The real story behind how Rush made A Farewell To Kings
Rush’s seminal fifth album A Farewell To Kings celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Here, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and producer Terry Brown recall how they made it
It’s a rare day of sunshine in the Welsh countryside. Since the band had arrived it had been slabs of grey skies and low clouds over the green hills.
Seen from above, the residential Rockfield Studios in Monmouthshire is a block of buildings – the old stables, filled with glass sheets, act as a real echo chamber – set as a quadrangle around the main courtyard.
Spotting a rare interlude in among the constant drizzle, drummer Neil Peart is quickly out on the cobbles, toying with some percussion blocks, their repercussive zing bouncing sharply off the surrounding bricks.
Somewhere above the collective heads of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and producer Terry Brown, a light bulb sparks into life.
Brown brings a stereo mic out to the centre of the courtyard and wires it up as Lifeson looks on, strumming his acoustic guitar. It’s quiet, birds chirrup, and in the distance, a nonplussed herd of sheep stand at the fence. “Those knocking sounds at the beginning of Xanadu,” says Lee, rapping on the oak table between us for effect, “that’s the sound of the courtyard, the natural sound of that square. We got such a nice reflection off the buildings, we knew we could use them in some way.
“The guitar at the start of A Farewell To Kings, the title song, was recorded outside too. The acoustic was recorded out there to get that really crisp sound and I remember Alex was walking around this mic that Terry had set up while he was playing. He was just like a troubadour – he was playing as he walked around and, naturally, every troubadour has his guy trailing behind him playing a Minimoog!
“So I’m playing the Minimoog outside and Neil’s hitting the twinklies or whatever he was hitting off the front of that – he was always hitting something – and Alex is walking around this mic recording the opening to A Farewell To Kings, so it was quite fun. You can hear the Welsh birds singing in the background, unless they flew in from somewhere else – they could be accidentals, as they’re called in the trade.
“Farewell… was quite a different piece for us, because of the way the intro’s structured, and then it comes in with a bang and there’s this weird time signature going on. It’s a tough song to play.”