Jimmy Crowley has been a central figure in the Irish folk scene since the enthusiastic reception of his debut album The Boys of Fairhill in 1977.
With his band Stokers Lodge their mission was to present the street ballads of Cork city complimented by the ornate folk songs of the rural hinterland of Cork and Kerry in an exciting orchestration of uilleann pipes, concertina, autoharp, harmonium, mandolin, bouzouki and guitar in their native accent. The second album, Camphouse Ballads hurtled the band into the vortex of the folk scene; they were now performing at folk festivals and making tv appearances in Ireland, Britain and America .Both albums were produced by Micheál Ó Dómhnaill of the Bothy Band. Like Chris Twomey of Stokers Lodge, Micheál was a seminal influence in Jimmy’s musical education.
Every Jimmy Crowley album after the demise of Stokers Lodge in the middle eighties has been imbued with an excitement and autonomy; has challenged conventions and has been totally different from its predecessor. Some Things Never Change, an eclectic, electric experiment featuring some of the most creative musicians in Ireland: Declan Sinnott, Keith Mc Donald and Christy Moore of Moving Hearts was applauded and voted album of the year by rock critic, Bill Graham. Jimmy’s new band, The Electric Band released a reggae version of the Cork ballad, The Boys of Fairhill which went into the pop charts.
In between recording and writing his own songs, Crowley found time to taste the rich Gaelic hinterland of his native province of Munster learning his profession as a bard and falling in love with the Irish language. The songs he learned in the Irish speaking parts of Munster found a hearth in his first Irish language album, Jimí Mo Mhíle Stór, produced by Dónal Lunny for Gael Linn records. There followed a bitter-sweet amalgam of caustic urban ballads and sentimental parlour songs which Crowley had began to endorse. The album simply called, Jimmy Crowley for K-tel records was produced by Declan Sinnott.
Crowley’s fascination with the theatre and in particular musical drama culminated in his ballad opera, Red Patriots. Set against the backdrop of Mao Tse Tung’s cultural and social policies,it’s the story of an apprentice musician who falls for a revolutionary girl. Actual events such as the mob-incited burning of the Marxist bookshop in Cork city in the early seventies induce fierce realism. The play was well-received and ran successfully at the Triskil Arts Centre in Cork City.
By now Jimmy Crowley had established himself not just as a tradition bearer, ethnographer and Gaelic language enthusiast but also as a stylish songwriter. His song about the sailing ship Asgard, My Love is a Tall Ship, was adopted as an anthem for sailors everywhere and was used in the documentary film on the Tall Ships’ Race made by the National Television service, R.T.É The eponymous album that followed presented all original songs backed by a small string orchestra ,subtle rhythm section and songwriter Dave Murphy’s piano skills. Her Excellency, Mary Robinson was the subject of the quasi-bassanova style skit, Mrs. President which finally proclaimed to those who pigeon-holed Jimmy Crowley as being the “voice of Cork” and nothing else, that there was much more to this man.
Disheartened at the demise of the Irish language and Celtic traditions and the endorsement by the Irish government of cultural globalisation, Crowley began work on his Celtic Utopian novel, Hy Brazil. Its the story of a new resurgence and autonomy set slightly in the future; exhorting Plato’s Rule of the Wise, a poetical, didactic dismissal of everything the Celtic Tiger stands for.
There followed his first live solo album, Uncorked and the establishment of his own record company, Freestate Records. The Coast of Malibar endorsed both his love for the sea and his affection for the double-string instruments like bouzouki, mando-cello, dordán, mandola and mandolin. Jimmy is joined here by an old friend, Tríona Ní Dhómhnaill of the Bothy Band .His new album, Irish Eyes, is a swing-jazz reverential treatment of John Mc Cormack, Bing Crosby and Flanaghan Brothers Irish-American sentimental songs which Crowley feels are part of the legitimate legacy of Irish song. Here he breathes fresh life into old chestnuts like Danny Boy and When Irish Eyes Are Smiling and displays creditable crooning skills.