My mum was a chef to rock stars including Queen and David Bowie

‘Look, that’s mum’s pan — the pan that fed the 70s!’ Tiffany Murray, wielding a large black-charred cooking pan, roars with laughter, beaming as if staring at a priceless historical artefact. Which she is. 

We’re in the small, unrefurbished kitchen of Rockfield Studios in Monmouthshire, South Wales, where her mum Joan was cordon bleu chef to the musical titans of the mid-to-late 1970s, from Queen to Lemmy to David Bowie. ‘But they were all so 70s skinny, they didn’t really eat,’ says Murray. ‘Freddie [Mercury] ate tiny bird portions, but he liked the drama of it, the boeuf bourguignons.’

Rockfield, the world’s first residential recording studio, was created by two Welsh brothers, Kingsley and Charles Ward, on their working farm in 1965. It became home to seven-year-old Murray in 1975. It’s richly detailed in My Family and Other Rock Stars, the charming memoir of her adventurous upbringing from the mid-70s to the early 80s. 

Queen at Rockfield Studios, 1975

Much like her book, Murray is irresistibly warm, a giggly 55-year-old author wearing an enormous rainbow-coloured mohair scarf, hooting with delight at how ‘nothing’s changed!’ Rockfield remains viable today, still a farm (sheep are wandering around), offering self-catering tourist accommodation alongside two studios (Paolo Nutini was here recently).

Murray has returned for promotional filming and leads me on a tour outside, where sunshine streams over a quadrangle of redbrick outbuildings, a row of which comprises tiny cottage-style residential chalets. 

Murray and Joan lived in one and she steers me inside, upstairs to the functional bedroom that hosts ‘my bed’ — she points to a single bed, then a double — ‘and Mum and her shenanigans were in this bed’. She cackles uproariously.

Beyond the window a weathervane perches on the roof of a lodge. Is this the weathervane that, as Rockfield mythology has it, inspired the immortal line in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Any way the wind blows’? ‘I’m saying yes,’ she declares. ‘If we didn’t create mythologies, then what is there to life!?’

Tiffany with a toy from Ozzy Osbourne, 1977

Many Rockfield mythologies are true.

This is where an amphetamine-fuelled Motörhead stayed up for 72 hours at a time, and where Oasis recorded (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? in 1995 — despite the Gallagher brothers’ infamous booze-berserk bust-up involving a cricket bat, air rifles, broken limbs and 13 smashed windows. It is where Coldplay’s Parachutes was written in 1999, after producer Ken Nelson forced a lyrically struggling Chris Martin outside.

‘Look at the stars!’ Nelson told the astonished, light-polluted then Londoner — the skies were shining overhead. The first line of ‘Yellow’ (and Coldplay itself) was born. ‘Rockfield,’ Chris Martin has said, ‘gave us our lives.’

It also gave Murray her lifelong freewheelin’ spirit, as so vividly described in her book, written from a child’s perspective, ‘which is the knee perspective’.

One unique narrative thread is about her mother Joan, whose original — at the time progressive — recipes, along with her amusingly arch recollections (she’s fond of the word ‘ghastly’) are collated throughout.

Young Joan was a professionally trained chef and a forthright, stylish, Lou Reed-obsessed, Biba-dressed presence in London’s swinging 60s. Her rock’n’roll cookery career began before Rockfield, in the early 70s, when she moved — with Murray — into the Vicarage, her new boyfriend’s sizeable home in Herefordshire, bordering Wales. 

With her mum Joan at the vicarage

She generated income by renting out the Vicarage to countryside-loving musicians. She placed an ad in The Times: ‘Rehearsal space for bands, no heavy rock.’ The first to reply were the group who practically invented heavy rock: Black Sabbath.

‘She had no idea,’ hoots Murray. ‘She asked, «Sabbath? Are they a choir?»‘

After Black Sabbath, more musicians arrived — including prog troupe Van der Graaf Generator, Ireland’s celtic-rock pioneers Horslips ­- and Joan cooked for them all.

At night, the bands slept in the house while Joan, her boyfriend and Murray used an empty stable. Murray’s bed was a mattress on the cold flagstone floor. She would sleep, fully clothed, alongside her Great Dane, Cleo, and Road Runner, her bantam cockerel.

‘It became an adventure,’ Murray says, wryly. ‘There were rats, but we had feral cats!’

One night she was spooked by a large creature on its back in the Vicarage graveyard, howling at the full moon. It was Ozzy Osbourne, naked. 

Nonetheless, she found the legendarily loose cannon harmless (‘a teddy bear’). One time he had enormous toys delivered in a Harrods van, including four green hippos, a purple octopus and a yellow-haired dog puppet.

As they were carried indoors, Osbourne was bewildered — he had no recollection of ordering them — and ignored them. Murray, delighted, was then given the puppet.

In 1973, when Queen arrived at the Vicarage, the feral cats plink-plonked along the keys of Freddie Mercury’s iconic white piano, where ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ began.

Many bands rehearsing at the Vicarage would then travel to record at Rockfield, 25 miles away. More importantly, owner Kingsley Ward started to hear ‘rave’ reviews of Joan’s food. In 1974 he rang to offer her the job of residential chef at Rockfield. Joan’s romantic relationship was now over, and she accepted, Murray proceeding to live with her in the redbrick quadrangle chalet. 

Initially sharing the bedroom, Murray was soon moved downstairs to sleep on a mattress under the pine stairs in the living room, Joan insisting she needed her ‘own bedroom’. Rockfield was home until 1976, when Joan and Murray relocated to a house 20 minutes down the road. Joan commuted to and worked at the studio until 1982, and Murray visited constantly after school.

‘It’s the same,’ says Murray with a smile, now seated in Rockfield’s Studio 1, surveying the herringbone parquet flooring and stunning 60s/70s ceiling tiles. Kingsley and Charles — the brothers who owned and lived at Rockfield — had five children between them, and Murray’s years here were mostly spent alongside them outdoors. 

The kids would pile on to a careering red-wheeled trolley, normally used for shifting amps. Otherwise, she’d ‘barge in here’ and sit beneath the motherboard with Boggle the dog, enthralled by the curious sounds made by these ‘big hairy men’: ‘Galileo! Figaro! Bismillah!’ — Queen, finishing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in autumn 1975. 

That year, Murray served Motörhead’s Lemmy his bacon sandwiches on the specified Mother’s Pride, the only food he’d eat, finding him ‘a gravelly sweetheart’. 

The ward children make the most of teen idol David Cassidy’s visit to Rockfield, 1974

She recalls the day the confederate-hat-wearing outlaw ‘couldn’t cope’ when his folks appeared for a lunch outing. Lemmy’s stepdad was in a golf-club blazer and cravat, his mum in a twinset and pearls. Hiding in the studio, he beseeched Joan, ‘You’ve got the voice for it. You go,’ and gave her £100 cash. Joan took Lemmy’s parents for a ‘delightful seafood platter in a swanky restaurant’.

In 1979, 11-year-old Murray served David Bowie poached salmon and couldn’t look him in ‘either eye’. In red trousers, drinking milk, he’d sit with one leg up on the dining-table bench, knee to chin, chain-smoking. ‘He was,’ she swoons, ‘very beautiful.’ 

Bowie was here on holiday with his great pal Iggy Pop, who was recording his album Soldier in Studio 1. Simple Minds were also there, recording Real to Real Cacophony close by in Studio 2. The errant Glaswegians instigated food fights with the willing Pop and Bowie (much cheese and bread went missing). Murray found the rock stars ‘gentle’ and, ultimately, ‘cartoons; larger than life and fun — and loud’.

Joan, now 81 and retired in Portugal, had an unexpected reaction to her daughter’s memoir: ‘She’ll kill me for saying this,’ confides Murray. ‘She said, «But darling, you’re not saying anything about what I’m doing with various people.» I was like, «Mum! It’s from a child’s perspective! I’m not gonna tittle-tattle about which musician you had a… fling with!»

‘She said, «Well, that’s boring.»

‘Mum, I wasn’t in the room!’

Murray shrieks with laughter, swears that she’ll never blab. ‘Not Lemmy. He definitely wasn’t on the list!’

Post-shenanigans, Joan began a relationship at Rockfield with producer David ‘Fritz’ Fryer, the man Murray came to know as Dad. The evolution of their relationship is woven lovingly through the book. (Fryer died from pancreatic cancer in 2007, aged 62.) He encouraged her independence, helped her to cycle without stabilisers and swim, sharing a sense of humour and a spirit of adventure.

In 1976, during that year’s unforgettable heatwave, Fryer played a nighttime game: eight-year-old Murray would climb on top of his green Morris Minor van and hang on to the roof rack, freestyle, under the starriest skies, while he drove around hilltop lanes at speed, blaring out The Flying Burrito Brothers and Gram Parsons: ‘I can still picture that skyscape,’ she recalls, ‘hear the cosmic music, hear the gamekeepers and jumping dogs. It was magical. I’ll always, always remember that to my deathbed.’ 

Murray’s memoir is a striking reminder of a now vanished kind of childhood: outdoor, risky, full of adult male strangers, laughably pre-digital; an upbringing that gave her a lifelong ‘sense of freedom, of improvisation’. Today she lives in a cottage in the Forest of Dean with her husband and two dogs.

Now in the Welsh drizzle we wander round to Studio 2, past a butterscotch cow in a field. ‘That’s Bonnie Tyler,’ announces Murray. Studio 2 is where her free spirit was further enhanced by post-punk icons Echo and the Bunnymen, Siouxsie Sioux and The Teardrop Explodes. 

She once spotted the latter’s Julian Cope on a nearby hill trying out interesting new drugs. ‘In a sheet,’ cackles Murray, ‘singing, «The hills are alive with the sound of music!» — and that was a normal day coming home from school. «Hi, Julian!»‘

Studio 2 is also where Adam and the Ants’ masterpiece Kings of the Wild Frontier was recorded in 1980. ‘Bloody brilliant,’ declares Murray, adding that Adam Ant was ‘gorgeous, but didn’t dress up’. 

She was by then an insubordinate 12-year-old who wore, to her grandma’s charity salmon luncheon at a local Herefordshire church, a T-shirt that read ‘We are all prostitutes’ over a photo montage of Margaret Thatcher appearing to flick the V-sign (from post-punks The Pop Group). ‘At that age there’s nothing your parents can do about you,’ she recalls, cringeing. ‘My slightly posh Welsh nanny [granny] said, «Put a pinny over it, dear!»‘

We stand together inside the unchanged wood-panelled vocal booth, me and the Rockfield kid, where Murray spontaneously erupts into song: ‘Ant Muuusiiiic!’ We’re now both shrieking, two women in our 50s, still adolescent music fanatics at heart. ‘It’s goosebumps here,’ she yelps. ‘It’s living history — the music never gets old!’

Millions of us, across the generations, ⭐⭐⭐All-in-one web analytics⭐⭐⭐ are Rockfield kids. We contemplate how music isn’t at the centre of youth culture any more — the phone is. ‘Yes, music has flattened out,’ Murray muses; ‘’79 to ’83, post-punk, Two-Tone, New Romantic… we were so lucky.’

But does every generation think that?

‘My parents’ generation did, in the 60s,’ she says. ‘I don’t think they do today. They’ve got loads of other things. Better teeth!’

As my cab pulls away, past the weathervane seemingly singing ‘Any way the wind blows’, a rainbow appears over yonder Bonnie Tyler. Just another everyday moment of cosmic Rockfield magic.


My Family and Other Rock Stars by Tiffany Murray will be published on 15 May by Little, Brown, £22. To order a copy for £18.70 until 26 May, go to or call 020 3176 2937. Free UK delivery on orders over £25. 

David BowiePaolo Nutini

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