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This interview was originally published in March 2009

To The Moon And Back: Interview with Imelda May

Written
By Imran Mirza

With a career gathering more momentum as time passes by, Dublin’s very own Imelda May brought 2008 to a triumphant close, and is set to build on that success – in greater bounds – for 2009. Having developed and honed her craft for live performances from a young age, May’s career highlights currently range from being the recipient of the Irish Music Awards’ Best Newcomer title, appearing at Glastonbury, Cornbury, Innocent and Chiswick House Festivals, opening for Van Morrison, performing at the Royal Albert Hall, touring with Jools Holland, even appearing on the latter’s ‘Later… with Jools Holland’, as well as fronting her own tour in support of new album, ‘Love Tattoo’.

Inspired by jazz legends, Billie Holliday and Dinah Washington, May was as much inspired by the people around her, all of which she believes helped to shape her musically, “I worked with really great musicians, and they say you should work with musicians better than yourself because you eventually pull yourself up to a good standard, and I did do that when I was young as much as I could”.

Having had a natural talent that was nurtured by her family from a young age, May spent much of her childhood singing, and had been gracing the stage at blues clubs and pubs since 16 years old.  Initially avoiding ‘centre-stage’, opting to sing for other people’s bands, it wasn’t long before she developed the courage and self-belief to pull musicians together for her own project, “I got such itchy feet and I was feeling very, very creative and I needed to do something with that, so I asked the guys, who were different musicians from different bands and they said ‘yeah definitely’ … and it just worked”.  May further described the chemistry between the band members Steve Rushton (drums), Dave Priseman (trumpet), Darrel Higham (guitar) and Al Gare (double bass), “It just seemed to snap in to place very quickly and then I knew I had done the right thing”.  

Billed as a jazz, blues and rockabilly artist, May is adept at skipping elegantly between these genres and styles of music, and capturing the incredible essence of each.  Throughout the songs presented on ‘Love Tattoo’, May’s unique ability to completely capture her listener’s attention is really what takes centre stage on this release – if she wants you to dance, the undeniable infectious rhythm of the opening number, ‘Johnny Got A Boom Boom’, will make you dance; and, if she wants to lure your imagination to the smoky blues club ambience of songs like ‘Knock 123’ or the beautifully written ‘Meet You At The Moon’, then that’s exactly the power that May’s capable of, and will effortlessly use to do with you what she will.  

We’re looking at the same moon,
Though we’re miles apart;
We’re wishing on the same star,
When you’re deep in my heart;
I don’t know if you know,
But when we miss each other so,
Look up, I’ll meet you at the moon


Confidently, May assures us that these array of styles was something planned all along, “I kinda knew what I wanted it to sound like – I had gigged the songs as well so I was happy with how they had come out.  It was obviously a mixture of influences that I had – the blues influence, the jazz influence, and of course the rockabilly influence, which I had from an early age ...  When I went into the studio, I wanted it to sound as simple as possible.  I thought, if we could just grab the energy of it, then we’d be flying, and it seemed to work.”

It has been said that luck is the time when preparation and opportunity meet.  So, already having all the necessary tools to reach luminary status would tick the ‘preparation’ box, all May needed was the perfect ‘opportunity’, which would go on to present itself with ‘Later… With Jools Holland’.  Responsible for being a launching pad for credible musicians, Imelda May joins the list of artists that have benefited from the Jools Holland stamp of approval, “I think Natalie Cole was supposed to be on, and got ill, and he got us, we got a call saying we’d be on in two days.  We all screamed, so that was fantastic, and thanks to him, I owe him a huge amount”.

May’s 2009 currently has ‘Johnny Got A Boom Boom’ securing regular spins on Radio 2’s playlist, a tour schedule that sees her playing 27 dates through February and early-March, and the hope to return to the studio for ‘Love Tattoo’s’ follow-up in May.  Imelda May’s incomparable style and genuine artistry not only makes her an incredible talent to watch bloom through 2009, but a name that we’re incredibly fortunate to have grace ‘Frequency’s’ very first cover.


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