- 24 Dec 21
Irish blues icon Mary Stokes spoke to Hot Press about the phenomenal achievement of having her band's album Comin' Home being selected at the very top of the Blues and Roots pyramid...
The Mary Stokes Band have won Blues and Roots Radio’s 'Album of the Year' award for their record Comin’ Home.
The winner was announced today (December 24th) with the pioneering Irish blues band warding off stiff competition to earn the title. Comin’ Home has been widely applauded as a superb record, launching the band into an exciting new era.
Speaking to Hot Press, Mary says the band “are incredibly proud and pleased – and indeed grateful – that the panel of jurors at Blues & Roots Radio have voted Comin' Home as Album of the Year.”
The album was recorded when live music was going through a period of huge uncertainty as a result of the global pandemic, with Mary's partner and harmonica wizard Brian Palm – who is also a successful artist – as a driving force.
“Brian and I decided that our response to the global pandemic would be to try to reflect the energy and excitement of a live gig on an ‘as live’ album,” Mary says about the genesis of Comin’ Home.
“We recognised, early on, that we had the basis of something in the tracks that we recorded during two rehearsals for some live shows. But we still had to decide how to put a shape on it. With some additional recording work, and a great, raw mix by Pete Holidai of Pilgrim Sound, Comin’ Home began to come together.”
In effect, recording Comin’ Home involved trying to bottle the excitement of a live gig in an album.
“Musically, the challenge was to capture the energy,” says Mary.
As the Blues and Roots Radio award confirms, they did just that.
Hammering the album into shape was an exciting time for Mary Stokes and her gang of blues pioneers.
“The version we caught of Comin’ Home — which is an original song — jumped out at me immediately," Mary reflects, "as the song that best described the longing to get back to the place of friendship, love and community, which people share through music – and which the Covid pandemic had fractured to badly."
Hot Press’ photo sorcerer Miguel Ruiz also helped to bring the album to life with his superb photographs.
“Brian developed the Artwork," Mary adds, "using Miguel Ruiz’ great photographs. Pat Pigeon did graphics. All the work was done remotely – but as it all came together, our 'team' began to believe that maybe we really had something special here."
And so it proved. Creating a memorable record is one thing, however – getting that record out into the world, and promoting it effectively, is a different story. The band worked hard to identify how they might disseminate their music. In Ireland, Hot Press – who made it Live Blues Album of the Year in 2020, following its December release – and Lyric FM were hugely important. Outside Ireland, Bandcamp and Blues and Roots Radio were key to the best way forward.
It was the station's genuine commitment to the music that attracted the band to Blues and Roots Radio. The station – which won Station of the Year in the ISSA Awards – has its HQ in Ontario, Canada and an office on Victoria, Australia. But the fact that there is an Irish crew involved too, operating out of Westport in Co. Mayo, was an added bonus.
“When they heard the album, people like Stevie Connor, Anne Connor and Ken Wallis – who are based in Ontario – were immediately supportive. What is so impressive about them is that they are so fully committed to their own vision — which is to bring their expertise and professionalism to Blues and Roots Radio.”
Blues and Roots Radio weren’t the only station to get behind Comin’ Home, with many Irish stations – and broadcasters – showing their support for the record. Bernard Clarke of Lyric FM in particular recognised the quality of the album, giving its lots of valuable exposure, as well as delving consistently over the past 12 months into Mary's back catalogue.
Martin Bridgeman on KCLR (Ceol Anocht), Nicky Woulfe and John O’Regan from Limerick City Community Radio, Noel Casey – and all the Dublin City 103FM DJs – also helped to push the Comin' Home envelope. Indeed the roll call is too long to go into fully here!
Mary Stokes previously spoke to Hot Press about her excitement. “I didn’t have any expectation of this,” she said. “The album took off in a way we were really surprised by. It’s amazing — it’s gas!”
A HUGE HONOUR
The success of the album has opened the group up in a new way to the attentions of the global blues community.
Blues and Roots Radio — in particular Ken Wallis, Stevie and Anne Connor — have championed The Mary Stokes band and helped to spread the word about Comin Home to blues fans around the world. Mary spoke of how the support from the Canadian radio station helped.
“Suddenly people were saying, ‘Do you have some more music? Because we really like it'. That part of it is so gratifying.”
The radio station was established in 2013 by professional musicians and music fans to enable blues artists of every stripe to be heard as widely as possible.
Mary says the group are delighted to have Comin' Home named Album of the Year.
“It doesn't matter how much you believe in what you do – the truth is that you just don't know if, or when, something is going to click. So we had absolutely no expectation that Comin’ Home would be the 'little album that could'," says Mary. “But it seems to have captured people's imagination. All around the world we have received encouragement, airplay and genuine enthusiasm for our music. It has been quite a journey.
“Now, to be named Album of the Year is just incredible. It is difficult to express. We are well-travelled, hard working, sometimes road weary independent artists. We have come through so many challenges and potentially dispiriting experiences. But here we are… proof that there are always people out there who are ready to welcome music that is driven by a spirit of independence and integrity. You just need to find them!
“Work hard, keep your spirit up, believe and dream, and then? You never know what might happen. The most important thing to say is that we are really grateful. A big thanks to everyone involved in Blues and Roots Radio. To have Comin' Home selected as Album of the Year is a huge honour."
You can buy Comin’ Home on Bandcamp here.