How Imelda’s new May 11 album Past the Hour celebrates love in all its forms
Trying to thaw out at her Hampshire home after a run in ‘freezing’ weather, Imelda May is in a chatty mood as we discuss her new album, 11 Past The Hour.
“I always have a lot to say,” she laughs, contemplating a record overflowing with interesting ideas and collaborations.
Where her 2017 Life Love Flesh Blood collection signaled a departure from her rockabilly roots and her trademark, at the lyrical level, she says, she “doesn’t mince my words anymore.”
“All the times I wrote before, I was always very honest but I found a way to hide what I wanted to say behind rock ‘n’ roll. For this album, and the last album, I stopped doing that and just said what I wanted.
“Each song is very personal to me and each song is about love in a different form – not necessarily romantic love, it can be supportive love or friends or universal love.”
Although she said she had a “fabulous time” making records such as Love Tattoo and Mayhem, her interests were increasingly diverse. “I started with blues and jazz,” she says. “Usually when you’re famous for something people want you to stay like that forever, but I’ve always moved as an artist. I think to be creative you have to be fluid.
“With rockabilly I loved it and been around the world with it and I think it’s very important music – it’s original punk rock and it broke a lot of rules, it’s very sexy and wild – but as a writer I couldn’t go any further with that.
The period around Life Love Flesh Blood coincided with the divorce of her husband Darrel Higham, who also left his group. May, 46, says she’s not afraid to reassess her life from time to time. “I’ve done it a few times and I’m sure I’ll do it again,” she said. “I have to take stock. Sometimes you might look at one domain and sometimes you might look at all of this and think “what are we really doing here? We have a chance in this life … You can easily fall into patterns where you try to please others. It’s good to take a step back and take a look at everything every now and then. “
The song Just One Kiss stars Noel Gallagher and Ronnie Wood, who May first met 30 years ago when she was a 16-year-old singer at a Dublin blues club. “Ronnie came in and jumped on stage and we stalled and had a blast,” she recalls.
“This is where I learned my trade, this club. I had never studied music, I learned there with the best musicians. I had so much fun but I would really like to listen and take it all in like teenagers do.
Years later, the couple were reintroduced by Jeff Beck at the Classic Rock Awards and have remained friends. “I think about the world of him, I like him a lot,” she said. “He is a brilliant man and a very good friend. He asked me to sing on his Chuck Berry album, which I did, and we did a mini tour of that … I asked him to perform on my album and he was there like that.
“With Noel we were texting and he said ‘send me the song’ and he loved it. Andrew Innes, the guitarist of Primal Scream, is also on this track, so it’s full of rock ‘n’ roll vibe. I said to the guys, ‘this is a dirty little rock’n’roll number, you wanna be there?’ and I’m so glad they did because it appealed to them.
Other guests on the album include women’s rights activists Shola Mos-Shogbamimu and Gina Martin. “I always want people to think a little more, we have to do it,” says May, recounting how she first heard from Dr Mos-Shogbamimu at an International Women’s Day event. “She’s amazing, everything that comes out of her, she’s so articulate and thoughtful and she’s just a wonderful activist, just like Gina Martin. She fought to make upskirting illegal.
“Made To Love is a song I wrote about people who fight for love, and people who gave their lives for love too, so I named John Lennon and Jesus and Martin Luther King and Marielle Franco, who was a great activist in Brazil. who was shot in broad daylight and no one has ever been brought to justice. Of all these people, all they talked about was love. I thought it was really worth fighting, loving and accepting each other the best you could.
“Gina and Shola inspire me a lot and I learn from them regularly. I will also ask them questions about the things I am struggling with and get the information. I asked them to be a part of Made To Love, it seemed appropriate to me and I was delighted when they said yes.
Last year, May released her debut poetry EP, Slip of the Tongue.
It was, she said, something she had wanted to do “for quite some time.” “I had people who didn’t believe it or thought I was crazy to publish poetry, that people wouldn’t be interested,” she says. “I find audiences are often underestimated by executives in the music industry. I think people can sense when something isn’t real a mile away and then if something is real and someone is going into something with their whole heart, I think people are open to that. I think most people have some kind of literature that they like, a book or a poem that you used to say when you were a kid or your mother used to say. Most people have poetry in their life, even if it dates back years.
“But I also think a lot of people have been put off by poetry in school, being forced to examine line by line something from hundreds of years ago that they can’t relate to. So I wanted to do something that was right now. I find poetry such a great way to put a little nugget of joy in your day. Instead of putting poetry books on shelves, I think you should leave them lying around the house. If you put your phone down for a minute and pick one up in a minute or two, you’ll have read a page and it will give you something to think about for the rest of the day. “
11 Past The Hour will be released on Friday April 16. Imeldamay.co.uk