Thoroughly modern May brings retro act back home

IMELDA MAY’S live show has grown into a raucous blend of fevered rockabilly and flat-out rock ‘n’ roll, with the odd pause in…

IMELDA MAY'S live show has grown into a raucous blend of fevered rockabilly and flat-out rock 'n' roll, with the odd pause in the pace to showcase her talent as a torch singer. With songs such as Pulling The Rug, Tear It Up, Go Tell The Devil, Roadrunner, Psychoand Big Bad Handsome Manon the setlist, fans at the O2 last night were in for some serious musical mayhem.

The O2 stage was decked out with giant Christmas presents, including a lifesized Elvis doll. May herself was dolled up in her finest sparkly silver dress – with kitten heels to match, of course – her trademark “cinnamon swirl” atop her forehead. Above her head was a large screen made to look like an old 1950s black and white TV. In her strong inner-city accent, Imelda thanked the home crowd for making the effort to come out and see her, and promised to make the night “fly”.

A loving version of Spoonful, written by recently deceased bluesman Hubert Sumlin, was followed by a ripping Tear It Upand Go Tell the Devil, guitarist Darrel Higham burning up the strings of his Gretsch.

Kentish Town Waltzchronicled May's early days playing the London circuit, and Big Bad Handsome Manwas snaky and lascivious, given added oomph by the trumpet of Dave Priseman.


The band dropped out at the end of Proud And Humble, leaving the crowd in the hands of May, and she led them through some vocal acrobatics, going from a feral growl to a feline screech and all animalistic sounds in between.

Mary Black made a surprise guest appearance, performing a duet with May, but tonight belonged to the relatively new girl on the block, as she tore through her rock-steady repertoire right up to its hip-shaking finale.

Imelda had one more Christmas surprise in store when the band belted into the opening chords of U2s Desire. Bono bounded onto the stage to join her in a rocking version of the song followed by a festive rendition of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).

The singer grew up just a couple of miles up the river, in Dublin’s Liberties, but last night, as she took the stage for the first of two big hometown shows, she must have paused to reflect on the incredible journey that’s brought her to this high point.

With two best-selling albums under her patent-leather belt, Love Tattooand Mayhem(plus a vamped-up version entitled More Mayhem), the woman born Imelda Mary Clabby 37 years ago has established herself as one of Ireland's biggest musical exports, comfortably taking her place in the international charts among younger, manufactured and autotuned acts.

Her vintage blend of rockabilly, rhythm ‘n’ blues and soul, combined with her distinctive retro 1950s style, has resulted in a thoroughly modern form of retro rock that connects with audiences of all ages.

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is an Irish Times journalist