Interview: Imelda May, singer

THERE'S no one quite like Imelda May. The Irish rockabilly singer has not only caught people's attention with her music, but also her striking style, that solitary curl and shock of blonde in her jet black hair giving her a quirky Fifties look that's seen her grace the pages of many a style magazine.

The youngest of five siblings, May took various influences from her older brothers and sisters, whose music she could hear wafting through the walls of their two bedroom house in Dublin.

There was folk music, the usual chart pop, and then there was Elvis. "My brother was a mad Elvis fan, and I found a tape in his room with Elvis, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. I thought the music was fantastic," says the 36-year-old, who performs at Liquid Room on Sunday night.

By the age of nine May had fallen in love with rockabilly and the blues - the only kid in her class who wasn't into Wet Wet Wet. Singing along to rock 'n' roll from an early age, her tastes began to develop and deepen, first with Elmore James and then with the great Billie Holiday. "I heard Billie and that blew my mind," she enthuses.

After a year of art college she dropped out, having come to realise that her heart lay in music. At that point, her professional experience was confined to having sung on an ad for Findus Fish Fingers at 14. "A girl in The Liberties was in the music business and she got me this ad, where I sang, 'Betcha never put your finger on a crunchier crumb!'," she laughs. "I got 40 for it!"

May soon found work singing with swing troupe Blue Harlem and rocker Mike Sanchez, and had a brief spell singing at burlesque nights. "I'd sing while the other girls were onstage," she recalls. "One of them used to take an angle grinder to her crotch and would produce a shower of sparks. One day a spark flew down my throat when I was singing."

Her big break in music came after she supported Jools Holland at a couple of gigs and spotted him checking her out from the side of the stage.

"He promised to try to get me and my band on his Later show, but it's actually his researchers and producers who make the decisions," she says. "Just when we'd given up on it, he called up to say that Natalie Cole had pulled out of a show and could we stand in at the last minute? It was a great break."

She's never looked back, making her commercial breakthrough with 2007's Love Tattoo and then repeating the trick with latest album Mayhem, a record that sees the singer continue to develop her uniquely modern fusion of classic musical genres.

"I'm over the moon with how Mayhem has turned out - I hope people enjoy it," she says. "I feel I've made the album I wanted that reflects the spectrum of all my influences from music past, but it's a record firmly in the here and now."

Imelda May, Liquid Room, Victoria Street, Sunday, 7pm, 16, 0131-225 2564

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