Rockfield Main Room

Rockfield Studios: Studio Profile

It’s one of the most legendary studios in the history of rock, and is still going strong today. But the genesis of Rockfield Studios was born out of a homespun base for its founder to try and become the next Elvis…


Rockfield Main Room
Image courtesy of Rockfield Studios

If you travel along the M4, away from London you eventually cross the Severn bridge and enter the Wye valley and the Forest of Dean. It’s an area of astounding natural beauty and the Welsh/English border is worth a visit regardless of why you’re there. But tucked away in this part of the world, just outside the small town of Monmouth, up a small side road, on the site of an old farm is an iconic piece of recording history – Rockfield Studios; the legendary farmhouse studio that has welcomed artists as diverse as Rush, Oasis, Coldplay, Black Sabbath and, most notably, Queen – who laid down the towering Bohemian Rhapsody here. 

Rockfield Studios started out as a kind of accident.  Kingsley Ward and his brother Charles wanted to play in a rock and roll band. It was the late 1950s, Elvis was king – and two young welsh farmers decided that they wanted to be singers and songwriters so bought themselves a guitar for five pounds and wrote a couple of songs.

Living in rural Monmouthshire, recording studios were few-and-far between (read: non-existent), but the Ward brothers realised they needed to record their songs if they were to make any progress in the music business. Fortunately, a local man had a tape recorder and was prepared to let the brothers borrow it to record their songs. So, Kingsley borrowed the tape machine and operated the controls while Charles strummed their songs.


Rockfield Studios view
Image courtesy of Rockfield Studios

Widening the Field

With their songs recorded the boys realised that they needed to go to London to get any further and play their songs to a record company. In the days before the Internet, it was pretty difficult to pinpoint addresses, so the lads worked out where they needed to go by looking at the only resource they had: the centre label on one of their records: EMI, Haynes, Middlesex

However, once they arrived, and the security guard had greeted them with, presumably some confusion, and pointed out that they had arrived at the pressing plant, and not the offices or studios. He told the Wards they needed to go to EMI House in Central London, they might have more luck getting their tapes heard there!

Once they finally arrived at EMI House, they were greeted by a receptionist who, admiring their pluck, told them that they needed to see a producer. Kingsley remembers seeing the names of all the producers up on the wall including some names that they recognised including Norrie Paramore, the producer of Cliff Richard & The Shadows, and George Martin; soon to be the producer of a small band from Liverpool.

The receptionist booked them an appointment with Mr Martin for the following Tuesday. So Kingsley and Charles had to drive all the way back to Monmouth, and then all the way back to London again a few days later.

When the lads finally found themselves in a fancy record company executive office, they were greeted by the affable George Martin with their small two-track tape machine on their lap, and EMI’s shiny tape machine and impressive equipment all around. Martin asked the lads to play them their songs but, not being very technical yet, they didn’t know how to get the tape off the machine.

Despite what must have been quite an embarrassing scene as they fumbled with their contraption, George Martin liked what he heard and told the Ward brothers to go away, work on their craft and come back in six months. But the boys never went back…

Kingsley and Charles did, however, end up working with another famed producer – Joe Meek. The Ward brothers released a few records with the innovative Joe, but what they really got from him was a knowledge of recording and producing. Because Meek had a self-built studio and the brothers were recording in it, they could see what Joe was doing, and they stored that knowledge for future use.

At this time, studios outside of major cities were few-and-far between, and completely non-existent in rural Wales. But rock and roll was popular everywhere, so Kingsley and Charles decided to setup their own recording facility at the farm where they grew up. They acquired a simple tape machine and set it up in the attic of their parents’ house. This was the beginning of what would eventually become Rockfield Studios.

Coach House
Image courtesy of Rockfield Studios


Future Proof

Initially, the boys decided to call their fledgling studio Future Sounds Limited. They only had a basic setup, but they offered a service to local bands to record their songs onto acetate for £5. Even though the equipment was limited, it was easier for many local artists to access than getting to London. From starting out as wannabe rock stars, the Ward brothers had accidentally opened up the first commercial studio, though they didn’t really know it at the time.

The quality of their recordings got better-and-better, and they began to acquire some higher quality equipment. An engineer in Swansea, Neil Ross of Rosser Electronics, built them a console and they invested in a Ferrograph tape machine on which to record.

By the mid-60s, Future Sounds were making some exceptional recordings so headed back to EMI in London to present the major label with the last five years worth of recordings. The brothers met with Roy Pip, an A&R representative, who was very impressed with what Kingsley and Charles had achieved. He offered them a contract on the spot to find, develop and record artists around the country for EMI to release. Suddenly the brothers went from a small-time commercial recording facility to being affiliated with one of the biggest record companies in the country and working with major artists.

One of the first major artists to come to Future Sounds was Dave Edmunds who suggested that Kingsley and Charles name the studios after the small village down the road – serendipitously called ‘Rockfield’. Rockfield Studios has kept the name ever since.

Rockfield Residential

Around 1965 a band from New York, Elephant’s Memory, arrived at Rockfield Studios to do some recording. Elephant’s Memory would go on to become the backing band for John Lennon and Yoko Ono – but in 1965 they were just starting out. The problem was, the band had nowhere to stay and, in 1965, Monmouth had no hotels, so the band had to stay with Kingsley and Charles’s parents. By accident Rockfield had also become the first residential studio where artists all stayed and recorded on site.

By this point the studio in the attic of the house was becoming a little outdated and definitely too small, so Rockfield built the next generation of its studio in the stable block next to the house. This became the Coach House Studio, and this is where it remains to this day. Rockfield also invested in an advanced 8-track tape machine which, in 1967, put them on a par with the biggest studios in London. Within eight years Rockfield had gone from a homespun DIY project to competing with the most famous recording studios in the country. Kingsley was determined to be ahead of the game with technology and ensured that anything the likes of Abbey Road had, Rockfield would have.

The Quadrangle
The Quadrangle – Image courtesy of Rockfield Studios

Putting the Rock in Rockfield

Staying ahead of the curve meant that bigger and bigger artists started to use Rockfield Studios. Black Sabbath with a young Ozzy Osbourne booked the studios with Kingsley recording an early demo version of Paranoid but it was in 1970 that Rockfield had its first really big hit. Dave Edmunds (he of the name change) recorded I Hear You Knocking at Rockfield which was a UK number one single for six weeks – and became that year’s Christmas number one. The song did very well elsewhere and was top-ten in several other countries including no. 4 on the US Billboard chart and it went on to eventually sell over three million copies. Suddenly everyone wanted to record out at Rockfield Studios.

In 1972 Rockfield added another studio in the main farm courtyard. This allowed two completely separate artists to record and stay at Rockfield simultaneously. Artists who made use of this included Hawkwind, Iggy Pop and, of course, Queen.

Queen had recorded their 1974 album Sheer Heart Attack at Rockfield and returned the following year to work on A Night at The Opera. Kingsley recalls hearing Freddie Mercury working on an early version of what would be their magnum opus, Bohemian Rhapsody, on a little piano in the room that is now the studios administration office. The 2018 Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, tells some of this story, and has become part of the folklore of the Rockfield site. It’s now a permanent part of the history of Queen and the story of creation of that magnificent song.

The 1980s at Rockfield Studios

The 1980s saw Rockfield continue to grow with the acquisition of an additional rehearsal and accommodation premises down the road (now Monnow Valley Studios) and an endless parade of A-list musicians coming to record at the site including Adam & the Ants, Iggy Pop, Robert Plant and The Stone Roses.

But by the end of the 80s the company had grown so big Charles and Kingsley decided to split the business. Charles took over running what became Monnow Valley and fitted it out as a high-end studio in its own right, and Kingsley stayed at Rockfield. There was no spectacular falling out – just two brothers wanting to head in their own directions.

Around this time Rockfield was refitted with Neve VR consoles. The Neve VR featured flying faders, a powerful routing matrix and a lot of other advanced functionality.

The Past Is The Future

Around the year 2000 Rockfield was re-fitted again. At this point Kingsley made the bold move to use entirely vintage equipment. The Quadrangle studios were fitted out with an MCI console that originally came from CBS’s Studio in London in 1976 and the Coach House Studios were fitted out with a Neve 8128 console.

To move back to an all-analogue signal path in 2000 was a pretty daring move. Everything else in music production was switching to digital with Pro Tools becoming more widespread, and audio interfaces becoming significantly more affordable for most home musicians. To decide to do exactly the opposite of this might have been bold – but it was one that has paid off. The entirely vintage approach enticed artists that wanted ‘that’ classic sound, and to try to capture some of the ‘warmth’ that, at the time, only vintage gear could give you.


Rockfield Studios - Coach House
Coach House Control Room – Image courtesy of Rockfield Studios

Rockfield Studios in 2021

Rockfield Studios, as it is now, still retains all the charm, character and history that it has built up over 60+ years of recording. When you arrive, it looks, to all intents and purposes, still quite a lot like a farm. The drive is only partly made, and you pass what appear to be barns and stables.

As you approach the site, the first building you see on the right is the Coach House studio. This is still based round its Neve 8128 console but features a wide array of outboard from API, Neve and Rosser Electronics. The live rooms feature several spaces, each with their own individual acoustic for different levels of ‘liveness’ and several isolation booths for amps, vocals or a less lively acoustic. The live room contains a beautiful Yamaha grand piano, a Hammond organ and an array of vintage electric pianos. The Coach House can record either to Pro Tools or to the 24-track Studer tape machine for a completely analogue capture.

If you turn left from the drive, you reach the main courtyard, or Quadrangle, which is where the Quadrangle studio is based, along with its accommodation block and the admin building for the site.

The Quadrangle studio is still based around the same MCI console fed into either Pro Tools or another Studer 24-track machine. The live spaces for the Quadrangle are either side of the control room and, again, have a variety of acoustics for different levels of ambience during capture. The Quadrangle comes equipped with a Bösendorfer grand piano and another Hammond Organ.

One of the most unique features of Rockfield Studios is its purpose-built echo chambers. There are three chambers built into sections of the Quadrangle for different reverb times, which, alongside the 4 EMT plate reverbs provide a wide range of reverb sounds. These are patchable from either studio, and add more analogue charm to the recordings captured in Rockfield’s two studios.

Quadrangle Main
Quadrangle Main Studio – Image courtesy of Rockfield Studios


The Future of Rockfield Studios

Rockfield remains one of the most exciting and in-demand studio complexes in the UK. Its unique charm, coupled with exceptionally high-quality specification means it remains hugely popular with a large number of artists.

As with a lot of businesses they have broadened their appeal and, under the management of Lisa Ward (Kingsley’s daughter), Rockfield has moved into offering masterclasses for students in the studios with professional engineers. This year it is hosting the 2021 songwriting sessions as part of the Pro7ect Songwriting Retreat.

With the Bohemian Rhapsody film in 2018 and a documentary about the 25th anniversary of (What’s The Story) Morning Glory by Oasis featuring Rockfield heavily and, of course, a documentary about Rockfield Studios itself; Interest has been renewed in the studios. Here’s hoping they are still recording amazing music across the next six decades.