Kingsley Ward - Founder of Rockfield Studios, Autumn 2000
10 Feb 2004
rockfield, where dreams come true, and the likes of oasis, black sabbath, coldplay and queen have made some magic. kingsley ward, in this insight, grants his first and last ever interview.
Understatement: rockfeedback has an exclusive with this interview, readers. Kingsley Ward, half of the original partnership with his brother Charles, has ensured that Rockfield Studios have produced some of the true great records of our time. As well as the true great records of the past. However, he has made it amongst some of his priorities in running the studios to dismiss interviews from journalists. This decision has been made with the intent of respecting the privacy of the artists that have recorded in the Monmouthshire countryside-based buildings.
However, with a lot of begging, bribing and bellowing, Kingsley caved in and let us chat to him for half an hour about the Rockfield empire. Since they opened, the residential studios have been used by Catatonia, Manic Street Preachers as well as New Order - and that was just during the 90s, when there was a consecutive run of seven albums produced in Rockfield that all reached the number one spot. If we're talking about the twenty years before that, well there was Queen, Robert Plant, Black Sabbath, Simple Minds, Hawkwind, Del Shannon, The Waterboys... Need we go on?
The reason why so many great artists have chosen to work here is hilariously simple - the surrounding scenery is beautiful, the ambience relaxed and the living quarters and equipment of the highest quality. The Bluetones commented on their stay at Rockfield with the highest respect to both the studios and Kingsley, who they feel is a genuine rock and roll survivor, rich in character and enthusiasm, even after forty years in the business. The Super Furry Animals decided to write a song about their recording time there, however. Predictably bizarrely, they preferred to sing about the content of the studio's meals, which under the song's title of 'Guacamole' claimed that the cooks at the studio enjoyed putting the such on every plate of grub served there. Hmm. Well, whether dollops of guacamole are splashed on to all plates for teatime or not is still to be confirmed. But, for the meantime, read about how this man created one of the world's greatest rock institutions, how it has progressed and what its future entails...
What age were you when you first became interested in music?
'Ah well, when you're taught piano when you're very young like I was at the age of eight, your interests develop then. Charles, my brother, also started playing the piano when we were about seven or eight, but we got into modern music, rock music, when we were about 17 or 18.'
What were the first kinds of bands that you took an interest in?
'That's the thing - there were no bands. The Americans were the ones that were leading the way at the time; Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry and all these sorts of people. There weren't really groups - just solo artists. The first bands I remember were American, such as The Ventures and Jerry & The Hurricanes. With their arrival, loads of singing bands like The Platters came out and they were, once again, all American really! Most of the bands starting up in the 60s must have consisted of members that were about 18-20 years old and they would have been brought up in the late 50s so they would have heard all of these American people and be influenced by them. That's the reason why The Beatles did covers by people such as Chuck Berry.'
Were you in a band yourself?
'We (Charles and I) were in one of the first rock bands in Wales. It must have been around 1960 and there were really no other groups. We went under a couple of names like the Charles Kingsley Combo and then we got a record deal in America under the name of The Thunderbolts, which made us back out of marketing and the UK. We recorded with some great people, but we didn't sell any records! One of our lives' greatest failures, but it only inspired us to get going! The only British band at the time was probably The Shadows, but we didn't want to be like them - we wanted to be more like the American acts. My brother wrote the songs and I covered the business side of things.'
When and how did Rockfield Studios start up, then?
'Well, because we lived in Wales, in Monmouth specifically, there were no studios outside of London really and we didn't like travelling four hours every day to get there. My brother and I have always been a bit ambitious really so we decided to make our own studio. We bought a tape recorder in 1960 and it all happened from there. We actually became a recording-group in 1962 or '63, and after going to London a few more times we realised that it wasn't difficult to record yourselves as long as you had the necessary equipment. The studio began in the main house here up in the attic and it was quite good actually. In 1965, we became residential so other bands could come and stay overnight to record. We got a record deal with EMI, under the name of Future Sounds Ltd. to produce music for them. It was a good name because we wanted 'sounds' in the name and we were the future so it was the best thing to use!'
This is obviously a more unusual way of a studio being set up...
'Well, yes! It is because we made history - and we didn't know that we had made history! In 1969, we set up what is called the Courtyard Studio, which was a bigger effort altogether compared to the loft studio that we had used for a few years already. It (the attic studio) had done well despite its size, with bands such as The Silence and Mott the Hoople working there before they all hit success.'
How was Rockfield Studios made known to the industry?
'The studios were only called 'Rockfield' from 1967 onwards, because Dave Edmunds drove in one day and said that he saw the name on his way here on the motorway, but we were obviously too close to the woods to see the trees! It was such an obvious name that we didn't even tweak!'
What is the most rewarding aspect of working with the studios?
(Without hesitation) 'Everything. I love just actually doing it. In the early days, the main appeal was seeing it develop. Rockfield has always been successful, but it was hard to get going in the 60s because everyone thought that studios should be based in London, but after Dave Edmunds had a huge, number one hit with 'I Hear You Knocking', everybody wanted to record here! What we couldn't afford to do before came very easily.'
What is the future for Rockfield Studios?
'Well, it just seems that every ten years we become incredibly successful. In the 70s, we had all the Queen stuff as well as Rush, in the 80s, we simply had loads of bands and in the 90s, we had virtually all of the huge British rock bands such as Oasis, Charlatans, Ash and it just goes on and on. Here we are in a new decade and all of the big rock bands are coming back to us again! We go in and out of fashion here at Rockfield! Once rock music is in fashion, Rockfield gets strong again, but when girl and boy bands become popular, that's when we go out of fashion because we don't produce them. It's very rare that we get dance acts as well, even though we do like it as well as all forms of music, but we've built a good reputation as a studio for guitar-based bands.
'We're now hoping to do well with the record side of things, including pushing artists in America because our record-label, Rockfield, will be up and going again very shortly because we have had success with our own labels in the past. So, the studios are going nicely, the record-label should be all right, our management and publishing companies are fine so we should just be going forward again.'
There are certainly a lot of things going on in Rockfield!
'Well, yes, it's all very entrepreneurial as is everything when you become successful because doors open for you. If new people wanted to start out by building a professional studio, I would say don't bother! Nobody would do it anymore because the big studios cost too much money, which you'll never get back, but if you want to have fun with yourself and possibly your band, just to put records out, it's easy. Anybody can make their own nice, little studio for £10,000 or so and be able to produce records good enough to release. I don't think you'll see studios like Rockfield coming up again in the future.'
Kingsley's right about that. Even if just for the reason that larger studios cost too much to build, it's the established names that will pull in those that have got cash to spend on recording-time, such as Abbey Road. However, in addition, it just seems that as time progresses in the music-world, what with more and more artists arriving on the scene, the huge superstars don't exist anymore. Besides, such superstars, you can guarantee would be best off producing music in an enduring legend such as Rockfield.
During the interview, Mr. Ward stumbled across a phrase that sums up the development of the organisation perfectly:
'You never know you're making history when you're doing it; you only know once you look backwards at what you've done...'
Never truer words spoken.