Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Monmouth connection

At the start of the year, I did a little post on the development of my musical tastes in childhood and young adulthood.

I closed that piece by mentioning that accident of birth (I was born in the small Welsh border city of Hereford, and spent my childhood in the even smaller town of Monmouth, 20 miles to the south) may have had a significant influence on the evolution of my interest in music, and I threatened a further post on this at some point. It had slipped my mind for 9 or 10 months, but here it is at last.

For odd reasons lost in the mists of economic history (well, it was never plausibly explained to me, anyway), a record pressing plant was established a little outside of Monmouth (in the 1980s, it transformed into a CD pressing plant). Possibly predating the record plant a little, a recording studio was founded down at the bottom end of the town, in the area known as Rockfield. These studios became quite influential for a while in the '70s: most notably, this was where Queen recorded their landmark albums Sheer Heart Attack and A Night At The Opera  (I remember the studios actually got a mention in the credits on the gatefold sleeve of Night). Nimbus Records also set up shop in the area around about then.

So, there was a lot of activity in the music business in the neighbourhood where I grew up. I never saw any of the members of Queen when they were briefly in town to do those recordings, but I did quite often see people like Les Gray (lead singer of a band called Mud, briefly famous in the early '70s for a song called Tiger Feet - one of the greatest of the cheesy hits of that era, or of any era) and Robert Plant (also a fairly well-regarded vocalist), who bought houses in the area. Mott The Hoople, a band of some note at that time (Queen's first tour of America was supporting Mott! That's what that otherwise incomprehensible lyric in Brian May's Now I'm Here - "Down in the city, just Hoople an' me" - was about!), hailed from Hereford. So did The Pretenders. A decade or so later, EMF emerged from the Forest of Dean, midway between Hereford and Monmouth. Nick Lowe - a less illustrious name, perhaps, but a very influential and respected figure - also lived in the area for a while. I think the first gig I ever saw was Nick playing unplugged in my first local, The Nag's Head, in the early '80s.

Because of the recording connection, and the beautiful rural scenery of the surrounding Wye Valley area, quite a few rock stars acquired country homes round about. But they weren't full-time residents, and you'd only ever spot them once in a blue moon. More interesting to me was the community of session musicians the town attracted - guys who could play guitar or drums like gods, but just didn't have the ambition (or the craziness, or whatever it is that it takes) to want to be in a successful band, who were content just to make a decent living in the studios during the day and then hang out like regular people in the evening. Seeing one of these chaps step up to play on a small pub stage could be an astounding experience.

Robert Plant would usually arrange an end-of-year party for this local music community if he was around. And my brother would usually get invited through a couple of these session men who were drinking buddies of his. And a couple of times he took me along with him. These would be low-key, utterly unadvertised, invitation-only affairs in unremarkable local venues - but they were often quite star-studded, as Robert would inveigle all sorts of rock biz aristocracy to show up and jam. You'd do your best not to act too starstruck; and the booze flowed so freely at these things that you'd soon be struggling to recognise people anyway. But then you'd have a transient spell of lucidity where you'd find yourself saying out loud, "Fuck me! Isn't that The Edge?"

Those were probably two of the greatest shows I've ever been to; but, unfortunately, I don't remember too much about them.

Well, I remember the women. What is it about rock stars that attracts gorgeous women like moths to a flame?? I think I made a fool of myself more than once trying to hit on women who were clearly out of my league at those parties (you know, they might have been married to Jimmy Page, or something...). The memory loss is probably more of a psychological ego-defence strategy than a consequence of over-indulgence in booze and weed.



Aw, just for old times' sake - here's a blast of Tiger Feet.


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