“They raised her up, They made her fly, They gave her roots and wings, As time moves on and years go by, She’ll miss those simple things, She’s the girl I used to be” – The Girl I Used To Be, Imelda May
Last night I had a lovely night at The Bridgewater Hall checking out Imelda May’s tour. I looked around the bar before doors had opened and there was quite a mixed age range which was good to see. A small child had been surprised by what appeared to be her mum and grandma with tickets and she was over the moon! Later on I saw her dancing with her mum so May obviously lived up to expectation. Imelda’s latest album is something quite different from her previous material, it’s a lot more personal and stripped back and I was excited to see how this would go down live. The stage was littered with big spotlights which dimmed and brightened helping to set the mood up for each song and before the show began I noticed the large set-up of her band.
The support act, Jack Lukeman, also from Ireland opened the show, dressed all in black with a red handkerchief protruding out of his trouser pocket. He began with a song called magic days, the title track off his new album. He went on to play seven more tracks, a few of which he got the audience involved with, Soul King and Little Man saw everyone joining in for a rousing chorus, which was an achievement as the audience seemed quite quiet and reserved even when Imelda came on. He also sang Ol’ Man River acapella which was really good, he had rather a deep voice but with a beautiful clear tone to it so this song suited his voice quite well. He finished his set unplugged with no Mic and an accordion decorated in fairy lights and his voice carried and filled the bridgewater hall. Many members of the audience gave him a standing ovation at the end of his set which is unusual for a support act but he deserved it. He had his work cut out but he got the audience involved and by the end of his half hour set they had really connected with him.
Then it was time for the main attraction, a chair was positioned centre stage and the band began to play as Imelda May walked on and sat down. She opened the show with the first single off her new album the very beautiful Call Me. Instantly her vocals struck me, they were soft and delicate but flawless. She sang every song off this new album and a few fan favourites from her back catalogue. She moved the chair after Call Me though and proceeded with the gospel infused When It’s My Time as she stalked across the stage in those high heels and black dress. After she talked to the crowd for a little while about her previous shows in Manchester, she sang one of my favourites off the new album, Human. This song showcases her vocal ability particularly on those soaring melodies in the Chorus. This was followed by Sixth Sense, the bass player put down his instrument and picked up the double bass instead. The band was very tight throughout and multi-talented – the percussionist doubled up as the trumpet player in certain songs.
Before May sang each song she talked a little bit about how the song came about, like before she sang Bad Habit she talked about getting her heart broke and how a bit of retail therapy inspired this song. Then she seemed to be struggling to find the right words as she spoke about being in Paris with U2 around the time of the Paris attacks in 2015. As she spoke it came to light that two of her record label had been killed at the Bataclan and she remembered the words that a vicar friend of U2 had said the day after to them all about Love and Fear and that is where the song came from with the same title. You could tell it was a hard story for her to share with the audience as she recalled the events and the memories she had of her friends and colleagues. She proceeded with the new album playing How Bad Can A Good Girl Be. Throughout, the audience was quite tame, after each song was a ripple of applause but not many whoops or whistles from the crowd like you would expect. Imelda picked up on this and asked why we were so quiet, was it because we were in a posh theatre?
She sounded a little reminiscent of Patsy Cline on Black Tears. The Country Soul ballad is another one of my favourites off the new record and again it showcases her vocal range and ability. She’s one of those singers who sounds just as good live as on the record and I was in awe of how flawless her voice was throughout the night. She sang Flesh and Blood followed by Levitate. It was around this time that she told the audience to ignore the security and to have a good time and go wild. A few people began to get to their feet for Should’ve Been You, yet another one of my favourite tracks off this new record. Leave Me Lonely was one of the last to be sung from the new material and more people began to get to their feet and clap along for The Longing. She had a more gravelly tone to her voice for this song as her wilder rockabilly side came alive and with that the audience also came alive. When it became time for Wild Woman a number of ladies ran down the aisle and were jumping around near the front. Imelda walked over and high fived them from the stage at the end of the song security tried to usher them back to their seat and Imelda said “ignore them! Come back!”
A fan favourite was next, Mayhem. The whole theatre was on their feet now and singing along. Imelda’s vocals did not falter as she paced the stage feeling quite pleased that the audience had now come to life and were clearly enjoying themselves. She threw in a cover before she did another fan favourite, Johnny Got a Boom Boom off her 2008 album Love Tattoo. The band exited the stage and she finished her set with the very personal storytelling track The Girl I Used To Be. The crowd were on their feet clapping and cheering until she came back out, she thanked the audience and proceeded to play a two song encore with the band back on stage. She ended on Game Changer which was a great rousing, high energy number to conclude what had been a great night with a mixed performance of intimate, emotional numbers and fun, upbeat songs.