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New challenge Imelda May reveals she left Ireland because she felt 'totally trapped' and 'wasn't happy'

The Liberties legend told how she felt she had to leave in a bid to find a new musical voice.


Imelda May

Imelda May

Imelda May

 Imelda May has revealed how she left Ireland at the height of her popularity here to pursue a new musical direction. 

The Liberties legend, who also recently spoke about the pain of her mam Madge’s illness, told how she felt she had to leave in a bid to find a new musical voice.

Speaking to Angela Scanlon's Thanks A Million podcast Imelda, who had risen to huge success, said she felt “totally trapped” and needed to escape.

"I changed my life around massively,” she recalled.

“I've done that a few times in my life when something isn't working and I get it as far as I can with it, where I try and try and try, I just change everything. Everything. I just flip all around.

"I did that when I left Ireland. I just left everything. I just went. When you feel like 'I've done everything I can. This is done. I have to go.'... There wasn't any work left. I pushed as far as I could. And then I was like, 'Right, I'm out of here.' And adventure called me."

When asked by Angela did it feel like she wasn't growing anymore, Imelda replied: “I left Ireland when I was like 23. I'd been there a long time, I was gigging there and I was too comfortable. I would go to the same places and see the same people and I was too comfortable. I knew I needed to push myself,” she added.


Imelda May

Imelda May

Imelda May

“I knew I needed a challenge. And I did it years before, I ran away with a boyfriend to the west coast of Ireland and lived in a caravan for a year... I do things like that. I'll just go, 'Right. That's it. I'm gone.'... I wasn't happy for a long time in many areas of my life.

"And I did not know what to do. And I felt totally trapped. And again, when I get like that, I'll do everything I can to fix it, to fix it, to fix it. And then when I realise I can't, then I just change everything. I'm sure I'll do it again."

She also explained how, musically, she was also changing. She realised that she was “playing it safe” and people now knew her as a rockabilly.

“But I was doing that for a very short period in my career,” she insisted.

“I started with blues and jazz and then I went into rhythm and blues and all that kind of stuff from folk.

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“I got obsessed with music from an early age and I listened to everything. And then I went through stages of singing different things.

"I was in a one-piece swing band. I was in a rock and roll band. I toured Dubai and Abu Dhabi with some blues legends that I would fly in from America... And then I went into rockabilly, things went crazy, and I just got known as that.

"It was the image as well,” she admitted of her distinctive style at the time.

“That was it. And then it was how to break out of that. And writing wise, I hit a glass ceiling with that. I couldn't bring that any further than I had. I knew when I started that, I was linking up the rebelliousness of rock and roll and rockabilly and jazz.

“And I wanted to kind of merge them together. And I put a lot of punk and heaviness into the rock and stuff I was doing to feel the danger in it... When I wrote The Tribal, I knew that was my last album of that.

"While I was writing, I thought 'This is it. This is it. I will never do this again. This is over.' And I did it as far as I could. And then I stepped away from my record label and everything. I was like 'I'm done. I can't do this anymore. This is so restrictive and the walls are coming in on me.

“It just got to a point where (I’m thinking), this is what I'm doing and nobody will stop me.' And that's where I go 'I have to change. I have to do something else. It feels like I'm suffocating and I have to breathe.'

"I'm sure sometimes you have to hit a low in order to achieve and reach your highs. I'd rather than just kind of exist somewhere in the middle. That doesn't give you either. I couldn't cope with that. I know those risks to take and I'm willing to take them if that helps me live and it's not at the expense of everybody else either."

Even though Imelda lives in England she is still very close to her family.

She recently revealed the heart-breaking news that her beloved mam Madge is in hospital after suffering a stroke.

In an emotional interview with Ryan Tubridy on RTE Radio One, Imelda told how 93-year-old Madge is “not good at all”.

“I might burst into tears here in a moment but mam's had a stroke and she’s in hospital.

“It's been really, really tough because we can’t visit her, we can’t see her and it's just been absolutely torturous, to be honest.

“So, we're trying to get her home as quick as we can, it's just, it's been tough. She's going to be 94 in February next month and she's just brilliant, she's been brilliant all her life.

“She lived by her own rules and she's such a strongwoman and I'm very, very lucky to have had her and my dad in my life.

“I adore them,” Imelda added.

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