Rockers endeavoring to “get their heads together in the country” has been one of the great clichés of popular music since the late-1960s. As “Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm,” an agreeable new documentary directed by Hannah Berryman, amply testifies, “the country” was just as likely a place for rockers to lose their heads.
As recounted by the brothers Kingsley Ward and Charles Ward, their parents’ large pig and dairy farm in Wales was a dodgy inheritance. “No money in farming,” one of them shrugs. Avid rock fans since the mid-50s, they made music together on reel-to-reel tape and drove north to try to sell it; their first stop was a record pressing plant. (They got a “label” address off the back of an LP.)
Various farm buildings had attractive acoustic qualities, so the Wards started cleaning them up and sealing them off, building a residential studio. Black Sabbath rehearsed there; the space-rockers Hawkwind recorded there. After leaving Led Zeppelin, the singer Robert Plant found at Rockfield a place to experiment, an environment where he was “free to fail.”
The tales become more picaresque as New Wave and Britpop bands begin checking in and behaving like New Wave and Britpop bands. Simple Minds sing backup vocals for an intermittently sober Iggy Pop, and so on. The studio’s biggest upturn comes when the Stone Roses stay for over a year. And then there’s Oasis. Its former lead singer, Liam Gallagher, recalls the fights with his bandleader brother, Noel (of course he does), and rushing to the village pub.
This stuff is best appreciated by rock mavens. Many of the other bands telling their stories (including the Boo Radleys and the Charlatans) didn’t have much of an impact in the States, so Anglophilia helps, too.
Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. Watch through virtual cinemas.
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