Quietly sitting just outside of the village of Rockfield, Wales, the aptly named Rockfield Studios has been the setting of many legendary albums and songs including Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, Oasis’ (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, The Stone Roses’ self-titled debut, as well as where Freddie Mercury a finished a track you might be familiar with—”Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Rockfield Studios is where punk trailblazers The Damned got their sea legs, recording the sessions that birthed The Black Album, the Friday 13th EP, and Strawberries during the early ’80s. The band returned to their former stomping grounds in 2019 to record The Rockford Files EP with three out of the four The Damned members who were at the original sessions—David Vanian, Captain Sensible, and Paul Gray. Released on October 16, the new EP captures all the inventive magic of The Damned’s earlier work, almost absorbing the je ne sais quoi of the eminent location.
Known for his signature red beret and white sunglasses, Captain Sensible has nothing but fond memories of Rockfield Studios.
“Having had some nutters in like Hawkwind and Arthur Brown over preceding years, the Rockfield’s owners were OK with band hijinks, so we got away with loads,” he recalls with a chuckle. “Egging the kitchen walls, burning the furniture in the fireplace—the coal ran out—smashing windows, and blaming the studio dog.
“And local kids would get the treatment when they wandered in to get autographs, the timing of which often coincided with dinner, so they’d leave wearing whatever was left over—gravy, trifle, custard. But instead of putting them off, there would be even more of them the next day.”
But the nostalgia isn’t limited to the studio and music. During their time in the Welsh countryside, the band was exposed to experiences they’d never had growing up and living in the urbanity of London.
“Rockfield is also a working farm though and being a confirmed townie, I’d never been anywhere near a cow before or even a horse,” Captain Sensible says with a laugh. “And the day I got helped onto one of them, backwards, was interesting. Of course, one of my comrades gave the nag a good hearty slap on the rump, whereupon I had to hang on for dear life while the bloody thing went galloping off across the fields, with me looking at a swishing tail and my laughing bandmates.”
Hearing Captain Sensible talk about the roster of musicians who have recorded at Rockfield, you’re reminded that your heroes also have heroes of their own.
“I don’t know why we left it so long to go back to Rockfield, certainly we never made a duff record there,” he ponders. “It was nice to see that nothing much had changed—the courtyard with the studio, stables, and accommodation around it was still the same. [It’s] funny to think who has stayed in these rooms. Queen, Black Sabbath, Dave Edmunds, and the rest. I was surprised to find Freddie’s fave room was the quiet one hidden round the back of the block. Paul had that one, while I went for Brian May’s. Well, you would, wouldn’t you?”
Leading the way in what was an unknown and scary-to-some sound and attitude at the time, Captain Sensible says punk filled a gapping creative and social hole for youth like The Damned and other influential bands, who were kicking back at the musical and political climates of the day.
“What is punk?” he posits. “In Britain, it was a reaction to circumstances at the time. A grey country with mass unemployment and a three-day week – with Thatcher around the next corner! Music was dismal. Stadium and country rock bands singing songs about wizards and pixies, which meant nothing to unemployed youngsters like us. So, we put our own bands together – it was our way of fighting back, of trying to make something out of nothing in a rebellious DIY way, so punk was very much of its time.”
So, how does one age gracefully in a scene that is built on youthful energy and idealism?
“I think we were meant to crash and burn – one great album and snuff it and not hang around and keep playing,” says the guitarist, who turned 66 in April. “But what can you do? Most of us didn’t kick the bucket, and if the music is fun and people like it, so why not go out and make a noise occasionally?
The booze-fueled craziness is a thing of the past, though. The first thing I do on arrival at a venue these days is to see what brand of tea is in the dressing room rather than what whiskey is on offer. And conversation at punk festivals between old lags is more likely to be about recent hospital visits than birds and fights.”
Image courtesy of The Damned
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