Jools Holland is excitable by nature, but when he spots a new artist who has what he considers "it," his enthusiasm goes off the scale. To go by his reaction to Imelda May, she has "it" in spades. "I've got to have you on the show," he told her after seeing her play live - and so, a couple of months ago, she duly found herself on "Later With Jools Holland," wowing an audience who included Jeff Beck, Elbow and Roots Manuva. Beck, in fact, made a point of telling Holland that he was only there to see Imelda.
Having fallen in love with rockabilly and the blues as a nine-year-old in Dublin - the only kid in her class who wasn't into a-Ha and Wet Wet Wet - she's turned them into a cool, swinging fusion that's both classic and oddly modern. That's not just PR fluff: though her musical heart lies in early rock'n'roll (she's partial to the clothes, too - her wardrobe is stuffed with leopard-print cardigans and tight bad-girl jeans), she puts a 21st century spin on things. Her debut album, "Love Tattoo," is lusciously retro, but as fresh as 2009. And her live gigs, where she sings and plays bodhran, are fierce. She played on stage with Sharon Shannon in The Royal Theatre this Christmas and this June goes "Boom Boom" as she opens the June Bank Holiday Castlebar Music Festival on Friday 3rd June 2011.
Her own favourites are the delicate "Falling in Love with You Again," which was inspired by her husband (and guitarist in her band) Darrel Higham ("It's about how you can fall in love with the same person many times"), the bluesy, sultry "Knock 123" - you'd never know it was about a ghost who doesn't let being dead stop her from loving the boy she left behind, an idea Imelda got from watching Derek Acorah on TV one night - and "Johnny Got a Boom-Boom," a big, bawdy stomper. "My A&R asked me if ‘boom-boom' was rude, and I said, ‘Tom, you've got a dirty mind'."
The prestigious Irish World Newspaper Awards crowned Imelda 2008's Best Female Newcomer. It's not much of a stretch to see more acclaim ahead in 2009.
Tickets are €33.60 available on www.ticketmaster.ie as well as from the Royal Theatre Box Office on 0818 300 000.