There’s no denying it. Rockabilly is in. For me there is no stronger proof of it than the excited but varied crowd that turned out to watch Imelda May at Warrington’s Parr Hall on Wednesday night. While queuing up outside, overheard snippets ranged from “I saw her on Jools Holland” to “this is my fourth time.” It was clear that this was not going to be your typical gig with the die hard rockin’ crowd.

The humorously named ‘Big Boy Bloater’ warmed everyone up, sitting on a stool centre stage, his dark, foot tapping blues and flicky guitar licks transported me to a smoky bar in Memphis. With finger work BB King would be proud of, his earthy riffs and soulful depth vibrated around the Victorian settings, ensuring that even those sat way back in the Gods felt they were part of an intimate shindig.

Imelda May herself, arrived on the stage accompanied by a ginormous roar from the audience. Looking resplendent in a red polka dot wiggle dress and trademark hair roll, she exhumed a likeable but cool level of confidence. There was no greeting to the crowd, but instead an invitation to clap and she went straight into the infectious beat of the namesake of her highly anticipated new album, ‘Tribal.’ Addressing her adoring fans afterwards, she charmed everyone with her gorgeous Irish brogue and wicked sense of humour. The sound of trumpets heralded crowd pleaser ‘Big Bad Handsome Man’, followed by the up-tempo and well known ‘Love Tattoo.’ Yet this was a night of contrasts and the more traditional rock n roll medleys were interspersed with slower tracks like the sultry, sexy, bluesy ‘Wicked Way.’

By half way through, she had really warmed up and had the crowd eating out of the palm of her hand. Answering a question about her relationship with husband – guitarist Darrel Higham, the sheer likeability of May washed over all present. It is clear for anyone to see that she loves what she does. Often closing her eyes, at one with the music, it seems to take her over. So much so that you really believe what she is singing…no matter how ridiculous or fantastical the subject.

During ‘Go Tell the Devil,’ which May originally collaborated on with Sharon Shannon in 2009, it was obvious why she appeals to such a varied crowd. The double bass backdrop and gnarly edge to her incredible vocals appeals to the rock n roll sensibilities of old and young alike. But there is an old school, playful element that wouldn’t put your Grandma or Granddad off dancing too. Even the way she dresses mirrors this mesh of style. With a touch of modern along with her retro glamour; not many artists can manage to appeal to everyone with credibility but she breezes it. Perhaps the highlights of the night were the beautiful 'Kentish Town Waltz' which showed off just what an amazing vocal range Imelda May has. Not only was it note perfect but it was pure, almost folk-esque honey. Bare, stripped out and radiating a vulnerability which just made me want to stare…hypnotised by the haunting quality.

It is perhaps no surprise that the standard set ended with the brilliant ‘Johnny Got a Boom Boom’ which got the whole auditorium up twisting, clapping and shimmying. It seemed like the night couldn’t get any better but the encore, featuring bass player Al Gare on ukulele, just blew me away. Among the song choices was a stunning cover of the Blondie classic ‘Dreamin’’. I think I let out a little sigh of pure pleasure.

The difficulty with reviewing an artist like Imelda May is trying to find a fault. She is just sheer class. Whether you were a die-hard fan or new to her music, there was something for everyone and people could not have failed to be disappointed. She looks great, is down to earth, an amazing dancer and can sing like Billie Holiday. Some people get all the luck!

Photos by Melanie Smith

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