The Pyrates Royale:
acts of musical piracy

An interview by Tom Knapp,
July 2002

What does it take for a grown man and respected businessman to dress up like a pirate and sing silly songs?

"I didn't just wake up and say, gee, I want to be a pirate," Craig Williams, a.k.a. Long John Skivee of the Pyrates Royale, insisted.

The Pyrates Royale first came together as a comedy troupe in 1987. Founded on a whim by four veteran actors from the Maryland Renaissance Festival, the group added music as they went along. Eventually, it became the dominant aspect of their performances.

Still, as any Pyrate or fan will verify, comedy remains a vital part of the Royale experience.

The Pyrates are known for elaborate vocal harmonies and comic routines in their music. Williams said the band looks for songs that spark a notion for a signature arrangement.

"It's a synthetic process, the coming together of several different influences. We like to think, in this case, that too many cooks don't spoil the broth," he said.

"We look at the songs as a framework and we inject comedy," he explained. "It tends to be a session where we sit down, bang our heads together and get kind of silly. ... When we're doing arrangements, we typically have a lot of fun doing it. Many people would be shocked at just how rude we get."

Some form of bizarre behavior from the audience is the icing on the cake, Williams said.

"If they watch the show and say, 'I liked it, but what the hell was that?' -- then we probably succeeded," he said. "Merriment abounds."

The band has gone through numerous changes in personnel over the years, with founding singer Brad Howard, as Capt. Fletcher T. Moone, being the only original member remaining.

Others in the current lineup are Lynn Cunningham (Bosun Peg Riley) on vocals and bodhran, Darcy Nair (Kat Fairbanks) on vocals, bouzouki, hammered dulcimer and concertina, and Paul DiBlasi (Drake Mallard) on vocals and guitar.

Williams, who provides vocals, guitar and bodhran, was working with a band called Iron Weed when he first ran afoul of the Pyrates.

"We were a serious folk music band, very serious. We did some beautiful music, but when I started doing the Renaissance Faire back in '89, I realized it was an opportunity to learn something about theatrics," Williams said.

"I'm not an actor. But I figured that would make me a better performer all around," he said. "I started hanging out with the Pyrates Royale, back when they were just 'those pirates.' Around '92, two members left ... so they had an opening."

The project quickly grew, Williams recalled.

"The band started off as an improv comedy troupe. Over the years, it leaned more towards music," he said. "We all have learned a thing or two about music and about acting along the way."

Still, he admitted, "I would be a disaster in a play. I couldn't remember the lyrics. Or, um, the script. ... I tend to ad lib. Luckily, we don't usually perform in a real scripted situation."

Williams said he can usually avoid the pitfall of slipping into character.

"I'd like to think I'm a little smarter than Skivee," he said. "The act that we do is an act. Sometimes it can be a little annoying when people don't understand the lines between the character and the real person.

"I slip into the accent all the time," he added. "But that's practice."

The Pyrates also inject a bit of history into the show, a reminder of a lifestyle that went on for hundreds of years.

"It's just like people who are out there doing railroad songs or Civil War songs," Williams said. "We do have a historical interest in this. We do songs for laughs, and we do songs as straight chanteys. ... But we aren't a reenactment group, either. We don't go into that kind of fine detail."

When he's not engaged in acts of singing and piracy, Williams manages the House of Musical Traditions, a folk store in Tacoma Park, Md. He seems equally passionate about both sides of his life, launching into animated tales about meeting famous musicians at the store and firing cannons as Skivee.

"I don't get burned out on music," he insisted. "It's a constant source of refreshment for me."

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 3 August 2002