Specializing in rockabilly with a look to match, Dublin-born Imelda May has an extensive repertoire of cool covers and self-penned songs.
Jools Holland is excitable by nature, but when he spots a new artist who has what he considers “it,” his enthusiasm goes off the scale. To go by his reaction to Imelda May, she has “it” in spades. “I’ve got to have you on the show,” he told her after seeing her play live – and so, a couple of months ago, she duly found herself on “Later With Jools Holland,” wowing an audience who included Jeff Beck, Elbow and Roots Manuva. Jeff Beck, in fact, made a point of telling Holland that he was only there to see Imelda.
Internationational TV exposure, a clutch of musician fans – not bad for an Irish newbie. But with respect to Jools and crew, it works both ways: Imelda got that “Later” boost, but “Later” can claim the kudos of discovering a talent who doesn’t sound like anyone else.
Having fallen in love with rockabilly and the blues as a nine-year-old in Dublin – the only kid in her class who wasn’t into a-Ha and Wet Wet Wet – she’s turned them into a cool, swinging fusion that’s both classic and oddly modern. That’s not just PR fluff: though her musical heart lies in early rock’n’roll (she’s partial to the clothes, too - her wardrobe is stuffed with leopard-print cardigans and tight bad-girl jeans), she puts a 21st century spin on things. Her debut album, “Love Tattoo,” is lusciously retro, but as fresh as 2009. And her live gigs, where she sings and plays bodhran, are fierce.
“It’s all gone mental lately,” she says, in an accent that 10 years of living in London has failed to shift. “Elbow asked me to join them on their tour, as a result of ‘Later,’ and Gilson Lavis [Jools Holland’s drummer] said to me, ‘You’re very sexy in a trashy way, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.’ So I said, ‘You look like a pimp, and I mean that in the nicest possible way’.” She looks very pleased at this.
She was the youngest of five kids, and because the family lived in a two-bedroom house, there was no avoiding the music her older siblings listened to. There was folk (one of her sisters was in a folk group connected with their church in Dublin’s Liberties area), and the usual chart pop, but there was also Elvis. “My brother was a mad Elvis fan, and I found a tape in his room with Elvis, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. I thought the music was fantastic.”
Imelda has shared the stage with Alison Moyet, Dionne Warwick, Bryan Ferry, Anastasia, The Supremes, Sister Sledge, Scissor Sisters, Matt Bianco, Elvis Costello, Jools Holland, Elton John and Jeff Beck.
CDs currently available:
No Turning Back – Imelda’s first solo release
Swing Street – Blue Harlem
Talk to Me – Blue Harlem’s most recent release
Love Tattoo - Imelda’s new solo release