- 13 Aug 19
Ahead of their upcoming Dublin dates, The Mary Stokes Band discuss making music, recruiting guitarist Sarah Michelle, and having John Lennon’s sister Julia as a fan.
Mary Stokes and Brian Palm seem to have dipped into every manifestation of the blues throughout their decades-spanning career. The band have released over 10 albums together and have left an indelible mark on Irish and international music with each one. Their 1997 debut Ten Years On The Road (the title a marker of their live/touring bona fides) was a statement of blues intensity. Twenty-two years on from its release, and with the demand from their dedicated fanbase ever-present, the Mary Stokes Band have been consistently putting out new music. Now, halfway through 2019, they’re working on their first new album in three years.
“We’re working in four different studios and we’re playing together all the time,” says Mary, “So we have an album that we hope to release in autumn. What we’re going to do is have it be a mixture of acoustic songs, then some electric band stuff, original tracks, blues tracks. And we have a lot of different guests.”
The band have also recruited renowned Irish guitarist Sarah Michelle.
“I knew someone who’d said that Mary was looking for a guitar player,” says Sarah. “And I definitely wanted to talk to her, because it’s hard to get a blues gig in Dublin. So we met and jammed together and got a gig under our belt right away.”
Sarah is now an integral part of their recording process. The Mary Stokes Band’s new album will see them working with the likes of electronic musician Stano and producer and engineer Joe McGrath. And there will be a cameo from Hothouse Flower Liam O’Maonlai. Their uninhibited, freewheeling style of music will, Mary assures me, be to the fore. The recording process, she adds, is always a lively affair.
“It’ll depend on the songs,” she explains. “If we’re going with a band, we’d try to record together and do as little overdubbing as possible, unless we’re adding other instruments.”
Down the decades, the band played a ferocious amount of shows. They’ve lately cut back dramatically.
“We would have gigged 300 nights a year, no problem, like all the time,” says Mary. “But things change, and we kind of made a professional decision to shift away from doing that and not killing ourselves and not exposing ourselves. You know, from a gig –you have a dynamic; you have to have an audience feeding it and you feeding the audience. But we weren’t always getting that with our gigs. So we decided, OK, we’re pulling back. We made the decision to focus on special gigs or doing guest appearances.”
This, in many ways, is a testament to the band’s do-it-yourself ethos.
“Each of our albums – like our shows – we’re doing them for the fans,” says Brian. “We’re doing them ourselves. We’ve never been approached by a label – proudly!”
“We’ve always approached our performances in a way that we can stand behind them and say, ‘That was a rock performance that can stand toe-to-toe with anything you’d put in a rock arena,’” says Mary. “We feel like what we’re doing is original and has a passion and a musicality and all those things going on.”
Now, Mary Stokes Band are gearing up for a summer and autumn of fiery live performances.
“We’ve got a show in Whelan’s on August 2, then we’re going to be at the Howth Blues and Roots Festival.”
They also got a rather prestigious invite to play at the Cavern Club in Liverpool – widely known as one of the clubs frequented by The Beatles in the early days. The invite itself came from none other than John Lennon’s sister.
“Julia, she’s one of our fans,” says Brian, casually. “She was at one of our gigs in Cork and kept saying ‘You should come play the Cavern Club.’ And we thought, ‘Maybe it’s time we take up that invitation.’ So a couple of calls later they said ‘Yeah we can slip you in in November.’ I guess we’ll have to line up a few Beatles songs.”
• Mary Stokes Band will perform at Whelan’s on August 2 and Howth Roots and Blues Festival, August 16-18.