Imelda May used to book all her own shows alongside touring with Jools Holland

·5 min read
Irish artist Imelda May won the Breakthrough Award for at The Classic Rock Awards at Roundhouse, Park Lane, London, Tuesday, November 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Paul Jeffers)
Irish artist Imelda May won the Breakthrough Award for at The Classic Rock Awards, 2010. (AP Photo/Paul Jeffers)

Imelda May says her determination to play her own music and work hard have brought her career success.

The Irish singer-songwriter and poet said she used to book all her own tours, including producing her own flyers, calling venues and booking accommodation for her and her band.

Speaking with host Kate Thornton on White Wine Question Time, May explained how an opportunity to tour with Jools Holland led to her promoting and playing lots of other shows.

She said: "I got the gig with Jools Holland... It was through a gig that I’d done and somebody had told him that I'd been there the night before. And he’d love me... And I got asked to do one show. And then he sent me on tour.

WATCH: Imelda May on her journey to success and performing with Jools Holland

"And then while I was there, I realised I need to do something with this. So I asked him if it's okay if I put flyers on the chairs. He said: 'Sure'. 

"And I was so broke, God. I drew up a little poster and I went to the local photocopier. And I got loads and I cut them up them up."

Read more: Imelda May on working with Noel Gallagher, Bono and more

May called all the smaller pubs and clubs near the venues and theatres where she would be opening for Jools Holland.

Imelda May and Jools Holland arrive at the Music Industry Awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London
Imelda May and Jools Holland arrive at the Music Industry Awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. PA

"I said, I'm opening for Jools Holland, do you have a slot for me? Maybe next month, in your little tiny pub? And they said: 'Yes'.

"So every venue I went with Jools, I would put a flyer on the seats myself. I'd get me band to help me and say: 'I'm in your area. 

"'If you look under your seat, I'm back. If you like what I do, I'm back here next month.' And I thought if I get ten per cent of his audience or five per cent of his audience, who'll come back and see me. 

"So I did that on the whole tour. And Jools was really nice to let me put the flyers on the seat and invite them back and it worked."

LISTEN: Imelda May talks about her new album 11 Past The Hour, and shares stories from her hard-fought journey to success, from her quirky childhood to performing with Bono, Lou Reed and more

White Wine Question Time Banner
White Wine Question Time Banner

May spoke openly about trying to make ends meet in the early days of touring.

She said: "I was working and singing in wine bars and stuff. 

"I remember ringing an agent that I'd gotten. And I said: 'Give me every gig you have', because every gig I did with Jools it cost me like 500 quid, which I hadn't got. Because I paid my band all the time. 

"And I remember I only had 20 quid each left for accommodation. And I had to find somewhere for us to stay - we stayed in some mental places!"

UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 08:  CORNBURY MUSIC FESTIVAL  Photo of Imelda MAY, Performing live onstage  (Photo by Hayley Madden/Redferns)
Imelda May worked hard to succeed (Hayley Madden/Redferns)

She continued: "I used to have to do gigs to fund them, you know, so I could pay everybody. I had a residency, I was doing Monday night. I think I did a residency in the middle of nowhere in a Wetherspoons singing like five o'clock till nine o'clock and things like that."

Read more: Jools Holland calls on government to help musicians more during the pandemic

She admitted to Thornton that she would always be the last one to be paid.

"You have to look after who you employ," she said.

Singer Imelda May performs at the Isle of Wight Festival on Sunday, June 14, 2015 in Newport, Isle of Wight, England. (Photo by Jim Ross/Invision/AP)
Imelda May performs at the Isle of Wight Festival in June 2015 in Newport, Isle of Wight. (Photo by Jim Ross/Invision/AP)

"You have to look after everybody and then yourself at the end of it. But I remember saying to the guys: 'It will get better. It will get better. So if I make some more, if I get a better venue and I fill it out more, which would you prefer for us, would you like a pay rise? Or would you like an easier life like a better B&B?' And they were like: 'Better B&B!'"

May said she appreciates all this work that she used to do herself now being done by someone else.

She said: "I really appreciate when I have someone else to do it for me now. So my tour manager and drivers and management to book all those things. 

"I cannot tell you how thankful I am that I don't have to do that. So it did give me a sense of what it is that needs to be done."

Imelda May arrives for the Brit Awards at the O2 Arena in London, Britain, February 22, 2017.  REUTERS/Neil Hall EDITORIAL USE ONLY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
Imelda May arrives for the Brit Awards, 2017. (REUTERS/Neil Hall)

She added: "I normally try to end the year, or the tour because we do tour every two or three years, in Dublin.

"Because all my family come and it's mostly guestlist, and I fly a lot of the guys and their girlfriends or wives or boyfriends or husbands in so that we can all practise together and have a Christmas party at the end.

"So we fly them in and have fun of course. You're the front of it. But it's all cogs in the wheel. 

"We all we all have to play a part in it, you know. And their part is important, really important."

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