It has been a considerable length of time since I last went to a gig to see a headline artist whose material I had never heard. But my friend Gary, who had seen Chantel four times before, highly recommended her, and because it is a given that anyone called Gary has impeccable taste, I thought that I would go along with him to check her out.
The Flowerpot is a great pub gig venue. Standing for several hundred, a modest, but decent stage, bar in the auditorium, and a knowledgeable rock crowd. I would guess there were somewhere between three and four hundred there, very creditable for a cold mid-week Thursday December night in the run up to Christmas, an occasion that merited a Christmas song from the band.
Support acts are often dispensed with these days for a variety of reasons but tonight we had a man with a beard and a guitar, James Manners, to entertain us. Playing a short melodious set of originals, nonetheless it was his cover of Joe Cocker’s Box Tops “The Letter” which stood out.
As the house lights went down, first impressions were drawn. The band are a three piece, Chantel on guitar, drums and bass, the classic Hendrix / Johnny Winter line up. Chantel appeared in a Christmassy red long dress, and although of modest stature, no heels, preferring socks on a stage carpet for comfort. Attractive, and not at all sporting the rock/biker chick chic, I as still not sure what to expect. Then she launched into her guitar. My first reaction was “where on earth is that sound coming from”- then I realised, “from her” And there was no going back, two hours of originals, and I didn’t look at my watch once.
Her voice is very distinctive. I spent the entire evening trying to think who she sounded like before I realised that she doesn’t, she sounds like herself. Capable of a Chrissie Hynde rasp, she also boasts the phrasing, looks, enunciation and softness of Candice Knight. Her guitar work was also similarly eclectic, a dash of Hendrix and Joe Walsh (think “Turn to Stone”) with phrases and licks that Tony Iommi, Brian Robertson and Jimmy Page would be proud of.
A three piece (White Stripes aside) is pretty much the minimum rock combination. Each player is glaringly exposed in this format, McGregor has chosen her sidekicks well. Drummer Ollie Goss is impossibly cheerful all the time, and consistently demonstrates an awareness of how his drumming fits into the overall sound. Apart from the essential job of keeping time his drumming offers variety, and a preparedness to offer a tempo of its own, effectively taking the lead in a song sometimes, something you rarely see.
Fop haired bassist Colin Sutton strikes poses straight out of Paul Simonon’s “London Calling” cover but offers textures similar to that which John Entwhistle offered the Who, with the difference that during Chantel’s extended improvisational work outs his bass runs are far more prominent, pleasingly so.
Although the Blues roots are self-evident, this is a rock show, whose instrumentals and improvisational pieces hark back to 1970’s prog rock. Musically, she reminded me of Johnny Winter in his prime. It is to her credit that she performed as a peer, not an apprentice. Yet there are limitations to a three piece. McGregor’s song writing and musicianship are a given, and I did occasionally wonder what a keyboard might bring to both the stage sound, and her song writing. As focal point, sole guitarist and sole singer, she carries the show on her own shoulders might be liberating. Not that there was any sign of stress from her as she enthusiastically chatted to the crowd about her Bradford roots, her mum and rubbish Christmas cards.
The audience was predominantly male, and aged fifty plus, which reflects the established market for this type of music. But such is her talent, energy and vim, that I do hope that she also draws a younger fan to her shows, producing a next generation of aficionados for music which she plays so well, and a genre which she re-energises.
Her 2019 touring schedule can be found on her website, an early highlight of which is her appearance at the HRH Blues Festival at the o2 in Sheffield, April 13th/14th. Check her out.