Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1099

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Imelda May: Finally Mayde it!

Imelda May
Imelda May Imelda May Imelda May Imelda May

With sassy confidence natured by experience on the live circuit in her hometown Dublin, the jubilant Imelda May is a voice the needs to be heard. Her mixture of rockabilly, blues and Jazz along with her unique retro style that touches on her love for burlesque and the rocking 50âs has placed her in the hearts of many, not to mention big enthusiasts Joules Holland and Jeff Beck.

Her critically acclaimed album âLove Tattooâ reinforces her as one of the biggest talents gracing the scene and while the album itself lends influences from early Rock n' Roll and Blues, it remains wrapped in Imeldaâs unique finesse. Sheâs shared the stage with an array of big artists including Van Morrison and the Scissor Sisters and as Imelda prepares for a date at the Indigo2 supporting Jeff Beck, Blues and Soul's Ali Raymond took her away from the music, if only for a minute, to discuss the making of Mrs. May.

Growing up as a kid you listened heavily to Rockabilly music. Not exactly the average commercial would you agree?

Itâs different to mainstream, and for my age so I suppose so. I was only a kid. But there was a good underground scene in Dublin at the time and thatâs what I hooked up with. There was the likes of Brain May, Johnny ma.

So you were always aware of the underground scene in Dublin, even from a young age?

Yeah, I was introduced to it through my brother and brother-in-law who were both into Rockabilly. I used to steel my brothers records from his bedroom. Then I was asked to sing a song that my brother-in-law had written for Mary Stokes the Dublin blues singer because he wanted to hear it with a female voice. He liked what I sang and we went to one of the blues clubs and I never left. I used to jam with everybody and fell absolutely in love with it and was obsessed from then on. I used to hang around while they used to sneak me into clubs because I was way to young. But I used to jam all night with all kind of singers and I learnt my trade there. It was a brilliant way to be introduced to music - the old fashioned way I guess. Listening and learning with your peers and jumping up and singing with them. itâs great to surround yourself with great musicians because they pull you up to a certain standard very quickly - You have to learn very quickly.

You took to constructive criticism well then?

Oh Yeah, I always asked for that. I always asked what am I doing wrong and what can I do better. I remember regularly people would bend my ear, rough up your voice a bit 'cos it was too sweet, close your eyes a bit and feel the music, listen to the band and play with them. I listened to everything they told me and I still do that now. Itâs the only way you involve.

Roughing up your voice. That must have been a hard task?

Not drinking and smoking cigarettes, although I did try like most teenagers would, but when they said rough up my voice I realised what they were saying. For certain songs it work better to put a bit of gravel into it. I use to sit next to the recordplayer and listen to records intently to copy what people did and so taught myself how to sing - I suppose without hurting my voice. I learnt how to do that on my own. I was really nerdy (she laughs) when it came to music. Sad really (laughs).

Your not a new comer to the live circuit and have always gigged heavily. Are there any memorable gigs good or bad you can remember over the years?

Ah, Iâve had fantastic gigs over the years. Iâve been gigging for must be 17 years now, a long time but itâs only in the last couple of years that Iâve been doing it with my own songs.

In 2006 you formed your own band right?

Something like that. I left the other bands, took a risk of cutting the money and formed my own. I thought if I donât do it now I never will. And Iâm glad I did, you know, I should have done it years before. Iâd been writing for years but sometimes it takes you time to get up the nerve I suppose.

But memorable gigs God thereâs been absolutely loads. Obviously being on Joules Holland (later with Joules Holland, BBC) was amazing and nerve racking (smiles). The Royal Albert Hall and Dublin gigs at the Tri Pod too. Home coming gigs were good. Seeing my family and neighbors in the audience was fantastic. But also Gigs all over. I mean the crowds in Glasgow; there were a few nut cases. (Laughs)

Apart from having fans like Jules Holland and Jeff Beck, are there any other names that have commented on your music?

There has been a good bit of interest and people turning up to gigs that I find out afterwards, thinking my god I canât believe theyâve come to my gig you know. (Laughs) Itâs been fantastic. Iâm gonna be doing some more work with Jeff. Heâs also asked me to join him on tour, which is great, and possibly collaborate on a few bits. Weâre also been asked to open up for the specials at Brixton Academy so thatâs great. Roddy Radiation came to one of our gigs - they are a fantastic band.

After homing your craft for a number of years and now with the recent success of soldout gigs and being invited to festivals like the Cheltenham jazz festival and Glastonbury, do you think the attention is timely overdue or are you still blown away by it all?

No, Iâm blown away by it all. It depends in what way you want to look at it. Iâm delighted to be doing something in my life that I absolutely love and Iâd be doing it anyway regardless if anybody was interested (laughs). But to have the thumbs up from people and people turning up to the gigs, well - itâs the icing on the cake. When Iâm writing songs I donât think you can write songs to please others, I think you have to writes songs that you are happy with in the studio producing it and your proud of it. So then when you put it out to the open world and for people to come back and say they really liked it, and they got something from the song or the gig was a great night out - that just makes it all the worth while.

It must be great to see a mixture of old and new faces at your gigs now.

Exactly. You know we have such a fantastic mix that comes to the gigs. All ages. All styles. I love that because music should cross the board. Music is something you like or donât like.

Looking to your image you carry that 50âs influence into what you wear. Is it hard to buy cloths and put together outfits?

For me no (laughs). I know some good spots and I although I havenât had much time recently I love trolling through charity shops. My mother was a dressmaker so Iâm a dab hand with a needle. Iâm always changing things to make then fit me. I like enjoying myself with clothes like, itâs a bit of fun. I do like my leopard print a bit too much though (smiles). Iâm maybe slowly turning into Bet Lynch from Coronation Street.

Your album âLove Tattooâ is a real showcase of your song writing ability with a variation of tracks. Are there any favorites that you especially enjoy performing live?

I love them all live - Itâs like asking me to pick a child (laughs). I canât do it. They all mean something different to me for different reasons. I love performing them all. Iâm proud of that album because I didnât have any record company backing at that time. I love performing the new songs as well as those of the new album, which is going great, but wonât be out till probably next year.

You wrote the majority of the album, was it difficult process from start to completion?

It is time consuming and laborious in some ways. But I absolutely love watching it develop. Watching the lads play it and getting the sound you want - I love it. I feel like a kid in a sweet shop.

This summer you had a compact number of tour dates. With such a big schedule how do you unwind on tour?

I donât. (Laughs) sleep if I can. I enjoy it. The last show was quite long but Iâm glad we could do it. And Iâm looking forward to the up and coming date.

Well we really appreciate you dropping by and wish you all the luck with new material. Before you go any last words for the fans?

I hope they enjoy the album. Iâd like thanking the blues crowd for backing me because itâs where me heart is. Thanks

Imelda May plays the Indigo2 along with Jeff Beck on Monday the 21st of September.

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

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