Windmill still turning out genius

This picture was taken in Studio 1 during the making of the album Another Country in 1992.
The picture includes: Brian Masterson (founder of Windmill Lane); Willie Nelson; Matt Molloy, Sean Keane and Martin Kay of the Chieftains; Aiden Mc Govern (assistant Engineer); Kris Kistofferson (with sunglasses); Paddy Maloney at front.

David Prendeville

Windmill Lane Recording Studios are an iconic piece of local and national heritage. A vast array of major artists have recorded there over the years – U2, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Kate Bush – to name just a few.

The recording studios were originally located in Windmill Lane in the Dublin docklands, but they moved to Ringsend in 1990.
Brian Masterson founded the studios in 1978, but sold them in the mid 2000s. There is speculation as to whom it was sold to but the person will remain unnamed.

In 2006, the studios were the subject of another sale, this time to Aidan Alcock, Naomi Moore and Tony Perrey. This trio were also founders of Pulse College, originally situated on Camden Street. Now Windmill Lane operates not only as Ireland’s leading recording studio but also as the home of Pulse College, which offers courses in music, audio, film and animation.

Despite the extraordinary history of both the recording studios and the building itself, many people are unaware of its significance. As Aidan says, “A lot of people go past this building, not knowing what it is.” Naomi adds, “People still associate us with [being] down in the original Windmill Lane, the building itself was demolished recently, people were emailing us saying the business is gone, not realising we’ve been in Ringsend for thirty years.”

This lack of public awareness is one of the motivating factors that has led to Naomi, Aidan and Tony to announce that Windmill Lane are to launch the ‘Visitor Experience’ in late October. Naomi explains that this is, “to complement what we do in the business, but also to give people an idea of what happens behind the scenes within a recording studio, without compromising our client privacy, as it is a working rock n’ roll studio ongoing.”

Naomi continues that the idea for the tour came from the success of a U2 fan night they held last year, after a gig Bono and company were playing. “We thought we’d bring in some of the U2 fans and show them around, because they’re always at the door anyway. So rather than them banging on the door constantly we brought them in. We said we’d let about 150 in but overnight we got over 2,000 enquires about coming in and it kept going up so we had to whittle people out.”

This was a light bulb moment for the trio, making them realise that, “there is something special about the place, people do want to come and see it. So we then devised a whole experience that they could come in and see. Not just that they come in to see the spaces, but also to have a bit of behind the scenes stuff and a bit of the history of the building and the company and the clients.“

One of the highlights of the tour is when visitors are offered the chance to experiment with sound mixing themselves in Studio Two. Here they will have the opportunity to put their own stamp on a track being performed by Windmill Lane’s own band.

As Naomi tells it, “On this tour we want to give people an idea of what it’s like to record a mix, we’ve brought our own band in and the people will be able to work with them. It’s to make the experience as immersive as it can be so that you learn something, but in an interesting way.”

People get the chance to experiment at a desk where lots of hits have been recorded, Naomi citing The Script, Kylie Minogue, Jonas Brothers and Ed Sheeran, as just some of the examples. 

The vintage, analogue equipment on display in Studio One is something to behold. The speakers in this studio alone, at the time of their purchase, cost more than it would be to buy property in the area. The mixing console, “would’ve cost in the region of £250,000 in the late eighties.” according to Aidan.

Keeping analogue alive is something that’s very important for the trio. Naomi commenting that “most things are not like this now and have moved on to digital. It’s really important to persevere with the history of this kind of recording as well.”

Among the artists who have performed at the desk in Studio One are The Rolling Stones and Lady Gaga. Many film soundtracks have been recorded in this studio, including The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Mask and A River Runs Through it. The studio and console are also famous for having featured in a scene in The Commitments.

The Studio One live room, which will play host to a spectacular projection show to close the tour is also particularly notable in that it is, as Aidan explains, with the exception of RTE, the only recording studio that can hold an orchestra. “It would be one of the biggest live rooms in the world, it would be able to hold so many musicians. I think the most we’ve had is about 80 or 86 musicians playing at the one time. When you’d hear the likes of Riverdance, you can imagine that every single channel on that mixing console is being lit up by the microphones in order to create that.”

An aspect of the tour that might appeal, particularly to locals, is the sense of the history of the building. It was originally an electricity station for the tramlines which used to run next door. It went from being a tram station to being a Bovril factory until sometime in the 1970s it was converted into a high-end snooker hall, first owned by Pat Quinn, of Quinnsworth fame.

It became Jason’s Snooker Hall until Windmill Lane set up there. Naomi expands on the importance of this aspect of the tour. “It’s good for the area, in that we are bringing in the history, right back to Cromwell, so we touch on all those things, and the Rising, and the history of the area and the importance of Ringsend to the area at the time as well, and the evolution of that. We’ve been in the heart of that, really, since the early 1900s.”

There really is history in every corner of the studios. The walls are adorned with picture after picture of figures as eclectic as Mick Jagger to Garret Fitzgerald. Sleeves of Grammy award winning records recorded there proudly hang on the walls. The building is itself an extraordinary artefact.

Recording has evolved over time, the immersion in modern recording techniques and a call-back to the tactile pleasures of analogue also provide a comprehensive and educational framework for those with even the slightest interest in music and sound recording. It all makes for fascinating stuff, that has diverse pleasures to offer.

Tickets must be booked in advance: