Imelda May + The Toy Hearts @ Birmingham Glee Club – 3rd March 2009

Imelda MayImelda May

The support act for tonight’s gig is a local band called The Toy Hearts. They are essentially a family band who play a mixture of Bluegrass and Swing, and have a monthly residency at The Kitchen Garden Cafe in King’s Heath. It isn’t often that I enjoy a support act, but this is one of those rare events. The Toy Hearts’ set starts with a track called Stronger and continues with songs from their two albums, When I Cut Loose and If the Blues Come Calling. I know very little about Bluegrass as a genre, but become totally engrossed in each song, particularly their cover version of Carolina by Kate MacKenzie and a track called Montpellier Street, inspired by the aforementioned road in Balsall Heath. Not only are this band talented musicians with a knack for composing memorable songs, they are incredibly likeable due to their modesty and obvious love of the music they play and write. The only criticism that I have is that the sound wasn’t loud enough to carry throughout the Glee Club.

The ToyheartsThe Toyhearts

Imelda May‘s popularity has grown recently thanks to her performance on Jools Holland and airplay on Radio 2, which provides her with a decent crowd for this evening’s concert. She opens the proceedings with Feel Me and, instantly, her vocal power hits you as she ploughs through this catchy, rockabilly number. It isn’t just May’s vocals that are striking, her retro style, and that of the band, encapsulates the vibe that she is trying to convey; the only thing missing from the setting of an old blues club is a veil of cigarette smoke. The set continues in this vein, playing tracks from the album Love Tattoo, including the awesome title track, which gets the audience moving, and the more bluesy number, It’s Your Voodoo Working. May then embarks on a cover version (the first of five for this evening) of Patsy Cline’s Walking After Midnight, which she undertakes in the spirit of the original, as she notes Cline as one of her major influences. As the show gathers speed, you start to appreciate how crucial and talented her band are to the sound, the different musicians getting opportunities to demonstrate the skills during various tracks, such as Don’t Do Me No Wrong and Big Bad Handsome Man; however, when May isn’t singing you get a slight sense that she isn’t necessarily that comfortable on stage at this point.

Imelda MayImelda May

The version of The Beatles’ Oh Darling is fantastic and May’s vocals take on a raw edge which adds a certain depth and darkness to the song. This is followed up by a new track , Sneaky Freak and the skiffle based song, Wild About My Lovin’, it is now that May starts to look like she owns this stage especially with her vocal solo on Proud and Humble. The performance continues with the burlesque inspired All For You, the sultry Falling in Love With You Again, and the kick arse Smoker’s Song. Each track demonstrating the connection between all the band members and May, as they are all riding the same wave so to speak. After a dedication to The Cramps recently deceased lead singer Lux Interior, Watcha Gonna Do, and a couple of new tracks, May ends the set with the catchy, stomping Johnny Got A Boom Boom and departs the stage to an onslaught of applause and cries for more. The band return to the stage to perform two more covers; Soft Cell’s Tainted Love, which I preferred to the original, and Muddy Waters Rollin’ and Tumblin’. All in all, May and her band are fantastic at putting a modern day spin on rockabilly and blues; although, I do have to admit to doing the odd spot of clock watching during the set, but compared with the reaction of the audience this was more about my minimal knowledge and appreciation of the genre, than the band. Imelda May is an amazing vocalist and her band are at the top of their game and well worth seeing, especially if you have an inkling of the 50’s burning inside of you.

Imelda MayImelda May

Review – Toni Woodward

Photos – John Colson

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