Inspirational Cork figure supplied instruments to musicians

 

Michael Crowley:NOT SURPRISINGLY, musicians from all parts of Ireland attended the funeral of Michael Crowley, the owner of a Cork institution, Crowley’s Music Centre on McCurtain Street in the heart of the city, who has died at the age of 69.

It was from Michael Crowley that Rory Gallagher, renowned blues-rock electric guitar player, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and bandleader, got his first small acoustic guitar.

It was also at Crowley’s that 15-year-old Gallagher later bought the famous “Strat”, the emblematic 1961 Fender Stratocaster that became the trademark of his distinctive style. A sculpture of the much-battered and stained electric guitar, reputedly the first of its kind in Ireland, is to be seen in Paul Street on the other side of the Lee.

The story goes that Jim Connolly, a member of the Irish Show Band, originally ordered a cherry-red Strat and so, when a “sunburst” version arrived from Fender, he decided not to buy it. Crowley put the gleaming instrument in the shop window as secondhand, with a price tag of just under £100, a lot of money for a teenager in 1963.

When Gallagher spotted it, he set his heart on buying it and, with the help of his mother, paid for it in instalments, an arrangement that marked the beginning of a life-long friendship between Crowley and Gallagher.

It was a facility that he extended to many a budding musician. Both The Edge and Adam Clayton of U2 were among Crowley’s customers and U2’s sound engineer Joe O’Herlihy worked in the shop in the 1970s.

At the Requiem Mass, a song written for Crowley by Mick Flannery was played. Uilleann piper Eoin Ó Riabhaigh played at the graveside. Singer songwriter John Spillane, described Crowley as “part of the musical life of Cork”. The shop, he said, was “a great meeting place – you always had young fellas jamming away on guitars”.

Referring to his innate sense of generosity in a tribute to Crowley, Dónal Gallagher, Rory’s bother, described him as “a lovely gentleman . . . I always respected the manner in which he dealt with and assisted musicians, whatever their style of music. In my brother’s case, Michael was most encouraging, trusting and supportive.”

The Crowley family has been synonymous with music in Cork since the early 1900s when Michael Crowley’s father Tadhg, who had a keen interest in all things Irish, began playing the uilleann pipes. Self-taught, he was a fine craftsman and became skilled in repairing pipes, including a set for Henry Ford’s father in 1926, now on display at the Ford Museum in Dearbourn, Michigan.

As demand for uilleann pipes increased, he began making them at home, turning out superb instruments, among them a set of silver-plated pipes for his former student and noted uilleann piper Michael Ó Riabhaigh, whose son played at the funeral.

Prompted by a growing demand for pipes, the Crowleys opened a shop at 10 Merchants Quay, making and selling uilleann pipes, bagpipes and drums.

When his father died at the age of 52, Crowley, then at school in the North Monastery, joined the family firm on a part-time basis, eventually running the business and expanding its range to embrace other genres of music.

Demolition of the quayside shop for a development scheme in the 1970s led to the McCurtain Street move.

A tall, reserved but active man, he cycled, followed hurling and horseracing, though not as a gambler, had a deep interest in nature, and was immensely proud of his heritage. He had craftsmanship in his blood and his daughter Deirdre recalls that he loved working on banjos, concertinas, guitars and other musical instruments. And with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the music business, he sourced collectors’ items for enthusiasts, including several Fender Stratocasters for The Edge.

A customer and friend of Crowley since the age of 10, school teacher and keen guitarist John Murphy describes him as “a father confessor” who offered advice obliquely but never imposed his views. A long-time Gallagher fan, he was contacted by Crowley in 2005 when Fender brought out a faithful replica of the famous Strat, complete with dents, stains and scratches, including the marks made by Rory’s belt buckle.With a price tag of €4,000, it was way beyond his limit.

However, describing it as “a deal between friends”, Crowley gave him the guitar for what he could afford.

“I know I got it at a cost to Michael – but he wanted me to have that guitar and the money was secondary. That was the kind of man he was.”

He is survived by his wife Pat, daughters Deirdre and Sheena (who run the shop), Fiona and Aideen, and sons Tadhg and Michael.

Michael Crowley: born July 15th, 1941; died August 6th, 2010