- 03 Dec 21
“I’m just absolutely and completely thrilled with it!” Mary Stokes says of the nomination. The winner will be announced by Blues and Roots Radio on Christmas Eve...
Irish blues trail-blazers The Mary Stokes Band have been nominated for the Blues and Roots radio album of the year with their record Comin’ Home.
A panel of judges from the radio station selected 20 artists to be put forward for the award. This is the fifth installment of the prize and the winner will be announced on December 24th.
On Comin’ Home, The Mary Stokes Band enlisted renowned guitarist Sarah Michelle, Shobsy O’Brien and acclaimed producer Pete Holidai. The record features covers and originals and showcases the band at their brilliant best.
The group pioneered the Irish blues sound and it has gained the group a lot of notice amongst some esteemed individuals. The Mary Stokes Band have been rubbing shoulders with blues legends like BB King, Fats Domino, Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker for a while now.
Group centrepiece and Irish blues legend Mary Stokes spoke to Hot Press about her excitement and amazement at having been nominated for the gong:
“I didn’t have any expectation of this,” she says. “It’s amazing — it’s gas!”
It’s a year to the day since Comin’ Home first dropped and the project has taken on a life of its own in the meantime.
“The album took off in a way we were really surprised by,” says Mary. “All along it's been a little bit of a surprise and it keeps on being more of a surprise.”
Comin’ Home came about as a result of — and as an answer to lockdown: “We decided to release the album in defiance of lockdown. The challenge was to see — can I make something of this.”
Mary recognises the effect of the lockdown and how performers have had their livelihoods detrimentally affected.
“We tend to work off an audience and respond in the moment. If you don’t have gigs it’s like you’ve suddenly crashed against a wall. It’s as disastrous for people as that.”
Mary and the band set to work on the album to keep the beating heart of the group going. They set their shoulder to the grindstone and put in the necessary work to make the record happen
“It isn’t something you can expect to happen,” explains Mary. “You have to work at it every day and every moment. We have to live up to our own dream.”
The hard work has paid off after the incredible reception of Comin’ Home. Blues and Roots radio helped to push the record into the public consciousness. The Canadian-based record station exposed the independent group to a worldwide audience.
With the help of Blues and Roots Radio’s Stevie and Anne Connor along with Ken Wallis — The Mary Stokes Band were able to reach the furthest corners of the globe. The album has also been given huge support on Irish radio, with Bernard Clarke championing it on his enormously influential Lyric FM show. The success of the LP has now prompted a fascinating trip back in time for the band.
They have just relaunched Clouds In My Heart, a live recording from 1999. Captured in Bruxelles pub in Dublin, the record was only sold at gigs prior to being catapulted into the great public's consciousness. The record came about as music fans were eager to hear more from The Mary Stokes Band.
“Suddenly people were saying, ‘Do you have more music?’ You’re in this amazing jaw drop moment,” says Mary.
The reception of Comin' Home has also inspired the band to jump back into the recording studio and record some new material. The group have been building up a “reservoir of songs” that hopefully blues fans will be able to enjoy some time next year.
“We will be going into the studio with a lightness of step and we’ll be enjoying what was a surprisingly successful venture,” adds Mary.
Mary previously spoke to Hot Press about her experience with some of the biggest names in blues. She was accompanied in conversation by her partner and Mary Stokes Band member, Brian Palm.
“Sometimes I sit back and wonder how on earth they happened,” Mary reminisced.
“The first big encounters were with BB King and John Lee Hooker – we exchanged stories like an extended family would. Then there was my mother singing in the Academy with Buddy Guy, the elder statesman of Chicago blues.”
“We played three gigs with him, and he had this habit of going walkabout through the audience. He’d get people to sing with him, and on one occasion, he happened to sit down right beside my mother. I was onstage squinting at Buddy and Peggy performing the blues!” she added.
The highlights have kept coming, and Comin’ Home emerged from lockdown as one of the stand-out moments of this blues calendar. Palm elaborated on the album’s recording process and the band’s aspirations to capture their contagious live energy.
“Finding a way to keep pursuing your art is crucial,” said Brian. “Gigging and studio recording are out, but you can’t just quit. Once Pete Holidai heard the album, he said he’d do the mixing work for two bottles of Jack Daniel’s!”
“Chopping and changing our recordings to make new songs is a trick I learned from working with Stano, the great post-punk ‘non-musician’, but it’s easy when Mary’s vocals are so free. She isn’t a slave to any way of singing, she makes it her own.”
“The album emerged from a remarkably truthful recording, and captured the same energy as a live gig,” he added.
“It’s a snapshot of the band as we were, prior to lockdown. Since its release just before Christmas, there’s been a whole new blues world opening up for us — we’re surprised by its success but incredibly proud.”
Comin’ Home is testament to their role in the greater blues landscape. Their Blues and Roots radio nod is another feather in the cap of a group who have reached the musical heights of their prestigious peers.
You can buy Comin’ Home on Bandcamp here.