IRISH singer-songwriter and poet Imelda May plays York Barbican tomorrow in the only Yorkshire show of her first major UK tour in more than five years.
“I cannot wait to see you all again, to dance and sing together, to connect and feel the sparkle in a room where music makes us feel alive and elevated for a while,” said the Dubliner when announcing the Made To Love itinerary last April. “It’s a magical feeling we can only get from live music. Let’s go!”
Imagine how she feels, a year on from that “Let’s go!” invocation, as Imelda at last has the chance to promote her sixth studio album, last April’s 11 Past The Hour.
“I’m absolutely chomping at the bit to perform these songs live because normally you put out the album, go out on tour at that time, and see the songs grow as you play them,” says Imelda, 47.
“But until now, I’ve not really played any of them live, apart from Made To Love at a couple of things. When you start playing them, it can change suddenly what you might release as the next single, as you see what people enjoyed, but with this album I had to release them blindly as there couldn’t be any comeback from audiences. So, it’ll be interesting to see which ones they most react to, now I’m touring again.”
On a record that “brims with sensuality, emotional intelligence, spirituality and intuition”, Imelda collaborated with Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, Noel Gallagher, Miles Kane and Niall McNamee.
“Niall is a wonderful Irish musician and actor and it was Ronnie [Wood] who introduced him to me because he was acting in a play by Ronnie’s wife, and we got on so well, we started writing together,” says Imelda.
The duet Don’t Let Me Stand On My Own resulted, with its theme of mental health, sticking together and holding on together. Lo and behold, Imelda and Niall are indeed not standing alone. “We fell in love over the kitchen table and we’re still together,” she says.
Imelda is grateful to Ronnie Wood for that post-show introduction but more besides. “It’s great to have Ronnie on the record, playing on Just One Kiss and Made To Love. I’ve known him since I was 16,” she says. “I’d never gone to music college or state schools; I just jammed at clubs, and I’d just started playing at this little club when Ronnie turned up and we ended up playing Rollin’ & Tumblin’ together.
“Later, I toured with Jeff Beck, who introduced me to Ronnie, saying ‘I don’t if you remember Imelda’, but he did!”
Noel Gallagher co-wrote and sings on Just One Kiss while Miles Kane features on What We Did In The Dark. “Miles has been a friend for a long time and Noel is a good friend too,” says Imelda.
Feminist thinkers and activists Gina Martin and Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu contribute to Made To Love. “Gina does incredible work and it’s the same with Dr Shola, who is so eloquent and elegant and makes so much sense,” says Imelda.
“I was writing this song about how we’re made to love, because if we don’t look for love, what are we aiming for, especially now? I’m a living thing! Love is a living thing!
“I was looking for backing vocalists and decided I’d get in touch with Gina and Shola after they really captured our attention and hearts at this beautiful event for International Women’s Day.
“I said, ‘do you sing because I need your heart and passion on this song?’, and they agreed to do it with. We had to be [socially] distanced for the recording with all the doors open. Absolutely freezing, but it was worth it.”
Imelda’s record company, Decca Records, were favouring Diamonds for a single, but Graham Norton asked specifically for Made To Love for Imelda’s performance on his BBC One chat show, and it duly became the single.
Imelda loves being creative. “The writing process is like giving birth. Suddenly something exists that didn’t exist this morning,” she says. “I love it when my brain fires up and a song flows out.
“Then you start working on the artwork and the videos, the songs get to live and that’s another chapter starting. Then you work on how the songs will sound live, which is a very different creative process from studio recordings, especially when we were recording remotely in lockdown.”
Imelda’s creativity has expanded to poetry, as heard on her 2020 EP, Slip Of The Tongue, and printed in last October’s A Lick And A Promise. “Absolutely 100 per cent, poetry will feature in the show,” she says. “When the book came out, the reaction was unprecedented, I was told. The print runs sold out three times. They flew out the door!
“Working on poems for the EP with beautiful string arrangements behind them, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, I can tell you.”
Now is the time for May in April, songs, poems and all, at York Barbican tomorrow.
Imelda May fact file
Full name: Imelda Mary Higham.
Born: July 10 1974, in The Liberties area of Dublin.
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, poet and multi-instrumentalist who plays bodhrán, guitar, bass guitar and tambourine.
Breakthrough: Discovered by boogie-woogie pianist Jools Holland, who asked her to tour with him.
Performed duets with: U2, Lou Reed, Sinead O’Connor, Robert Plant, Van Morrison, Jack Savoretti, Noel Gallagher and Elvis Costello.
Featured on albums and live tours with: Jeff Beck, Jeff Goldblum and Ronnie Wood.
Studio albums: No Turning Back, 2003; Love Tattoo, 2008; Mayhem, 2010; Tribal, 2014; Life. Love. Flesh. Blood, 2017; 11 Past The Hour, 2021.
Branching out: In the cauldron of 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, she released her poem You Don’t Get To Be Racist And Irish. Sentiment adopted by Irish government’s ReThink Ireland campaign on billboard displays.
What Imelda did next: Released reflective nine-poem Slip Of The Tongue EP, set to uplifting soundscape. May addressed themes of home and love, feminism, harsh realities of life, defiance, lovelorn longing and escapism.
Book: A Lick And A Promise, debut collection of 104 poems, including two each by her father and young daughter, published in October 2021.
York gigs: February 2009, at The Duchess, in bequiffed retro-rockabilly days; November 2011, York Barbican debut; May 2017, York Barbican, promoting post break-up album Life. Love. Flesh. Blood.
Imelda May plays York Barbican tomorrow (6/4/2022) at 7.30pm on her Made To Love Tour. Box office: yorkbarbican.co.uk, gigsandtours.com and ticketmaster.co.uk or on 0203 356 5441.