Imelda May, rockabilly ‘Wild Woman,’ dying to be free

Imelda May is one of the biggest stars in Ireland right now and it’s thanks to the likes of Johnny Burnette and Wanda Jackson, original American rockabilly rebels who inspired the Dubliner’s career. However, as the singer’s upcoming fall release “Tribal” proves, her musical wanderlust includes more then rockabilly, and encompasses blues and jazz, too.

“I love the rockabilly world. It’s the original punk rock,” says May. “But it’s not natural for me to put myself in one area. There’s loads of other music I don’t want to ignore.”

“Tribal” debuted at No. 1 in Ireland and No. 3 in the U.K., on the success of singles like “Wild Woman,” (see video above) but the record isn’t released in the States until September. May and her band, which includes her guitarist husband Darrel Higham, added American dates to their summer touring agenda and will follow with more in the fall. Metro caught up with May during the European jaunt as the band’s tour bus wound its way through the Pyrenees.

“We’re about four hours drive in from Barcelona and just about at the border of France,” says May, glancing out of the bus window. “There’s snow on the mountains and it’s so beautiful.”

Call that a perk of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, which May says is all she’s ever known: “I started in pubs and clubs when I was 16 and I turned 40 yesterday,” she says. “So, I’ve been gigging for 24 years non-stop. It’s fun; I don’t know what else I’d do.”

Another perk is meeting musical heroes: Imelda May has shared stages with Chuck Berry, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmore, Shane Macgowan, Van Morrison, Jeff Beck, Jamie Cullum, and one special star: Wanda Jackson, the original rockabilly queen.

“I get to meet great people and create great stories along the way. I’m a big believer in working hard, manners, talent, and a little bit of luck,” May says. “I’m very lucky in the people I work with and the people I get to meet.”

Rockabilly rebels not only love the music, but the culture and 1950s style as well: “I love the excitement and the clothes,” says May. “I love the statement. If you listen to Johnny Burnette and Wanda Jackson, they broke all the rules. The rockabilly scene is growing around the world. I’ve never met a rockabilly fan who wasn’t totally passionate about the lifestyle, too.”

Imelda May plays a sold-out show at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC on July 29 and The Paradise in Boston on July 31.


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