Guitarist Diaries: Imelda May, Frome, 9th July 2009
Like most assumed overnight sensations, Irish singer Imelda May has been making music for as long as she can remember and when a copy of Love Tattoo, her debut album, landed on my desk, my Eternal Flame of Rockabilly™ was suitably fanned. Best news – for me at least – was that one of my oldest friends, Dean ‘Bam-Bam’ Beresford, was playing drums. That’s access sorted, then.
I saw that the band was booked into the Cheese & Grain, a well-respected venue in Frome mere minutes from Guitarist HQ, so, blagging trousers well and truly on, I called him up, with beer and a good night on my mind.
“I’ve not done that for over a year!” came the response.
Still, all was certainly not lost as I also knew the band’s whale-fiddler (that’s hepcat speak for double bass player, apparently) Al Gare from back in Birmingham, an immensely likeable and outrageously talented guy who isn’t exactly unknown for blowing the froth off a few either...
Having said all that, this wasn’t supposed to be a jolly, as I was very interested in chatting with Imelda’s guitarist Darrel Higham. I’d previously spoken to him back in March 2004 when Guitarist covered the launch of a fat semi-acoustic he’d helped design for Peavey – the Rockingham – and I’d also admired his cool style and rockabilly dexterity.
One quick call later and he generously invited us down to the venue for a hang, a chat and a walk around his backline.
Darrel takes a break from soundcheck duties...
We love covering the genuinely A-list, stadium-filling guitarists, and the interminable hoop-jumping required to get close to someone of the stature of, for example, Kirk Hammett can be a chore but it’s certainly par for the course. Over-worked or just unsympathetic PR companies, aloof PAs and tour personnel that tend to double as gatekeepers and bouncers can make a simple interview almost more trouble than it’s worth...almost.
However, arranging interview time directly with the artist themselves - as we’d been able to do here – is infinitely simpler and results in an even more rewarding experience. Yes, sitting in a six star London hotel room, supping sparkling Evian and talking Les Pauls with Joe Perry for a strictly limited amount of time has its appeal, but chatting casually with someone as self-effacing, accommodating and downright knowledgeable as Darrel is equally fulfilling.
We simply pile through double doors at the side of the venue to be greeted by Al, cuppa in hand, and Imelda herself.
“Oh hi, are you from them?” she asks, extending a hand.
“No, not them; they’re not here.” explains her manager.
“Oh, so you’re from the other them?” she laughs.
Fortunately we’re spared explaining just why we’re rudely crashing her band’s down time as Darrel appears and grips our hand in welcome.
First up is the photo shoot and we attempt to cajole Imelda to join him in front of our camera.
She declines politely. “I haven’t got my face on. You understand, right?”
“Who’s face have you got on then?” Darrel parries, with a smile.
The pair have been married for over seven years and their camaraderie, of which this style of banter seems to be a regular part, is palpable.
She scurries off to listen to some live footage on her manager’s laptop while Darrel takes us to the stage to check out his rig.
His amps comprise a Peavey Delta Blues (Left, below) alongside a 4x10 version of the Peavey Classic 50 (Right, below) that he uses when also dusting off a Danelectro '63 Baritone. His main squeeze is a customsied Rockingham, and he also plays an old Epiphone J-200 acoustic for portions of the set.
Darrel's Peavey backline
The Danelectro '63 Baritone