Rock Star Stories From The Studio

by | Jan 26, 2022

By Linda Serck

Stuart Epps is a man with a 40-year career in studio engineering and production. With his own studio now set up in Cookham, he shares some of his many rock star stories from the past.

“I’m sure they thought there that I had a lookalike agency.

“I would go in the pub with Noel and Liam Gallagher, Robbie Williams, Mark Owen – they must have thought ‘surely these can’t be the real people’.”

But they were. Cookham’s Stuart Epps was running Wheeler End Studios near High Wycombe at the time and would take his artists down to the Brickmaker’s Arms down the road.

Stuart Epps in his Cookham studio

“We went in there with Liam one day,” Stuart recalls, “he only has to have one glass or two glasses of wine and he gets drunk. He gets extremely loud, swearing all over the place and very lairy but he was very loveable. Always chatty.”

Stuart, 56, has enjoyed a successful career as studio engineer and producer for the last 40 years, and sits in his new studio in Cookham recounting this story – one of many of his rock anecdotes.

His work has taken him all over the world, including a stint as Elton John’s PA and setting up the world-famous Mill Studios in Maidenhead. But for now he’s momentarily transported back to 1999 when Oasis were recording Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants.

“Liam was just brilliant, I got on with him straight away, he was much more outward and we all had a good time.”

Stuart Epps on Liam Gallagher

“Noel had come on his own to the studio. He wasn’t particularly friendly – he was okay, just sort of polite. He brought all this incredible equipment down, more than I’d ever seen in my life: 200 guitars.

“Then one afternoon he said ‘that’s it, it’s all coming to an end we have to pack up.'”

It transpired Liam had discovered Noel was at Wheeler End and Noel feared his younger brother would trash the place.

“We just assumed Noel must have told his brother about coming to the studio,” says Stuart, “but apparently he was doing this on his own and Liam didn’t know anything about it.”

A couple of hours later Liam arrived. He walked in and, in contrast to Noel’s expectations, was impressed with the psychedelic-looking studio, describing it as being like “Jimi Hendrix’s bedroom”.

“Elton, ‘Reg’, was always off the wall, like a Spike Milligan of music really.”

Stuart Epps on Elton John

“Liam was just brilliant,” says Stuart, “I got on with him straight away, he was much more outward and we all had a good time.”

And that’s not all. Oasis form but part of a long line of legendary artists Stuart has worked with.

Elton John

Stuart began his career working working with Dick James – The Beatles music publisher – after leaving school at 15.

One of the song-writers there was a then little-known aspiring artist called Reginald Dwight – later to become Elton John.

Elton John in the 1970s

Elton John in the 1970s

Stuart and ‘Reg’ became friends, with Stuart helping the performer recording his early demos. Stuart then started work as an assistant to producer Steve Brown, who formed the DJM label and helped put “Elton’s career into shape”.

Then, at aged 18, Stuart was asked to be Elton John’s personal assistant on his second American tour in 1970.

“I’d never even been to America before,” says Stuart. “I’d turned up at the airport with Elton, with the band, to now go on a three-month tour of America so it was pretty crazy stuff.”

He remembers: “We didn’t have limousines at that time, just normal hire cars and the gigs were 300-seater theatres, so no massive halls or anything.

“It was new to all of us, we were all youngsters in the States and it was an amazing eye-opener, especially for Elton. And Elton really took off, specifically in LA at the Troubadour where people like Bob Dylan came to see him.”

And Stuart was at the forefront of witnessing the transformation of Elton John – the singer and piano player who barely talked to the audience – into Elton John the flamboyant star.

“Elton, ‘Reg’, was always off the wall, like a Spike Milligan of music really,” says Stuart.

“He would dress to make you laugh or to impress. He’d come in wearing a Noddy shirt or he’d always wear something outrageous or outlandish.

“He was actually a very shy guy so it was some sort of way of getting over your shyness. If you dress like Father Christmas you’re going to get a laugh.”

Noel Gallagher and Jimmy Page

Stuart has worked with Noel Gallagher + Jimmy Page

He adds: “In America he knew that this is the place where he’s either going to do or die and make it or not. So his thing was ‘I’m just going to get noticed here’, even if he falls flat on his face.

“I can remember very specifically the first gig where he just stopped playing the piano and got off up the piano and started banging a tambourine and trying to get the audience clapping along. It was a bit embarrassing to start off with.

“And when he started wearing all those outrageous clothes that was embarrassing as well, but it was all his idea, he just wanted to outrageous and be like all his rock ‘n’ roll idols.”

The Mill Studio

Stuart then went on to work closely with Elton’s producer Gus Dudgeon, helping him build the world famous Mill studios in Cookham in 1974.

“It was an amazing experience,” says Stuart. “It was Gus’s dream to one day produce the best studio in the world. He bought this old Mill property in Cookham and it was only supposed to take six months to build but it took two years to build.

“Maybe it was his way of keeping sane, but he would keep a record of everything.”

Stuart Epps on Bill Wyman

“It was only supposed to cost £200,000. It ended up costing a million pounds, which in 1974 was maybe 10 or £15 million now.”

At The Mill Stuart worked with lots of emerging artists, including a young Chris Rea in 1978.

“We’d listened to his demos and very much liked his songs and his voice,” says Stuart. “That was one of the first projects we did, an album called Whatever Happened To Benny Santini. There’s a song on there called Fool If You Think It’s Over, which I was lucky enough to sing on, and that became a big hit.”

Also at the Mill Elton John recorded his album Single Man, featuring Song For Guy, and legends such as George Harrison from The Beatles and Bill Wyman from The Rolling Stones would also pop in.

“I worked on and off with Bill Wyman for about 20 years. What’s funny about Bill,” Stuart reveals, “was that he very fastidious about writing everything down.

“Maybe it was his way of keeping sane, but he would keep a record of everything.

“So when we were working together he would have a pad next to him. Even one day, which was when I thought ‘this has gone too far’, he picked the phone up and was obviously talking to his wife. Then he went over and wrote over on the book ‘wife rang, 2.30pm.”

Rod Argent of The Zombies

Rod Argent of The Zombies at Stuart’s new studio

Jimmy Page

Gus Dudgeon sold The Mill in 1981 to Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, who kept Stuart on as studio engineer and producer.

“This is where we mixed the last Zep album and Jimmy did the film music to Death Wish 3. Jimmy also had a band called The Firm with Paul Rogers and we did that album.

“He’s an amazing producer, quite a shy guy,” remembers Stuart. “He played the guitar with a bow and was very inventive with effects. He was very interesting for me to work with.”

Stuart’s new studio

Having worked at all the aforementioned studios, as well as Abbey Road and Capitol Studios in Hollywood, Stuart has now set up his own studio in Cookham.

He is currently working with new artists such as Claire Toomey and The Blue Bishops, for which The Zombies’ Rod Argent came into Stuart’s studio to play the keyboards.

Speaking about his 40-year career, Stuart says: “When we were all 18 you kind of thought music was something that you’d grow out of and that it was a young person’s game. The mad thing is that everyone’s still doing it.”