Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm

BBC FOUR / iPLAYER 

A Welsh pig and dairy farm may sound like an unlikely rock and roll mecca – or, indeed, a fitting subject for a 90-minute TV tribute. But as this absolute gem of a rock-doc demonstrated, Rockfield Studios in Monmouthshire has been the location for some fairly seismic moments in the history of popular music.

It was here, among the snuffling pigs and lowing cattle of the Wye Valley, that Black Sabbath helped invent heavy metal, and that Freddie Mercury worked out the piano parts for Bohemian Rhapsody, surrounded by bags of animal feed.

In the late 80s, the Stone Roses fled to the farm after attacking their former record label’s HQ with paint, and were arrested there the next morning, still covered in tell-tale gloss. Later, the Roses were gate-crashed by Oasis’ Liam Gallagher and Bonehead in a stolen combine harvester. It’s that sort of place.

Gallagher also laid down his vocals for Wonderwall at Rockfield, racing through them in order to make happy hour at the local pub. Recording their debut album Parachutes, meanwhile, city boys Coldplay were amazed by the beauty of the Welsh night sky. “Look at the stars,” said their awe-struck producer. Inspired, Chris Martin began writing a little ditty with that opening line, taking the song’s title from the studio copy of the Monmouthshire Yellow Pages.

Despite assembling an A-list line-up of rock royalty to tell their stories (“We started as a rock band dabbling in drugs and ended up being a drug band dabbling in rock,” noted a typically droll Ozzy Osbourne), Hannah Berryman’s witty and affectionate film was as much about Kingsley and Charles Ward, the farming brothers who set up the world’s first residential recording studio after failing to convince producer George Martin of their own rock and roll genius. (He went with four lads from Liverpool instead.)

Six decades on, Rockfield – “like the Big Brother house, but with tunes” according to Liam Gallagher – is still going strong, and Kingsley is still driving his tractor and feeding the cows, while future rock history is made in the barn behind him.

CURSED

NETFLIX

Netflix’s latest bid to find the next Game of Thrones is a female-centric spin on Arthurian legend, telling the origin story of Nimue – aka the Lady of the Lake. It’s based on a young adult novel, and stars Katherine Langford, from teen drama 13 Reasons Why – so a slow handclap to whoever decided to drench it in blood and graphic violence, resulting in a 15 certificate being slapped on what is essentially a children’s fairy story. Baffling.

WILD SWIMMING WITH ALICE ROBERTS

BBC4 / iPLAYER

Perfectly timed to offer some sweet relief to lockdown cabin fever, this lovely, lyrical film – first shown in 2010 – saw Prof Alice Roberts taking the plunge to explore Britain’s “growing obsession with swimming in the great outdoors” (you remember the great outdoors, right?). From bracing Devon sea pools to an inky river deep inside the limestone hills of Yorkshire, it combined Roberts’ own journey of self-discovery with an evocative study of humanity’s relationship with water through art, myth and legend.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, July 23 2020 (c) Waitrose Weekend

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