Imelda May | Review
Waterfront, Belfast • 20 December 207
By Stewart Robson • Photography: Tremaine Gregg
Immediately immersed into the sensual and evocative aura of Imelda May’s vocals, a sold-out Waterfront Hall bore witness to the heartbreak and self-reflection of the Dublin songstress’ latest album Life Love Flesh Blood.
Belfast came back for more of May’s rasping vocals with her last Northern Ireland show only taking place during spring this year at the same venue.
As the lights went down, we were enveloped in an intimate atmosphere that would have made you believe you were in a smoky New Orleans jazz club, never mind a conference hall on the banks of the Lagan. The walls seemed to shrink as May’s guitarist subtly opened the show with delicate fingerpicking. Spherical spotlights honed down on May’s petite frame as she glided on stage, opening the evening with ‘Call Me’, the first track from this year’s album. You could hear a feather hit the floor.
It’s a track full of raw emotion as a lover pines for the call of another. The room was gripped by every word as the seated May wallowed in her longing. A bold move to open with a ballad and a move that paid off.
It set the mood for the rest of the evening as the setlist is laden with songs from May’s latest effort including ‘Human’, the swagger-inducing ‘Bad Habit’ and ‘When It’s My Time’, a collaboration with Jools Holland.
There is a fear perhaps that the connection between performer and audience can be lost with such a focus on new material, especially with May taking such a different route on her newest album, but watching the elegance of the Dubliner as she perused the stage looking for answers to her heart’s questions left Belfast transfixed.
May certainly wasn’t shy in hiding her love for Belfast comparing it to where she was born and raised in Dublin. ‘Rough round the edges, but full of the nicest people you could possibly meet’. There was a sense of fond agreement amongst the masses. An understood reflection.
The second half of the evening began with May sitting at the front of the stage, accompanied by her guitarist. She has a real craft for drawing an audience into her world, a craft she has no doubt had to learn with her changing personal circumstances within the last few years and her change in style.
‘The Girl I Used To Be’ is a highlight as she looks back on running free down ‘the cobbled streets’ and ‘swimming in the Irish Sea’, a nostalgic trip down memory lane that she now sees mirrored in her daughter’s life. A song that comes full circle and a song that many in the room could no doubt relate to.
But this gig didn’t just focus on the trials of love and loss.
A seamless change to May’s upbeat tracks saw the audience making the most of their Wednesday night as they rose up, gathered into the isles and danced the night away proclaiming that it ‘Should’ve Been You’ during May’s latest single.
The set didn’t lose pace and culminated in ‘Johnny Got A Boom Boom’, the opening track to her debut album. Seats continued to be vacated in every level of the auditorium as the celebratory atmosphere rose from the dust of May’s heartache.
The Undertones’ timeless classic ‘Teenage Kicks’, was masterfully executed and grew the connection between May and her audience in a way only that song can. A nod to the Maiden City’s finest.
What better way to end a gig five days before Christmas than reminding us that ‘Santa Claus is Coming To Town’. May, adorned with a Santa hat, closed the evening with a rousing rendition that sent Belfast dancing into a festive frenzy.
It was a gig that had everything. It flowed, it had sadness, joy and optimism. A beautiful way to go into the new year with renewed hope and happiness from an underrated singer who has seen it all.