Surrey music stories from The Beatles and The Surrey Delta to Mumford & Sons and Disclosure
PUBLISHED: 10:31 11 March 2014 | UPDATED: 12:02 25 March 2015
For such a genteel ‘gin and Jaguar’ belt, our county doesn’t half produce some great music – whether you’ve got a taste for 60s and 70s rock or chart-busting dance. Here, we discover some of the tales and personalities that have given Surrey its impressive reputation in the music business...
Don’t stop me now…
He may be best-known as the guitarist with rock band Queen but, locally, Brian May is just as well-known for being a passionate campaigner for wildlife. The founder of the non-profit organisation Save Me, set up to protect British wildlife, in 2012 the music star hosted a major event celebrating British wildlife at Guildford Cathedral. A resident of West End near Woking, the 65-year-old has also been a leading inspiration in the fight against fox hunting and the ongoing battle against the UK badger cull. In fact, he was recently awarded the honour of campaigner of the year by the International fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Prior to that, in 2005, he was appointed CBE for services to the music industry and for his charity work. He is also a vice-president of the RSPCA and his Surrey home is said to be something of a wildlife refuge in its own right.
The Surrey Delta…
Those in the know keep an eye on Cranleigh Arts Centre’s Christmas schedule, where local resident, centre patron and Radio 2 DJ Paul Jones hosts his annual music concerts – always with a stellar line-up. Those who have taken to the intimate stage in recent years include Ewhurst resident Eric Clapton (born in Ripley, Slowhand would polish his guitar skills busking around Kingston and Richmond) and Woking-born Modfather Paul Weller (see top right for more on him) who appeared at the latest gig. In fact, these largely blues-led concerts are rather keeping a Surrey tradition alive. Clapton has lived at his Italian style villa in the Surrey Hills since the late 60s and it was in this decade that our county got the slightly tongue-in-cheek, Mississippi aspiring nickname Surrey Delta. The name was bestowed on the county due to Clapton, Jeff Beck (Wallington) and Jimmy Page (Epsom) all hailing from the area and taking guitar duties in blues legends The Yardbirds (themselves Kingston-based), before launching their own world-conquering careers.
The land of confusion…
The band bought the place back in 1980 and transformed it into a recording studio. They’ve done all their albums there since, and also hosted other rock royalty such as George Harrison and Eric Clapton no less.
While the studio is still hired out by bands today and is certainly equipped with all the latest kit, it harks back to the glory days of a different music generation, with a mixing desk the size of a small country surrounded by various music ephemera, abandoned coffee mugs and the occasional Genesis gold disc.
Of course, Genesis themselves have their roots in our county too – they first met as pupils at the venerated public school Charterhouse in Godalming.
One of the first residential studios in the UK, Ridge Farm in Capel is now available for holidays, weddings, corporate events and retreats rather than the musings of rock’s elite. Started in the early 1970s in a group of buildings dating from the 17th century and set in 13 acres of grounds, the studio hosted everyone from Ozzy Osbourne to The Three Tenors via Oasis during its lifetime. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that, despite still drawing headline artists such as Muse and Supergrass, Ridge Farm followed the suit of many other large studios in the UK and closed its doors as a residential recording studio.
Walton Road Working Men’s Club in Woking was where The Jam played and rehearsed in their early years. The Club was virtually adjacent to Paul Weller’s family home at 8 Stanley Road; an address that inspired the title of his hugely-successful 1995 solo album. These days, Weller owns Black Barn Studios, which opened near Ripley in 1985 and has hosted the likes of the Manic Street Preachers, The Who and, certainly one to please the neighbours, Motorhead. The Modfather also records his own albums there, of course, and The Jam’s former bassist, Bruce Foxton, recorded his latest effort there too – when speaking to Surrey Life in 2012 he recalled popping out for breaks at the village’s cafés and restaurants.
At home with The Beatles
In the four years that John Lennon lived in Weybridge from 1964, The Beatles cemented their status as the world’s biggest band. These were years that saw him write the songs for the seminal Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, meet Elvis (sadly not in Weybridge), play Shea Stadium in New York to 60,000 screaming fans, start Apple Corps, as The Beatles attempted to control their own artistic pursuits, and ultimately meet Yoko Ono. The idea for Eight Days a Week reportedly came to Paul on a cab journey to John’s home, Kenwood, while Day Tripper, In My Life, Good Day Sunshine and Across the Universe were just some of the classics penned at the house. Lennon wasn’t the only Beatle to live in Surrey. George long lived in Esher, where he was infamously attacked in 1999, and Ringo still divides his time between Cranleigh and LA. Last year, the drummer collaborated with the Guildford-based publisher Genesis to produce Photograph, a collection of 140 images interspersed with his own audio commentary and available as an e-book.
We don’t need no education
Hidden away above a bar in the Grade II listed Rodboro Buildings in the centre of Guildford is the Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM).
Formed almost 20 years ago, the ACM began as the brainchild of managing director Phil Brookes, a man looking to expand from the one-on-one guitar lessons he gave from his garage in Woking.
Over the years, a number of high profile figures have visited the ACM, including the likes of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and the country guitarist Albert Lee.
Undoubtedly the most high profile and regular visitor is Chad Smith, the drummer from legendary rock band the Red Hot Chili Peppers – in fact, the drum studio is named after him.
Newton Faulkner, Ted Dwane from Mumford & Sons and Dan Flint and Chris Miller from You Me at Six are among their most famous alumni.
No more heroes…
Six top ten albums and seven top ten singles, including classics such as Golden Brown, Strange Little Girl and Peaches, may have been the headlines of The Stranglers’ unorthodox career but the legend was, in fact, built largely on ice cream.
Their journey began in unlikely surroundings in the off-licence and ice cream business run from drummer Jet Black’s home at 61 Woodbridge Road in Guildford, where they all lived together, before moving to Chiddingfold.
Initially identified by the rather chilling epithet The Guildford Stranglers (named after the hometown they would grow to hate), they made their mark with their deliberately provocative persona and musical innovation.
Like a rolling stone…
A signed photograph of the Rolling Stones featuring guitarist Brian Jones and an original concert poster from the band’s 1963 gig in Epsom were auctioned by John Nicholson’s auctioneers in Haslemere in December.
The rare memorabilia came from the collection of twice mayor of Haslemere, Brian Howard, who was a local music promoter back in the 1960s and booked the Rolling Stones to play at Epsom Baths Hall.
“I booked them a few months before they’d released their first record and, although I always signed bands that were ‘on the up’ and likely to make it big, it was a risk at the time,” he says.
“It turned out that my biggest success was in signing the Stones. Their Saturday night fee was £60 to £70 – they’ve done rather better since then!
“When I arrived at The Hall that evening, Saturday December 14, there was a crowd of about 500 waiting for tickets! It was a complete sell-out.”
Also included in the auction was a guitar with a montage of autographed photos of The Beatles and original posters from other Brian Howard signings – rock ‘n’ roll legend Georgie Fame and the ‘founding father of British Blues’, Alexis Korner.
The signed photo of the Rolling Stones was sold for £3,000 to a buyer in London while the gig poster went for £7,500 to a no-doubt very proud new owner near Epsom.
Nights in white satin…
Celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, the Moody Blues are one of a handful of British Invasion bands still active and playing to full houses on a regular basis. These days comprising Justin Hayward, John Lodge and Graeme Edge, the band has a long association with our county. While the members have long lived here (Ray Thomas, who retired in 2002, lives locally too), the band also owned the Threshold Records music store in Cobham, which had a particularly upmarket clientele with regulars including comedian Matt Lucas, golfer Colin Montgomery and Faces drummer (and owner of Hurtwood Polo Club in Ewhurst) Kenney Jones. The band even performed an official re-opening at the store after a major refit in 2004 but sadly, as with so many music stores, it closed its doors forever in 2011.
When the Rolling Stones rocked the Eel Pie Island Hotel’s tattered ballroom, during their summer residency of 1963, gig promoter Arthur Chisnall hadn’t anticipated just how big the band, who had once been punters, had become.
“Never mind the hotel, the bloody island was overflowing!” he recalls in an interview for the book, Eel Pie Island. “If we had realised, we would have cancelled it.”
Lucky then, for the hoards of teenage bohemians who came to see the hottest new band on the British rhythm and blues scene, that Arthur hadn’t twigged.
But who would have guessed that the group playing on the hotel’s shabby stage would eventually go on to sell more than 200 million albums worldwide?
And who could have known that the 17-year-old boy who took to the hotel’s stage under the moniker of Davy Jones and the Manish Boys, for half a dozen gigs, would later become known as David Bowie?
And what gig-goer could have imagined, as they supped Newcastle Brown Ale (the house beverage) at the bar, that they were probably rubbing shoulders with the pick of today’s superstar musicians: Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, The Yardbirds, Pink Floyd and The Who, to name but a few. Maybe they would have bought the lads a few more rounds if they had known.
Brothers in arms…
Former Reigate College music students Howard and Guy Lawrence hit the big time in 2013 with their Mercury Prize nominated dance duo Disclosure.
The brothers’ debut album Settle was among 12 albums in the running for the 2013 award, alongside offerings from David Bowie and the Arctic Monkeys, and earlier in the year it had already beaten US behemoths Queens of the Stone Age to the top of the UK charts.
In January, the boys found out they had been nominated for four Brit Awards (best single, best British group, breakthrough artist and best album). Fingers crossed there will be Surrey success to celebrate at the awards ceremony on February 19.
Having previously attended Reigate School, the pair worked on their craft in a studio above their dad’s auction house, Lawrences Auctioneers in Bletchingley, while Guy used to teach drums at Eric Lindsey music, just off Reigate High Street.
They aren’t the first dance stars to come from the historic market town either: Fatboy Slim aka Norman Cook (or Quentin as he was then) went to Reigate Grammar School.
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