INTERVIEW: Imelda May on poetry and equality ahead of all-female 'Imagining Ireland' cultural event

INTERVIEW: Imelda May on poetry and equality ahead of all-female 'Imagining Ireland' cultural event


THIS MONTH will see Irish singer, songwriter and poet Imelda May take to the stage at London's Barbican Hall as part of a one-night only, all-female line-up event showcasing some of the best talent Ireland has to offer.

But that's not all-- despite having 'hidden away' for a while, Imelda has been busy behind the scenes, and looks set to come back with a bang this year, with new music, new performances and even a book of poetry in the works.

Speaking to us at The Irish Post, Imelda talks about Imagining Irelandcreativity, equality and empowerment.

[What can we expect from the Imagining Ireland event this month?]

"It's a wonderful one night event that I'm very proud to be part of," she says. "This will be an all-female lineup celebrating Irish literature, music and creativity in Irish women."

"But women and men should come to this, and people who aren't Irish-- we should get a good mixture..

"For such a small country we have an abundance of creativity. We're known for being poets and storytellers, and it's a beautiful culture. So I hope people come and listen and maybe learn."

"I'm going to do some poetry and a couple of songs. I'll mix it up a little bit.

[The theme of Imagining Ireland is 'Speaking up, Speaking Louder' -- do you think women in the industry have to speak louder to be heard?]

"Not just in music, in everything," she admits.

"I think especially in Irish culture it's important, because something happened along the way in our culture where we became a patriarchal society, but before that it was quite matriarchal," she says, highlighting the legends of pre-Christianity Brigid and The Morrigan.

'We're known for being poets and storytellers, and it's a beautiful culture' - Imelda May

Imelda is quick to point out that's she's "not pushing for a matriarchal society", though.

"I think we should be aiming for a place where we all can learn from each other and work together and do something beautiful," she says instead.

"[But currently] you look around one day and realise that most of your books, whether it be in art, music or literature, it tends to be mostly from white men.

"And there's nothing wrong with white men! But you look at your collection of music or literature, or you go into a gallery or you go into libraries and that's what you're taught. And I'm not saying it shouldn't be taught-- because it definitely should-- but we've only had half of the picture. And I'd like to know the other half."

"A lot of it we'll never know," she says, "because women weren't encouraged to do it or weren't able to do it."

"But I wonder how many women were at home writing that we never got to hear."

[On the subject of balance, much of the popular modern Irish music scene is made up of the likes of Hozier, Niall Horan, Picture This, The Coronas, etc-- should more women be put in the spotlight?]

"100%," she says vehemently. "But also you have to wonder why it's not happening, because it's not like the talent isn't there. And no woman wants to be put in the spotlight just to fill a quota, that's insulting.

"I remember once I was doing a festival and they said that they had asked me and a couple of other women because they realised they didn't have any women in the line-up.

"But I don't want to be there to fill your quota, I want to be here because I deserve to be here and I'm doing a good job.

"I'd love for there to come a time when it's not something that people even have to think about.

"But I'd love to know why it is the way it is, in this day and age. And that's why it makes it all the more important for [events like Imagining Ireland] to happen. To make people aware of the amazing female talent there is out there and give us a bit more of a platform.

"No woman wants to be put in the spotlight just to fill a quota." Picture: Eddie Otchere

So what's next for Imelda May after the Imagining Ireland gig? A new single was recently teased on BBC's The Tim Robinson Show, and despite being unfinished and in the 'tweaking' stage, she says she's pleased with the reaction so far.

But it is another passion which seems set to make waves for Imelda this year, as she tells us how she is working on publishing a book of poetry.

"I've been writing poetry forever," she says. "I'm always writing, whether it's music or poetry. And I have so much of it, I'm probably going to release a book.

"I've been recording some of it as spoken word set to music, and I'll proably release an EP or something like that.

"I've kind of hidden myself away for the past couple of years and I've been working really hard. I've thoroughly enjoyed myself, I just seem to have a huge amount of stuff that I've done.


"[When I hide away and write] nobody has a clue what I'm doing-- but [management] asked what I'd been working on... and I compiled what I was happy with, and I told them I've got about 90 poems and they all nearly fell off the chair," she laughs.

"I'm at the stage now where I'm continuously writing and hoping to publish it and see what will happen.

"It's a nice adventure for me."

IMAGINING IRELAND: Speaking Up, Singing Louder is at London’s Barbican Hall from 7.30pm on Friday, February 21. For tickets click here.