Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Iggy Pop at Rockfield

I'm a big fan of Iggy Pop so it was disappointing to learn that he made his first ever bad record in Wales. Hitherto his albums - The Stooges; Fun House; Raw Power; The Idiot; Lust For Life; Kill City; New Values - had been pure genius and more or less set the template for punk. But in 1979 when he came to record Soldier at Rockfield studios in the Wye valley it all went horribly wrong.

The legendary American star would spend three tortuous months in rural Wales. For someone who is regarded as the embodiment of rock excess it must have been an odd experience. How was he supposed to conjur his trademark urban/garage sound when he was surrounded by fields? He couldn't even enjoy a proper roll around on broken glass in those verdant parts.

Having come to the studio straight off the back of an exhausting tour the mood in the Pop camp wasn't exactly great to begin with. And the American was now under immense pressure to come up with some new songs that had commercial appeal. The remit of producer (ex-Stooge) James Williamson was to create a record that would finally bring the artist some mainstream success.

Almost immediately there was a power struggle between singer and producer for creative control of the record. Cut off from civilisation as they were, the simmering tension between the two became even more intense. And unfortunately there was just nowhere to go to blow off steam. Into this poisonous atmosphere waltzed David Bowie and his companion of the time Coco Schwab. Apparently Bowie arrived wearing a cape.

Whilst the Thin White Duke entertained the rest of the gathering with showbiz anecdotes Williamson seethed at the recording desk. Things came to a head when Pop and Williamson had a disagreement over some song lyrics. A bitter stand-up row ensued. Bowie and Schwab made their excuses and retired to bed. The following morning Williamson was gone - he had had enough.

Meanwhile the sessions dragged on. And on. Rockfield engineer Pat Moran was now given the responsibility of finishing the recordings. The group though struggled to muster enough creative energy to complete the job. Pop even resorted to singing in the farmyard in a bid to nail the right vocal. The mood was apparently so gloomy that keyboard player Barry Andrews would drive off to the nearest school and stand outside the gates just so that he could see some happy smiling faces.

When Soldier was eventually done and dusted, the result was Iggy Pop's most uninspiring studio album ever. It briefly occupied the number 125 spot in the US chart before disappearing from the radar altogether. Its ultimate destiny would be as a perennial make-weight in one of those 5 crap CDs for £20 offers that you get in HMV.

*You can read a more in-depth account of Iggy Pop's 3 month sojourn in Wales in Paul Trynka's excellent Iggy Pop biography entitled (naturally): Iggy Pop - Open up and Bleed.