A square old building stands next to the bus depot on Dublin’s Ringsend Road. It looks forbidding, a bit like a bunker.
Inside, amazing music was recorded and mixed while the world went by.
Kate Bush’s dogs of loveThe chiefs The long black veil, obligations Soundtrack and PJ Harvey’s To bring you my love were made here. Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran and AC/DC recorded in the building. U2 cut Zooropa and pop and mixed Attention baby in his studios.
I love the idea of people making music history hidden in audio bubbles while buses go back and forth outside.
Windmill Lane Recording Studios embarked on their studio tour (windmilllanerecording.com; €22/€15) just before Covid struck. After that hiatus, it’s running again as an intriguing and entertaining 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 moving videos, got a chance to work on a mixer, put our ears where a sound engineer would (“That’s the sweet spot,” said studio head Aidan Alcock), and sat at the Neve console for photos 72 channels in Studio One. This legendary space can accommodate an 80-piece orchestra; Its wooden floor is also there river danceThe steps of were recorded.
Music fans may remember old Windmill Lane. The original studio opened at Liffey Quays in 1978 (where a burgeoning U2 recorded Young, and fans later flocked to graffiti the walls).
The move to Ringsend took place in 1990 in an unusual Art Deco building which also housed a Bovril factory, tram depot power station and billiards hall. In the center of this Neve desk, an eighth ball from the old desks serves as a mouse.
“If it fits, so be it,” said former owner Brian Masterson.
Good studio tours naturally focus on past successes, play on the hiss you feel when artists sing extraordinary lines or play the chords you grew up with – I’ll never forget Elvis’ haunting earliest recordings at Sun Studio in Memphis Listen.
But Windmill Lane is also a working building. During the tour, Studio Two was occupied by “a client”. Assumptions were answered with a wink and a smile: “We can neither confirm nor deny!”
Some find the tickets expensive, and I felt that some amps or instruments would enhance the experience (although bands tend to bring their own, as Alcock explained), or maybe a mic or two, which the stars use.
But our group consisted of visitors from the US, Italy, Ireland and the Netherlands and we all had fun.
I was as intrigued by the small memorabilia as I was by the large studio – a framed fax from the Fugees, for example, read: “We’re booked from 11pm until tomorrow morning, but expect something to happen!”
The tour ends with a ghost story, a refreshingly smooth sell-out of the merch and an evening spent at home searching for albums recorded on Windmill Lane.
“We must have [music]’ as Masterson says in one of the videos. “We can’t live without it.”