Imelda May @ The Barbican, York – 16th May 2017

Posted by Zyllah Moranne-Brown on Tuesday May 16, 2017 Under 60s, Soft Rock, Soul

Review and photography by John Hayhurst.

Imelda May transforms from rockabilly pirate’s fishwife into a stunning sexy soulful diva with attitude. York Barbican did not know what hit them!

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Two years ago at a sunny Cornwall festival, I witnessed an angry woman fiercely spitting out lyrics to a beat hungry double bassline, she wore a pirate’s stripey red top and tight black skirt, hair tied back and that white streak glinting in the slick cow lick curl. This was the Imelda May that has tread the boards in concert halls and festivals up and down the country for the last few years, telling tales of strong men and equally strong women. Tonight, you would be forgiven if you thought it was a completely different woman sat in front of the audience, with a single spotlight shining as she delivers a poignant and perfect ‘Call Me’.

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It’s been a rough 2 years, but out of an 18yr marriage break up, turning a certain age beginning with 4 and other general life related turmoil, those creative juices have started to really flow, and finally it appears that Imelda has created an album that she feels represents her personally. It is who she really wants to be, not a cartoon pirates fishwife strolling down rockabilly crescent – No! She’s a strong woman who can melt hearts and lift souls. Out with the old style and in comes the new, with a hair-do that Chrissie Hynde would die for right now, she owns every second of this stage from her soft seated purring to a wild woman stomping and shaking her hair like a heavy rock goddess.

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After the seated opening ‘Call Me’, May stretches those black stocking covered legs and pours her heart out with an expressive emotional flood of tracks from her latest ‘Life Love Flesh Blood’. This new album has got it all and Imelda May squeezes every single drop from its waxy heart. Tonight, we get every track of that album played live, a further demonstration that this is the new Imelda and she’s not going back to those old ways… well not until later in the set at least.

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The band are lit by some strategically placed soft lamps that I seem to have seen on a multitude of concert tours recently, but the glow of soft golden light is perfect for this fine band, two lead guitarists of superb quality belt out solos and rhythm that would be welcome in any Chicago Blues club or Nashville country hall. The sheer quality from this fine band is equally matched by May’s ability to stretch from a soulful diva to her rocking “boom boom” roots. The Al Gare Double Bass only coming out for a handful of tunes.

Highlight of the set for me was a stunning ‘Black Tears’, the way May pulls the mic away from her mouth and yet delivers pitch perfect vocals is such a joy to watch, I sometimes wonder whether she needs a mic at all. Never wavering, the song describing a woman’s mascara drenched tears pours out from stage into the seated York audience and dowses the back row with emotion and pathos. Imelda May has lived those tears, had the heart break and is now rising from that with hope, new love (for a few weeks at least) and lots of new songs to sing.

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Inspiration for writing her album has come from a number of experiences that can range from a heart breaking description of a preachers poem at the Paris Bataclan remembrance concert (where she lost 2 friends and collaborators in the tragic event), to a song inspired by being under her snotty bed covers, she can even get inspiration now from just walking her dog. Every song tells a story and every song has an introduction… even… here’s Johnny!.

‘Johnny Got a Boom Boom’ was the crescendo of built up tempo tunes from ‘Should’ve Been You’ onwards in the set, ‘Mayhem’ got some daring 40+ ladies dancing and even some blokes joined in when ‘Johnny Boom Boom’ was played. Everyone was on their feet for that last track of the night and even Imelda reported back that “Well you’ve woken up”, a school night in York isn’t quite the setting for a raucous party, but there were some shapes being thrown by those daring enough to do it. Bringing the set to a smooth close is an acoustic ‘Girl I Used to Be’ and with just a guitar and vocal we breathe a sigh at the end.

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A superb cover version of the Shangri-Las ‘Remember (Walking in the Sand)’ is the encore, and the solo that comes from the intro tonight is one to rival Jeff Beck’s guest slot on the album, a great tune and ‘Game Changer’ then keeps the party going into the night.

Amazing transformation and a welcomed one from everyone here at The Barbican, if she truly has found herself then I hope this version of Imelda May is here to stay for a lot longer than the old one.


Setlist:
Call Me
When It’s My Time
Human
Sixth Sense
Big Bad Handsome Man
Bad Habit
Love & Fear
How Bad
Black Tears
Should’ve been you
Wild Woman
Flesh & Blood
Levitate
Leave Me Lonely
The Longing
Mayhem
Johnny Got A Boom Boom
The Girl I Used To Be
Remember (Walking in the Sand)
Game Changer.

Listening:  ‘Life Love Flesh Blood’ [2017]

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