Windmill Lane: A Documentary

Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2020-10-18)

Windmill Lane is a name familiar to most U2 fans. The recording studio in Dublin was originally opened in 1978 and was the site of many of U2’s recording sessions, including the ones that lead to the album Boy 40 years ago.

The studio is now the focus of a new documentary called Windmill Lane. The documentary is making the rounds of various Irish film festivals currently, and we had the opportunity to take it in. The film is directed by Alan Moloney, and released by Parallel Films. A description of the film by Screen Ireland reads, “Ireland at the turn of the millennium. A grimy warehouse in a corner of Dublin’s docklands becomes a mecca for music and the arts. This is the story of a group of extraordinary people who were brave, bold and groundbreaking enough to leave their mark on an incredible time of change in Ireland and the world.” The documentary features interviews with many of the names involved in Windmill over the years, including Bono, Adam Clayton and The Edge.

The film starts out with a look at Dublin and where history had left it at the end of the 1970s. The dockland area was a rougher area of town, and the studio was built in a former shoe manufacturing facility. The studio started work with a number of Irish artists, and U2 was one of the first rock bands to record in there. At the end of the 70s there was a feeling that Ireland was poised to have a new cultural revival and the founders of Windmill Lane were there to capture it. The film focuses on James Morris, Russ Russell, and Meiert Avis, three important figures in the history of Windmill Lane.

The story takes us through the 80s, where artists like U2 and Def Leppard produced hit records in the studio, and into the 90s where the film studio was responsible for much of the video wall content for Zoo TV. Not only the work for U2 is featured, we see interviews referencing the recordings done there by artists as wide ranging as the Virgin Prunes, Clannad and the Chieftains. We also see an exploration of the development of TV3 in Ireland, branching out into commercial work for Irish products, and many other aspects of the Windmill Lane business.

This isn’t a U2 story. Those there just to see U2 won’t be disappointed though, the documentary features the U2 story heavily. They feature interviews with Bono, The Edge, and Adam Clayton. They also speak to Paul McGuinness, U2’s former manager; Meiert Avis, a director who made most of U2’s videos in the 1980s; Gavin Friday, a longtime friend of the band, and current creative director for U2; Steve Lillywhite, who produced many of U2’s albums; Richie Smyth, who directed much of the Zoo TV footage and many U2 videos; and Anne-Louise Kelly and Barbara Galavan from Principle Management.

On the U2 front we look in detail at the recording of the first U2 album, which Lillywhite says was done before any of the band had personalities except for Adam. They show the stairwell which Lillywhite used to record the drums and The Edge talks about how they had to wait each evening for the receptionist who used the area went home. The band talks about forming, and meeting Paul McGuinness for the first time. The Edge says that they approached Bill Graham for help finding a manager, as they “didn’t know what a manager did” but everyone had one. McGuinness stood out as he had gotten the band Spud an early tour of Sweden. McGuinness himself worked out of the Windmill Lane complex early on in the early days of U2.

It was working at Windmill Lane that lead to Bono working with Clannad on the song “In A Lifetime.” A nearby bar, called Dockers Pub was frequently used by people at the studio to take a break, and during one such break, Bono and members of Clannad started talking about an unfinished piece of music, and Bono came back to the studio and added his own touches to the song.

One aspect of the lesser known Windmill Lane ties to the band were explored in detail. Director Meiert Avis was involved in Windmill Lane and worked extensively in the video studios there. When taking a break from recording, Bono would often wander down to see what Avis was doing, and when it came time for the young band to make a video, it was Avis that Bono went to see. The documentary details the video shoot for “Gloria” shot at the Grand Canal Docks which was just a short walk from the Windmill Lane location. The documentary also tells the story of the video shoots for “New Year’s Day” and “Where the Streets Have No Name” both done by Avis, as well as the video for Clannad’s “In a Lifetime”. It was the Windmill Lane video studios that was responsible for all of the video footage used for Zoo TV, and director Richie Smyth talks about how they would take over the studio at night and work till the early hours creating video footage. He also discusses shooting the video for “The Fly.”

The film runs about an hour and 30 minutes in length. The film is made up of interview footage, older archival footage, and older photographs of the studio. The documentary is cut with music from many of the artists involved in recording at the studio. If you have an interest in the more technical side of U2’s video and recording history it is a great documentary and we highly recommend taking a look if you get an opportunity. The film is currently showing as part of the Kerry International Film Festival, and limited tickets to view the film online are available until tomorrow evening or until quantities run out.

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