Rockfield: The Recording Studio, Monmouth, Wales
Rockfield Farm (originally Amberley Court Farm) was owned by Lord Llangattock (John Rolls), whose family home was The Hendre, Llangattock-Vibon-Avel, a major Victorian country house in Monmouthshire. The Hendre was developed by several major architects, George Vaughan Maddox, Thomas Henry Wyatt, Henry Pope and Sir Aston Webb, and mostly constructed in the Victorian Gothic and neo-Tudor styles. The house is now the clubhouse of the Rolls of Monmouth Golf Club. The name Rolls commemorated the Rolls family, particularly Charles Stewart Rolls (1877-1910), a motoring and aviation pioneer and the co-founder of Rolls Royce. He was the first Briton to be killed in an aeronautical accident flying a powered aircraft, when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke off during a flying display in Bournemouth. He was aged 32 years.
Tragically between 1910 and 1916, Lord Llangattock and his three male heirs died. The Hendre estate passed to the surviving sister, Eleanor Georgiana Shelley-Rolls, who in 1919 sold off large parts of The Hendre estate including Amberley Court Farm. The Hendre is well known to architectural historians (see the account by John Newman in The Buildings of Wales: Gwent/Monmouthshire (2000), pp. 247-56) but Amberley Court has a special place in music history.
In 1958, Amberley Court Farm again came up for sale and was brought by dairy farmers, the Ward family, and later became the iconic Rockfield Studios.
Rockfield Studios: the beginning
In the late 1950s early ’60s thousands of young people across the British Isles embraced the new sound and fashion of Rock and Roll. The teenagers of Monmouth were no different and would listen and talk about the latest sounds, groups, bands and artists.
Brothers, Charles and Kingsley Ward, were both young farmers with a herd of dairy cows, pigs, and stables housing the horses of Sylvia Gardener’s Riding School. Charles and Kingsley also embraced the sounds of Rock and Roll, learning to sing, play piano and play guitar, and in 1960 they formed a band called the ‘Charles Kingsley Combo’, one of the first Rock and Roll bands in Wales.
The Charles Kingsley Combo soon became a popular band, recording a demo tape in order to secure a record deal. The two brothers travelled to EMI’s factory in Hayes, Middlesex, and on arrival a guard on the gate redirected them to EMI House, Manchester Square, London, where they asked for an interview.
The following week the two returned to EMI House and were disappointed to be shown into the office of a producer, best known for making novelty records for artist such as Peter Sellers. The producer was George Martin, who would later go on to produce the Beatles. The brother played their tape to George Martin, who told the boys to come back in six months’ time with more material.
The band soon caught the eye of record producer Joe Meek. Joe signed the band, and they began regular trips to London while still working the farm. This was before motorways were built, making the partnership difficult as the journey was long and slow.
In 1961, the brothers came up with the idea of designing and building their own recording studio at their parent’s farmhouse, up in the attic. This venture soon attracted lots of attention from local musicians wanting to record their own tracks.
The two soon started charging £5 – £10 per recording session, using a Ferrograph, an EMI 301D quarter inch tape recorder, and an 8-channel audio Elkon mixer. By 1962 it had become one of the first commercial studio outside of London.
By 1965 the studio was relocated to an adjacent granary (situated above what we now know as The Coach House Studio), with updated equipment including an EMI TR-90 and Philips stereo reel-to-reel tape recorders, and a mixing console built by Rosser Electronics Ltd in Swansea. One year later Charles and Kingsley begun to record under the name of Future Sounds Limited.
Rockfield the World’s First Residential Recording Studios
One of the first to record at the newly located Coach House Studio was ‘Elephant’s Memory’, an American rock band formed in New York City. While recording in the studio, the brother’s parents accommodated the band in the farmhouse.
Soon, artists like Dave Edmunds (born 1944) of ‘Love Sculpture’ and Andy Fairweather Low (born 1948) of ‘Amen Corner’ were using the new studio. By 1967 the original concept of Doc Thomas Band (Mott The Hoople) was helping to establish the studio’s identity in their own right.
The studio attracted musicians from all over the world, due to its stunning yet secluded location within the Welsh countryside. Musicians would stay at the farmhouse whilst recording music, making Rockfield the world’s first residential recording studios.
Rockfield’s first No. 1 hit was Dave Edmunds’ ‘I hear you knocking’ from the ‘Rockpile’ album.
Coach House Studio
1968 was the year the studio moved from the upstairs granary, downstairs into the old coach house and stables and initially was called Studio 1 and is now the present Coach House Studio. The renaming of the company to Rockfield Studios, after the nearby village, took place on 4 December 1970. This new facility included a Trident TSM 8 track mixing console. These studios were soon playing hosts to groups like the early Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, Arthur Brown, Ace, Dr Feelgood, Budgie, Judas Priest, Motörhead, Rush, Tom Robinson Band, Shakin’ Stevens and the Sunsets, and many more groups from the 1970s.
The Quadrangle Studio
In 1973 a new studio was formed, converting some of the stables situated in the main stable yard, still in use today, is the original drum room with its moving panels and isolation booths designed and built by Charles Ward. Being the larger of the 2 studios, it now became Studio 1 with the other studio now being called Studio 2, later becoming the Quadrangle Studio.
One of the first groups to use The Quadrangle Studio was a little-known group called Queen, recording their hit single ‘Killer Queen’ at the studio, from the album ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ (released 8 November 1974), closely followed one year later by ‘A Night at the Opera’ (released 21 November 1975) including the iconic single ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ written by Freddie Mercury. These two albums gave Rockfield world-wide credibility amongst artists, producers and sound engineers.
In 1987 the studios were renamed The Quadrangle and The Coach House when Kingsley took over the premises after he and Charles split the company, with Charles going on to run Monnow Valley Studios.
In the 1980s the studios saw more success with Adam and the Ants, Bad Manners, Clannad, The Cult, The Damned, Echo & the Bunnymen, Robert Plant, Iggy Pop, Simple Minds, The Stone Roses, The Stranglers, and the list goes on …
In 1984 the Coach House Studio was acoustically enhanced with angled ceilings and natural echo chambers, including the installation of world’s first Neve VR mixing console. The recording studio has little changed and still retains the original peg board acoustic treatment from 1968 on its walls.
In the 1990s success followed success, with old and new groups using the Quadrangle and Coach House Studios: Aztec Camera, Big Country, Cast, The Charlatans, Coldplay, Hot House Flowers, Julian Lennon, Annie Lennox, Oasis, The Pogues, Stereophonics, Paul Weller, and more … Stone Roses spent 14 months recording their ‘Second Coming’ album closely followed by Oasis (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
By this time, the Coach House Studio was both analogue and digital, with added natural echo chambers and EMT Reverberator Plates and a new Neve 8128 mixing console.
Since 2000 the studio has undergone further audio equipment changes, including a vintage 1976 MCI 500 Series Console in the Quadrangle Studio. The studios continued to attract many artists, including: Catatonia, The Darkness, Kasabian, George Michael, New Order, The Proclaimers, Suede, Super Furry Animals, and many more artists and groups.
Many record producers have become a part of Rockfield’s history, from the early years of Gus Dudgeon (1942 – 2002), Roy Thomas Baker (b. 1946), John William Leckie (b. 1949), Hugh Jones and John Anthony (b. 1944).
Rockfield Studios continues to attract the world’s top record producers and artists. It nurtures new talent through its programme of residential masterclasses for the next generation of producers and engineers. Long may it continue!
For information on sites in Rockfield and Llangattock
- Rockfield Studios.
- For sites in Rockfield and Llangattock search our online database, Coflein.
- For historic place names in Rockfield/Llangattack, search our List of historic place names.
By Charles Green, Public Engagement Officer (Graphics)