On the run up to this tour, all you would hear is “Imelda May has ditched her rock-a-billy look. She’s going through a transformation.” And, well, there’s no denying that, but that is probably the only major change as the Imelda May of power and passion is well and truly still here, as this night in Gateshead proved.
As the band play, a lone chair sits front of centre-stage and as Imelda takes her seat, the spotlight is all her’s, with Call Me filling the hall with silence. Die-hard fan or not, those rip-raw vocals of May steal you within a (heart) beat of this opener. This mellow vibe sticks with all songs from her current album, Life. Love. Flesh. Blood., but is then turned up a notch with Big Bad Handsome Man, to the delight of those that have been there from the early days.
May’s crowd interaction is on point. She personally calls out a few members of the audience, most notably to a 10 year-old in the crowd who she had met earlier in the evening, then to a guy dancing by himself and letting loose to the big numbers, who she says could lead a mosh pit. And then there is the moment when not only May remembers, but the whole audience gets to remember the victims from the horrific Manchester Arena attack earlier in the week. Instead of a moment of silence she gets us to shake hands with those around us, to show us that music unites each and every one of us. As if the night was not emotional enough, this moment definitely set off a few tears, especially as Love & Fear is the song that follows; a song that she wrote after the events at the Bataclan, where she lost two dear friends. There is a roar of applause afterwards as the whole hall celebrates the love of music and how strangers can come together to become one.
We are given more mellower tracks from the new album later in the night, which slowly build to the rockier and moodier The Longing and then to the back-catalogue with such hits as Wild Women and her version of I’m Cryin’ by The Animals, which includes her mic getting lost in the audience. The stomper Johnny Got A Boom Boom is another incredible performance, which sees her play on the bodhran as the crowd get wilder. Most of the band then walk off the stage, leaving just herself and one guitarist as we gather our breaths and they sit for new single Girl I Used To Be. Fittingly, after one of the most genuine shouts for an encore, the night ends with new song, Game Changer. A big song with rock-sounding dirty blues and big raw vocals.
Unlike many in this packed out room, this was my first time seeing Imelda May live. I didn’t know what to expect, in fact with her trademark rock-a-billy look gone and most of the night being her new album, I don’t think anyone knew what to expect. But whether new or old to the Imelda May show, this night was very emotionally charged – tears flowed and feet were on fire and our minds and bodies left us, with Manchester and the Bataclan heavy in our hearts, May reminded us of the power of music.
Words & Image by Victoria Ling