The Irish Mail on Sunday
You can take it or leave it but this is me, says Imelda
When I spoke to Imelda May she was glowing with pride that her third album was sitting atop the Irish charts for a second week. Tribal is an appropriate title, as the Liberties belle is at her happiest when among her own tribe. The album launch in the Thomas House in Dublin 8 a few weeks back was stuffed to the gills with her extended family and friends from the area.
The beats of the title track hark back to the tribal beats of the Drummers of Burundi, whose sound helped propel Adam and the Ants to fame. That band as well as others from the punk era such as the Ramones and Buzzcocks, and of course the rockabilly influence, is prevalent on the new album. It’s an even harder-edged affair than on her previous two No. 1 albums, Love
Tattoo and Mayhem.
‘It is. It definitely is. I’m glad you got that,’ she says. ‘When I play my music, I’m saying, “This is me, take it or leave it.” If you start thinking what might people think and second-guessing, you’ll lose what you have and people will see right through you.’
Her family have always been there to support her.
‘They’ve been supportive of me since I was a teenager and even when it wasn’t working,’ she says. ‘They were always saying, “Go for it,” and “Keep going.” My dad would drive me into the gigs and say: “What time are you finished? I’ll pick you up.” My mam as well, just said, “If this is what you want to do, we’ll back you up.” My brothers and sisters would come to the gigs so I wasn’t on my own. They would be critical, and that’s what I wanted. I never wanted pats on the back. I wanted to be told how I could do better. They’re enjoying it going so well for me now and I’m enjoying them enjoying it.’
One of her brothers, Fintan, can look forward to a royalty cheque as it was his poem about Imelda’s daughter, Violet, that provided the lyrics for the song Little Pixie, one of the few softer songs on the album.
‘I think he did a great job. The lyrics are beautiful and I definitely wanted it on the album.’
Imelda now gets to mix with other families, specifically those of the royal variety. She had ‘a good chat’ with Queen Elizabeth when the monarch threw a reception for the Irish in Britain in March.
‘I was only saying the other day, I’ve met the Queen and Prince Charles and presidents from everywhere and I’ve played for the royal family in Monaco and then you stop and think, “God, this is bizarre, isn’t it?” she says.
‘I had a good chat with the Queen. She was telling me about the fishmonger in Cork. I genuinely didn’t know about that until she told me. She said she was disgusted he didn’t bring her any fish when he came over this time. She was really chatty and she was so delighted how things went in Ireland and said the hospitality here was great when she visited.’
Imelda loves to bring as many of her family on the road as she can. She is playing a slew of festival dates this summer and she is delighted that, with her husband Darrel and daughter Violet in tow, hers is a ‘family band’. She also hopes to revisit the TV project that saw her present a pilot show in the style of Later… With Jools Holland for RTÉ back in March.
‘Everybody who worked on it including me agrees we have a lot more to learn,’ she says.
‘I’m not hoping to be a presenter but if we do it again I hope that by me being a musician it will get other musicians to talk in a way that might not do to a seasoned pro. I just want to have it as me having a little yap with them.
‘I would like it to be a platform for Irish bands. This country is rammed with good bands,’ she says. ‘I know how it feels to be trying and not getting that break. I would like to give something back.’
Imelda will be giving it her all around the country throughout the summer.