Why Queen, Coldplay and Oasis chose a Monmouthshire farm to record their greatest hits

Nestled in the picturesque Monnow Valley, Rockfield Studios has an astonishing musical legacy. 

Some of the biggest names in the business have recorded there: Black Sabbath, George Michael, Simple Minds, Rush, Robert Plant, New Order and hundreds more.  

It’s where Coldplay wrote and recorded their first hit, Yellow.  In the mid-1990s, Oasis stayed at the farm to produce their seminal album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?  

But the studios are renowned for one song above all others.  In 1975 Queen came to Rockfield to record Bohemian Rhapsody. 

The track went on to sell millions and remains one of the best-selling singles of all time.

Left: Snapshot from the official Bohemian Rhapsody music video by Queen. Right: Aerial image of Rockfield Studios in Monmouth.

In the ITV series 'Wonders of the Border', Sean Fletcher goes behind the scenes at Rockfield to discover the unlikely tale of the Welsh farm that has become legendary.

It all started back in 1960 when brothers and budding musicians Charles and Kingsley Ward converted the attic of their family farm into a makeshift recording studio.  

Brothers Kingsley and Charles Ward created Rockfield Studios in 1961 which was the first residential studio in the world. Credit: Rockfield Studios

“In those days there were no big studios outside London,” remembers Kingsley. 

“They were all owned by major companies like Decca and EMI.  So out of necessity, we thought: we’ll do it ourselves."

“We started recording local Welsh bands.  We used to charge them £5 to make a little tape.  In 1968 we built the Coach House studio and the first band in there was Black Sabbath.  Ozzy Osbourne was 16 years old and they did all the demos for the song Paranoid there,” he continued.

In 1965, Rockfield became the world’s first-ever residential studios.  Musicians could live on the farm while they made their albums.  Kingsley says the Monmouthshire countryside inspired the band Coldplay, who stayed at Rockfield during the recording of their debut album.

“When their tape machine broke down they had nothing to do for half an hour so they stood outside the studio.  It was a dark night and the producer said ‘look at all the stars shining.’  And Chris Martin thought, 'Oh, there’s a good line!'" he said.

Yellow was taken from Coldplay's debut album Parachutes, which has sold over 2.5 million copies.

"When Coldplay released the single Yellow - their breakthrough hit - the song’s opening lyrics reflected that moment at Rockfield: 'Look at the stars, look how they shine for you," said Kingsley.

Over the years, Kingsley has rubbed shoulders with some of the world’s biggest rock stars, although he’s never been fazed by fame. 

“Iggy Pop was here with David Bowie and I didn’t even come over to see them,” he recalls.

Rockfield remains an independent, family-owned business.  These days, Kingsley’s daughter Lisa manages the day-to-day running of the studios.  

“I was born after the studios started, so growing up all I knew was music and bands. Queen were one of those bands who played rounders and frisbee with me. That’s probably my biggest claim to fame,” She remembers.

One of the musicians who remembers the very early days of the studios is Andy Fairweather Low. 

Before hitting the big time in the sixties with the band Amen Corner, Andy recorded some of his earliest songs at Rockfield.  

Andy Fairweather Low first found fame as a founding member of the pop group Amen Corner in the late 1960s.

“The equipment was prehistoric but it had a charm and there was a particular sound quality that wasn’t engineered.  It’s a warmer sound, it’s more real to me and I think that added to the fabulous sound that records from that period had,” said Andy.

In the age of digital technology, when artists can record entire albums on their laptops, many traditional recording studios have closed their doors.  But Rockfield is still going strong.

“Today I suppose Rockfield is the studio with the greatest heritage that’s still working,” says Kingsley.  

“My brother and I are very proud of what we’ve achieved.  But we were very fortunate.  A lot of things happened at the right time for us.  And we had a lot of luck as well.”

You can see more on this story in Wonders of the Border tonight at 7:30pm on ITV Cymru Wales.  It will then be online here.