Friday 28 October 2016

Building up and tearing our culture down

The demolition of the original Windmill Lane studios has blown away a place of great importance, writes Declan Lynch

Published 12/04/2015 | 02:30

Illustration: Jim Cogan
Illustration: Jim Cogan

The punchline, appropriately, was at the end. Reading through the story about the demolition of what was once the Windmill Lane studios, you eventually got to the part where the property investment company Hibernia REIT, had stated that it would "take into account" the site's history.

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Then you looked at the image illustrating the piece on - a picture of a building completely destroyed - and you had to laugh.

They would take the history into account, would they? They would have a good think about that, about all the artists of global renown who made so many records of such quality in there, and they would act accordingly?

If this is what "taking it into account" looks like, you probably wouldn't want to see what happens when they just blast away regardless.

Yeah, you gotta laugh, but it is laughter of the dark kind.

Not that some property investment company, acting within the law, has an obligation to do anything with any building they have acquired, other than whatever they want to do, and in this case they have at least done something - they have not knocked down the legendary Windmill Wall, with all the fans' graffiti, though there is speculation that it may be moved to some other place of commemoration, in whole or in part.

Otherwise we'll be looking at "residential, retail and office units" where once Van Morrison and U2 and the Rolling Stones and REM and Elvis Costello and John Martyn and the Waterboys and The Blades and Clannad and Kate Bush and Def Leppard and UB40 and Hot Chocolate too - anyone who was anyone, really, laid down tracks in those studios.

And while it need not concern the demolition crews, that a very important place in Irish history now lies in ruins, there are others to whom it should be of grave concern, who appear to have done nothing about it, or even been aware that there was anything to be done.

Most of us pay no attention to such things, we have not the vaguest notion of what is happening in the commercial property sector in Dublin's docklands, we have other things to be doing. We might have known that for all practical purposes Windmill Lane had moved its recording facilities to another premises some time ago, but until last Monday morning we did not think that we'd be looking at a picture of an enormous heap of rubble on the ancient site of the recording of The Joshua Tree.

Is there not a thing called the department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht which is supposed to know about such matters? Is it not within their remit to keep an eye on developments so that there is no chance that a site of the most profound cultural importance should be bulldozed? A site which has already proved its attractiveness to visitors who are prepared to leave their own markings on the walls, such is their desire to say, "I was there"?

How many more of these people would have been attracted to a restored Windmill that they could actually enter through the hallway in which Larry recorded the drum-sound on Boy? And over there, why, that's where Van used to rest up after turning out another little piece of magic, it's almost as if his spirit still lives here.

Yes you could see that working. In Memphis, Tennessee, they have the original Sun Studios which, due to the enlightened attitude of the authorities down there in the old South, has not been demolished. Instead they seem to grasp that Memphis may not have an Eiffel Tower, but it has something more important. It has the birthplace of the great art-form of the 20th Century.

And it is a great art-form at which Paddy has truly excelled. Due to the good fortune of our proximity to the richer cultures of Britain and the United States, and in our desperate desire to escape the limitations of our own country, we have displayed a genius for this thing.

We really have brought something to that party, from the earliest times when most Irish rock 'n' roll bands would not just feel obliged to move to London in order to succeed, for many of them that was the whole point of it. There was effectively no "Irish music industry" to be a part of, and the first edition of the Hot Press yearbook would have about three recording studios listed in the entire country.

So that time around the late 1970s, when Windmill Lane was founded, was one of those sweet cusp periods which happen so rarely, but in which everything changes for the better.

Now a band didn't have to go to England just to get a half-decent drum sound, now in fact they were coming from England to this place of excellence - for so many reasons it would be hard to conceive of a more significant institution in Irish culture than Windmill Lane, but once it was indeed conceived, and constructed, and it became such a powerhouse, it might have been an idea not to bulldoze it.

Yes the activities of Windmill can move to some other location, but this one off Sir John Rogerson's Quay was the place where it all came together, this is where you'd put the blue plaque on the front of the building.

If you had a building.

Sunday Independent

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