Inside Out – Imelda May

My first experience of Imelda May was watching her in a live performance at the O2 in London – I think that seeing her on a stage, in her natural element, was a great way to be introduced to an artist like Imelda, especially one of her uniqueness and intensity.

She was performing on the bill that night with Jeff Beck – and I was there as a guest of Jeff’s. It was a great gig, one I enjoyed immensely – and watching Imelda, alongside guitarist and husband Darrel Higham, a thought began to take hold at the back of my mind – but it was actually to do with Darrel! I’d been on the lookout for a really good old-school, retro-style guitarist for a project I had on the back-burner – watching Darrel play, I thought maybe I might have found my man.

A mutual friend, Mark ‘Snowboy’ Cotgrove introduced us backstage, and I asked Darrel if he’d like to do some work with me, and maybe help recruit a team of like-minded players.

A few weeks later we ended up at his studio, Embassy, working through a pile of material. The sessions went really well, and after day 2, Darrel asked if he could play me something. So we went outside to his car and he played me a couple of Imelda tracks. He told me that Imelda and he were recording her new album, ‘Mayhem’, at the studio, and they’d been doing everything themselves. But they were getting pressure from their record label who wanted to up the ante and have a recognised producer work on it with them. He asked me if I’d be interested in doing something, and without hesitation it was a definite yes!

They talked to Tom Lewis at Universal and Tom got excited because up until that point, every producer they’d put forward Imelda had said no to – so everybody was happy, and we went ahead.

Most of the basic recording had already been done, but the album needed additional production and good mixes, so my production partner Gavin Goldberg and I went through it with them, and together developed what ‘Mayhem’ would go on to be.

So far so good, but towards the end of the process Tom phoned me again worried that, great as the album was, they still needed a radio single – they didn’t feel that the album had one, and he wanted to know if I had any ideas…

I went away and thought it over and it seemed to me that the one song that, lyrically, might fit the bill was ‘Inside Out’ – though it had a slow feel, somewhat like a New Orleans funeral march.

The lyric was actually really joyous and ‘up’ – and I thought it could be a really good possibility just based on the lyric alone.

So Gavin and I came up with a version of it in much more of an upbeat style. We went for kind of a latino-retro feel which suited the lyric and harnessed some of the song’s inherent energy. It quickly started to sound like it could be the radio tune they were looking for. And so Hugh, Imelda’s manager and Tom from the label came to the studio. And they heard it and flipped – and said ‘that’s it – that’s exactly what we need.’

At first, Imelda was a bit unsure – the styling was a bit of a departure – but the label were very keen. Both the original version and ours went onto the album; ours was included as a remix, under the monicker of Imelda May vs BlueJay Gonzales.

In the end, three singles were released initially from Mayhem. All of them were really good songs and they were thoroughly well-received. But none of them got any major airplay. Finally, the re-worked version of Inside Out was released as a fourth single – and went straight to all the A-lists on radio. The album entered the UK charts for the first time the same day as the single was released – it peaked later inside the top ten and remains one of Imelda’s best selling albums to date.

It was great to be part of her success, part of helping her breakthrough and tap into a wider audience. And it goes to show, sometimes you really do need to think outside of the box…