Review: Imelda May, HMV Picture House

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It’s often said that it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll. However, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise given that most of today’s mainstream artists (rock and) roll off the X-Factor/ Pop Idol conveyor belt with dried-instant regularity.

Imelda May, though, has had to do it the hard way. A slick rockabilly chick with a vanilla-coloured kiss-curl more prominent than Superman’s, after many years slugging it out on the pub circuit, is finally gaining the recognition she deserves.

Last night the 37-year-old hillbilly hellcat from Dublin had no trouble filling the expansive confines of the Picture House: greeted to the stage by no shortage of testosterone-fuelled wolf-whistles and female fan Imelda-ites.

Visually, May resembles the sort of 1950s pin-up girls American painter Gil Elvgren was famous for illustrating. Colourful, striking, sexy – her voice, meanwhile, is a cross between Boots-era Nancy Sinatra and rockabilly Queen, Wanda Jackson. One minute she’s cracking the whip on a foot-stomping Barn Dance number (Johnny Got A Boom Boom), next, she’s cooing away on some heart-breaking ballad, as if singing farewell to a loved one at the graveside.

The audience responded in kind, whether playing along in trained-seal fashion on the gospel-tinged call-and-response songs, or shouting down the house whenever May shook her hips.

Backed by hubby Darrel Higham, his twanging guitar sound is complimented by Al Gare (who hit his upright bass like he would hit the drums), Stevew Rushton (whose every drum-beat sounded not unlike a runaway train) and Dave Priseman (whose Mexican-sounding trumpet applied a Johnny Cash-tint).

An odd cover of Ed Cobb’s Tainted Love brought this two-hour hoedown to a close. However, by coming back out to encore with Baby I Love You (with just Gare’s ukulele for company), rarely has a closing song title summed up an audience’s feelings towards their host so perfectly.