- 10 Jul 19
To celebrate her 45th birthday, we're revisiting a classic interview with the Irish music icon, originally published in Hot Press in 2015.
A Nashville watering hole, generally frequented by cowboys, is the last place a Dubliner would expect to be greeted in kind with a “howiya!” but it’s a situation Imelda May found herself in a few months ago. And it came from another well-known voice.
The Liberties singer, who will be spending this Independence Day entertaining the Marlay Park masses in her home town, had headed to Music City, USA for meetings and found some time for a little writing.
“I’d been talking with a couple of producers and doing my homework to get ready for recording,” she says. “While I was there, I had three or four days, so my manager asked if I fancied do a few co-writing sessions. I never co-write, so I thought why not? Something new. I went in with a bunch of songs and worked with various different people. It was an interesting process, I really enjoyed it.”
“Nashville’s a music factory. It’s crazy! It makes you step up, because they just churn out songs. People write so many every day, you think ‘oh God, I better hurry up!’ On my last day, I let off a bit of steam and went to a honky tonk bar that sold boots and beer. I ended up with a load of songwriters and cowboys, drinking a think called ‘Fireball’ and eating waffles at a stupid time of the morning… Only to get on a long-haul flight with a stinking hangover!”
There does seem to be a bit of an Irish invasion going on across the Atlantic at the moment. Hozier is everywhere, Gavin James is singing on top of Capitol Records’ famous tower…
“Gavin James!” she roars, “I ended up bumping into him in the honky tonk bar! I’d never met him before. I’d heard of him, but didn’t know anything about him. So i ended up chatting to a couple of Irish fellas – I think I bought them loads of Fireballs and I think there was dancing involved! – and then it turned out it was Gavin. We had a good night together in Nashville, completely by accident. Just because we were drawn together, as you are when you hear the accent – ‘Ah, where are you from?!’ I had no idea he was a musician. It’s a small world, especially if you’re Irish. You’ll hear the accent, start with ‘do you know such-and-such?’ and then it ends up that you’re related!”
If anyone knows that ‘Irish abroad’ phenomenon, it’d be May. A seasoned globetrotter, she’s most recently been bringing fourth album Tribal around the world.
“We’ve been giving it welly every night, really going for it. It gets the adrenaline pumping. Plus the crowds took to it really well everywhere we went. I was really happy with how it was received. People singing every word back to me. It’s a selfish thing – you’re writing for yourself. And then you hope people like it. So it’s great when you see people relate to it.”
In tow along the, developing an early wanderlust, is her young daughter Violet.
“She’s not in school yet so it’s grand, and she absolutely loves it.”
She must have some passport for a toddler.
“Yeah, she’s been all over the place and she loves it. She says things that make me laugh. People give her food and she’ll say ‘oh that’s like in Barcelona!’ It’s a good education. She likes planes, so that’s not a bother, and she’s been on stage for The Pretenders. She’s seen Blondie. She dances like a mad thing!”
I must admit I’m a little jealous.
“Ha! Well, until she goes to school…”
As ever, Dublin draws her back frequently. April saw May play ‘Barrytown meets MusicTown’, a celebration of Roddy Doyle in Vicar Street, alongside the likes of Damo Dempsey, Glen Hansard and The Lost Brothers.
“The electricity was unbelievable. A very special night. The performers were all squashed in down the stairwell at the side of the stage so we could watch everyone else.”
Roddy, a massive music fan, must have been in his element. “He was delighted with himself!”
Right now, she’s back to film the new series of The Imelda May Show. In terms of guests?
“I don’t even know if I can say! Lots of really good stuff and a few nice surprises.”
As for Marlay Park, she says she loves that festival atmosphere, being on eclectic bills and having something to prove to people who might not necessarily be there for you.
“That was one of the big reasons I was up for it,” Imelda says. “I love getting to a new audience. It’s a challenge but it’s good for you. It keeps you on your toes. You can’t just play to people who love your stuff the whole time. I’ll play to a few thousand in Ireland and then go to somewhere up the mountains in the middle of nowhere in Germany and you play to 100 people and have to win them over. And it’s a great mix of talent. I’m looking forward to seeing Paolo again. He’s terrific and a really nice guy. Actually his dad comes to my gigs! He comes up to me and gives me a big hug. A really lovely man… And good taste in music!”