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Imelda May - singer with a difference

Updated on November 3, 2014

Imelda May is to Rockabilly what Elvis is to Rock n Roll. They say the "King" is dead. I think Elvis never left the building - he snuck into the ladies room and put on a skirt and came out as Imelda May. So okay, I am kidding. Or am I? Imelda May is one name that in the crowded world of music - just stands out. She started life as a music buff in love with the old classic songs her parents loved, and she later performed in the Liberties in Dublin - Ireland, where she grew up as a young woman with a passion for old fashioned music that was thought to be long gone out of fashion. The Rockabilly sound was an American invention, and had its day, and some very famous names attached to it. Gene Vincent and Bill Haley to name but some. Now Imelda May has arrived and is giving a somewhat jaded music scene a touch of the new, in the old, but the new - if you know what I mean. But this hubs needs a proper intro.

"Mayhem" - the new Imelda May album
"Mayhem" - the new Imelda May album

Imelda May was born as Imelda Clabby was born on the 10th of July, 1974 in the Liberties in Dublin. She later married the guitarist in her band Darren Higham and is now Imelda Mary Higham, and sings under the name of Imelda May. Her songs are almost entirely Rockabilly or jazz and blues. She has had a meteoric rise to fame, and this all coming from a woman still in her 30's. It is the stuff of near legend, as few have ever had musical success as fast as she did.

In 2005 she released the album "No Turning Back" under her then real (maiden) name Imelda Clabby. This album brought her straight away to the attention of a lot of people, and it was clear there was a real genuine singing talent here, and with song-writing capability. But although people were telling her she had true talent, and filling her with aspirations of grandeur, nothing came of those as the plans never seemed to take off, and she felt like a plane "Stranded" on the deck of an aircraft carrier watching all the other planes take off but hers remaining. Part of the problem was that Imelda had too many styles, and sounds and too much musical range, and it was suggested she trim it down and even drop the rockabilly sound and stick to the more easy listening jazzy sound. Imelda refused and stuck to her guns. Musically, she was above her years and knew where her strengths lay and knew there was a lot of rich green pastures and "mileage" in the music of old. But the "experts could not see it her way. So Imelda Clabby was stuck. Gifted, talented, and with a great album and going nowhere.

Realising that the stars were out of alignment for her, she rethought her plans, while planning her next album. The next album would be the officially first album she would have with a proper label. And so it was that she released Love Tattoo in 2008, under the Ambassador Music label, (having decided to switch to another "brand")and this album was this time, the reaction was different - instantly critically acclaimed in both her native Ireland and abroad. She had decided to adapt the name Imelda May and became more entrenched in the music she wanted to record, and now with a label that allowed her that freedom to develop more as a vocalist. In this line up, the Imelda May Band was formed, a band that are now widely viewed as a "flawless" band, (the double bass player and drum soloing have to be seen to be believed and Darren's hyperactive yet controlled guitar work marries seamlessly into the vocals) and this was also to have a huge affect on her sudden change of luck. Suddenly the stars were coming into alignment for Imelda. Change was about to happen for the benefit of everyone.

The Rubicon that she crossed was to happen when a legendary music figure in British Music Jools Holland, who - besides being presenter of the Most successful Live Music Show on TV in the UK "Later...with Jools Holland" suddenly found himself with a music starlet suddenly being unable to go on a planned musical Tour with him. The singer who had fallen ill, was Natalie Cole, daughter of Legend Nat King Cole. yes - that guy, the man that your parents probably sing along to so much! Jools Holland decided to replace the "Miss you like Crazy" star Cole with Imelda May, and so Imelda went on tour with Jools, and he was to find that this Imelda May really was a stunning talent with a new take on conventional music - with Rockabilly. So one could argue that she was indeed "discovered" by Jools Holland.

Ireland is a peculiar country when it comes to music. While country western music in the UK is so in the minority, that almost no radio stations will play it, country music thrives on the Irish Airwaves, and is much more accepted. David Gray, back when he also could not fulfill the mandate of music labels who wanted him to be more "commercial" - recorded and delivered the "White Ladder" album first to an Irish audience - who loved it, and rated him top of the charts, and the rest of the world took notice, and his career then took off. There is the equally humorous matter of a book turned into a move "The Commitments" which though fictional, places ordinary musicians and singers from Dublin with a dream to hit it big, in a context where they play out what every band today has to go through - namely the process of getting noticed and discovered. Today in the age of the internet and iTunes, anyone can now record an album in their garage or bedroom with a computer and some musical instruments and just publish on the web via iTunes or MySpace as easily as a Hub Pages writer can publish a Hub Page. The Web it seems is a great leveler.

"Love Tattoo" is a radical album for many reasons. No one in modern living memory has ever taken a niche old music sound and re-skinned it into a new sound that seems fresh and invigorating. Not with the "Rockabilly" format. Some previous attempts became at best "margin" styled or minority, or was unmarketable. See the reasons here ------>

The music market will respond to something if it is poignant, relevant, something that can put a new spin on something that was once also successful and proved itself. Even the tried and trusted formats of old style music. Even Rockabilly can be put on the commercial music market if it offers something or someone new and fresh. Someone like Imelda May. (Does anyone remember the band Portishead who in fact achieved this very thing with their break through music sound so reminiscent of the music from the 60's - John Barry-styled infusions of moody catchy tunes with fresh new vocalist talent. It can be done. Oasis did a remade version of the Beatles as a seemingly more raw older Beatles-Lennon sound with similar heady songwriting ability - result..hit after hit. It is into this strange nether region of Music that Imelda May travelled. Here in the video below she explains it to Pat Kenny on "The Late Late Show"...

As can be seen - Imelda May comes across as a very down to earth, ordinary gal with a penchant for music and a dream to be involved in music, and she clearly had this dream become a reality. So people might not like Rockabilly and still end up liking Imelda May. She has that star Quality. She brings something new to the mix. The musical weapon of choice is the Irish drum called the Bodhran, which she hits with a small padded stick. She wears great clothes and dresses to kill in all her performances, and has that wholly identifiable hairstyle which has become her calling card.

And as for the band - who are they?

On Bass guitar / Double Bass - Al Gare,
Drums - Steve Rushton,
Percussion / shakers / Flugelhorn / Trumpet / guitar - Dave Priseman,
Electric Guitarist - Darren Higham,
Imelda May - vocals.

As with all quality bands, this band breaks into solos, with drum, Bass and guitar solos from this quality group of players. Their sound is distinct and unique.

The "No Turning back" album by now was starting to do what all unofficial first albums do when the "official" albums take off, it took off too, and caused no end of confusion. Here were two albums by seemingly two different artists, so Imelda did the deed, and the "No Turning Back" album was re-packaged as an Imelda May (not Imelda Clabby) album. Result!! A major sore point with album releases was solved. Meanwhile the album sales were going through the roof and Imelda was appearing in packed gigs everywhere. In 2009, "Love Tattoo" making such a name for itself that Imelda was nominated for then won the 2009 Meteor Award for Best Irish Female Artist. When this happens in a persons music career, they are made. It is the Irish musical Oscars.

The album has a punchy theme, simply put, it is a confident musical collection that believes in itself - it is true to what it portends - the blend is magical. The introductory song "Johnny's got a boom boom" is electrifying and feels like a song that teaches or prepares the listener for what is to come, with its punchy soulful ways. What follows is "Watcha gonna do" which gets more boisterous and brash sounding. You can hear the influences of Aretha Franklin and Billie Holiday in these tunes. It turns into swing jazz with the song "It's your voodoo working", a fantastic vocal laid across a haunting Hammond organ and sports a spine tingling instrumental. "Knock 123" is a pared back a Capella which still mops up the instruments when they kick in after about 30 seconds. And it goes on. It's a clever blend of different styles with arrangements made to both suit Imelda's style and range. The acrobatic tendencies in her voice are always well controlled and she never strains into notes she cannot reach yet gives the impression there is always more "gas in the tank" anyway.

The Album "Mayhem" was released in September 2010. Naturally the music press had a field day, previewing this great album. There are more reasons to be optimistic for this amazingly talented lady. Her career is heading up once again, she has jammed and guested with the likes of Jeff Beck - including the song "Lilac Wine" on Becks new Album "Emotion and Commotion" produced by Trevor Horn. She has shared the stage with Scissors Sisters, The Supremes, Sister Sledge, Matt Bianco, Alyson Moyet, Anastasia, Dionne Warwick, and Bryan Ferry.

She performed at the 2010 Grammys this year with Jeff Beck in a tribute to the Guitars of the Creator of electric Guitars Les Paul. The duo impressed audiences and music press alike. Imelda has now been playing with the likes of Elton John,and Jeff Beck, She has had her album go to the Number One spot in the Music Charts. She has now been signed to Decca / Universal - a huge international Music Brand Label. I hope you enjoyed this hub about Imelda May. Why not leave a comment here and enjoy your music listening here. This lady is a very special singer!

Text article Copyright (c) 2010 / 2011 / 2012 / 2013 Cassy Mantis / Cheeky Girl. All rights reserved. Videos are copyright of their respective holders.

Imelda sharing the stage with Guitar legend Jeff Beck.
Imelda sharing the stage with Guitar legend Jeff Beck.


Submit a Comment

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    5 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Hey Colin, good to hear you are such a great Imelda May fan! She really stands out in a very crowded music scene! Awesome voice and such original music! I am chuffed that I was the one who put you on to her! LOL! Wish I had her phone number! But wait, she's married! Hah!

    K.D. Lang she is a clever songwriter and with an angel's voice! I would have loved being at that concert! Props to you for being able to get that concert spot! Us as a cheeky couple, that makes me smile! Well you are kinda cheeky! But in a good way! Even Astra Nomik mimics your cheeky poetry style at times! She wrote some poems recently that sounded awfully like your style or "voice"!

    Coffee with bagel and cream cheese! You are such a temptress! LOL!

    I have all Eva Cassidy's music, Colin and I love that she is included in so many great female vocalist collections! The world still mourns her loss! Almost time for my first meal of the day! Cheers!

  • epigramman profile image


    5 years ago

    Good morning my wonderful Cassandra and yes I have this album Mayhem and the dvd with Jeff Beck and you were the 'one' who turned me onto Imelda May.

    You mentioned KD Lang and I had the chance to see her years ago back in the 80's where she was just starting out and it was a free concert and I was literally sitting at her feet in front of the stage - I remember back then she was going to be a superstar and yes here I am talking with another 'online superstar , the one and only Cheeky Girl.

    One of the nice ladies here at the Hub always refers to me as a cheeky monkey - so that makes you and I, the Cheeky Girl and the Cheeky monkey, lol.

    I sincerely hope all is well with you. Be happy, stay well, keep laughing, and always love to the max - sending you warm wishes and good energy to you from Little Miss Tiffy, Mister Gabriel and Colin at lake erie time ontario canada 7:43am with first cup of coffee and bagel with cream cheese .

    And a singer for me to recommend to you is the late great Eva Cassidy - check her out on You Tube.

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    7 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Hello Imoynihan082: yes she can sing many of them under the proverbial table. I am glad you are going to one of her gigs. I saw her in London and she was amazing. Her band are awesome too. Brilliant live show awaits you! Thanks for the comments too! Cheers! :)

  • lmoynihan082 profile image


    7 years ago from ireland

    Imelda may is fab! I'm going to one of her gigs at the marquee in Cork and I can't wait. She could wipe the floor with the likes of lady gaga, Rihanna and the rest of em.

    Great hub cheeky girl.

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    7 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Hello Neil, I'm glad you are enjoying my Imelda May hub. She is ace, and I have a tribute to her in moi website too. Great to get your sweet comments as always! Mwaaaah! LOL! :)

  • Neil Sperling profile image

    Neil Sperling 

    7 years ago from Port Dover Ontario Canada

    Cassy - THANKS -- this hub is a great intro to an awesome voice. Much appreciated. mmmwwwaaa

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    7 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Hello itakins, Glad you are a fan of Imelda, as I love her voice, her band and her music, so I just HAD to write a Hub about her. That's cool that your son's band are supporting Imelda May! I hope they band do well out of this. They should have a MySpace page! I'll keep an eye out for them. Cheers!

  • itakins profile image


    7 years ago from Irl

    Brilliant-proud to see Imelda May here on your hub.I'm off to see her live in Dublin 18th Dec in the Olympia Theatre.Also proud to say my son's band 'The Mighty Atomics ' are her supporting band!

    I love her music and she's such a nice lady .

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Hello The Showdown: Imelda May seems to win people over with the magic power of her voice. I am happy to spread the word about how great she is. I have seen her in concert. She is amazing live. The band are electric. People love the big guy who plays the Double-bass! Heh! He seems to beat the notes out of that thing. If this is better than reading a magazine, I may have to charge people! LOL! Kidding! Cheers!

  • profile image

    The Showdown 

    8 years ago

    Just beautiful. Her voice is uncanny, and her music is very appealing, and unusual for someone so young. I enjoyed reading your hub. Imelda May has an amazing voice. Better than reading a magazine.

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Hello Maita!! :) Congratulations again on the Magical 100 Hubscore! Heh! Imelda is a really great singer! Have you heard her music over there yet? Its American Rockabilly, so it should be there!! Aw, thanks for the comments. I'm glad you like. Cheers My Cheeky Maita!! :)

  • prettydarkhorse profile image


    8 years ago from US

    She is definitely it, And she is beautiful too, hmm, what a talent. I like her name too. And you do well writing with lots of research and well presented. So this is awesome!

    Cheers Cheeky My Girl! Maita

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Hy Filmcritic, glad you like it.

  • film critic profile image

    film critic 

    8 years ago


  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Hello always exploring: hey, I am glad you have discovered a new lady singer worth listening to. She really is a find! Heh! What a cool comment! Cheers for this! :)

    Hello TattoGuy! Aw, two people who haven't heard of Imelda? Gosh, well I am glad to share the news of this amazing talented lady. She is worth checking out. Thank you for the comments about the hub. Oh, about the Amazon ads, I read somewhere to place photos beside ads like that because people have a "looking" mode which is different from "reading" mode, and so putting pics beside them increases the chance of people looking at them more! I am big into Amazon ads, they pay a decent income too. Thanks for the nice comments, moi friend! Cheers! XOXOX

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    I gotta say I have never heard of Imelda May but this is deff one awesome hub about her. You deff put a lot of work into this one Cassy but the end result was perfection, love the placement of the Amazon ads as well, whos a clever girl ; ) xoxo

  • always exploring profile image

    Ruby Jean Richert 

    8 years ago from Southern Illinois

    Well i never heard of her, but i like her, the music is great too. Thank you, i,m listening and swaying as i comment.


  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Hello epigramman: well you are cheeky sometimes, I admit, but very decently cheeky too! Heh! I am glad you like my Imelda May Hub. She just oozes talent. And a true find, as singers go. Yes, please do check out her unusual and interesting music. You a master musicologist? Wow, well I am impressed! I am taking note of the names you give here. I will check them out. Aaah, yes. All Hail the New!

    Great getting your comments as always! Have a great day, moi friend! Cheers! x

    Hy suziecat7: Another fan of Imelda May! I have the Mayhem album and the middle album. She has taken a genre of music that was long forgotten and made it very appealing all over again by adding something fresh and new - namely HER! LOL! Thanks for the comments, suziecat7! Cheers! :)

  • suziecat7 profile image


    8 years ago from Asheville, NC

    I really love Imelda May's unique style. Tony introduced me to her and now I can't get enough. Thanks for showcasing a great talent.

  • epigramman profile image


    8 years ago

    ....well when I'm feeling like a cheeky boy I always make this worthwhile trip up to the hub heavens and see my cheeky girl - ole!!!!

    Gotta love this hub too - I admire people like you who discover new talent and then showcase it - through this well-reseached tribute which is truly a labor of love.

    I will explore this young lady's talent a little more because I am a master musicologist and I am always looking for something new - always!!!

    ..and a few I would suggest to you - the best way to find out is You Tube -

    Diamanda Galas

    Timi Yuro

    Wanda Jackson

    the 5,6, 7, 8's

  • Cheeky Girl profile imageAUTHOR

    Cassandra Mantis 

    8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

    Gosh, tony! Did I leave a comment on it! That is a nice wavelength to be on, and I do remember reading a great hub you did about Jools Holland and he is available in the states on some new-fangled channel that was mentioned - as I never heard of it before. Interesting! I have bought 2 tickets to the O2 concert in London and I will be going to it. Wow, rabid fan! Are you showing nausea, headaches, foaming at the mouth? Hehehehe! I am kidding here! I am so cheeky! LOL! Thanks for the comments, tony. Always good to see you. I hope you are well and enjoying the weekend. :D

  • tony0724 profile image


    8 years ago from san diego calif

    Cheeky Girl you are right on my wavelength. I wrote a hub about her like three weeks ago after seeing her on Jools Holland. She is fabulous ! And I am now a rabid fan. Good stuff !


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