If recent rock documentaries like Apple TV+’s eight-part “1971” have whet your appetite for more of the same, check out the Coda Collection, a new subscription streaming service available via Amazon Prime Video. It offers an encyclopedic selection of films on the subject.
That includes Hannah Berryman’s “Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm” (it begins streaming May 29), which shows how five decades of rock history were produced alongside the pigs and cattle of the Welsh farm of the title.
As teenagers, the brothers Kingsley and Charles Ward dreaded the prospect of taking over the family farm and dreamed of becoming rock stars. They put together a demo tape and managed to get an audition with Beatles producer George Martin at the EMI record label. Unfortunately they couldn’t get their tape recorder to work. They decided that though they might not make it as rock stars they could transform the farm, with its rambling spaces, into a recording studio.
At first conditions were primitive — the brothers invested in some equipment, used empty pig feed bags for acoustic padding, and charged local musicians five or ten pounds to record. In 1970 the then little-known band Black Sabbath took up residence. “We’d never been in a studio!” recalls lead singer Ozzy Osbourne. “We’d never been on a farm! Everything was new.” So was heavy metal, the genre of music which the band developed there.
Other bands followed — Queen (Freddie Mercury composed “Bohemian Rhapsody” at Rockfield, in 1975), the Stone Roses, Rush, Oasis (“I don’t remember anything,” jokes Liam Gallagher about the place where the band recorded “Wonderwall”), Coldplay, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Simple Minds, Robert Plant, and dozens of others. They found focus, serenity, and a genial atmosphere living and dining with the Ward family while indulging in rafting, shooting, drugs (“We started out as a rock band dabbling in drugs and ended up a drug band dabbling in rock,” Osbourne laments), pub crawls, and the occasional donnybrook. It was a cross among a working farm, a summer camp (”Like some sort of musical Hogwarts,” says Chris Martin of Coldplay), a B&B, and an asylum where rambunctious rockers could isolate themselves in idyllic surroundings and focus on their latest opus.
Berryman relates this in an easygoing style that combines the requisite, whimsically animated reenactments, interviews with long-in-the-tooth subjects, a tour of the still active, ramshackle, lushly green grounds (lots of cows, geese, and horses), and archival snippets of performances.
Some interviewees provide shaky insight into their creative process. “We were very good at playing in one key,” says Dave Brock of Hawkwind. “You could play a half an hour in the key of E and not be boring.”
More detailed is Martin’s description of the origins of the band’s hit song “Yellow.” After Martin gazed at the stars at Rockfield, Neil Young’s distinctive pronunciation of the word “stars” came to mind. Then he glimpsed a copy of the Yellow Pages, and it all snapped into place. After this recollection the film cuts to a performance of the song almost 20 years later in front of an enormous cheering crowd in Sao Paolo. And it all sprang from a simple farm in Rockfield, Wales.
While visiting the Coda Collection site check out another film on its roster, Paul Morrison’s “24 Hours: The World of John and Yoko.” Rarely seen since it broadcast on the BBC, in December 1969, it captures with “Dont Look Back” (1967)-like breathlessness and immediacy the title two on the cusp of the Beatles’ break-up. But that rupture isn’t much on their minds as they plan and pursue a promotional blitz for peace that involves interviews with alternately crass, sycophantic, and condescending members of the media.
“The campaign hasn’t been going as long as Coca-Cola’s or Shell, and the identification symbols aren’t as well known,” Lennon explains to someone skeptical about his success in selling “this peace thing.” “It’s going to take us a few years for them to know when we say ‘peace’ what it means.” So why doesn’t he attach it to the brand he has been best known by? “If it has the name ‘Beatles’ on it it’s going to sell,” he says. “But then you’ve got to think what are you selling?”
Some moments stand out in retrospect. In one scene Ono relates a dream in which she receives a warning eerily premonitory of Lennon’s murder in 1980. In another sequence Gloria Emerson of The New York Times, a prizewinner for her reporting on the war in Vietnam, scoffs at the pair’s naïve tactics at seeking peace. When Lennon expresses pride in “Give Peace a Chance,” which had been sung by half a million demonstrators at the Vietnam Peace Moratorium in Washington, D.C., the month before, she says, “So, they sang one of your songs. Great song, sure. But Is that all you can say about that?” Five decades later they are still singing it.
Go to codacollection.co.
Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.