Imelda May became only the second live Irish act after U2 to play at the Grammys Sunday night when she blew away the audience and the estimated 120 million watching with her rockabilly performance. Not for nothing is she known as the 'Irish Amy Winehouse"
Accompanied by guitar legend Jeff Beck, the inner city Dublin singer, now 35, showed she is ready for U.S prime time with an unbelievable performance.
May has struggled through 12 years of tough times before last night's crowning moment. During that period the blues singer has been unemployed and almost forgotten, but she has always come back. Last night was an extraordinary vindication.
She and her husband, Darrell Higham, built their own studio in London to record her album 'Love Tattoo' after every record label in the world had turned her down.
May instead sold it at her own sold-out shows in smaller venues. The record eventually came to the attention of rockabilly expert Jools Holland who booked her on his BBC show “Later with Jools Holland”.
Even at that it took a last minute cancellation for May to get on the show after some of the producers objected to giving the unknown Irish woman an opportunity.
Also performing on the show was the legendary Jeff Beck, who thought May was the best act he had heard in years. Suddenly the dam began to burst.
She appeared with Beck and Eric Clapton and as the opening act for Van Morrison. The record company offers began to flow in. The single from the album 'Johnny Got a Boom Boom' raced up the British charts and the album made no. 1. in Ireland. Then came the Grammy invitation. When Beck was nominated, he asked her to play live with him in Los Angeles.
May has made it the tough way. She grew up in The Liberties one of Dublin's most deprived inner city neighborhoods and remembers stepping over junkies in her apartment building. She is the youngest of five children. Her mother formed a singing troupe that belted out all the Broadway classics and May was soon the star attraction, eventually focusing on rockabilly.
She moved to London in 1997 and met her husband there. What followed was ten years of trying to make the breakthrough, playing for a pittance at many clubs, honing her act, always waiting for the big break.
Now her record company is ready for a big promotional tour after her Grammy performance and a new album entitled 'Mayhem’ is in the works. She has become an overnight sensation after 12 years of dogged persistence and hard work.
Personally she is described as "great company. Imelda loves her frocks and dresses and her make-up but that’s just for her on-stage time where she needs to make an impression as a lead singer, she’s very down to earth, very normal and very proud of her Liberties background. It has been a struggle for her over the years and now that the album has taken off and things are happening for her she is very focused and has come to really understand how the music business works,” a friend told The Irish Times recently.