UK Subs drummer talks about Rockfield studios
Hi everyone. As the publishers push ahead with my book ROCK LEGENDS AT ROCKFIELD, it seems my book inspired a musician who'd spent time at Rockfield to put down his memories of recording there in his blog on the Classic Rock magazine website.
Ex-UK Subs drummer Stevie Ze Suicide is now forging a career as a sleaze/glam frontman. Here's the fifith in the Ze Suicide Diaries…
Ze Suicide Diaries Part 5:
Stevie remembers Rockfield – and guards Elton John's specs!
First of all I'd like to say thank you to everyone who has emailed me a response to these diaries. I'm so glad you've enjoyed them and find them a good read and a bit of a laugh. Many thanks to you all, especially Mazz from Battlewitch who got in touch with his suggestions for classic tracks almost as soon as last month’s diary went online, and Ash from Dressed To Kill. Ash... here's hoping the planned get-together happens during the summer. I'd love to appear on stage with you at some point, mate.
Now, a few weeks ago I found out about a brilliant book that's due out in August/September by writer Jeff Collins. It's all about the history of one of the finest recording studios in the UK... well, the title of the book says it all – Rock Legends at Rockfield!
Looking through Jeff’s MySpace page here, and the selection of teasers for the book, got me thinking of my own experiences there, and the time I was recording an album at the great Rockfield Studios at Monmouth, South Wales. The owner, Kingsley Ward, became a good friend. He's a genuinely really nice guy and he made sure there was always a generous supply of alcoholic beverages whenever we were up there working. Not only that, but he also has a gold Rolls-Royce, which was about as rock and roll as it gets. The trick was to get up early enough to catch a lift off him when he went up to the village of a morning, thus achieving maximum posing-off value by turning up at the local newsagent for your morning paper in a Roller, complete with spiky hair, shades and a snow-white tan. Very "fur coat, no knickers". Sorry, very "fake fur, no knickers". And dont forget the glass of vino.... or in our case a bottle of cider. All great fun but a bit mental. One morning I turned up with my old mate Icen, fellow drummer, keyboard player and all-round good egg, to pick up the usual magazines and papers etc. And stood in the queue of morning office commuters and assorted schoolgirls was no other than bass player Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath.
"Look! Bloody Geezer Butler, there! Look! Do you think he heard me?" That was an understatement, as I expect half of friggin’ Wales heard him. Geezer looked round at us two and smiled.
"Hello matey," I said.
He nodded in a polite friendly way. "Awright," he said.
"Quick," I urged Icen, "what bloody paper has he bought?"
It was The Observer, so it was decided that that would be the paper that we would buy. If Geezer reads it, then we'll read it! Thus dumping our two copies of The Sun and Daily Star in favour of some stupid paper that we'd never read. Anyway, there's no pictures in The Observer, but it's amazing isn't it what you do in an excited moment of hero worship, when you're still young and the last time you saw this guy was from the front row at Hammersmith Odeon, tenth anniversary concert with Ozzy, Tony Iommi and the great Bill Ward on drums. (Check out ‘Symptom Of The Universe’. If you read this Bill, Mr Ward, Sir, "Nice one". A favourite all-time drum track, sheer power.)
But Rockfield is a funny place like that. You don't know who you're going to bump into. On one occasion we went down the pub in the village for a quiet night of posing and a few bevs, thinking we would be the only band around for miles. Wrong! The place was bloody full of celebs. In one corner there was Dave Edmunds’ drummer, complete with milk stout and wellies! And a bloke called Paul Martinez, bass player with Robert Plant. He lived next door to the pub! And next door to him was his brother Ray, out of Showaddywaddy! Apparently old Planty would often pop in for the quiz night, and Pete Way of UFO was busily emptying the fruit machine. It was so bizarre. I said to Icen, fellow drinking matey: "If Elvis walks in now, I'm going tee-total, mate!"
I would get up early in the mornings and practice piano in the studio. There was a beautiful black piano and I would go in and play it before there was anyone else around. Later, however, I found out that Freddie Mercury had used that same piano on several classic Queen tracks. I believe ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ was recorded there, and on that piano, amongst others.
Yes, Rockfield Studios was a very special place to be. I loved it there, the people were lovely, there's a nice chippy, and it's a great atmosphere in which to do an album.
I once asked Kingsley Ward if there were any major incidents or interesting stories he could tell me regarding Rockfield’s history. He said: "Only Ozzy Osborne, when he was here...". Apparently they'd all been telling ghost stories and the band told Ozzy that his cottage was haunted by a terrifying ghost. Later that night they played a trick on him, which freaked him out completely. He shot out of the window of his room, and he ran off across the field, completely naked apart from the pink duvet off his bed. He just kept running and ended up in the local pub, where he had a few drinks with the locals, then got a lift back from a very bewildered farmer. Imagine that, walking into the pub and there's one of the biggest names in rock and roll, sat drinking with all the farmers wearing absolutely nothing but a pink duvet. And nobody seems to bat a bloody eyelid there. Perhaps they're just used to it.
Y'know, I once went to an interview for Melody Maker with Gillan's bass player, big John McCoy, who had produced The UK Subs’ first album, ‘Another Kind Of Blues’. We were driven there and back by our manager, so had quite a hefty afternoon of drinking. On the way back to the car to be picked up we crossed the concrete multi-storey car park, which was above a Tescos supermarket. John was bustin’ for a wee, and said: "Watch that nobody comes out of that bloody lift, will ya?" Well, halfway through poor John's wee, the lift doors opened. There was nobody there, but I just couldn't resist.
"Hiya ladies!" I said, convincingly.
"Oh shit!" shouts John, in mid-piss, and darts round the corner out of sight, only to bump straight into some lady shoppers and their trolleys. Imagine seeing him coming round the corner, all panicked and still wee-ing, straight into your trolley full of shopping. If he'd stayed where he was he'd have been okay. I don’t think he ever forgave me for that, but it was so bloody funny! Sorry John.
I drew a cartoon of John McCoy and Gillan's band on a wall in the studio once and had to have it repainted. I also drew the cartoons on a dressing-room wall in France where Gillan was to perform the next night. I hope they saw them. I used to love Gillan's band, especially with Bernie Tormé on guitar.
There have been quite a few hilarious events during the course of my UK Subs-ism. It was probably the best time of my life.... then and the MGMM years. The first video I did for MGMM ever was Elton John's. I forget the song, but he was using a stunt double for a dance routine, who had to use his blue glasses, which were his 'everyday specs' at the time. It was my job solely to look after these glases as they were clearly a favourite pair. Nice work if you can get it. What a great job, minding Elton's specs for a few hours! A bit like the time I was working on Freddie's Barcelona.... they all presumed I must be in total agony when my tooth fell out, and they told me to grab a beer and sit out the rest of the shoot. Actually it was only a crown that had fell out, but all I had to do was play the sufferer .... I do a great sufferer when required. Anyway, the first thing I had to do ever for MGMM was to knock on Elton’s dressing room door and say: "I've been sent to guard your blue specs." He was such a nice bloke. I'll never forget the experience, and I guarded those bloody specs with my life all day, and when I gave them back he thanked me and gave me a bottle of wine, which I kept for ages. Well, until the next time I was skint, anyway.
See you all soon.
Stevie Ze Suicide
Hope you enjoyed Steveies recollections!!!
Rock Legends at Rockfield will be published on September 15th by University of Wales Press. It's now available for pre-order on www.amazon.co.uk