- 27 Jul 18
Born in the Liberties and bred on a diet of blues and rockabilly, Imelda May emerged a potential star just after the turn of the millennium. She has gone on to fulfil that promise in spades, with a series of powerful albums and great live shows.
Imelda's 2003 debut album No Turning Back was a concise statement of intent, from a woman who had been knocking on the door of stardom since she was 16 years old. But it was with the release of Love Tattoo, in 2008, that Imelda got the acclaim she deserves.
Jools Holland became a committed fan and championed her everywhere he went, including giving her a coveted spot on his Later... with Jools Holland show. Her reputation grew quickly. Numerous renowned artists wanted to collaborate with her - including the likes of Van Morrison, Smokey Robinson, Bruce Springsteen, David Gilmour and Jeff Goldblum. She performed with legendary guitarist Jeff Beck in New York City in 2010, for a show which honoured jazz guitar maestro Les Paul and which ended up being recorded for DVD and HBO. That gig earned Imelda a slot touring the U.S. with Jeff Beck for five weeks. Back at home, the Liberties artist was regularly topping the Irish charts, playing back-to-back shows at the O2 Arena.
In 2014 she released Tribal, and after a brief series of shows which included a memorable cameo performing 'Desire' with U2 on their iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE tour, Imelda decided that some class of reinvention was needed. In 2017, the singer ditched her trademark blond-streaked quiff and re-introduced herself as an artist who was ready to bare her soul. Her album Life Love Flesh Blood, followed May's divorce from guitarist Darrel Higham - an experience which fuelled the lyrical themes on the record. The album features soft rock and acoustic styles - which veered significantly away from her previous rockabilly persona - but, then, this was May at her most searingly honest. She stunned viewers on Jools Holland's annual New Year's Eve Hootenanny bash, courtesy of a performance of 'Black Tears' - a big, brassy soul ballad that saw Imelda wrench every last drop of emotion from the heartfelt lyrics.
The singer was back on the international stage last summer, when she was sang the Irish national anthem at the Conor McGregor vs Floyd Mayweather boxing match in Las Vegas. That she performed so well, with a viewership of over 50 million people across the world to satisfy, was a measure of her power as a performer. Trinity College may be only a mile from where she grew up in the Liberties, but getting there has been a long journey for Imelda, in the course of which she has smashed the stereotypes and become a real Dublin hero. Welcome home, Imelda.