Leo Lyons Photography

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Arthur Brown, Rockfield Studios and Me

Portrait of singer Arthur Brown at Glastonbury Festival in 2010
Musicians Dirty Ray and Arthur Brown at Glastonbury Festival in 2010
Dirty Ray with the legendary Arthur Brown at Glastonbury Festival in 2010

In the early summer of 1970 or maybe 71, when I was fifteen (or sixteen) years old, my parents suggested I take up my uncle Harry’s offer of some summer employment at his petrol station and cafe in the village of Redbrook in the Wye valley outside Monmouth. My Uncle had two daughters who I had always got on with and nothing much was happening in Peterborough so I agreed. It was a good move. Alison the younger of my cousins was at Monmouth Girls School and therefore gave me access to a whole bevy of beautiful – if somewhat posh,  teenage schoolgirls.  The family had a nice house, a record player and a stack of Bob Dylan records and a more relaxed attitude to parental supervision than my parents.  There was a buzz about Monmouth too.  It had an old cinema which was now being managed by a ‘head’ in his mid-twenties and showed things like Easy Rider.  My cousins knew the manager so we usually had the’ royal’ box complete with curtains – handy  for those times when snogging with one of the Monmouth school girls needed to be a bit private. Even more intriguing was the recording studio apparently just up the road in a village with the wonderfully appropriate but genuine and ancient name of Rockfield. We knew that Dave Edmonds had recorded ‘I hear you knocking there’ and still lived in the area.  Andy Fairweather Low was also rumoured to be a local.

The evening hang out for me and my cousin was the Beaufort Arms. A faded but still respectable hotel in Monmouth town centre which tolerated us under aged drinkers of Forest Nut Brown ale in its back bar. Mr Edmonds was to be occasionally spotted there, suave in tight snakeskin trousers, propping up the bar.

One night Alison and I and a few others were in this establishment, perched on bar stools and feeling very grown up when a strange presence  was felt behind us.  I could discern, in the mirror behind the bar, a very tall man, seemingly dancing on the spot. When it didn’t seem too un-cool  I turned round to get a look at him.  He was a vision of strangeness.  Well over six feet tall, he had long lank brown hair but only on one side of his head.  He sported a beard and moustache but only on the opposite side of his face to the hair.  His trousers appeared to have been fashioned from an old Turkish carpet. I nodded to him, as you did in those days and he offered me an apple.  When I declined he dropped it into his beer. A buzz spread round the bar.  This was the legendary Arthur Brown.

After closing time I was in the car park waiting for my cousin before walking home when I was grabbed from behind, lifted off my feet and propelled across the tarmac to the open doors of a  transit van.  I was dumped in the van and the doors were closed. Over the next few minutes the doors opened again several times and half a dozen or so other abductees joined me in the back of the van – all of them female and young. This was intriguing and exciting but I don’t remember any of us being particularly scared by our apparent kidnapping.  Eventually Arthur and his manager got in the front of the van started the motor and declared we were invited to a party – at Rockfield studios.

We drove off into the Monmouthshire night and arrived some time later at the farm.  It was a farm.  There were cows and tractors and the studio was a converted barn with improvised sound insulation, mattresses and the like.

The party began.  There was live music including glorious mellotrons and a fabulous light show.  Exotic substances were being smoked.  I don’t think any of us youngsters were seriously compromised but at one point Arthur grabbed me, drew close me to his half shaved face and tried to kiss me, passionately.  It should be explained that at this time I was very slight and willowy and had shoulder length blond hair and was probably wearing velvet loons. I protested loudly, despite being somewhat flattered, that I was a guy. Arthur, somewhat shocked apologised and stumbled off to find someone of the other gender.  His manager, who had witnessed the encounter thought this was hilarious and promptly re-christened me Sarah. A name which stuck for the rest of my stay in Monmouth. Much later we were driven home by my older cousin, Christine who was dating one of the studio engineers – Ralph, who was also Keith Emerson’s  keyboard tech.

We hung out with Arthur and Kingdom Come for their stay at Rockfield.  Apart from the weekend when they all went off to play at a new festival in Glastonbury. An event which, to my eternal regret I was forbidden to attend by my Aunty Audrey. My older cousin did go though.

The album they were making was Galactic Zoo Dossier and we even took part in the recording – joining in on the chorus of a song which I recall featured the lyric ‘We want your brains for further education’ and holding down the keys on a Hammond organ to produce a throbbing swell that introduced  another track.   Strangely I never owned a copy of the album – probably peeved that I didn’t get a credit or royalties.

I did however acquire a copy of the legendary and rare Neon album by Spring – a local band who also recorded at Rockfield – a copy of which recently sold on E-bay for over seven hundred pounds.  I still have that album.

As a coda to this story a good friend of mine, one time lead singer of the Immaculate Fools and now recording as Dirty Ray did a few gigs in France a few years back with Mr Brown.  Ray recounted my story to Arthur and he swore he remembered the occasion – though not the failed embrace.   Even stranger, another friend of mine last year found himself driving Arthur for several hours to a gig somewhere in England and unprompted Arthur told his version of the story himself.

PS Since writing this I met Arthur again at Glastonbury  and had a chat. He did remember the party and we had a good laugh and reminisced about long distant days.

PPS A copy of the Spring album sold last month for over £1200.