Preamble: Over the last couple of years friends and acquaintances have been urging me to go and see rock guitarist Chantel McGregor; so this is something that’s been on my wish list for a while now. Unfortunately, every time I thought I’d get to one of her gigs, something cropped up to prevent me from going! I’m glad to say that that is a situation that’s at last been put right, because my son James and I were able to get down to see her at the New Crawdaddy Blues Club, Billericay, Essex, on a very warm summer Friday evening recently – and furthermore, she kindly agreed to an interview beforehand.
The Interview was arranged rather hastily when we arrived at the club (thanks to Karen of the NCBC and Chantel’s team); and James and I were soon invited back-stage to the Green Room. Chantel is a friendly, approachable and modest Yorkshire lass from Bradford; and welcomed us warmly, introducing us to the band. These are: Colin Sutton (bass); Andy Mapp (drums); and keeping an eye on things as well as being van driver and ‘general dog’s-body’, Chantel’s Dad, Alan McGregor. All were chilling out with a pre-show pizza!
I’ve never written about Chantel before, so we asked her to tell us how it all began. (At this point my dictaphone decided to pack up; leaving me to take notes the old fashioned way; so I must apologise for the lack of proper quotes!) But she told us that she began playing guitar from the age of three. Her Dad Alan was playing rock gigs, so its something that she’s always known. At around twelve she was playing stuff like Metallica and Grateful Dead; and after concentrating on her studies she started gigging with her own band around Bradford at the age of 21; covering the likes of Trower and Tull, as well as ‘more obscure covers’; and developing a fan base. From the age of 25-ish she began penning her own material. She’s now 30 – so a good 90% of her life has been dedicated to guitar music!
Her influences are eclectic; but she particularly mentioned Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree as influencing her wonderful BBA nominated song ‘Walk On Land’; Sound Garden (for her ‘Your Fever’); Jeff Buckley (for ‘Eternal Dream’); and poet Nick Drake (for inspiring ‘Anaesthetize’ – her song about addiction). And she has what she termed as ‘Sponge Days’, where she chills out watching TV; reading books and poetry; and generally absorbing the world around her and all its arts. This inspires her music and lyric writing… and it seems to be working well, I must say!
We asked her about her recent jam with Joe Bonamassa. ‘I Emailed Joe, and he rang back’ she said. JB invited her to his gig in Manchester for a chat, and she ended up jamming on stage with him. She has also met Clapton; Raitt; and Fleetwood Mac. This hasn’t done her international profile any harm at all; and she now has a thriving US fan Club – but no plans as yet for a US tour.
So what has the lady got planned for the near future I wondered? She is planning an acoustic album at the moment; for which she has twelve pages of themes and lyrics written out already. This is a project that will be worth checking out, as she is as adept with the acoustic as with the electric; and various songs on her two albums can testify to that. Apparently just before we arrived, Chantel gave an impromptu acoustic performance after the sound check, for those in the audience who’d arrived early enough; after someone had asked about the chords she used for a particular song.
Chantel had also recently dislocated her knee after a bizarre accident at home; ‘…and I wasn’t even drunk!’ she laughed. She was strapped up in a leg brace. ‘I’m walking like a penguin’ she said. But to be honest it was hardly noticeable covered in her long black dress, and she carried on regardless.
We thanked her for speaking to us, and after a few photos, we returned to the auditorium. Whilst we’d been talking to Chantel, we could hear the House Band, The Heaters, playing their covers set. It sounded good, but we only caught the end of it unfortunately.
The gig: It wasn’t long before Chantel was climbing on stage. Alone, She donned her acoustic and began to play the wonderful ‘Home’; followed by ‘Anaesthetize’. Then she was joined by the band for the haunting ‘Inconsolable’; half way through, seemlessly changing from acoustic to Strat for a lengthy and superb solo – the boys in the band providing a reliable framework for the lady to improvise at will. For me this was an early highlight of the show.
Time for some Hard Rock then! ‘Freefalling’ from the debut album hit us next. And this was quickly followed by the Sound Garden influenced ‘Your Fever’. Excellent! And the rockers kept coming: ‘Burn Your Anger’; and ‘Lose Control’ (the title track from the latest album); continued the vibe, before she played the bluesy ‘I’m No Good For You’ off her debut album Like No Other.
But another highlight was due…she played a Prog-Rock instrumental called ‘Summat About Flies’ which pretty much blew me away! It was this number more than any other which demonstrated her consummate fretboard skills; and I was very impressed by it indeed. (Watch it here thanks to Paul Hawley). I was then left wondering how on Earth she could possibly follow that! ‘Shall we do err..’ she said ‘…’Purple “something?”… yes it was the old Prince classic! And what a sublime cover it was too. Probably the best cover of it I’ve ever heard – she made it her own.
Then Chantel introduced the band, and thanked all present, before launching into the magnificent BBA nominated ‘Walk On Land’. This provided the finale to the main set. Again a truly wonderful rendition with a fine solo; and an apt song to end on. Inevitably, ‘Encore!’ was of course demanded; and was duly given in the form of ‘Take The Power’ – the opening track to her latest album Lose Control. Phew!
Throughout the gig Chantel’s playing was very impressive; and matched only by her faultless vocals, which were clear and beautiful. She has a great confidence and repartee with the audience too, which is something I like to see and hear from performers. All in all it was a fantastic gig – and I now know what I’ve been missing out on! I’ll see her show again, for sure. So if you haven’t seen Ms. McGregor yet, don’t delay – buy the tickets ASAP!
Thanks to Chantel and her fine band and support team; and to Paul Dean and all the wonderful volunteers at The New Crawdaddy for once again putting on a cracking show. PTMQ