Imelda May


Imelda May: “Sometimes you need the darkness to see the light.”

Dublin icon Imelda May has always been prolific, and her current creative blend of heartfelt poetry and sparkling collaborative music – two things she largely keeps distinct – is no different. May’s determined to take the positives from lockdown, and while her current record dates back to some degree to what we’ll call ‘the before time’, it’s full of shining positivity, an ode to what she feels we currently need.

The Liberties-bred singer is still very much about fostering creativity, with a sweeping, experimental workflow that sees her explore time with various connections she meets along the way and connects with, as well as spending time exploring her own ‘wants’. In fact, she barely sees the whole process as work, the business aspect of it all aside. The latest record, ‘11 Past The Hour’, she feels is her best yet.

“If I could, I’d sit and write every day, if life didn’t get in the way, the business side of getting an album out,” she says. “Sitting and writing is something I love, it’s my time to wind down. But the poetry and songwriting are two different things for me.”

“I’m trying to make them the same, but poetry is something I find more liberating. I don’t have to think of a band, or time limits – length, and so on. I don’t have to construct a song, and arrangements. I just write and that’s it.”

“‘Solace’ [from the new record] is the only poem I’ve turned into a song. I’d been to see U2 in London with my friend Pedro Vito, and we had a stinking hangover the next day. We were supposed to write a song, which we did, and it was kind of rubbish.”

“I got some coffee, and when I came back, he was looking at my poetry book, which I’d left open, and he was working on the music for it. So ‘Solace’ was a poem that became a song, and not really changed at all. I think it’s one of my favourite songs on the album.”

Imelda May: “I wouldn’t be a musician or a writer if it wasn’t for The Liberties”

Since writing and launching her debut, but especially since sophomore album ‘Love Tattoo’, the biggest selling record by any Irish female artist ever, Imelda May has been part of the folklore of a certain distinctive part of Dublin city.

The Liberties has its own special character, and Imelda, despite having moved to the south of England with her daughter, still holds the place in the highest of esteem. “My heart and soul is in The Liberties, and I’ll be coming back,” she tells us. “I wouldn’t be a musician or a writer if it wasn’t for being from there.”

“It’s so pervasive and colourful, a place where eccentricities are really encouraged. I used to put my demos in the fruit and veg store on Meath Street, and they’d make everyone who came in keep quiet and listen to them. You never forget that kind of support.”

“Poetry was everywhere, too. People have been asking me recently if I think poetry is elitist. It absolutely is not. My dad used to read me Spike Milligan. I have an uncle who was a taxi driver and a poet. Another guy did beautiful oil paintings and drove the delivery trucks, and my aunt used to dance. The place is so creative, it’s part of its spirit.” Some of May’s own work is used in support of the Penny Dinners in the area, with the poem ‘Liberty Belle’ a particular dedication.