IT may be a well-worn showbiz cliche but ''the one and only'' perfectly describes May Ip. She spurned Canto-pop as a child and grew up to become the lone female Chinese singer-songwriter on the Hongkong folk music circuit. Her romance with folk came almost by chance - when one of the first pieces of sheet music she unwittingly picked up off the shelf in a music store happened to be folk music and ever since she's been hooked on it. ''My friends thought I was weird,'' says May. ''Even today I can't understand why I like country music.'' While having no particular desire to be a rebel, her virtual skinhead haircut makes her stand out from other Chinese women in Hongkong. The 31-year-old singer-songwriter has featured in a long string of folk and country and western bands on the Hongkong music scene since the age of 16, only once diverging into Canto-pop music, releasing two albums with EMI (HK) between 1987 and 1989 withthe band Cocos. At the same time she was involved in recording songs for RTHK's project Learning English Through Songs and became a presenter of TVB Jade's children's programme Space Shuttle 430. But then the music stopped, publicly at least, and it wasn't until last July, after a lot of soul-searching, did she decide to re-dedicate her life to music once again. Since then May has worked like a Trojan, performing lengthy, as well as voice-straining, bar-room sessions by night, while continuing giving Cantonese lessons and doing translations by day to keep her head above water. What little spare time she has, May spends writing songs, rehearsing, promoting, recording and preparing for her proposed three-month European tour this summer. In spite of her busy schedule, she manages to write, on average, one new song every fortnight. Like many songwriters, her songs are about her experiences and the people she meets. Recurring themes include environmental conservation, the evolution of China, loneliness and inequality. Every Monday and Thursday night May plays at the Brown Sugar in Lan Kwai Fong. On Tuesday and Wednesday nights she can be seen strutting her stuff around the corner in American Pie, reserving Sunday evenings for the Hongkong Press Club in Wan Chai. May also manages to squeeze in free performances at the Hongkong Folk Society and Vietnamese refugee camps whenever possible. June 18 will see her performing her first proper solo concert at The Fringe. There's also an investor potentially interested in her recording a CD in November. Before then May can be seen fronting the Cajun folk band, Asian Cajun who're the support act for British comedian Jasper Carrott's three shows at the Hongkong Exhibition and Convention Centre from tomorrow to Monday. And although her diary is packed, life is far from hunky-dory, she says. ''The music scene in Hongkong is so shallow. I've come to a stage where I can't learn much more here and think it's time for me to go out and meet musicians in other countries.'' That is the reasoning behind her forthcoming tour of Britain, Germany and Ireland which will take in the likes of the Cambridge Folk Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. But like many, May's biggest problem is money - especially when it comes to finance for such a venture. For now, her hopes are pinned on a grant from the Composers and Authors Society of Hongkong to cover the cost of her flight.