Dublin born Imelda May looks every part the 1950’s rockabilly star as she struts her way onto the stage in Basingstoke tonight, but all is not as it first appears. On closer inspection it’s clear that whilst musically she’s rooted firmly in the earliest rock and roll, lyrically she has moved the genre resolutely into the 21st century. Tracks such as Watcha Gonna Do, in which she mischievously entices us to “count my fingers one two three, the one in the middle’s from me to you”’ are dripping with attitude. Couple that with a vocal style comparable to Amy Winehouse and it’s no wonder that she has drawn such a varied collection of fans and followers.
From the word go she hits the audience with the kind of stage presence and charisma that got her a spot on ‘Later with Jools Holland’ back in 2008. “Feel free to jump up and freak out” she declares as she powers through Sneaky Freak, rallying the audience and tempting them to sing along. The band is impeccable too and serves only to add weight to every performance. Whilst her set is packed with rockabilly-tinged guitar riffs and cool swing undercurrents, an ability to complement the up tempo tracks with heartfelt blues is a mark of her diversity and talent. Knock 123, a soft and haunting dedication to a friend who continues to communicate with her husband years after he has passed away, is a thought provoking and surprising highlight of the set.
Vocally the song is only surpassed by Proud and Humble which shows that, even when she lets the microphone drop, her voice has the veracity and power to fill a room. This is the first of a raft of songs from new album Mayhem, which was recorded largely in Basingstoke. New single Psycho is by no means the stand out track of the evening but nonetheless has the same vibrancy and clout as the likes of Big Bad Handsome Man and Johnny Got A Boom Boom from Love Tattoo, which should stand the album in good stead when it’s released in September.
Suffice to say with a set oozing with attitude the audience respond with rockabilly fever. Whether it’s with new tracks from her upcoming album, old hits like Love Tattoo or surprising covers like Tainted Love, Imelda packs her set with a punch. Delivering faultless lyrics and ensuring the audience cannot fail to enjoy her up-tempo rhythms, it was really only ever a matter of time before she had them dancing in the aisles.