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Imelda May

Many fans were taken aback by the publicity shots for the forthcoming Imelda May tour, which kicks off in Ipswich this week.   Gone was the rock-a-billy hair, the loud colours and the makeup.  Instead what we were seeing was the real Imelda May in black and white.

The change of style came about following the breakup of her 13-year marriage and the affair that followed.  One can only imagine the pain and heartbreak she went through.  And yet, despite not wanting to talk about it, she deals with the emotional issues by writing and singing about it.   The result is the new album Life | Live | Flesh | Blood which was released last month.

And what an album!  It is raw and powerful with lyrics that give us a window on the suspicions, the fear and the pain.   Both ‘Black Tears’ and ‘Call Me’ were heavily trailed on social media ahead of the launch.  These opening tracks are merely the tip of the iceberg and, along with the thirteen tracks that follow, are all incredibly personal.   Here and there you hear hints of her former trademark rockabilly style – ‘Bad Habit’ for example.  There is a ballad in ‘The Girl I Used to Be’, which will resonate with Dubliners around the world if only for the mention of Bray Head!   ‘Game Changer’ is Imelda rocking it up and grabbing life by the scruff.

Quite apart from the heartache which spawned these songs, a great deal of time and effort has gone into crafting this album.  Listen to the lyrics and you realise that the album is the chronological story of the break up and how a woman with a young child deals with a situation she never wanted to have to face.  As I said, it is raw, and probably the best Imelda has ever produced.

And now she is bringing us the songs live in a thirty date tour of the Ireland and the UK before heading off to the USA.  You can catch Imelda in our region:

  • 4th May at Ipswich Regent
  • 6th May at Cambridge Corn Exchange
  • 8th May at The Cliff Pavilion, Southend

I had the privilege of having a quick chat with Imelda just before the tour kicked off – did you know she could have been in ‘The Commitments’?

You teased us with a few samples before the album launch, now it’s out there and all you have to do is do it all live on stage.  How do you feel about that?

Really happy, I can’t wait.  I can’t wait to get goin’ on this tour.  I’ve been in rehearsals with the guys, we have some more to do and it just feels great, I am absolutely flyin’ high after every rehearsal, it is just wonderful, can’t wait to get goin’.

It is a very honest album, you’ve said so yourself.  But has that honesty come at a price?

That’s a good question.  Performing wise no.  Performing is perfect, I’ve always been honest in my writing and every time I sing a song I’ve written… its like a scent, have you ever smelt something and within a second you are transported back to wherever it was you smelt that the first time.   You get that with certain perfumes – they remind you of things.   With me when I’m singing my songs, for each song I sing – if this makes sense – I go to the exact place I was when I wrote it.  That’s a lot of albums and a lot of songs but I remember where I was when I wrote each one.  So it is nice for me out gigging to be able to go there and do that, it’s therapeutic in a way, you know.  I can really get in touch with what I’m singin’ ’cause I’ve lived it.  When I’m sngin’ them I am putting every feelin’ into every word and I hope then, I suppose, that I can relate to people and them to me – that we can connect in some way, they are about real life.

But the question you asked was about honesty.

Yes, does that honesty come at a price.

Interviews yes. Some of the interviews, some of the more sensational journalists who just want the headline, maybe on some of the first interviews I did I was maybe a bit naive, maybe a bit vulnerable and then you answer and then you feel sick when you read it back or you just burst into tears after the interview.  I’ve hardened up as I’ve gone along but I hope that doesn’t make me not want to write honestly again.   Because it will make me think twice about writing it – writing it is great, singing it is great but talkin’ about it in interviews… part of the reason I write is so I don’t have to talk about it.

I find it excruciatingly painful, and I’m not talking about music journalists or good journalists, I’m talkin’ about the sensational ones – one actually tried their very best to make me cry so they could write “oh she broke down in tears” – I didn’t, but they really tried.   If I did those interviews now, I’d be better able for them.

You and I know The Liberties in Dublin, its where you grew up.  Was it a difficult place to grow up?

Sometimes yes.  The Liberties had hard times, unemployment was rife.  Part of that was because Guinness was the main employer, the whole place was built around it – a lot of the houses were built by Guinness and when they became computerised all of the locals were put out of work at the flick of a switch, literally.  There were tough times in The Liberties, there was lots of unemployment, lots of drugs, it was really tough.  But te community were fantastic and handled it really well.  We stuck together and somehow came through it all.  It was definetly to do with the spirit of the people in The Liberties, including my family.  I had a great childhood and they managed to give us the best time.

And then one day you discovered you could sing.

I always sang.  In Ireland its quite normal, it is encouraged within families to have a sing-song.  Its a wonderful part of our culture that I am very proud of.   My family in particular was very encouraging.  The Committments sent a script to my house when I was about sixteen.  I don’t know how somebody found out I was singing in blues clubs.  Anyway, they sent me a script and my mother would not allow it because there was swearing in it and she nothing would come of a movie with swearing like that in it!  She apologised to me later.   I remember seeing the movie and it was like my life, you know.

Lets talk about the tour, will you be playing just the new material?

It will be both.  I’ll do all of the new album – all fifteen songs from the deluxe – I can’t wait to perform these live – and I will do some songs from other albums as well.  No nerves, looking forward to it, can’t wait to get out on the road again, my band are sounding amazing.

About Tony Bell

Tony is a freelance photo-journalist who first started taking pictures for Grapevine Magazine many years ago. Over the years his role has expanded to include non photographic activity and now includes freelance reviews and interviews.

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