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Imelda May + The Toy Hearts @ HMV Institute, Birmingham - Tuesday 8th February 2011

posted 21 Feb 2011, 06:34 by Paul Broome   [ updated 21 Feb 2011, 06:40 ]
Review by Camilla Blakemore
Photos by Russ Tierney

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The support band for the night were The Toy Hearts, and this family knit, acoustic, 5-piece set the scene and warmed the audience for Imelda May’s entrance with easy, hypnotic bluegrass rhythms and great harmonies from sisters Sophia and Hannah Johnson. A nice length set with a few numbers from their new album ‘Femme Fatale’, definitely one to watch if saloon-bar swing is your thing!

As Imelda May walked onto stage with her trademark quiff and red lips, you could feel the audience poise, ready for her first note…and it was a great note, like just about every other note she sang: gravel, power and spine-tingling soul in all the right places. The Rockabilly Queen had arrived. As she wound up ‘Love Tattoo’ an eruption of applause filled the room, while the equally coiffured Teddy Boys and Girls in the audience whooped and cheered.

The set was a mix of up-beat rock ‘n roll, sleazy gypsy jazz, old skool blues, skiffle and rockabilly, all set to the heavy, Mick Fleetwood-esque, driving rhythms of drummer Steve Rushton –the band’s star player for me. The rest of the band formed the perfect foundation for Imelda May to steal the show with her flawless performance. Darrel Higham (her husband) on guitar was subtle and almost inconspicuous at times, blending into the rhythm mix. Al Gare provided the steady walking double bass lines throughout, stepping into the spotlight for the famous ‘Johnny Got a Boom Boom’ bass intro and finale, while Dave Priseman’s bluesy trumpet on ‘Big Bad Handsome Man’ transported the audience to a deliciously sleazy, Parisian Absinthe bar in the 1940’s.

The standout tracks for me were Imelda’s cover of ‘Poor Boy’, a song made famous by Howlin’ Wolf and given a sultry, chain-gang feel by Imelda; her seductive, dark and sultry ‘All For You’; and her own ‘Proud and Humble’ which faded to an incredible acapella section to which the crowd clapped and sang along. The song itself, off her second and latest album ‘Mayhem’ is a reflection of Imelda’s own roots, raised in a 2 bedroom house in the Liberties in Dublin with her brothers and sisters where she developed her taste for blues and rock ‘n roll; and she has held onto these roots proudly. Despite having arguably one of the best female vocals to date, on stage Imelda seems like a true lady of music - charming, likeable and humble, chatting to the audience and even dedicating her song ‘Eternity‘ to two fans at the gig who recently got engaged to it. I would bet there are not many artists as talented as Imelda May, with that kind of personable approach.

Though admittedly some of her set was a bit ‘samey’ in parts, her natural charisma and the fact that you never tire of listening to her voice carried the show. It’s no wonder she has shared a stage with Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Chuck Berry and Dave Gilmour to name a few. I’m interested to see which direction she may take next and how she will develop as an artist, whether it be more of the same or something new…But one thing is for sure - Imelda May was born to be on stage.

Flickr slideshow of all of Russ's shots from the night...