In 1963 in the Welsh countryside, brothers Kingsley and Charles Ward set up shop and began recording rock bands on their family’s farm. A few years later, they became the first “residential studio” when they hosted the band Spring in a spare bedroom. Over five decades on, Rockfield Studios is still running and has been witness to some incredible music history, with the likes of Queen, Dave Edmunds, Stone Roses, Rush, The Boo Radleys, Oasis, Coldplay, and Black Sabbath gracing its rooms. Hannah Berryman directs this romp through the years, with Kingsley’s stories leading the way, along with notable interviews from Robert Plant, Liam Gallagher, Dave Brock (Hawkwind), Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, The Charlatans, John Leckie [Tape Op #42], Simple Minds, Chris Martin, and many other folks who’ve worked out of there. For the technical geeks, it’s a bit light. Instead, the focus is mainly on entertaining us with madcap stories and notes on the songs that were created there. But tours of the studio and the three live chambers – as well as a recap of the studio’s growth – are fascinating. Kingsley’s comments on how they were always upgrading and progressing forward with the gear, and John Leckie’s appreciation of the size of the rooms at Rockfield, give us a hint of what made working there so special. Shifts in technology and production styles caused lean times, and the forthright recalling of those eras is familiar to anyone who has run a recording business. A good takeaway is to also remember the benefits and issues of remote, residential recording. As Kingsley’s daughter, Lisa Ward, notes “nature centers you,” while Robert Plant recounts that sometimes during sessions like these, the band were “almost prisoners.”
The film itself is very well-paced and edited – and the languorous shots of the bucolic countryside makes a trip to Rockfield seem enticing. However, the soundtrack seems to be leftover music from a BBC mystery series and the cut-up animation gets tiring – especially when we only get snippets of actual archival footage. I wish there was more input from producers and engineers about why they recommended and enjoyed Rockfield, and how they utilized it. The split between brothers Kingsley and Charles, with Charles’ setting up of Monnow Valley Studio next door, also aroused my curiosity but was followed with little explanation. What happened? Additionally, there are several awkward moments where they used Hannah’s hard to hear off-camera questions to lead into an interview. Since we’re all audio nerds I can ask this; Why didn’t they put a lavalier mic on the director?
But overall, this movie was very fun to watch, the history is fascinating, and even non-recording folks will enjoy the stories and the music.