ONCE at the helm of the iconic former Crowley’s Music Centre on MacCurtain Street, Sheena Crowley is returning to her roots with an innovative music business, established during the pandemic.
Prompted by a desire to help musicians and instrument makers during such an unprecedented time, Sheena set up The Island of Music in August 2020 — an online platform and music store for music lovers and makers.
“I started up the business with the aim of helping musicians in any way I can during the pandemic crisis and hereafter,” she told The Echo.
“I created an online music store that sells and rents out second-hand instruments, I promote Irish instrument makers and I promote and sell the music of Irish musicians.
“Renting out instruments was inspired by my father Michael Crowley and my grandfather Tadhg Crowley who were both very supportive and encouraging of musicians.
“My father gave instruments to musicians and they paid them off on a weekly basis from money collected while busking, or from gigs they did.
“My grandfather was the same. Their policy was... honesty and trust.
“Many people said to my father he was crazy for giving an instrument to a guy worth €1,000 trusting him to pay it back.
“My dad would respond, ‘if one-in-a-100 let me down it is worth it’.
“But in his whole time working in Crowley’s, 55 years, there were only about four incidences where that happened. I want to afford people that same respect too.”
The legacy of the Crowley family’s contribution to Cork’s music scene extends back to 1933, when Sheena’s grandfather founded T Crowley & Son on Merchant’s Quay.
“He used to go around Munster repairing instruments and selling instruments and things like that,” she said.
“Then he was making uilleann pipes, so he set up a shop.
“He died when my father was 10½ – my father took over the shop at 14.”
In the 1970s Sheena’s late father Michael then moved the business to MacCurtain Street - where it became Crowley’s Music Centre.
“To him, that was about expanding and getting a bigger shop.,” Sheena said.
“He moved more into the rock side of things, whereas my grandfather was more traditional.”
Sheena, who took over managing the shop when her father passed away in 2010, recalled the halcyon days being in the shop over the decades and the many famous faces to have frequented it.
“We’re always associated with Rory Gallagher naturally because all guitarists would aspire to be something like Rory Gallagher,” she said.
“There were loads of really brilliant people – Kris Kristofferson and Musical Youth… Peter Green.
“Everybody that came to Cork for a gig would have come in. It had a reputation beyond Cork so they would have checked it out.
“I think musicians wherever they go want to go into the local music shops.”
The touring musicians, Sheena said, had a certain aura about them and were instantly discernible.
“You’d see the musicians coming in the door – you’d know that they were touring musicians.
“You could tell by how they dressed and how they approached you.”
In 1991 the shop was visited by a little-known trio who had arrived in Cork to support the much more acclaimed Sonic Youth.
“The guys [Nirvana] were playing in Sir Henry’s – Kurt Cobain was standing outside the window smoking a cigarette, as far as my memory serves me. The lads came in with one of the promoters.”
In the intervening years since the closure of Crowley’s in 2013, Sheena has taken up teaching Qigong and studying Chinese medicine, but always had the desire to set up something related to music.
“My background was music – I had always intended to do something but I was busy with my own stuff,” she explained.
“During lockdown I was thinking about the musicians and trying to figure out how to help.
“I set up The Island of Music in August last year.
“The reason I picked August was because it was my father’s 10th anniversary. I wanted to do something in honour of him, because my father was in the music industry all his life.”
In another homage to her late father and grandfather, the logo for Sheena’s new business, created by her friend Colm Walsh, includes a nod to Crowley’s Music Centre.
“The logo is based off a photograph of me from years ago sitting on a dolmen … Colm digitalised it and the mandolin in the logo is a Crowley’s mandolin. It’s pretty cool.”
Although it’s been just nine months since the launch of her small business, Sheena’s innovative idea has really taken off and piqued the interest of a diverse range of people.
“I had a man in his late seventies who never played an instrument before.
“He was always saying he’d love to take up the mandolin and during lockdown that interest was really sparked. He rented it first and eventually bought it from me.
“I thought it was class!
“Many people have also donated instruments because they want to help.”
Promoting Irish instrument makers, both those with small and large scale operations, and promoting Irish musicians is also an integral part of The Island of Music.
“One of the musicians we showcase is Andy Dunne who has been a leading entertainer in Cork for almost 40 years,” Sheena said.
“He has entertained thousands of Cork music lovers and so many tourists from around the world.
“Recently Andy released his eagerly awaited debut album.
“We are exclusively selling his CD Drew Project 7016 and they are selling like hotcakes!
“Everybody wants to support musicians in any way they can.
“I think buying a local artist’s album or even just downloading one track per week is a great initiative.”
For more information you can visit www.islandofmusic.ie.