Rockfield Rocks in Print
Something of a departure, this. I don’t think we’ve done anything book related before, have we? TADAAAA.. the first, and a special one it is. ‘Rock Legends at Rockfield’ charts the history of this famous rock studio – famous for its successes and excesses. Interviews with said legends crammed in to give a glorious insight to something we never see, and several things we might not ever want to! The place that looks like the décor is unchanged from the 70’s, and probably unchangeable. Where the vibe in the studio makes you shiver, whether you thought it existed or not. Detailed and exclusive, photos aplenty, this is something you need to have. It’s plain that author Jeff Collins loves his subject, knows bucketloads, and his heroes are all here too. His history and Rockfield’s are intertwined, being almost of an age… Watch out for the TD extract at the bottom.
Out 15th September, links to Amazon, Waterstones, W H Smith and Welsh University Press at the bottom. £13.99, a snip.
I spoke to the lovely Jeff via the wonders of msn messenger, and barring the football gossip, this is the result:
Jo: You’ve got a lot of journalistic experience, of which I’m very jealous. It’s predominately on the presenting side, not the written form. Was this project always going to be a book, or is there a documentary in the offing as well?
Jeff: Well when I was working at BBC Wales I was a sports presenter on BBC Choice Wales, the digital channel. As such the editor of the channel was always asking us for ideas and I thought Rockfield would be a good subject for a documentary. As I explain in my opening chapter, the book is like a journey. As a teenager I always wondered why these great records had “made at Rockfield, Wales” on them. So the book starts out as a journey to discover how Rockfield was able to compete with the giants like abbey Rock, Record Plant, Air Studios etc. So I proposed it but the TV commissioners went cold on the idea. Next I proposed it for an article for Classic Rock magazine
My editor said she’d consider it. In the three months she spent mulling over this idea, I’d interviewed Lemmy, Paul Carrack and the Tokyo Dragons and realised that there were so many interesting and funny stories that this would make a great book. So it took off from there really (And Classic Rock eventually appeared to lose interest though they did later publish my day at Rockfield with Robert Plant as a lead story!)
Jo: I think the commissioners were mad… but we’re gonna get something greater than an article! How long has it taken to get this far, from the original idea?
Jeff: I started in October 2005 with the Lemmy and Tokyo Dragons interviews and then slowly starting carrying out more and more interviews over the Christmas and New Year period. The problem with this book is that as it was not about a single subject, it involved loads of interviews. I ended up doing about 60 in the end.
Jo: You’ve not done too badly in the time, really.
Jeff: I didn’t want to rehash any interviews already done so the only interviews to appear in my book have been done my me so I know for sure that was said was geniune and that i was not repeating stories second hand. So by the time the manuscript was handed in in January 2006 it had taken 14 months or so to research, carry out interviews and write.
No i think things went along pretty well. One of the biggest challenges was structuring the book.
Jo: I can imagine sorting it all out was a bit of a task.
Jeff: It started out as a history of Rockfield but turned into a behind the scene look at how various Rock Icons worked and played there, so in the end I’m telling the story of the major bands and records as much as the story of Rockfield.
Jo: Lots for the price of one, then. Is it easier to work with the rock gods on something like this, or the producers and engineers? Are the rock gods less reticent about their adventures?
Jeff: Well I decided to take a different approach to this book.You’re right. Sometimes bands can be very reticent about their past or what they’ve been up to.As a news and then sports reporter, I discovered that sometimes the best people to speak aren’t always ‘The stars’ but often friends who were with them and witnessed whatever event or moment of history you’re covering. So for example, with Black Sabbath the main interview is with one of their roadies, Graham Wright and one of his colleagues at the time Les Martin. The stories they had to tell from the band’s time at Rockfield were hysterical. With Oasis, I spoke to their manager, Marcus Russell, who I knew from my sports reporting days when he owned Ebbw Vale Rugby club. But, the focal point is the band’s photographer Michael Spencer Jones. He followed the band on tour and in the studio for five years becoming really close friends with them. As an eyewitness he was superb and again the stories are amazing. Much better than the band would have given.
Jo: It strikes me that the bands might not always have a coherent view…
Jeff: Sometimes the bands memories can be a bit fazed. There was a lot of drinking and drug taking at Rockfield especially in the seventies which is why the initial title of the book was Drugs, Drink, Music and farmyard animals: Rock legends at Rockfield. But I decided to keep the title simple!!!
Jo: Very wise.
Jeff: In some of the chapters I got much better stories from the producers such as Roy Thomas baker with Queen and The Darkness, but Richie Edwards was also very helpful in fleshing out some of the eccentric behaviour of RTB.
Jo: Now that’s interesting… can’t wait to read that one! So the stars of the book aren’t always the front men. Or even human, I gather.
Jeff: No. Geddy Lee of Rush was quite concerned when his bandmates were chased by cows across the field outside the studio (that was weird picking up the phone at home and hearing the guy say “Hi It’s Geddy Lee from Rush here. Is that Jeff Collins?”) while Budgie were also preoccupied with the horses living outside their accommodation (as was KT Tunstal who swears the horses in the stables were talking… to each other!) But whilst Roadies, photographers and producers can often provide the best and most frank eyewitness accounts I was still fortunate to have tracked down and interviewed the likes of Lemmy, Geddy Lee, Phil Collins, Robert Plant etc.
Jo: They might have been! The cow issue may not have been influenced by drugs/alcohol, but horses talking..
Jeff: Well who knows what they fed the horses!!! Particularly with the likes of Ozzy Osbourne stalking them!
Jo: *snicker* if I was a horse in that situation, I’d have been on the phone.
Jeff: Or in Alcoholics Anonymous!
Jo: I think the other addicts may well have freaked!
Jeff: Neigh – surely not (sorry poor gag)
Jo: Who were the people you really wanted to talk to but couldn’t? Were there many?(that’s staying in, that joke!)
Jeff: Oh dear
Jo: Your own fault, mister!
Jeff: There were only two I tried for and didn’t get. With Black Sabbath I managed to speak to three or four ex members but I didn’t get Tony Iommi because while I was emailing his management at work with the BBC (I was juggling about six things at the same time) I accidentally typed ‘Tommy” Lommi instead of Tony. Just a typo. I didn’t even spot it. But his management took the hump and decided that if i didn’t know his name (as if – I’m a huge Sabbath fan) then they wouldn’t pass on the request.
Jo: Heads up bottoms then
Jeff: Ozzy wasn’t available sadly while Queen were very helpful. Brian May has allowed me to use two pictures from his personal collection of him at Rockfield but we couldn’t quite get together for an interview
Jo: That’s a shame, about Brian.
Jeff: First he was going to answer questions by email while on tour with Queen and Paul Rodgers. Then he said he’d try to make time on the phone or in the flesh but time just ran out. Roger Taylor on the other hand said he didn’t want to talk about the past (I hate that) and had no photos from his time at Rockfield in which he thought he looked nice.
Jo: What?He said what?
Jeff: So I merged the Queen chapter with the band Ace (fronted by Paul Carrack) who had the hit single ‘How Long’ which sold around 7 million worldwide.
Jo: …….has this been going on?…………. sorry singing to self…..
Jeff: So that chapter became about the year of the hit single for Rockfield. 1975 when Queen had ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and Ace had ‘How Long’ – both dominating the UK/US airwaves. It was a big time for Rockfield! Exactly – its a song everyone knows. And it almost didn’t get done. The band spent two and a half of their three weeks at Rockfield just playing football.
Jo: Perfectly acceptable behaviour…
Jeff: Then on the last two days their producer forced them all in the studio (as they’d recorded nothing) and made them record the whole album including How Long. Football also seems to have played a big part at Rockfield. There’s a few stories about Ozzy being the worst football ever, and Sepultura vs the irish rock band Kerbdog.
Jo: Some boys together, and… now THAT i’d like to see. I once saw a Crew vs the Fall game.Mark E Smith is the worst ever.
Jeff: That sounds good. There’s also a story about Oasis playing a select nigel Kennedy 11.
Jo: I think I’ve heard a rumour about that one
Jeff: The band met the cockney violinist at a party at Rockfield (where Nigel was also recording). They challenged each other to a game on the field at Monmouth – Nigel’s team turned up in a bright pink strip!!
Jo: I can just see Liam’s face. Cockney my arse…
just how much stuff have you got that hasn’t been published?
Jeff: There’s a far amount that didn’t fit in. But a lot of it was very technical stuff talking about the genesis of songs or recording procedures. Or stories that people thought were funny but weren’t!! Overall I kind of knew what i was looking for and tailored interviews to that. I guess that was an overhang from my time as a radio and tv newsreader. If I knew someone was only playing a small part in the chapter then I wouldn’t interview them for half an hour , but just get the five to ten minutes I needed.
Jo: Good practice, aye. I must say you look dapper on the screen, Mr Collins.
Jeff: Well thank you very much (blush)
Jeff: I did enjoy my stint presenting on BBC Wales.
Jo: I’m just DEAD jealous of the football reporting. *refers to myspace photos of Jeff in full goalkeeping kit* I’d like to know what the score was in that Wales v England media game
Jeff: Damn! We lost 4-3. I was in goal and conceded the 4th in the last minute of the game.
Jo: It was the defence, of course.
Jeff: It was a great match. Ralf Little played for England while we had former Welsh international David Giles.Nationwide bank sponsored it.
Jo: ooo he’s good. he played for TD in soccer six
Jeff: As they also sponsored Northampton Town FC at the time they told us that England would be in Northampton’s away kit and we’d have their home kit. But when we turned up in the Millennium Stadium dressing room, there in front of us, in all its glory was…….the Wales kit!!!! Wow. We were so stunned and delighted and it put a bit of a spring in our step. Though not enough of a spring to stop us losing!! The Nationwide guys even took a team photo of us (not the one of myspace) on the pitch before kick-off and had them framed and ready for all of us by the time the game was over. The stadium don’t allow these kind of games any more so we were the only ‘non-sportsmen’ to have been allowed to play on the Millennium Stadium’s hallowed turf. (Purrs with the memory)
Jo: i should think so!
Jeff: But the stuff I did in the book at Rockfield about The Darkness, it sounded like they had major problems throughout and just about held it together at the end because the music was so good (better than the first album I personally think).
Jo: There are issues that I’m semi – aware of, and I’m sure many I’m not.
Jeff: It all seems a happier camp now.
Jo: On both sides
Jeff: But apart from the last chapter in which the darkness feature, Richie also gets a mention in the Queen chapter because he was such a Queen fan and he expalins his feeling on being at Rockfield where Queen did their best work. And also in the Rush/Gillan and Judas priest chapter. Thats because one of the producers, John David, was explaining how Rush took three weeks just to find the right bass sound and said The darkness did a similar thing with the drums where Roy Thomas Baker took two weeks to find the right drum sound.I spoke to Richie and he confirmed that for me saying Roy would have him moving mike stands around the drums by just a millimetre at a time for a fortnight looking for the right sound — before shouting “Eureka!” after two long monotonous weeks.
Jo: Now, hands up who wanted to smack him one?
Jo: I might have had something to say, but I’m a mere mortal.
Jeff: The Darkness were such a good band but for some reason lacked a certain credibility in some quarters. I remember Zane Lowe saying on MTV2 that “When Matt Bellamy of the Muse does falsetto it’s wonderful. But when Justin Hawkins does it, its wrong” That kind of attitude seemed to grow stronger as the band progressed for some reason. I don’t think that “jokey’ stigma will be attached to the new band though.
Jo: No, it won’t. It only was to Justin (unfairly), I think. And maybe Frankie at the beginning. Richie and Dan are far less flamboyant.
Jeff: It’s difficult but I think they’ll have an easier time being accepted by the rock community (most of whom probably secretly loved The Darkness but won’t admit it).
Jo: That’s the damn trouble! Yeah, they will. There’s nothing wrong with their skills, that’s been admitted. The new sound is a lot harder, apparently. It’ll please the diehards.
And with that, Jeff had to go. Please check out his myspace page, buy the book when it comes out. Legends about legends – who could want more?
Here’s the ‘extra bonus track’
ROCK LEGENDS AT ROCKFIELD — Extract from chapter 11 — the 2000’s.
For the band’s (The Darkness) much anticipated follow-up they recruited leg-endary producer Roy Thomas Baker.
It was his idea to return to the place where he’d scored such creative success with Queen: Rockfield.
‘It was like the good news and the bad news,’ says the veteran producer. ‘The bad news is that Rockfield hasn’t changed in 20 odd years. The good news is that it hasn’t changed in 20 odd years. So basically it was very famil-iar to me even though I hadn’t worked there for some time. I remembered where various things would work, and where various things wouldn’t work. It was a bit like getting back on a bike for the first time, having not been on one for a few years. It was very easy for me to slide back into the whole Rockfield thing. It was another 7 days a week record. We went into the village maybe twice. One time it was Dan Hawkins’ birthday. So we went there to celebrate. Then we went back straight back into the studio.’
On that occasion, surprised locals were joined by members of The Darkness, eager to let their hair down for guitarist Dan’s celebrations. After a day’s re-cording, the band ploughed into the alcohol as flamboyant lead singer – and Dan’s brother – Justin led a singalong towards the end of the night on the bar’s piano. The band also spent time on the quiz machine and played pool with the customers. The Nags Head pub grew busier as the night wore on and customers began texting their friends with the news that The Darkness were in party mood. ‘That was one of those mad nights’ is how Roy Thomas Baker refers to the party celebrations. ‘Overall our time at Rockfield was a real bonding experience. But unlike touring, you are not in a different location every night. We always went back to the same place. We had this amazing routine at Rockfield. First we booked the whole studio, so we had both the Coach House and the Quadrangle. We did the recording in the Quad and used the Coach House for odd experimentations and overdubs, or if anyone needed to rehearse their parts, then they’d go to the Coach House. We had a good routine. We’d be up in the morning for breakfast – the usual mundane stuff. Then we’d go into the studio. We’d break for lunch for half an hour of so before returning to the Quadrangle for more recording. Then we’d break for dinner, before one last session in the evening. Then it was tools down and we’d go back to the residential part of the house. I think myself, Dan and Justin were in the main house together and we had a fixed thing. We’d say “Right we’ve finished! Let’s open the champagne. Let’s have our Campari and Soda’s, watch some movies and go to bed.” So that was different from being on the road.’