Imelda May

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Imelda May
May in June 2018
May in June 2018
Background information
Birth nameImelda Mary Clabby
Born (1974-07-10) 10 July 1974 (age 46)
Dublin, Ireland
  • Singer-songwriter
  • television presenter
Years active2002–present
Associated acts

Imelda Mary Higham (born Imelda Mary Clabby; 10 July 1974), professionally known as Imelda May, is an Irish singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Although known primarily as a singer, she also plays the bodhrán, guitar, bass guitar and tambourine. Described as "a unique vocal talent," May is known for her musical style of rockabilly revival and has also been compared to female jazz musicians such as Billie Holiday.[1][2]

Born and raised in The Liberties area of Dublin, May began her career in music at 16 by performing with a number of local bands and musicians. She formed her own band in 2002, and released her debut studio album, No Turning Back. After the release, May relocated to London with her then-husband, guitarist Darrel Higham.

Following an appearance on the BBC music programme Later... with Jools Holland in 2008,[3] she released her second studio album, Love Tattoo (2009). She collaborated and toured with a number of artists following its release. Her third studio album, Mayhem, was released in 2010 and earned her a nomination for the Choice Music Prize.[4] Her fourth studio album, Tribal was released in 2014. Her fifth studio album, Life Love Flesh Blood was released in 2017.

Early life and career[edit]

May was born in Dublin on 10 July 1974 in the Liberties in the south inner city.[5] She is the youngest of five siblings, with sisters Edel Foy and Maria O'Reilly, and brothers Brendan Clabby and Fintan Clabby. In 1991, she attended Senior College Ballyfermot, where she studied Art, Graphics and Printmaking.

Her career began at age 16 when she began touring the Dublin club circuit and she was occasionally barred from her own shows at Dublin's Bruxelles club for being underage.[citation needed] She moved to Great Britain in 1998 and shortly after toured with Mike Sanchez.

Professional career[edit]

Imelda 13 med.jpg
May at the Azkena Rock Festival, Spain, 2010
"Some people think the only way of doing well or of having a career in music is to go the X Factor route, but a lot of people lose the joy out of music by going that way, possibly because they're so incredibly focused on other people's ideas of success".

Imelda May in 2009, selected as a quote of that year by The Irish Times.[6]

In 2003, May released No Turning Back. In 2007 she signed a recording contract with Ambassador Records, and recorded her second album. May's second album Love Tattoo reached No.1 in Ireland and received wide critical acclaim. She caught the attention of Jools Holland, whom she later supported on tour, which led him to request that she appear on his well-known music show Later... with Jools Holland. She won Female Artist of the Year at the 2009 Meteor Awards.

On 31 January 2010, she performed at the 52nd Grammy Awards with Jeff Beck in tribute to Les Paul and Mary Ford. She released her third studio album, Mayhem, in Ireland on 3 September 2010 – again reaching No. 1 in the Irish Album Charts – and in the United Kingdom on 4 October 2010.

May soon after appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Conan and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. In 2016, May performed at RTÉ's Centenary Concert to mark the one hundredth anniversary of the 1916 Rising. In the U.K. May appeared on Nevermind The Buzzcocks with the late Terry Wogan, the Graham Norton Show and sang live on Strictly Come Dancing. May worked with BIMM music college in Dublin to provide a scholarship (which they named after her) for up and coming artists.

May's fifth album, Life Love Flesh Blood, was released on 7 April 2017. She collaborated with American musician T Bone Burnett on the record, who produced the album. Throughout the creative process, May received guidance from U2 vocalist Bono. Life Love Flesh Blood won critical acclaim and reached no. 4 in the UK charts. On 18 May 2017 May performed Life Love Flesh Blood at a special concert in the prestigious London Palladium.

In Ireland, May also had her own music TV show The Imelda May Show showcasing the best of Irish and international talent. May performed the Irish national anthem on 26 August 2017 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, prior to the Floyd Mayweather v.s. Conor McGregor fight.

Performances with other artists[edit]

Imelda May and Jeff Beck at the Beacon Theatre, 28 March 2011

May has recorded with, and performed with, a variety of artists.

She has worked with producers Mike Crossey,[7] Tony Visconti, Peter Asher and T Bone Burnett.[8]

She performed at a tribute concerts for Bill Wyman's 80th birthday, a live recorded concert for Jacques Dutronc, and a live recorded concert with and for Tony Biscontu for Sky Arts.[citation needed] In 2010 she performed with Jeff Beck honoring Les Paul at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City, where the session was recorded for DVD and HBO and subsequently toured the U.S. with Jeff Beck for 5 weeks. In December 2011 she sold out 2 nights at O2 Dublin, with Bono making a surprise appearance as her guest. May was the surprise guest in Dublin for U2's homecoming show on the band's 2015 Innocence + Experience tour: Bono called her "the other queen of Ireland" as she came on stage to perform 'Desire', streamed live online to millions of viewers.[9]

In 2020, May was part of an Irish collective of female singers and musicians called Irish Women in Harmony, that recorded a version of Dreams in aid of the charity SafeIreland, which deals with domestic abuse which had reportedly risen significantly during the COVID-19 lockdown.[10]

Personal life[edit]

May married her guitarist and band member, Darrel Higham, in 2002. She gave birth to a daughter, Violet, in August 2012.[11] On 17 July 2015, May announced the couple's decision to separate after 13 years of marriage.[12]


Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Organisation Nominated work Award Result
2009 2009 Meteor Awards Imelda May Best Irish Female Won
2010 RTÉ Radio 1[13] Mayhem Album of the Year Won
2011 Choice Music Prize Choice Music Prize Nominated


  1. ^ Forbes, Anna (3 March 2011). "Choice Music Prize Preview". State Magazine. Archived from the original on 12 September 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2011.
  2. ^ True, Chris (2010). "Imelda May". Allmusic. Retrieved 19 December 2011.
  3. ^ "Imelda May on records and rockabilly". BBC News. Retrieved 12 June 2018.
  4. ^ "Choice Music Prize". The Irish Times. Retrieved 12 June 2018.
  5. ^ "That's Alright, Mama: Singer Imelda May on family life -". Retrieved 12 June 2018.
  6. ^ "Quotes of the year". The Irish Times. 31 December 2009. Retrieved 2 January 2010.
  7. ^ Crossey, Mike. "Bio". Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  8. ^ "Imelda May on her new album, having Bob Dylan as a fan and divorce jools holland". The Independent. 31 May 2017. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
  9. ^ U2News (28 November 2015), U2 - Desire (ft. Imelda May) - Dublin 28/11/2015, retrieved 12 June 2018
  10. ^ Bol, Rosita. "Irish Women in Harmony record Cranberries song in aid of Safe Ireland". The Irish Times. Retrieved 3 July 2020.
  11. ^ Butler, Laura (25 August 2012). "Imelda May's delight at birth of baby girl Violet". The Herald. Dublin. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  12. ^ "Imelda May on marriage break-up: "We've both moved on"". RTÉ. Dublin. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  13. ^ "Album of the Year 2010". RTÉ Radio 1. Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. Retrieved 24 May 2011.

External links[edit]