- 31 May 23
The Mary Stokes Band were selected to represent Ireland at the European Blues Challenge back in August of last year. Now, the hour is at hand, with the contest set to take place in Chorzów, Poland over the next week. Come what may, the effect will be to further establish Mary on the international blues scene.
To have the opportunity to represent one’s country at an international level must certainly be one of life’s greatest honours. The recent sporting achievements of Irish women like Katie Taylor, Kellie Harrington, Rachael Blackmore, Rhasidat Adeleke, Katie McCabe and the Irish women’s football team, among others, have rightly inspired feelings of national pride – and an outpouring of goodwill, fuelled by the possibility of Irish international success.
On June 3rd, another Irish team with two extraordinarily talented Irish women to the fore will be performing internationally in Chorzów, Poland, in the finals of the European Blues Challenge, a high-profile music showcase event which attracts blues aficionados and music industry professionals from all over the world.
Based on the old Chicago Blues tradition of a ‘cutting contest’, where one band challenges another for local dominance, the European Blues Challenge provides a forum for one blues band to represent each European nation in a formalised context. Dublin’s Mary Stokes Band emerged triumphant in the Irish Blues Challenge, the first phase of the European Blues Challenge, which was held in Arthur’s Blues and Jazz Club, Dublin in August of last year.
Blues music is by no means a mainstream art form. However, the appetite for high quality blues music in Ireland is always growing, and today the idiom is more popular than ever before. A long-time champion of blues music and stalwart of the Irish music scene, the sublime vocalist Mary Stokes, is quietly optimistic about her band’s upcoming performance.
She considers participating in this international showcase to be a crucial opportunity for global exposure. “There will be some excellent bands appearing in the Challenge,” she says calmly, “with lots of outstanding musicians involved. But we are well prepared and ready to give it our very best.”
With an extraordinary line-up of Irish talent in her band, Mary Stokes has ample reason to believe in the possibility of standing apart from the rest. The sensational guitarist Sarah Michelle has brought an entirely new colour-palette to the repertoire of the Mary Stokes Band – her arrival being announced by some truly incredible fretwork on the band’s last two, very successful, albums.
Backing these twin female strikers is an astonishingly talented rhythm section, composed of Jay Oglesby on drums and Zamo Riffman on bass: the band’s deep groove is driven by a hard-won combination of melodic fluidity and a rock solid beat. These two musicians have grown into an exceptional and formidable rhythmic force, providing a dynamic integrated sound with a pocket deep enough to get lost in.
Completing the band’s lineup is harmonica ace Brian Palm, who has distinguished himself as one of Europe’s leading players with a long and illustrious career performing as a member of The Mary Stokes Band.
IMRO and Culture Ireland made funds available to help defray some of the costs of bringing the Mary Stokes Band to Poland to avail of what is a unique professional opportunity.
“It makes a world of difference to have that support,” Mary says. “Preparing for something like this, you need to be able to concentrate on the music and getting it right for the occasion, rather than having to worry unduly about finances. So we’re really grateful to both bodies for coming on board – as we are to everyone who was involved in the organization of the Challenge, including Hector Castillo of The Irish Blues Challenge, the team in Arthur’s Blues and Jazz Club where the initial heats took place, and our fans and friends who turned out to support us at our recent shows.”
Mary and her band are no strangers to international touring, but this will be their first time in Poland, and their first involvement in an international event of this kind. The Mary Stokes Band will return from Poland to a busy Summer schedule here in Ireland, when the band will re-unite with their newly-formed five-piece brass section ‘The Mourning Horns’ for a series of events throughout the Summer.
Highlights include an appearance by the full twelve-piece band in Arthur’s Blues and Jazz Club in July; at Whelan’s ‘Brass, Blues and Roots Festival’; and as part of the Howth ‘Blues and Roots Festival’. There will also be a nationwide ‘mini-tour’.
The Mary Stokes Band are currently working on their next release, a live recording of their last show in Arthur’s with full horn section and special guests. “It was a wild show,” Mary says, “so we’re planning to release it as an official Bootleg Album, exactly as it was recorded on the night.”
The band’s last two acclaimed studio albums garnered global praise and generated an enormous amount of radio play worldwide. Is it a bit risky, following them up with an unadorned live recording?
“Yes, it is!” she says. “Absolutely without a doubt. And that’s the point! No matter what happens, we have no intention whatsoever of resting on our laurels.”
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 27 Sep 23
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 27 Sep 23