There’s a boxy old building beside the bus depot on Dublin’s Ringsend Road. It looks forbidding, a bit like a bunker.
ut inside, some astonishing music has been recorded and mixed as the world walked by.
Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, The Chieftains’ The Long Black Veil, The Commitments soundtrack, and PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love were made here. Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran and AC/DC have recorded in the building. U2 cut Zooropa and Pop and mixed Achtung Baby in its studios.
I love the notion of people creating musical history, hidden away in audio bubbles as buses ground back and forth outside.
Windmill Lane Recording Studios launched its studio tour (windmilllanerecording.com; €22/€15) just before Covid hit. After that disruption, it’s running again as an intriguing and fun exploration of a building that seems to have a story for every step (Charlie Watts recorded drums for The Rolling Stones’ Voodoo Lounge in the stairwell).
We watched evocative videos, got a chance to work a mixing desk, placed our ears where an engineer does (“That’s the sweet spot,” said studio director Aidan Alcock), and sat for photos at the 72-channel Neve console in Studio One. That legendary space can fit an 80-piece orchestra; its wooden floor is also where Riverdance’s steps were recorded.
Music fans may remember the old Windmill Lane. The original studio opened off the Liffey quays in 1978 (it was where an up-and-coming U2 recorded Boy, and fans later flocked to add graffiti to the walls).
The move to Ringsend came in 1990, to an unusual Art Deco building that has also housed a Bovril factory, tramline depot power station and snooker hall. In the middle of that Neve desk, an eight-ball from the old tables serves as a mouse.
“If it fits, it’s meant to be,” former owner Brian Masterson said.
Good studio tours naturally focus on former glories, playing on the sizzle you feel standing where artists sang extraordinary lines, or strummed the chords you grew up listening to — I’ll never forget hearing Elvis’s haunting earliest recordings at Sun Studio in Memphis.
But Windmill Lane is also a working building. During the tour, Studio Two was occupied by “a client”. Guesses were met with a wink and a smile: “We can neither confirm nor deny!”
Some may find tickets pricey, and I felt some amps or instruments would add to the experience (bands tend to bring their own, however, as Alcock explained), or perhaps a mic or two used by the stars.
But our group included visitors from the US, Italy, Ireland and the Netherlands, and we all had fun.
I was as intrigued by the small mementos as the big studio — a framed fax from the Fugees, for example, read: “We have booked from 11pm through to early AM tomorrow, however expect anything to happen!”
The tour ends with a ghost story, a refreshingly soft sell on the merch, and an evening spent at home searching up albums recorded at Windmill Lane.
“We have to have [music]” as Masterson says in one of the videos. “We can’t live without it.”
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