How Imelda May’s new album 11 Past The Hour celebrates love in all its guises

Trying to thaw out in her Hampshire home after a run in the “freezing” weather, Imelda May is in a chatty mood as we discuss her new album, 11 Past The Hour.

Imelda May. Picture: Eddie Otchere

“I always have a lot of things to say,” she laughs, contemplating a record that’s brimming with ideas and interesting collaborations.

Where her 2017 collection Life Love Flesh Blood signalled a move away from her rockabilly roots and trademark quiff, lyrically, she says, she is “not mincing my words any more”.

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“All the times that I wrote before I was always very honest but I found a way of hiding what I wanted to say behind rock ’n’ roll. For this album, and the last album, I stopped doing that and just said what I wanted.

“Each song is very personal to me and each songs is about love in a different form – not necessarily romantic love, it could be supportive love or friends or universal love.”

Although she says she had a “fab time” making records such as Love Tattoo and Mayhem, her interests were always more diverse. “I started off with blues and jazz,” she points out. “Typically when you get known for something people want you to stay like that forever, but I’ve always moved as an artist. I think to be creative it has to be fluid.

“With rockabilly I loved it and I toured the world with it and I do think it’s a very important music – it’s the original punk rock and it broke a lot of rules, it’s very sexy and wild – but as a writer I couldn’t go any further with it.”

The period around Life Love Flesh Blood coincided with divorce from her husband Darrel Higham, who also left her band. May, 46, says she’s not afraid to reappraise her life from time to time. “I’ve done it a few times and I’m sure I’ll do it again,” she says. “I have to take stock. Sometimes you might look at one area and sometimes you might look at the whole thing and think ‘what are we actually doing here?’ We have one chance at this life...You can easily fall into patterns where you’re trying to please other people. It’s good to stand back and look at it all once in a while.”

Imelda May. Picture: Eddie Otchere

The song Just One Kiss features Noel Gallagher and Ronnie Wood, whom May first met 30 years ago when she was a 16-year-old singer in a Dublin blues club. “Ronnie came in and jumped up on stage and we jammed and had a great time,” she recalls.

“That’s where I learnt my trade, that club. I’d never studied music, I learnt there with the best musicians. I had so much fun but I woulld really listen and take everything in, in the way that teenagers do.”

Years later the pair were reintroduced by Jeff Beck at the Classic Rock awards and have remained friends. “I think the world of him, I love him dearly,” she says. “He’s a brilliant man and a very good friend. He asked me to sing on his Chuck Berry album, which I did, and we did a mini tour of that...I asked him to play on my album and he was there like that.

“With Noel, we were texting and he said, ‘send me the track’ and he loved it. Andrew Innes, the guitarist from Primal Scream, is on that track as well, so it’s full of rock ’n’ roll vibes. I said to the guys, ‘this is a dirty little rock’n’ roll number, do you want to be on it?’ and I’m so glad they did because it was calling out for them.”

Other guests on the album include women’s rights activists Shola Mos-Shogbamimu and Gina Martin. “I always want people to think a bit more, we have to,” May says, telling how she first heard Dr Mos-Shogbamimu speak at an International Women’s Day event. “She’s incredible, everything that comes out of her, she’s so articulate and thoughtful and she’s just a wonderful activist, so is Gina Martin. She fought hard to make upskirting illegal.

Made To Love is a song I wrote about people who fight for love, and people who have given their lives for love as well, so I namechecked John Lennon and Jesus and Martin Luther King and Marielle Franco, who was a great activist in Brazil who was shot in broad daylight and nobody was ever brought to justice. All these people all they ever spoke of was love. I thought it’s really worth fighting for, to love each other and accept each other as best we can.

“Gina and Shola greatly inspire me and I learn from them regularly, and I will also ask them questions about things I’m struggling with and I will get the information. I asked them to be on Made To Love, it seemed to fitting and I was delighted when they said yes.”

Last year May released her first EP of poetry, Slip of the Tongue.

It was, she says, something she had been wanting to do “for quite a little while”. “I had people who didn’t believe in it or thought I was mad for putting poetry out, that people wouldn’t be interested in it,” she says. “I find audiences are often underestimated by executives within the music business. I think people can smell when something’s not real a mile away, and then if something is real and somebody goes into something wholeheartedly I think people are open to that. I think most people have some kind of literature that they love, some book or a poem that you used to say as a kid or your mother used to say. Most people have poetry within their lives, even if it’s from years ago.

“But also I think a lot of people were turned off by poetry in school, by being made to examine line by line something from hundreds of years ago that they cannot relate to. So I wanted to do something that was for now. I find poetry such a beautiful way of getting a small nugget of joy into your day. Instead of putting poetry books on bookshelves I think you should leave them lying around the house. If you put your phone down for a minute and pick one up within a minute or two you’ll have read one page and it will give you something to think about for the rest of the day.”

11 Past The Hour is out on Friday April 16.