Rock stars and Surrey – from John Lennon and Keith Moon to Eric Clapton
PUBLISHED: 16:13 16 June 2014 | UPDATED: 08:36 31 March 2015
The Surrey countryside has long been a draw for rock royalty from John Lennon and Keith Moon to Eric Clapton. In his new book Rock Atlas, author David Roberts traverses the nation in pursuit of musical history, and here he shares with us a few of his favourite Surrey-related anecdotes
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine February 2012
Keith Moon’s pyramid-shaped home, later rebuilt as a snail shell...
St Ann’s Hill Road, Chertsey
The Who’s larger than life drummer, Keith Moon, lived at Tara, a home built in the shape of pyramids and named by the original owner after the southern mansion in Gone with the Wind. The eccentric structure was party central during Moon’s ownership between 1971 and 1975, when he sold the place to Kevin Godley. The 10cc man then sold in turn to Erasure’s Vince Clarke, who demolished the place but, to his credit, created an equally eccentric rock star fantasy home featuring a futuristic snail shell-like house and recording studio. Still standing as it did in the Seventies, at the bottom of the winding drive to the house is a building that was a familiar and much-loved part of Keith Moon’s life, his handily-placed local hostelry, the Golden Grove pub.
Bow Wow Wow go wild in the country
Priory Park, Reigate
In a 1981 reconstruction of Manet’s famous painting Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, the new wave band Bow Wow Bow posed for the cover of their See Jungle! See Jungle! album (and also the following year’s Last of The Mohicans EP) at a location in Priory Park in Reigate.
The Surrey beauty spot, which is overlooked by the North Downs, is a 200-acre woodland area, but not really the most private place for a photoshoot involving a degree of nudity.
Although the cover failed to get used in the UK and US, it still presents a much-seen image due to the controversial nudity of singer Annabella Luwin, who was only 15 at the time.
Photographer Andy Earl recalls the original concept of Bow Wow Wow manager Malcolm McLaren.
“He came up with the idea of copying Le déjeuner sur l’herbe on the Saturday and then we went on to shoot it on the Monday,” recalls Andy. “I remember driving around Surrey looking for locations in my old Land Rover, and eventually found this spot at Priory Park in Reigate.”
Paul Weller’s Town Called Malice
The Jam’s single A Town Called Malice is reported to have been based on Woking, a town much-changed since the young Paul Weller kicked a ball about in his local streets.
Meanwhile, the title of his best known solo album, Stanley Road, is the Woking back street where he grew up. Sadly, his former two-up two-down Victorian family home is a distant memory as the road has since been redeveloped as a one-way street with offices and flats.
Joining Stanley Road in the hall of fame is Walton Road, where the teenage Weller played some of his first gigs at the then Working Men’s Club, now the Woking Liberal Club.
From Peter Sellers to Crosby, Stills and Nash via The Beatles
Brookfield, Fulbrook Lane, Elstead
The beautiful Brookfield estate was made remarkable by the property-buying chain that saw Peter Sellers sell to Ringo Starr who sold to Stephen Stills.
The 15th century oak-beamed house, complete with Japanese deer pond, waterfowl and stables, was owned by Peter Sellers when he married Britt Ekland. The actor added a cinema above the garage and, at vast expense, imported a beautiful front door all the way from Italy. Rumour has it that Ringo Starr later adapted the door by cutting a cat flap in it for the family’s Siamese cats.
During Ringo’s time, the place was the location for a meeting convened in January 1969 to attempt to get The Beatles back together to finish the Let It Be album. George Harrison was the defector summoned to Brookfield and the attempt to get back was successful, the four switching studios from the cold and not very nice atmosphere at Twickenham, as George put it, to their studio at Savile Row.
When Stephen Stills first rented, then bought the house from Ringo Starr, his period in Surrey coincided with a rich vein of form in 1970. Escaping the infighting surrounding supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young back in the States, Stills set about writing and recording his first solo album, commuting from Brookfield up to London’s Island Studios, where both Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix contributed to the LP.
Through all the rock ‘n’ roll changes at Brookfield, one thing was constant: the presence of the estate’s gardener John. A calming influence over all he met, Stills even wrote a song about him: Johnny’s Garden appeared on the first Manassas album.
But it wasn’t the only legacy left by the pipe-smoking herbalist who had a profound effect on all Brookfield’s tenants: Peter Sellers based his performance of Chance the Gardener on John in the 1979 movie Being There.
Eric Clapton’s legacy of Layla
Hurtwood Edge, Ewhurst
Eric Clapton moved into his 1910 Italian-styled villa, Hurtwood Edge, in 1969 and it was here he wrote Layla for Pattie Boyd, who he later married. The house became love nest, band rehearsal HQ for Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, and Derek and The Dominos, and of course home to the reclusive guitarist himself.
The Dominos’ keyboard player, Bobby Whitlock, recalled writing songs with Clapton by the fireside at Hurtwood Edge, although Layla, Clapton’s signature song and the standout track on Derek and The Dominos album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, was one song Clapton worked on alone in his bedroom.
When Eric finally did marry Pattie, in 1979, a party to celebrate the occasion at Hurtwood Edge saw Mick Jagger, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Denny Laine, Ginger Baker and Lonnie Donegan join Eric on stage for a jam in the garden.
On another point of interest, Bobby Whitlock, remembers visits to the local pub, The Windmill, at Pitch Hill: “We wrote I Looked Away, then we went down the village pub for sausages and beer.”
All these stories and 684 more feature in Rock Atlas by David Roberts. The book is available at amazon.co.uk, Waterstones and all good independent book stores.
And a few more Surrey rock tales
• In the four years that John Lennon lived in Weybridge from 1964, The Beatles cemented their status as the world’s biggest band.
• Ringo Starr is a keen photographer and has a house in leafy Cranleigh.
• The Faces’ Kenney Jones owns Hurtwood Park polo club in Ewhurst and singer Mick Hucknall lives by Burhill Golf Course in Walton-on-Thames.
• Status Quo's Francis Rossi is happy living the quiet life in Purley's Webb Estate.
• Discover life down The Farm with Genesis' Mike Rutherford.
• Genesis Publications in Guildford has been creating limited edition hand-bound books mainly about rock stars and bands for over 35 years.
• Queen guitarist Brian May lives with his wife, the actress Anita Dobson, in the West End area, near Woking, where they have an animal rescue centre in the garden.
• Recording studios: the now closed Strawberry South studio in Dorking was opened by 10ccs Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart, in 1976, and is said to be where parts of Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder’s Ebony and Ivory were recorded.
• Ginger dreadlocked Surrey songsmith Newton Faulkner once worked at Fanny’s Farm Shop near Redhill.