by Bob Carney
A Story from this month’s issue of the Ohio Irish American News
Today we sit down with Michael Crawley to discuss the 87th Cleveland Pipe Band, his solo work, and band Marys Lane.
OhIAN: Hello Michael. Thanks for meeting with us. Tell us about yourself. Are you a native Clevelander?
M.C.: Yes, I grew up by the airport in Brookpark. My parents bought a house there when they originally came over from Scotland in 1963. They lived across the street from St. Colman’s, and then bought the house in Brookpark.
OhIAN: Was your family musical?
M.C.: I’m the youngest of four siblings and all of us played bagpipes. My oldest sister, Kathleen, is still an active player with the 87th. My dad was a piper from the age of eight or nine. He played in pipe bands in Scotland, and when he came to the states he played with a couple of bands until he took a job with the Ford Motor Co. He stopped playing for about 17 years. In ‘86 or ’87, he was approached by the Irish Heritage Club to start a pipe band. He put together the band under the assumption it was going to be sponsored by the club, which eventually fell through.
Originally the band was to be named after the club, but they changed to the 87th Cleveland after the year it was formed. – probably the most common question about the band!
OhIAN: What is the 87th?
M.C.: I would say we are a civilian band centered around competing, which is different from most pipe bands.
OhIAN: When you travel to competitions does the expense fall on the members?
M.C.: Yes. For the most part the band picks up instrument and uniform expenses, but as far as travel, that is up to the individual.
OhIAN: You recently competed in Scotland. Did you have time to sightsee or was it all rehearsals and competition?
M.C.: We were there for a week. There was always time for people to do stuff; it was easy to take a one or two hour train ride from Glasgow.
OhIAN: You did fairly well in the competition.
M.C.: Yes we finished 8th out 15 in our group, which was pretty good. Obviously when you’re that close to something it would have been great to play the finals. For about 70% of the band, that was the first time they traveled to Scotland. It was a good trip and everyone got along great.
OhIAN: As far as teaching bagpipes, it seems like it would be a difficult instrument to learn?
M.C.: It’s about a 12 to 16 month process before a person can play the bagpipes. You start on a practice chanter which is similar to a recorder. The hardest part is you’re learning on an instrument that sounds nothing like the bagpipes. It’s not like a piano where when you play you hear the same note you’ll hear in ten years time. The physical coordination involved is challenging as well, but, if the determination is there, you find a way.
OhIAN: You also do solo work?
M.C.: Yes, memorials, weddings, funerals, and anniversary dinners etc… There is enough of a demand in Cleveland to make decent money at it. I’m doing more of that recently than in the past. I left my full time position in the corporate world in April to pursue music full time, which gives me a lot more flexibility as far as bookings.
OhIAN: How did you get into guitar?
M.C.: I started playing later in my teens. My sister played in church choir as long as I can remember. My dad also played, so there were always guitars in the house. We also had a piano, as well as bagpipes and drums around to try and play. It’s relaxing to sit down with a guitar rather than standing and playing the bagpipes, and you can play anytime. The first band I was in, I was hired to play bagpipes. I would play two or three songs a show just playing bagpipes, and then I asked if I could sit in on some guitar stuff.
OhIAN: Let’s talk about Marys Lane.
M.C.: Pat Mulloy, Mark Whalen and myself have been in the band since its inception. It started out as a conversation in 2008 at Cleveland Irish Festival, watching a band play under the tent. We talked about how we should try to put something together, but it kind of fizzled out. One year later the three of us found ourselves at the same exact tent watching the same exact band and decided to really get serious about it.
Our first practice was in 2010. We procrastinated a good 14 or 16 months before the band finally got on its feet. We’ve had a couple of changes on bass and fiddle; we had a piano player for awhile. We’re in the process of integrating a new member who plays mandolin, guitar, and piano; I think we’re going in the right direction. We’ve had places like P.J.s, Sullys, and the Park Tavern give us a break very early on when we were completely unknown. Now we’re trying to get people to take a chance on us a little further away and at bigger venues.
OhIAN: You always seem to be having a good time on stage.
M.C.: Yes, it’s easy to play in an Irish bar where people know the songs. It’s harder to play in a place like this (we’re at Park Tavern). People don’t really know half the stuff you’re playing, but know they want to get up and dance and have a good time. Our mentality early on was to play our first set as long as we can and only take one break a night. We play that first set long so people loosen up, have a good time and want to stay all night. During the entire night we’ll play 3 or 4 slow songs, so mostly the energy level is high. It is fun and we have a pretty loyal following, which makes it all worthwhile.
OhIAN: You also play a pretty good blend of music.
M.C.: We have a good mix of originals and country, and Pat brings some alternative stuff as well. We’re trying to find older Irish music that hasn’t really been played that much here. I like stuff from the 60’s folk scene that fused into rock. We’re also exploring more modern bluegrass tunes.
OhIAN: Any advice you would give to aspiring musicians?
M.C.” I guess the best thing is to get out and sing or play, make mistakes, but keep going. Take advantage of any opportunity to perform that comes along.
OhIAN: Michael, thank you very much and the best of luck to you, Marys Lane and the 87th Cleveland.