////IMELDA MAY////JANUARY 2009////
Hailing originally from the Emerald Isle, Dublin born Imelda May is a rootin’ tootin’ kinda gal, who in recent months has easily won the title of Rock-a-Billy queen of our times. Although this sassy lady has only recently broken into the mainstream spotlight, thanks to a blistering performance on ‘Later… with Jools’, she has in fact been singing and performing since the age of four. Even though at this point she is only really embarking on her prosfessional career this sexy songstress can already boast sharing the stage with the likes of The Supremes, Sister Sledge, Elvis Costello and Elton John to name but a few, not to mention performing for Royalty in their private abodes, and at the tender age of fourteen she offered her vocal talents to a televised Fish Fingers advert…probably the less said about that one the better. The vivacious Imelda May very kindly takes some time out of a manic schedule to talk about life, since the recent release of her blinding debut record ‘Love Tattoo’…
According to your MySpace page, I believe you are back in the studio, already working on a follow-up to ‘Love Tattoo’. How has that been going and can you tell us a little about the style of the new tracks you’ve been doing?
Well yeah, it’s going well. It’s in the same vein as Love Tattoo, but obviously I want it to be a better album. The piano is gone, in fact it’s been gone since just after we made ‘Love Tattoo’, so we’ve been gigging without the piano as well, which gives the chance of the guitar taking a stronger role, so it’s going to be gutsier. I wanted a rougher bottom end to it as well, which is working out very well, even at the gigs – people have been responding to it anyway. We’ll be adding more percussion ‘cause Dave our Trumpet player is great percussionist – so I’m going to let him go for it on that. The songs themselves have the same influences obviously, so I’m hoping it’s going to be in a similar vein, but a bit better! There are things on the last album, that if I had of had more time I would have tweaked a bit more, but things were a bit manic. We have a little bit more time on this one (not much, but a little bit more – laughs)…
When do you think is it likely to come out, and has it got a working title?
There’s no release date as of yet, but I think I have a title. I’m thinking of possibly calling it ‘Mayhem’.
Can i ask how do you approach your songwriting?
Yeah, I’d love to be one of those songwriters that can just say, ‘Right, I’m going to write a song today’ – it would make life so much easier if I could. I like an idea to come to me, and then let it settle in my head for a while and then I start playing around with it. Sometimes in the middle of the night I’ll have to jump up or get up and find piece of paper.
In recent months there has been a lot of big names coming out and saying they would love to work with you, so I wondered if anybody at all, who would you like to get in to work along side?
Ah that’s like opening up a big sweet shop for me. I mean, there’s loads of people I’d love to work with. I’m very lucky actually that at the moment Jeff Beck has just asked me to support him on his tour – so that’s one of my wishes come true – he’s asked me to do the Albert Hall with him, which is fantastic. He’s been great and very supportive to me. There was also talk at one stage that I might get to do some work with Richard Hawley – he’s a good bloke. I’d also love to do some work with Elbow.
It’s been well documented that you are a proud Dubliner, but you’ve been living in London for just over a decade. What do you most miss about your motherland?
I most miss my family – there’s such a huge gang of them, they’re fantastic and great to be around. They’re the ones who gave me my love of music, there was always sing-songs to be had there. I don’t know if it’s the same now, but when I left, there was such a buzz of bands and musicians in a small place, and jam sessions and stuff. Dublin seemed to have a real spark about it at the time. But I love being over here as well. The backing we are getting from people is fantastic. Sometimes when we are doing a gig and it’s lashing, raining and freezing cold (I mean I wouldn’t go out on a night like that – laughs) and people are still coming to our gigs, so I couldn’t ask for more.
Your profile sky rocketed after your performance on Later…with Jools Holland. You played on the same show as Jeff Beck and one of my own favourites, Roots Manuva – how did you end up on the show and did you enjoy yourself?
It was brilliant; everything I’d hoped for… I mean that show is the Holy Grail for most musicians – well for me it is anyway. To be asked on to that was just fantastic. We supported him on tour, but getting to do that was very iffy. We were given a trial date but there was no sign of anything after that, but that went well and we got loads more dates on the tour. He then said to us that he was going to try and get us on the show. There are a whole lot of producers and managers involved so he had to really pitch for us – big time. Natalie Cole got sick, I was in Dublin at the time, seeing my family and I get a call saying ‘get back, you’re on…’
Surely if there was ever a phone call you wanted to get in front of your family, it was that?
Yeah, everyone was going mad at the house… jumping around and screaming, so that was great. But then you’ve got to deliver; you can’t just go on and mess up. We got there the day before to do the sound check, so we wouldn’t be too overwhelmed on the day. Jools came and said hello which was lovely. The next day we did the show and they crew were also lovely to us – they made us feel very welcome. We were delighted to get on with Elbow and Roots Manuva, who were great, it was fantastic to see him live and Dave Gilmour was giving us the thumbs up. We couldn’t have wished for more. I’m glad it went well though; you start thinking stupid things like I hope I don’t fall over – if I do it’s the end (laughs). You feel like you stepped into the television, ‘cause suddenly you are in the middle of something you’ve watched for years. It was great fun and we had a big party afterwards.
The musicpress have been refering to you as the ‘Robin Hood of Rockabilly’ owing to some private performances you did for both Prince Albert of Monaco and Prince Charles… can you tell us about these shows?
My manager Hugh Phillimore runs a management company called ‘Sound Advice’ which books big acts for people with loads of money who decide that instead of putting on a CD at a party, they want Dionne Warwick to sing in the corner. I’d left my old band and was starting out again, so Hugh got me some work, even if it’s a big act, they still need someone to open for them. So people seemed to like what I was doing and I started to get requests to have me. So eventually Prince Albert asked us to go over to Monaco to open up for Diana Ross and we got to meet all these great people and got looked after very well. It was like we just stepped into a Bond movie. It was very strange, with the likes of Ivana Trump in the audience. They announce it’s time for the fireworks, so you’re expecting people to get up and go outside, but of course they don’t have to because the glass roof slides back. And then Shirley Bassey was supposed to be performing for Charles and Camilla at some big do at the Throne Room in Buckingham Palace. She got sick and, don’t ask me how, but I got the gig. I had only three days to pull an eleven piece band together, so I rang my old friend’s band Blue Harlem and they helped me out and jumped in on it. It was good to sing with them again and we blasted out a few tunes.
Did you do anything naughty whilst you were there?
Naw, I was a good girl. I went for it though – I let it rip on the last one and they seemed to enjoy it. I know it sounds like the Robin Hood thing which someone said and I thought was hilarious, but those Palace shows enabled me to afford to do the small gigs. A lot of the small clubs are struggling at the moment, which is why everyone should keep going to gigs – keep going to gigs and support your local club because the people that are putting on gigs are struggling to keep their heads above water and bands need to be paid if they are not going to chuck it all in to get a normal job. So the gig venues couldn’t afford to pay very much, or I’d be paying the band and not paying myself so by doing some of the bigger posh gigs (we did one for Gordon Brown as well) that enabled me to fund getting out there to the proper clubs. The difference in the two is mad, it’s the nature of the game though and I love it. You get to meet the Princes (both of whom were lovely), but I do love my smelly sweaty clubs as well.
Recently you’ve graced the pages of Hello! Magazine, appeared on countless BBC radio shows, and made some sublime TV appearances. I wondered how you are coping with the heady heights of your new found celebrity status…
Well I am a normal girl. I never got into this game to be known, I’m just passionate about music, so by doing this sort of thing at the moment, it’s helping to fill up the gigs, which is all I’ve really been able to do. By doing all these interviews it’s getting our music out there. The last tour was fantastic ‘cause we we’re packing out places. So things have been taking off and people have been getting into it. It’s been such a great buzz for us, and really that’s the only reason I’m doing all of this. It’s all great fun really.
It’s a pretty hefty tour, so how do you prepare for something like that?
Yeah I think we only have two days off once we start. So I’ve never done a tour this hefty before. I’ll just have to cross my fingers and see how we get on. I don’t really know how I’ll prepare – I’ll just do that as it goes along. I mean, what do you do?
There must be certain essentials that a lady needs with her, to cope with all those men on a tour bus?
(Laughs) Well a full handbag ‘cause blokes are always asking the girls for a tissue, or a sweet or a wet wipe. So I bring the sweets, the cakes and the sandwiches with me. I’ll be handing out the picnic bags as we go along.
How do you fill that mundane downtime whilst on the road?
To be honest with you, there isn’t that much downtime at the moment. There’s just so much to be getting on with. Sleep and some good food are the main goals. You do feel a little bit wrecked after eating Pot Noodles for four nights. We get to catch up with friends as well, which is always great. Up until now though, any time we’ve had off has been about getting the album started; hopefully we’ll get it finished when we get back. We’ll be guinea pigging a few new ones throughout the tour to see how they go down.
As I’ve already touched upon, you’ve shared a stage with Alison Moyet, Dionne Warwick, Bryan Ferry, Anastasia, The Supremes, Sister Sledge, Scissor Sisters, Matt Bianco, Elvis Costello, and Elton John amongst others. Did you find it intimidating or inspiring?
I was delighted to meet Dionne Warwick, just a brilliant singer and her voice is the same as it always was. She really went for it. It was great to see that you can do this for years and years. I got to meet Eartha Kitt, which was fantastic but she was very intimidating. I also got to meet some other mad people along the way who would probably not be as well known, but big on the Rhythm and Blues scene, such as Natalie Brown, Little Willy Littlefield, these were the people who were responsible for starting it all off, so it was great to meet them. But yet Eartha Kitt was terrifying. With Dionne Warwick I was trying to think up something clever to say and I ended up just blurting out ‘I love you’ and turned into a goof-ball. Ya just go blank…
Finally, the en vogue question at the moment is Obama, can he change the world?
I have no idea, but I think he’ll put a bloody good try in, won’t he?