Was there a ghost in the machine when Radiohead recorded its groundbreaking album, OK Computer, in 1996? Working on the follow-up to its critically acclaimed sophomore effort, The Bends, the Oxford group started recording in a converted apple-storage shed for a month, tracking “No Surprises,” “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” “The Tourist” and “Electioneering.” Then Thom Yorke and co. decided they needed the inspiration of a new setting. So they upped sticks and moved themselves and their equipment further west to Bath, deep in the lush, green heart of the English countryside, and into actress Jane Seymour’s 15th-century mansion, St. Catherine’s Court. “Studios are generally very horrible places for recording,” guitarist/keyboardist Jonny Greenwood told The Irish Times in 1997. “They’re pretty unmusical, so we just decided to turn a big empty house into a studio … [Jane] said to us, ‘come and stay,’ handed us the keys and told us to feed the cat.”
For two months, Radiohead took advantage of the unique home of the English star of Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman and Live and Let Die. Seymour fell in love with the house instantly when she made the film Jamaica Inn there in 1982, and she purchased the property by the end of the first day of filming. Having spent years restoring it to its former glory, Seymour decided to allow others to use it when she wasn’t around. Recently, New Order and Robbie Williams recorded at the house, and The Cure has stayed there several times. But it’s the modern masterpiece, OK Computer, that seems most informed by the vibrations of the one-time monastery in which King Henry VIII kept his illegitimate daughter, having paid his tailor to raise her. (Incidentally, historical scholars might recall that Henry VIII’s third wife was also named Jane Seymour.)
Estate manager Grant Fanjul says the place’s appeal lies in being self-contained, with everyone living, working and eating together. In fact, Fanjul is usually the one preparing the musicians’ hearty meals and calling them to chow down in the kitchen at 1:00 and 8:00 p.m. every day. He also believes they appreciate being in the middle of nowhere, away from motorways or neighbors and enveloped in absolute quiet. “When we actually stopped playing music there was just this pure silence,” Yorke told Spin in 1998. “Open the window—nothing. A completely unnatural silence. Not even birds singing.”
Recording takes place anywhere in the house, which has nine bedrooms, six bathrooms and two kitchens, but the size and acoustics of the ballroom usually make it the main ‘studio.’ “We set up in the ballroom and the control room was set up in the library, which had these amazing views over the gardens,” bassist Colin Greenwood told Fender Europe. “There were some magical evenings as we sat down with pieces of music with the windows open.” Yorke even recorded the haunting vocals for “Exit Music (For A Film)” in the stone entrance hall of St. Catherine’s Court, but he said that something in the house started to work against them after a while, rewinding and turning tape machines on and off. He’s convinced the house is haunted and Grant Fanjul confirms there are three known ghosts at St. Catherine’s Court—although he’s never seen them. A mysterious lady in blue caused one of the gardeners to leave the property the day he saw her, never to return. Another alleged ghost is that of an informer who could not forgive himself for revealing the whereabouts of local monks, who were then murdered. And according to Fanjul, there’s also a ghost dog that barks and brushes up against you as it passes by. So that’s where OK Computer gets its creepy vibe.