Imelda May was treated ‘like a leper’ by record bosses

Imelda May has spoken about her tough start in the music industry, saying that in her earlier days: “Record companies treated me like a leper.”
Imelda May. Photo Copyright - XIIIfromTOKYO CC3

It’s hard to believe that the industry experts failed to spot the Dublin artist’s talent, but May has revealed that she couldn’t get a record deal until she made a television appearance on Jools Holland’s music show.

She is now a household name having just seen her third consecutive album, Tribal, top the charts, but in an interview with the Irish Mirror, May revealed that record companies were unsure about her image to start with: “There’s jazz and blues and punk and all these influences in my music and everybody (record label bosses) was fine with those. But once they heard the word rockabilly, it was like I had leprosy. It was crazy.

“Then I was on Later… With Jools Holland and everything kicked off overnight. All of a sudden the record companies were calling saying, ‘Oh, what we didn’t get about you before, we get it now. Can we talk?’”

May’s story goes to show how tough it can be for up-and-coming musicians to get the help they need to fulfil their dreams and make it in the industry. Despite her early setbacks, May persisted with her music and trusted her own instincts.

She explains how she noticed her career began taking an upward curve when she started writing her own material: “I was doing covers at functions and all, trying to pay bills basically. I got an itch that I wanted to do my own stuff. When I did that I could see something change. The audience started to double. You’d start off with 20, then 40, 60, before you know it it’s 100, 200. Each time we would go back to the same area you could see something was happening.”

Having made it to the top of the music ladder, and with her 18-month daughter to take care of, May’s schedule is now non-stop but she says she is happier when busy and wouldn’t change a thing: “I had my accountant ring up and say, ‘Are you sure there’s not one day you can meet me until next month?’

“I was looking at my calendar and there was not one single day. It’s nuts but it’s good nuts. I’d rather this than sitting around with tumbleweed. I hate being bored more than anything.”

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Andrew Moore

Andrew Moore is a writer for Irish Music Daily and Ireland Calling. His favourite Irish music bands are the Dropkick Murphys and the Pogues.

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