Rising Irish star Imelda steals the show
Published 02/02/2010 | 05:00
A Dublin rockabilly singer with a blonde streak in her hair stole the show at the Grammys this week.
A modern-day Liberties belle, rising star Imelda May provided one of the highlights of the night, singing 'How High The Moon' with rock veteran Jeff Beck as they paid tribute to late guitar legend Les Paul.
Only the second Irish act ever to have performed at the US awards show after U2, an estimated 100 million people worldwide tuned in to see the duet, with American reviewers praising May for the strong Irish inflection of her pronunciation.
But what is now being called a "career-changing performance" in front of the American music industry nearly didn't happen. Grammy organisers had originally asked British rocker Beck to perform with some vintage bluesmen.
"They want to put Jeff on with a bunch of other guitarists, but he just wants to plug in and play," said Imelda May.
However, Beck, nominated in the Best Rock Instrumental Performance Category, insisted 35-year-old Dublin singer May perform with him in the Staples Centre, Los Angeles.
It was a long way from the home in Dublin's Liberties, where Imelda May grew up the youngest of five children. She credits her taste in 1950s music to her brother.
"My brother was a mad Elvis fan, and I found a tape in his room with Elvis, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. I thought the music was fantastic.
"Then I heard Billie Holiday, and that blew my mind. My brother took me to HMV and I bought my first Billie album, and I listened to it back to front," she said.
Aged 14 she recorded her first studio session, the soundtrack for a Findus Fish Fingers advert, and began gigging in Bruxelles Bar off Dublin's Grafton Street.
Inspiration came from the break up with her first boyfriend. Imelda claims the best advice she got was from her dad. Asking her if she was heartbroken, when she said "utterly", he said: "Good, you'll be able to sing the blues better now."
And sing she did, until May 2008, when, after opening for musician Jools Holland in London, he invited her to perform on his BBC2 TV show Later.
It was to be another show-stealing appearance because not only did her set win her a recording contract, another guest on show that night was Jeff Beck.
This week, he made her one of the most talked about singers in the US.