACK AND FOURTH"
MAN “DO YOU LIKE IT HERE NOW? ARE YOU SETTLING IN?"
MAN "BE GOOD TO YOURSELF AT LEAST ONCE A DAY"
MAN "SLOW MOTION"
MARTIN PHILLIPPS AND THE CHILLS "SUNBURNT"
MARY MARGARET O'HARA "MISS AMERICA"
MIGHTY LEMON DROPS "HAPPY HEAD"
MODERN ENGLISH "AFTER THE SNOW"
MODERN ENGLISH "RICOHET DAYS"
MONSOON "THIRD EYE"
MORRISSEY/MULLEN "CAPE WRATH"
MOTORHEAD "ON PAROLE"
MUTTON BIRDS "ENVY OF ANGELS"
NEIL INNES "TAKING OFF"
NEUTRONS "BLACK HOLE STAR"
NEUTRONS "TALES FROM THE BLUE COCOONS"
NICK LOWE "THE ABOMINABLE SHOWMAN"
NIGEL KENNEDY "KAFKA"
NIK TURNER'S SPHINX "XITINTODAY"
NOT DROWNING, WAVING "CIRCUS"
OASIS "(WHAT'S THE STORY) MORNING GLORY"
PARADISE LOST "ONE SECOND"
PAUL CARRACK "SUBURBAN VOODOO"
PETER HAMMILL "CHAMELEON IN THE SHADOW OF THE NIGHT"
PETER HAMMILL "NADIR'S BIG CHANCE"
PETER HAMMILL "THE FUTURE NOW"
PETER HAMMILL "OVER"
PETER HAMMILL "pH7"
PETER MURPHY "DEEP"
POGUES "HELL'S DITCH"
PIRATES "OUT OF THEIR SKULLS"
PIRATES "SKULL WARS"
QUEEN “A NIGHT AT THE OPERA”
QUEEN “SHEER HEART ATTACK”
RADIO BIRDMAN "LIVING EYES"
READYMADE "THE FEELING MODIFIED"
ROBERT ELLIS ORRALL "SPECIAL PAIN"
ROBERT ELLIS ORRALL "CONTAIN YOURSELF"
ROBERT PLANT "PICTURES AT ELEVEN"
ROBERT PLANT "THE PRINCIPLE OF MOMENTS"
RUSH “FAREWELL TO KINGS”
SAINTS "ALL FOOLS DAY"
SASSAFRAS "RIDING HIGH"
SCHEER "AND FINALLY"
SECTOR 25 "FROM THE HIP"
SEPULTURA "CHAOS A.D."
SHOWADDYWADDY "RED STAR"
SIMON BRYNE "DREAM CRAZY"
SIMPLE MINDS "EMPIRES AND DANCE"
SIMPLE MINDS "GRAFFITI SOUL"
SKIDS "DAYS IN EUROPA"
SKIN ALLEY "TWO QUID DEAL?"
SNIFF 'N' THE TEARS "THE GAME'S UP"
SOLAR RACE "HOMESPUN"
SOLUTION "CORDON BLEU"
SOUNDS "FROM THE LIONS MOUTH"
STARSAILOR "LOVE IS HERE"
STEEL PULSE "CAUGHT YOU"
STEROPHONICS "WORD GETS ROUND"
STONE ROSES “SECOND COMING”
SUPER FURRY ANIMALS "FUZZY LOGIC"
SUPER FURRY ANIMALS "OUT SPACED"
SUPER FURRY ANIMALS "GUERILLA"
SUPERGRASS "LIFE ON OTHER PLANETS"
TEARDROP EXPLODES "KILAMANJARO"
TEENAGE FANCLUB "SHADOWS"
THAT PETROL EMOTION "MANIC POP THRILL"
THAT PETROL EMOTION "END OF THE MILLENIUM PSYCHOSIS BLUES"
TOM COCHRANE AND RED RIDER "TOM COCHRANE AND RED RIDER"
TONES ON TAIL "POP"
TONES ON TAIL "NIGHT MUSIC"
TOPLOADER "ANKA'S BIG MOKA"
TYLA GANG "YACHTLESS"
VAN DER GRAAF "THE QUIET ZONE / THE PLEASURE DOME"
VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR “GODBLUFF”
VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR “STLL LIFE”
VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR “WORLD RECORD”
VIRGIN PRUNES "THE MOON LOOKED DOWN AND LAUGHED"
WATERBOYS "A PAGAN PLACE"
WATERBOYS "FISHERMAN'S BLUES"
Dave Edmunds in the Coach House with a Rosser Desk
It's not all recording at Rockfield
Brian May with Kingsley Ward at Rockfield in 2005
Rockfield in 1990
The Neve VR60 in the Coach House
The Neve V-Series in the Quadrangle
Recorded at Rockfield :