In 2004 Dan Hawkins, then of The Darkness, purchased Leeders Farm here in Spooner Row.
For those that don’t know, The Darkness is a British rock band formed in Lowestoft, Suffolk in 2000. The band originally consisted of Justin Hawkins on lead vocals and lead guitar, with his brother Dan Hawkins on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, whilst Frankie Poullain played bass and provided backing vocals alongside Rufus Tiger Taylor the drummer.
Their debut album, Permission to Land, went straight up to number two in the UK charts upon its release on 7 July 2003, before going to number one and staying there for four weeks, eventually going on to sell 1.5 million copies in the UK
2004 had been a very special year for the band in that back in the February they had won three Brit Awards, coming out top in Best British Group, Best British Rock Act and Best British Album. This TV show attracted 6.48 million viewers.
Having bought Leeders Farm Dan set about converting one of the outbuildings of the 17th century farmhouse into a rehearsal space for the band and enjoyed the farmhouse as a restful escape.
The band went on to release their second album, One Way Ticket to Hell… And Back, on 28 November 2005. This album was produced by rock producer Roy Thomas Baker, best known for his work with Queen and although the album reach platinum status, it only debuted at number 11and fell to number 34 in its second week of its release.
With Dan’s brother and fellow band member Justin Hawkins admitted to a rehabilitation clinic in 2006 the band cancelled several concerts and delayed starting work in their third album due early 2007. Uncertainties’ surrounding the band continued into October leading to rumours that Justin was leaving The Darkness resulted in media stories and a statement on the bands official forum;
“We’re sorry that you had to find this out through the newspapers, but we were hoping until the last minute that this – Justin’s exit – wasn’t going to happen. We – Dan, Ed and Richie – are still in total shock and can’t say at this stage what the future holds. We would like to thank all our fans, partners and family for their continuous support. You will hear from us, once we know what we want to do…”Twitter
The on 9th November 2007, it was announced on The University of East Anglia’s Student Union Website that a new band had been created comprising Dan Hawkins (lead guitar), Toby MacFarlaine (bass), Ed Graham (drums) and Ritchie Edwards (vocals/guitar). The name of the band was The Stone Gods.
This brings us up to 2008 when an article appeared in the Eastern Daily Press announcing a new multi-million pound recording complex here at Leeders Farm in Spooner Row.
Music producer Nick Brine explained that he was transferring his talents to rural Norfolk and set up with his friend ex-Darkness guitarist Dan Hawkins a new multi-million pound recording complex here at Leeders Farm. Having previously worked with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Oasis and Ash, Nick continued his work with both current big names and local stars of the future.
“We would spend a year or two on tour and come home for a couple of weeks before having to leave again to go to some dingy rehearsal space in London. I thought if I turned the barn into a rehearsal area the band could come and stay here in comfort,” he said.
But it was when Nick, whom Dan met while recording The Darkness’ second album in Wales, came to visit Leeders Farm in Spooner Row that plans escalated and they decided to build a commercial studio.
And the upgrades did not stop with the new studio, a football pitch was added and although the EDP went onto mention “a lake with boat” I think a little exaggeration was taking place here. The eight-bedroom complex offered everything a modern band could want but retained the cosy rustic farmhouse feel, mostly decorated by Dan and his dad, to make it a plush home from home.
“It is a multi-million pound complex. Staying in the house is almost like staying in a hotel as all the meals are cooked and people come in and do all the cleaning so the bands can just concentrate on the music,” explained Dan.
It was his new band Stone Gods, made up of ex-Darkness members Ed Graham and Richie Edwards and new boy Toby MacFarlaine, bass player for former Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, who were first to christen the new facilities when they worked on their new album. For Nick the chance to create a studio from scratch was too good to miss and we went on to make Norfolk the permanent base for Dan, taking taking on the management of the complex together with producing.
“I started at 16 as a tea boy and general runner at the well-known Rockfield Studios in Wales and worked my way up from there,” he said. “It was set up in the 1960s and one of the first well-known songs was Dave Edmunds I Hear You Knocking. Others followed such as Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in the 70s and in the 80s it was bands like Rush. When I arrived in the 90s it was the indie bands such as Oasis, The Verve, Ash and the Stone Roses.”
In the EDP article Nick explained that his early freelancing life had seen him given the opportunity to work all over the world, including in America for “The Boss”.
“It seemed a bit unreal for a 25-year-old from Wales to be working with Bruce Springsteen but he was the most laid back, charming, humble guy you could ever hope to meet, with loads of interesting stories.”
Returning to the studio project back at Leeders Farm Nick explained that the setting up had been a daunting prospect, even for an experienced duo as passionate about music as Dan and Nick. “Leeders Farm caters for vintage analogue as well as super high end digital, with much of the equipment sourced from legendary studios via auctions and the internet. The trouble is, with the control room – which actually had an old tractor and some chickens in it when we started – you can really only tell if you have got it right or wrong once it is all in and finished – and if you haven’t it can be £100,000 down the drain,” said Dan Hawkins.
Luckily, all the artists who have so far taken advantage of the facilities – including most recently American Seasick Steve, who was boosted by a second appearance on Jools Holland’s annual Hootenanny New Year’s eve show – love the sound.
In an article for The Independent” in September 2008, Steve Wold (otherwise known as Seasick Steve) explained that he and his family re-located to Leeders Farm to record his second album, “I Started Out With Nothin and I Still Got Most of It Left”. “I’m still nomadic,” he says. “I moved about so much when I was young that I got f**ked up that way. I’m always burnin’ to move to the next place, which ain’t so good when you’ve got a family. My wife says home is Norway. I say it’s nowhere. But Norfolk will do for now.”
Sargasso Trio and Violet Violet are just two of the local acts which have made use of Leeders Farm, along with The Lost Levels, Fever Fever, Alloy Ark, Magnet Man, Bad Touch, Black Sharks and Nausia. But the facilities have also drawn in a plethora of international acts to the Norfolk countryside, with several finding their ways down to The Boars pub in the village.
Indeed, without the studio, the cat suits and hair-metal guitar solos of The Darkness may never have made it into the public eye, with the band’s rock sound perfected at the complex.
It was said that if you were lucky, Dan Hawkins might even make an appearance on your record, with Norfolk-based act Magnet Man already receiving the pleasure of the renowned guitarist walking in on his session.
The main studio was considered by Nick to be one of the busiest and best high-end commercial studios in the country – it was booked out most of the time to major artists and labels but “downtime” also made it available to local, unsigned artists and those on lesser budgets.
Returning to the EDP article, Nick explained “With the second studio we have the opportunity to provide excellent commercial facilities to local musicians and bands. There has been no compromise on the equipment and fully commercial recordings can be obtained”.
And when asked as to what did Dan Hawkins think of it, he replied “Dan loves the studio and has already used it for a few of his projects – he even decided to record his latest album with Stone Gods here, when he could have chosen anywhere in the world. He really liked the feel of the place and found it very creative. Once he heard the vintage microphone pre-amps in there he was hooked, they really do sound amazing! Anyone hearing their new album can discover for themselves the depth and quality that can be achieved in there”.
The Stone Gods played a home gig at Norwich’s Waterfront on Wednesday, 30 January, 2008.
In 2010 the Studio advertised an expansion to their list of creative courses and song-writing workshops. And then on 25th August 2011, the Eastern Daily Press ran an article explaining that the Studio was to close.
Nick Brine explained that the popular building had seen its last recording session as Dan Hawkins had gone back on tour following the rebirth of The Darkness after a five year hiatus and the company’s lease on the property had expired. Popportunity Rocks decided to move to the more cost-effective but larger Rockfield Studios, near Monmouth, Wales, where it would also have the room to expand into other areas of the music industry, including band consultancy and management.
“We spent a great five years in Norfolk and we did a lot in the local music scene. We helped bands go up to the next level with a great facility which they did not have access to before and we made it affordable. I was quite surprised at how many really good musicians and bands there were,” he said.
Not much was heard from Leeders Farm April 2010 when ITV did a piece on The Darkness reforming and Emma Baker met with Dan and Justin down at The Boars . The boys went on to explain that they were feeling good about life and that the newly reformed Lowestoft band was back with a vengeance. So much so that international pop icon Lady Gaga has asked them to support her on her forthcoming tour and that they would be performing at Thetford Forest in July.
The Darkness’s fourth album, Last Of Our Kind, was released on 1 June 2015 and mention was given that much of the follow-up to 2012’s “Hot Cakes” was recorded at Leeders Farm Studio.
Leeders Farm was sold by Dan on 15th March 2011.
PS. The http://www.leedersfarm.com/ website is still up and running and gives a full list of the artists that used the studio at Leeders Farm