On the last night of her UK tour Imelda May walked onstage to rapturous applause for her first headline gig at the Royal Albert Hall and performed a stunning stripped back rendition of Call Me. This immediately demonstrated both her confidence and her clear and strong vocals. The respectful silence showed that the crowd were spellbound which was confirmed by the reception she received once the song had finished. Her latest album Life. Love. Flesh. Blood, produced in Nashville by the legendary T Bone Burnett, has been the most successful and critically reviewed of her career. She showcased many tracks from the album and it was easy to see why she has won several awards this year and been nominated for International Artist of the Year for the UK Americana Awards 2018
The opening number was followed by the emotional When It’s My Time, a bluesy, spiritual church revival sounding number which gave May and her band plenty of scope to show their talents. This was followed by Human, a more up-tempo number before she launched into Sixth Sense which sounded like something that would have been conjured up if Amy Winehouse and Tom Waits had worked together. She took a sip of wine before starting this haunting song and joked ‘I don’t know about you but the more wine I drink, the better I think I sing’. May was very engaging between numbers and often had a tale or an amusing anecdote to tell and you could sense that she was really enjoying herself. The show was not all about the current album though and when the band launched into Big Bad Handsome Man, it was evident that this was still a firm fan favourite. The songs came thick and fast, with stand out tracks like Black Tears which had a country tinge and some beautiful slide guitar and Love & Fear and Flesh & Blood which sounded like it came straight from Beale Street.
The band left the stage whilst May went to the far end of the hall saying how she wanted to get rid of the fourth wall. She then set herself down for a mini set amongst the audience which started with an a cappella version of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, followed by several songs where May was accompanied solely on acoustic guitar. Returning to the main stage the pace picked up with The Longing, a tune which would not sound out of place on a Nick Cave or Doors album and which had the crowd on its feet, clapping and dancing. They stayed this way for the remainder of the show, which included many highlights, including the captivating It Should Have Been You and a rocking Mayhem. May then brought Bob Geldof and Ronnie Wood onstage for a barn storming version of Rollin’ & Tumblin’ and The Animal’s I’m Crying with Geldof adding blues harmonica to his vocal accompaniment. The applause nearly lifted the roof off the hall when these two songs were done. May then returned to the stage with her band for the long time fan favourite Johnny Got A Boom Boom which proved a major highlight of the show.
May had not finished yet, returning for a final encore of Game Changer / Teenage Kicks, with Geldof and Andreya Triana (who had been the support act) joining her for the latter song. When the song finished May had a huge smile on her face and said to the crowd ‘Thank you so much, I’ve had the night of my life’. Judging by the time the applause continued after she had left the stage and the look of joy on the faces of the audience I would say she was not the only one.
Picture by Eddie Otchere