"A Mad Shamanic Journey Through the Gap"

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

I asked John Spillane to share his thoughts on writing the song "Crowley's Music Shop" for Mick Crowley's 10th-anniversary. He brought back such great memories on this wild trip back to MacCurtain Street. Here is the insight to a man, an artist, a storyteller, a musical shaman... He is a big part of Cork's heritage. Thanks a million, John.

"CROWLEYS MUSIC SHOP" - How I went back to write the song.

By John Spillane. So I’ve just written a song called Crowleys Music Shop. It took me 7 days to write it and Sheena Crowley has asked me to describe those 7 days during which I flew out the window and landed back in the past and found myself in Crowleys, after all these years, back to write the song.

Yes, I was asked to write a few lines for an article in the Examiner about the shop on Michael Crowley’s 10th anniversary, but I wasn’t really on fire with the writing. I just touched on a few early memories - how there was often some guys in the shop playing Stairway to Heaven to show off and a few memories like that. It wasn’t until I heard Declan Sinnott’s new original song about Crowleys, which I loved, that I felt a twinge - ‘Hey I should have written a song about Crowleys myself’, and ‘Hey that’s not what I would have said’, and ‘Hey I think I could do better than that.’ Thanks, Declan for the inspiration! To add to that ‘Hey you gotta love Sheena Crowley. She’s been like a mammy figure for loads of musicians for years.’ Day 1: So it was one spoonful of guilt and a half spoonful of competitiveness as well as a world of memories and a lot of love that got me going on this song and the first thing I did was pick up a guitar and came out with this really deadly cool guitar riff. I swear. I can’t believe it. I’m being given it. I am on fire.  I am in the shop. It is towards the end of time and Mick, the man of the house, surprises me with the gift of a music book. It was written by his father Tadhg. I’ve just realised that I have the name of the book wrong in the song. Let’s not panic. In the song I refer to The Tunes of the Munster Pipers but I’ve just now checked it out and realised the book was called Crowley's Collection of Music for the Highland or Irish Bagpipes ... Compiled & arranged by Tadhg O'Crowley, Book One 1940. We don’t necessarily have to turn this into a problem, however, like, do we? It feels so good to sing the words The Tunes of the Munster Pipers.  Anyway I picked up my guitar and started playing this riff which might be like some notes from a piping march perhaps, I did try out a few of the tunes in the book at the time, this could be one of those. This is an Irish Trad riff but it’s Rock and Roll as well. I love the place where Gaelic Music meets African Music. Trad music is just so unbelievably cool and the scales are just different from mainstream ‘Western’ music. This is like Tinariwen/ Rory Gallagher/ Munster Pipers. Might be a phrase from some reel. We’ll have to call the music police as to what it is. Meanwhile, I’m rocking. I’m going on a journey. Out the gap. I’ve been fascinated about a place that is supposed to have existed in Cork City called The One Bright Spot. I believe it was on the corner of Parnell Place and Lower Oliver Plunkett Street. It may have been a café. It’s a sex shop now. I’ve always liked the name of this mythical place. The past is the best mythology of all time. I’ve decided to start the song at The One Bright Spot and by claiming Crowleys Music Shop was shinier, I’m boldly moving the One Bright Spot across the river to MacCurtain Street. Mad or what? I’m going - “If ever there was in Cork, that One Bright Spot,  It was Crowleys Music Shop, Shop of dreams, cave of wonders, palace of musical delight. CHORUS; There are ten stars that shine so bright above MacCurtain Street tonight, Remembering Michael Crowley, and Crowleys Music Shop.”

I got a very sweet chorus going on! So happy with that. Major chord. The Chord of C. Doe a deer. Home. It feels lovely to sing “MacCurtain Street’ on this year, the 100th anniversary of the murder of Tomás MacCurtain. It was called King Street before that. It was out of the Police Barracks on this street that they came to kill him in Blackpool.  Songwriting is about making up stuff and making lots of little decisions. I had used the numbers of stars to denote the number of years in another song, where I said  “One hundred stars are burning bright above the old Slieve Bloom tonight, One hundred snow white horses in the March of the Kings of Laois”

I hear voices. They say things like “You can’t use that cos….”. The voices are negative and must be fiercely defended against. It means I’m flying and I’m getting attacked. It’s a good sign really. Ah well, I thought let’s use ten stars for the ten years since Mick passed away and continue this in any number of songs. Don’t turn it into a problem, turn it into a motif, a pattern. If I go for it, this song is gonna be mad. Writing the song I think about two crowds of people, those who will know the people and places in the song and the other crowd who won’t. I’m not catering for either crowd. I’m going through the gap.  We gotta bow down to Rory Gallagher whose mother bought him his Stratocaster in Crowleys. They lived near there. Read Mark MacAvoy’s Book of Cork Rock for the full story. Will I say Gallagher or just Rory? It’s day 2 of the song and it’s late August and the weather is brilliant. It’s the Covid. I am out swimming at the Hell-hole and talking to two old Cork boys and I ask them if they ever heard of the One Bright Spot. “Naw” is the answer “Ná”. I try out a verse of the song on them. There’s no need to say, Rory Gallagher, we know it’s him, they say. 

I’m back in the shop. I am eighteen and I work in the Bank of Ireland 125 O’ Connell Street Limerick, but I play in a Rock and Roll band at home in Cork as well. We are called Bootlace and I am going into Crowleys with my paycheck from the bank and I’m buying a brand new Fender Precision Electric Bass Guitar. It is a rainy dark winter’s evening in 1979. MacCurtain Street is shining in the rain. All the lights of the cars, the traffic lights, the streetlights, the lights of the shop windows, are all shining in the black wet tarry rainy road. It’s like Paris at Christmas at the corner at the bottom of Patrick’s Hill.