Fields of Rock

Counterculture be damned – once fortunes have been made in the stadium, the band heads for the hills. Alice Cockerell finds that rock stars are tamed by nature

April 18 2020


A friend recently sat next to Bryan Ferry at a smart dinner party, where the Roxy Music legend was surrounded by aristocrats. “So, who’s your favourite duke?” she asked jokingly. “Buccleuch!” he replied, without hesitation.

Forget being anti-establishment, befriending the best of Burke’s Peerage is in: wellies have been squeaked over leather trousers to headline Knebworth; albums laid down in sound-insulated statelies; and the adrenaline of bloodsports draws a music industry crowd.

“When I go fishing,” says Roger Daltrey of The Who (pictured, right, in the 1980s), “I come away feeling like I’ve smoked half a dozen joints.” In fact, Daltrey, Ferry (who’s son Otis was arrested in 2004 for breaking into the House of Commons to protest a ban on hunting with dogs), Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd), and Eric Clapton were members of the “Countryside Rocks” campaign that supported the Countryside Alliance.

Then there’s Ed Sheeran, who bought a country estate in Framlingham, Suffolk, in 2011. He has just been granted planning permission to build a chapel or ‘prayer retreat’ on the property, after hiring newt specialists to prove that the endangered great-crested variety won’t be disturbed by his worship plans.

When not fronting The Who, the gentrified Daltrey is a distinguished fish farmer who breeds trout so he can “invite all my old workmates from the sheet-metal factory to come fishing”. But operations for his four interconnecting lakes are directed from the Jacobean splendour of Holsmhurst Manor.

Eric Clapton is a crack shot and adept with a twelve bore. “He came on a very ropey partridge shoot with us,” says a gun from Somerset. “All the beaters were singing Clapton songs to drive the birds. Happily his ear-muffs were so smart, he didn’t hear a note!”

Historically, the aristocracy and rockocracy have rubbed up nicely. Jools Holland found love with Christabel McEwan – the ex-wife of the Earl of Durham – and a bromance with the Prince of Wales. “I have friends who are in the posh category and some who are in the not-at-allposh category, and some who you would find it very hard to get any sort of handle on,” he says. Meanwhile, the Big Pink’s Robbie Furze and pop star James Blunt have married landed girls, in the form of Lady Mary Charteris and Lady Sofia Wellesley.

The Rolling Stones – or rather the Rolling Sloanes – epitomise the progression from stage god to country squire. “There was a moment,” says one former aristo groupie, “when Mick was going out with Sabrina Guinness, his PA was Miranda Guinness, and his money was handled by Prince Rupert Lowenstein.” Band-mate Charlie Watts now breeds Arab horses with his wife Shirley on their 600-acre stud farm in Devon. The Stones drummer is said to walk straight off the stage after a gig, toss his drumsticks to a flunky, and clamber into an old Land Rover to be back home before midnight.

Alex James, songwriter and bass player for Blur, has made a second career as a cheesemaker from his Oxfordshire farmhouse. “I sometimes think of myself as a monk. Monks make cheese and music,” he says. “I walk down the street in Chipping Norton and people say, ‘Oi, Cheese Boy!’ It used to be because I was in Blur, but these days it’s all about cheese.”

Similarly, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd lives a bucolic life – his family’s frolics in meadows all documented by photographer Sarah Lee on her Instagram page – and credits his band’s newfound mellow vibe to “an awful lot of downtime, which was home time for all of us – in the country. I don’t think any of us became fully-fledged rock’n’roll people.”

Some were born posh and found rock salvation. “Bunter”, the Duke of Beaufort, head-bangs with his band The Listening Device; while Loyd Grossman and Guinness heir Valentine Guinness have what must be the world’s poshest punk band. Tax-wise, farming is the way to dispose of your rock pounds. “However stately the home, if you can show that it has a semblance of agriculture, you skip inheritance tax,” my accountant advises. “You also get to use red diesel, which is a boon.” What rockers manage less well are the rural detractors that come with their new estates – village biddies, eco warriors, and county councils fling injunctions rather than knickers. It is not just newt wars; endangered bats have held up Noel Gallagher’s stately-home improvements, and Roger Daltrey is battling to build a new guesthouse on his estate. We fans may have to accept rock gods falling off the wagon and breeding the rare oxen that tow it instead.