Interview: Imelda May talks Cheltenham Jazz Festival with Ronnie Scotts Band, Her Poetry book ‘A Lick and a Promise’, Playing Towersey Festival In Oxfordshire In August and Much More

Imelda May is by far one of our favourite people to interview. Generous with her time, Imelda also speaks passionately about her projects whether that be touring, playing festivals, a new album or writing poetry. I always leave our interviews feeling very inspired and feeling great about myself because those are the vibes that she gives off and the kindness that she delivers.

Imelda May is an artist that can reinvent herself constantly and always be a success. Her talent lies so deeply within both her songwriting and vocals that her audience trust her impeccably to deliver beautiful and meaningful material.

Imelda embarked on a headline tour earlier in the year across the UK and her home of Ireland as well as places across Europe. As well as her tour she performed at various festivals including Cheltenham Jazz Festival where she performed with Ronnie Scott’s Band and BST Hyde Park where she supported Pearl Jam. Imelda will also be performing at Towersey Festival in Oxfordshire during bank holiday weekend in August where she will take to the stage on the Friday.

As well as having released an impressive array of albums over the years, Imelda also treated us recently with her first ever book of Poetry titled A Lick and A Promise.

We caught up with Imelda to discuss playing with Ronnie Scott’s Band at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, playing Towersey Festival in August, her book of poems and much more.

We hope you enjoy our chat!

Hi Imelda – How are you? How has your week been?

I am good! I went to Chelsea flower show but I didn’t get to hang around as much as I would have liked to because I had to shoot off and do some recording. Everyone else got to do a lovely lunch with pimms and champagne and I got 20 minutes to do a mad dash around to have a quick look and then I had to go.

I was going to ask about that as I have always been curious about it.

Oh it’s beautiful! It’s so beautiful, it’s so artistic. It makes you feel extremely inadequate as a gardener. If you love your garden in any way, maybe don’t go to Chelsea Flower show as it makes you feel like you can never amount to the beauty they present hahaha. I’m only joking! It’s really inspirational actually, it gives you beautiful inspiration for what you can do.

I saw you at Cheltenham Jazz Festival earlier in the year with Ronnie Scotts which was absolutely brilliant.

That was fun! It was great, I really enjoyed it! We did a one off of some of my songs and some songs that I used to do years ago in bars and functions where I was totally ignored so I said to the audience “I know you’re a refined Jazz listening audience but I hope you don’t mind me doing some typical standards because I have been doing these songs for years and nobody listened. Now that you’re here, and you’re ready to listen, I would like to do them one last time.” It was lovely! Then I did my own songs and they, Ronnie Scotts Band, did beautiful, gorgeous arrangements of my own stuff so it just felt so thrilling!

I have to say that 11 Past The Hour and I hope you take this as a compliment, but it has such a Bond Theme way about it which I felt from the studio version, but hearing the live version and with Ronnie Scotts Band, it brought that feeling even more to life and it just felt and sounded so perfect and so Bond esque.

That is a huge compliment and something I have always wanted to do since I was a child. I always wanted to write and sing the theme tune for Bond, always did.

I hope it happens one day!

You are at a few festivals this year, one being Towersey Festival.

Yes! Towersey Festival which I am looking forward to at the end of August. It should be beautiful and hot and is in the gorgeous Oxfordshire which is always beautiful to play. I am hoping it will be lovely and I am looking forward to it. It’s great to be back doing Festivals again you know? I have done my tour in the UK and Ireland. I am heading to Spain and France but festivals have a different vibe all together. I will be interested to see how my show goes down with the festival audience.

Will you get to stick around and check any of the acts out at all?

Oh always! I always manage to do a bit of that, whether before or after my set.

How do you sort a setlist for a festival? Do you mix it up a bit or do you focus on the latest album?

The tour is different because people come to see you you know? Just you and the festivals people come to see all kinds of acts. Also, it depends on whereabouts on the Festival you are, how late in the night, how much people want to party, so I do change it around a little bit, but not too much! You have to do your own thing at the end of the day. I do a lot of songs people know from me from earlier albums that I have done and new ones and I have been doing a bit of poetry which I have done on the tour and it has been received extraordinarily well. People are contacting me and I am getting the longest, most beautiful letters I have ever gotten in my whole career after the recent two months of touring. I am getting such enthusiastic and heart warming reactions to what I am doing on tour with the guys at the moment. It feels lovely I have to say. After releasing an album and working on all these things whilst we were stuck at home, planning the tour and planning all the visuals and set lists and how I want to move it through different acts, different realms and see a little poetry sprinkled in between and not sure how it would work and then all of a sudden I am getting these really beautiful emails and letters and people really really connecting with it which obviously as an artist, you hope that it will go like that but you are never sure, so I am delighted.

Was it more nerve racking putting out poetry than it is an album?

I must get myself a copy (I have now, in fact ordered straight after the interview and is pictured above) I rarely get time to read these days with having kids but I love poetry very much.

Well this is a thing of mine. I personally think that poetry should be scattered around the house. It shouldn’t be put on a book shelf because poetry is the perfect, it’s perfect for any slight bit of time you may have because you get so much nourishment from one page and from one poem. You don’t have to commit to a full novel and you don’t have to make yourself go back to it, it’s just something that if it is scattered around the house, beside your bed, then you can read one poem before you go to sleep. It will give you such an insight into somebody’s life and it can connect with you on a very deep level sometimes and can stay with you for the rest of your life. Sometimes it’s just one page long and it changes how you see something. That’s the beauty of poetry, you don’t need time, you can just read one poem before you go to sleep, leave it in the bathroom or in the car when you are waiting for school pick up, you can just open it. It’s short and it’s sweet but it sometimes has so much nourishment and inspiration.

I love that! And I am actually going to do that, it’s such a beautiful way of looking at it!

For me poetry, I call it a dipper. My book I said to a few people, it’s a dipper. You don’t have to start at the beginning you just flick it open to whatever page it lands on and you have something you know?

Do you have a favourite poet?

So many….Nikita Gill I have just bought everything she has ever released. She is so wonderful, a brilliant poet. Pat Ingoldsby is one of my favourites of all time. I got a present sent to me from him of his collective poems. A few poems from his different books in the one collection and it is limited edition so it’s worth trying to get your hands on. Rupi Kaur I love! Rita Ann Higgins, W.B Yeats, Leonard Cohen lyrics are so poetic and beautiful, Patti Smith, Sylvia Plath, there’s just so many great poets out there. John Cooper Clark. I went to see John Cooper Clark the other day. I had one night off, I was in Ireland and I went to see him in Galway and he was fantastic.

Going back to the album 11 Past The Hour, I wanted to know what song was the biggest challenge to write? Or simply just the longest?

Ooh, well I couldn’t tell you which song took the longest because once I am inspired I almost have to stop myself rather than make myself go. I can tell you about one of the songs off the album was never supposed to be a song. It’s a poem! I wrote Solace as a poem. I was writing with my friend Pedro Vito. I met him because he plays guitar with Jack Savoretti. I was singing with Jack Savoretti in Venice Opera House and Pedro and I got chatting and said that we should write together because we’ve a similar way of thinking.

We met up to write but I was invited by the U2 boys to go and see them and so we started off writing songs that were going well and then we headed off to Wembley to see U2. It was an amazing night and we went to the after show and it was an amazing after show that they always put on.

Unfortunately the next day when Pedro and I met up to write, the two of us had stinking hangovers and the worst music ever was coming out. I think I wrote possibly the worst song I have ever written, I felt so rough so I said to him (Pedro) “ I am going to get us a couple of coffees and we’ll try again”. So I came back and I had left my journal open that I was writing the song in and when I came back with the coffees he said he saw Solace and he said “this is the song! Let’s turn this into a song” and I said “no that’s a poem, I never turn my poetry into songs” and he said “ babe, we got to, let’s do this, we’ve got to work on a melody”. We worked on a melody and the poem almost didn’t change at all, it just had the right rhythm to it, I hardly had to change a thing. It’s one of my favourites off the album!

It’s like a meant to be story really isn’t it?

Yeah! Felt like it! I can blame U2 for that one or thank them for it.

What song of yours is your daughters favourite?

Oh at the moment she has just discovered Levitate. She has been singing that really loud at gigs which is beautiful. When we we were in Dublin which she came to. She seems to love Levitate and 11 Past the Hour . Hang on I will ask her.

(Imelda then calls to her daughter) “Which song of mine do you love the most is it Levitate or Should Have Been You?”

(Imelda returns and says) Yeah I was right it’s Levitate”

That’s so nice!

She is a harsh critic, she knows her stuff so I am very flattered.

That’s what you need from family, honesty.

That’s one thing we can always rely on children for hahaha

Oh definitely! I am learning that now haha!

What are you working on at the moment?

I am about to embark on doing a documentary. I just finished one with Voices of Ireland with Red Shoe Productions and we won a big fancy award. It was about literature and music in Ireland of past and present. That went really well, it was beautiful to be involved in. I have an idea for a couple so I am working on them.

I am writing away all the time, songs and poetry so that’s always ticking along. Also I am possibly working on another movie. I did a film Fisherman’s Friend’s 2 which is coming out in September. We filmed that last year and that is coming out in September. It’s a gorgeous movie. I don’t know if you saw the first one? It’s based on a true story. Fisherman’s Friends are a group that sing together every week in Cornwall and are fishermen. Somebody went down and heard them and they got signed to Universal and went on tour. They are actually a band that are amazing and sing beautiful sea shanty’s and are a lovely bunch of people. The first movie was based on that and the second movie is a continuation of that.

I definitely will have to go and see that one. Thank you so much for talking to me today. I could talk to you for hours.

Thank you for your time and hopefully I will talk to you soon!

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