- 24 Jul 20
Mary Stokes shares her reflections on Rory Gallagher's legacy, as part of our special 25th anniversary tribute to the legendary Irish guitarist.
The first time I met Rory Gallagher was following one of those legendary gigs that he played in The National Stadium, in Dublin, during the 1970s. I was with my two brothers, Niall and Dermot, and afterwards we went to the Gresham Hotel, where Rory was staying.
For me, it was incredible to see the man who, an hour earlier, had been electrifying his audience of check-shirt duffle coat-wearing ecstatic Irish fans, now in ‘post-gig’ mode, quiet, laughing, happily recognising that the gig had worked. Rory had brought two and a half hours of freedom, joy and power to that audience. He had let them loose, freed them from the brown and grey drabness of 1970s Ireland, left them exhilarated, energised and uplifted.
Rory’s stage presence, his musical brilliance, and his powerhouse, no-nonsense approach left an indelible impression. He has been a huge influence on my own commitment to performing, and to my understanding of the significance of live gigs.
The last time we met was in Dublin in 1992. By then Brian Palm and I had established The Mary Stokes Band and had been gigging widely in Ireland, America, the UK and Europe. In 1988, Brian had blown harmonica on a track with Rory on Davey Spillane’s album Out of the Air, so while he was still a star in another firmament, we were also colleagues in the blues.
Rory hadn’t gigged in Dublin for over 10 years. We were performing at the Guinness Temple Bar Blues Festival 1992, which Rory was headlining. As part of the Festival, Brian was exhibiting a series of his ‘mixed media’ paintings featuring his favourite blues artists – Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters among others – in various venues around Temple Bar. We were hanging the last few in Bloom’s Hotel.
The hotel bar was quiet when we went in. I noticed a guy at the bar as we set about our task. It dawned on me that it was Rory. I went over. “Hey, Rory, it’s Mary – Mary Stokes.” He was grinning when he looked at me. “I know,” he said. “Who else would be hanging up paintings of Sonny Boy Williamson?”
We talked about the Blues, sharing stories of people we had met. Rory was anxious, concerned how he might be received in Dublin after such a long time away. It was a strange, but real and understandable version of stage fright, of ‘pre gig nerves’. I vividly remember reassuring him that it would be great, that he was loved by Dublin, by Ireland, that people were excited that he was back. As I stood beside the stage that evening, I saw Rory Gallagher take the stage like a man possessed – and the audience roar back in affirmation.
Brian and I were in America when Rory died in June 1995. We didn’t have the opportunity to share his enormous loss with the people we know, who loved Rory. His obituary was printed in the New York Times and we cried reading it. This was a tragically abrupt end for a man who had brought so much pride, joy and phenomenal energy to the world through his work.
The blues is music that expresses the hope, the struggles and sometimes the despair of those who are striving for justice and a decent life; and it carries within it the grief and anger of everyone who wants a fairer, more just and equal world.
We must never forget that this is the music that Rory Gallagher chose – and that this too is what he stood for.
The special Rory Gallagher 25th Anniversary Issue of Hot Press is available to order below – featuring reflections on Rory's legacy from President Michael D. Higgins, Imelda May, Johnny Marr, Mumford & Sons, Mick Fleetwood, Steve Van Zandt, Slash and many more.