p8 Imelda May comes home for Christmas. She talks to Lauren Murphy,
IMELDA MAY would like to make one thing clear: if she has to answer one more question about Findus Fish Fingers, she might regret her actions.
You can’t blame her, really. Who wants to spend time talking about a throwaway radio ad undertaken as a teenager, when you’re one of Irish music’s biggest exports since... gulp... Westlife?
In many ways, the rockabilly queen’s dominance has stretched even further afield than that of the pop puppets, particularly since the last year’s fortified a fanbase won over by 2008’s breakthrough album
Grammys performance? In the bag. US primetime chat show appearances? No problem. Ego kept in check throughout? Absolutely. Life may be lived inside something of a bubble these days, but Imelda May Higham is as normal as they come – for a superstar-in-waiting.
“Maybe if it all stopped, you’d think ‘God, we’ve done this and done that’, or sometimes – say when we were doing when he’s introducing you and he starts saying everything that you’ve done – then I get impressed! I say ‘That does sound good’,” she says with a gleeful machine-gun cackle.
“In a way, it’s been all very gradual for me – and I suppose, being that little bit older as well [she is 37], you take it as it comes.”
Has she been starstruck by anybody she’s met along the way? “I thought I was gonna be starstruck by David Bowie, but he was so nice that he made me feel at ease. I suppose Clint Eastwood. When I met him, I couldn’t string a sentence together, apart from ‘I love yooouuu!’
“And the other was Eartha Kitt. She told me off, because I told her it was a ‘great gig’ and she said she doesn’t do those anymore: “It was a show, darling.” Then I went to shake her hand and she put it out for me to kiss it. So that was a bit odd. But yeah, I’m gettin’ around. It’s mad, isn’t it?!”
It’s hard to imagine May getting ideas above her station, although many people wondered if perhaps fame had changed her when stories surfaced earlier this year of her allegedly kicking support band The Ettes off a US tour for allegedly trash-talking her in an interview.the Dubliner tells another side of the story.
“I’m not one of those people who do tit-fortat stories; they were doing interviews left, right and centre, so I said I’d just leave them to it,” she says.
“I like to help support bands out in the exact same way I’ve been helped out. You’re trying to get out there to a bigger audience, a different audience. And I always pay the support band well; a lot of bands won’t pay them, or use a DJ or comedian, or whatever. I make sure they’re fed, and that they have plenty of beers in the fridge, and make sure they can sell their CDS.
“In saying that, I’m also a big believer in support bands being easy to deal with, so when I’m turning up to my own gigs, I have no problems. And I just can’t say that for that band. I sent a message to them asking them to turn up and we’d have a chat, smooth it all out, and it’d all be fine, and they never turned up.
“They went mental instead. So I said, OK, forget it. It wasn’t worth it for everyone who was working for me, they were having a hard time too.”
Much has been made of May’s roots in inner-city Dublin, her supportive family and her proud neighbours. Yet because of her background, the press has conveniently molded her into a “working-class hero”. Isn’t that uncomfortable for any musician who wants to be judged by their music alone?
“It’s definitely about the music, but there’s no point denying who you are, either,” she shrugs. “You can’t pretend you’re anything that you’re not, and I’m very proud of being