“I think people can smell insincerity a mile away, but I think people realise that with me, it’s my whole life”
working class. It’s very rare that you get working-class people involved in music these days, actually, so I’m happy to fly that flag and represent them, if it encourages others. I was brought up to believe that if you work hard enough at anything, you can do well. And you don’t have to go to a big music college, or stage schools to do what I’m doing, anyway.” Regardless of the location of her upbringing, one constant in the Clabby household was music. Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran featured alongside usual 1980s pop suspects such as Wet Wet Wet, Rick Astley and The Communards, until the teenage May began rock‘n’roll crooning in clubs such as Bruxelles in Dublin’s city centre at the weekends.
After school, an assortment of jobs followed – one in a nursing home for the elderly where she “ended up singing to them anyway”. A career in music was inevitable. “I was
thinking about going into musical therapy after that if the gigs didn’t work out, but I’m glad it did.”
But May can’t quite pinpoint the catalyst for Love Tattoo’s success. How does a performer of what is still a niche musical genre end up bringing rockabilly songs into the pop charts?
“You’re right, it’s niche music, and I never expected it to take off like it did,” she nods. “I honestly thought I’d be selling CDS from a suitcase at the back of the gig, which is what we were doing for a while, because I hadn’t got a record company. I think something happened when I started this band. I noticed the audience was getting bigger very quickly. We’d do a gig, and there’d be 20 people at it. The next one would have 50, and the next would have 100, and so on. To me, that seemed to be down to word of mouth. Other than that, I don’t know.
“I suppose I had a lot of belief in it myself. I was enjoying myself, I knew the audience were enjoying themselves – or, I hoped that they were – and I think it was time for a bit of rock’n’roll. It seems recessions work that way, too. People want value for their money; they wanna go to a gig and see the music performed well. There was no big campaign with millions of pounds behind it. We were just gigging, gigging, gigging – and we still are, because that’s what we love to do.”
With so much gigging afoot, it’s difficult to write on the road, when “daydreaming” is a luxury, although she plans to take a couple of months off early next year. Her new material won’t bow to the commercialised charts or make allowances for her success, either.
“The next album will still be me and my band – the same influences – but I’ll be touching more on the rawness of the rockabilly edge. With bands like The Cramps, and The Pretenders and The Clash, you could hear the rockabilly influences. I wanted to pick up on that post-punk on Mayhem, and I’d like to explore more of that with the next album. I just want it to be out-and-out rock’n’roll.”
And where will the next few years take her? Projects for the near future include a pilot rockabilly show for BBC Radio 2 with husband and guitarist Darrel Higham (to be broadcast next Thursday at 11pm), and although she says her ultimate ambition is to record a Bond theme (“ever since I was a little girl and saw Gladys Knight singing License to Kill”), she’d be happy to delve further into film scoring work – preferably with Quentin Tarantino, “if he ever needs anything”.
“Other than that, I’m happy to traipse around the world gigging. I’m very, very happy with how it’s all going, and we’ll just continue to do the same, really. People can see through you very quickly, and I don’t think you should ever underestimate an audience. I think people can smell insincerity a mile away, but I think people realise that with me, it’s my whole life. It’s what I’m into, I’ve been into it my whole life, and I do it with as much passion as I can. It’s not a gimmick.”