To call Rockfield Studios (Monmouth, Gwent, Wales) historic might be accurate, but it doesn't tell the whole story. This legendary facility is said to have been the world's first-ever residential studio when it opened for business in 1965. And it has certainly hosted sessions for some of the rock 'n' roll era's most popular artists. In addition to the studio's first hit recording, Dave Edmunds' version of "I Hear You Knocking," Rockfield has been used over the years by Rush, Queen, Iggy Pop, Robert Plant, The Pogues, Paul Weller, Simple Minds, The Damned, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Waterboys, XTC, etc., etc.
However, like other truly venerable facilities such as Abbey Road and Olympic, Rockfield has continued to evolve and to attract cutting-edge artists. For example, during a 12-month period from '96 to '97, Rockfield sessions resulted in five UK Number One albums, by Oasis, Ash, Black Grape, The Charlatans and the Boo Radleys.
Rockfield is still owned by one of the original founders, Kingsley Ward, who started the studio with his brother, Charles, as a place to record their own group. Now the studio is run by Kingsley Ward and his daughter Lisa, who handles all bookings. Though it has, obviously, grown since its earliest days, the studio still resides in its original location. "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."
The facility consists of two main studios, The Quadrangle and The Coach House. Each offers a very large main live room (28x19 and 26x14 feet, respectively); an additional good-sized live iso room (The Quadrangle incorporates two iso booths); and four natural echo chambers with an up to 3.2-second reverb time.
And, of course, over the years, the facility has amassed a tremendous selection of equipment. Each control room is equipped with a 60-input Neve VR console and JBL 4350 main monitors. Both studios offer a variety of Studer A820 24-track, 2-track and 2-inch recorders with Dolby SR. There's also an extensive list of outboard gear from AMS, Klark Teknik, Yamaha, TC Electronic, Tube-Tech, Drawmer, Orban, Eventide and others. And the studio is particularly proud of its vintage Neumann microphones, which include two U67s, five SM2 stereo mics and two KM56s. There are also many newer choices from Neumann, AKG, Sennheiser, EV, Shure and Beyerdynamic. A three-person maintenance crew works full-time during weekdays and is on call in off hours to keep all the gear in shape.
Each studio at Rockfield also offers its own accommodations. The Coach House includes a seven-bedroom house with all modern conveniences, including satellite TV and whirlpool bathtubs. The Quadrangle includes three self-contained apartments, as well as half a dozen more rooms with bath. Among their key personnel, the facility owners list their head chef, Jim Woods, whose staff can provide three meals a day for hungry artists.
The Wards have also extended themselves into publishing and artist promotion, and Kingsley Ward says he now spends a good deal of time in the States promoting those interests. He also says that he's "contemplating a retrofit within the next few years."
So, Rockfield continues to attract the big names and to break records, decade by decade. "More than 1,000 million recordings from Rockfield have been sold worldwide," Kingsley Ward says, "which is more than all the other residential studios in the UK put together."
For more about Rockfield Studios, visit www.demon.co.uk/studiobase/rockfield.