Chantel McGregor / Guitar Virtuosity at its Driving and Emotive Best

Admittedly it had been quite some time since I had experienced the prodigious talent that is Chantel McGregor. Those of you familiar with her skills need no introduction. However, those that are not, please allow me to paint a picture of her first excursion into Central Wolverhampton. 

Chantel McGregor

KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – 4 May 2023

Words: Sophie James

Photography: Andy Shaw

Chantel McGregor - KK's Steel Mill – 4 May 2023
Chantel McGregor – KK’s Steel Mill – 4 May 2023. Photo: Andy Shaw/MetalTalk

Tonight’s performance was within the enclosed and intimate space of the Steel Lounge – a perfect locale for a brace of power trios. You can read about support Blue Nation here.

They commenced with Burn Your Anger, a marvellous piece of driving blues whose chorus melody takes you back to the harmonies of the ’70s. Thom Gardner’s drum sound, in fact, the whole mix, was immense, demonstrating what a good job the soundman was already doing. Love the way the riff continued to steamroll through the chorus.

It soon became apparent that there was no setlist. Thus various numbers were subject to a brief discussion. Not only did this add to the charm, but it resulted in quite possibly the most dynamic, atmospheric and satisfying collection that I have ever witnessed from her.  

Chantel McGregor - KK's Steel Mill – 4 May 2023
Chantel McGregor – KK’s Steel Mill – 4 May 2023. Photo: Andy Shaw/MetalTalk

Freefalling is quite possibly the number which has the most ‘mass appeal’. Despite its theme, it is most anthemic with a propelling infectious riff. I would love to be at that point in time and space if and when Chantel invites Rebecca Downes to join her and jam this one. Southern Belle was and remains one of my favourites off the sophomore album Lose Control, “I was dancing with the devil since the day that I was born,” perfect lyrical accompaniment to the swamp blues riff.  

“It’s time to slow things down. This is a song I wrote about Jeff Buckley,” introduced the haunting and atmospheric Eternal Dream (Beautiful Tragedy). So understated and delicate where the solo is, the melody is positively toying with us before a gentle key change hints that something extraordinary is about to happen. It is one of those ‘Get ready for lift-off moments.’ Close your eyes, tune in and drop out. Let Chantel take you with her on a musical flight way above the clouds.

Chantel McGregor - KK's Steel Mill – 4 May 2023
Chantel McGregor – KK’s Steel Mill – 4 May 2023. Photo: Andy Shaw/MetalTalk

Thus far, the set had been performed in an Eric Morecambelike ‘Not necessarily the right order’ fashion and next up was the title track of that second album. Lose Control is another gigantic slab of blues rock riffery. I could imagine any budding guitarists tying themselves up in knots learning this one.

This is where things went so gloriously off-piste. Explaining that “I went to see The Cadillac Three recently and have become obsessed with country music and felt the need to write a song”. Further clarification came in “We had a title, but I didn’t like it, so we’re calling it Sheila.” Well, today’s working title, anyway. What followed was a rocker in the form of Shania Twain meets AC/DC but with the splendid stomp of Slade. Sure was the darndest thing.

As is customary at a Chantel show, the rest of the band temporarily retired to the Executive Rehydration Facility, leaving her solo and acoustic. “I’m taking requests,” and Gold Dust Woman was the almost instant response from out of the audience. With no further offering, off she jolly well went. 

Such is the awareness and empathy of a blues Audience, you could hear a hair drop, let alone a pin, as Chantel went about delivering a mesmerising rendition which just built and built. Due to the clarity in her voice, dare I say it, I preferred this vocal to that of the raspy original. The slightest hint of echo just accentuated the purity of her tone. Visually there was a most resplendent phase whereby the blue illuminations backlighted Chantel’s blonde locks and white shawl, giving her a kind of an aura. Pity my mobile phone wasn’t up to the job of capturing that.

Chantel McGregor - KK's Steel Mill – 4 May 2023
Chantel McGregor – KK’s Steel Mill – 4 May 2023. Photo: Andy Shaw/MetalTalk

Anaesthetise followed. “A song about addiction from an unlikely source,” she explained, “pretending it was something deeper.”

Some of you may recall my recent Elles Bailey review and specifically the segment entitled When Elles Met Phil. During this, we had the sequel ‘When Chantel met Phil’s Naff Ringtone’. The phone randomly sounding off during this most delicate acoustic piece had a timing akin to Les Dawson and had maximum comedic effect. Cue much mirth in the audience. How Chantel stopped herself from cracking up and, more importantly, keep playing was beyond me. Hilarious moment and very well done, Chantel! 

The band returned for the only scheduled cover of the evening. Chantel remaining on the acoustic for a truly epic, read EPIC, 15-minute adaptation of Jonatha Brooke’s Inconsolable. “I never knew what enough was, until I’d had more than my share. And I let the darkness in.”

Chantel McGregor - KK's Steel Mill – 4 May 2023
Chantel McGregor – KK’s Steel Mill – 4 May 2023. Photo: Andy Shaw/MetalTalk

The bass playing from Colin Sutton on the solo was just sublime and afforded Chantel the time to revert back to electric. When it kicked back in, it was like the call of a Siren. A gloriously immersing piece, where Chantel utilised every inch of the fretboard. Reminiscent of a more emotive Jimmy Page at the height of his powers.  

“Time moves on, and nothing changes.” Walk On Land has always given me goosebumps and eargasms. Another in the classic Chantel style of delicate playing laying the base colours onto the canvas before an increasingly bold electric prowls its way into the scene. Succeeding the exquisite Inconsolable, we were in guitar heaven. 

Set closer, April, was quite frankly an astonishing instrumental with its ‘spatial’ Edge style introduction, bass pulsating like an adrenaline-stimulated heartbeat, and of course, Chantel’s fluid emotive playing. Just like Inconsolable and Eternal Dream, we are back up in the stratosphere again. What a trilogy!

Chantel McGregor - KK's Steel Mill – 4 May 2023
Chantel McGregor – KK’s Steel Mill – 4 May 2023. Photo: Andy Shaw/MetalTalk

Dispensing with the usual encore nonsense, they left us with Take The Power with its massively brooding Soundgardenesque riff.

For lovers of a style of guitar virtuosity that harks back to a bygone era, then look no further. While Chantel could easily match and mix it up with all the highly technical speed merchants, what sets her apart from the vast majority is her relaxed, almost effortless approach, use of melody, giving notes the room to breathe and applying them all purely where they fulfil the requirements of the piece. 

If proof was needed, most, if not all of those gathered, were with her for every second of the above 15-minute epic. Simultaneously inviting and challenging them to hop on for the ride. By no means repetitive, never ostentatious and under no circumstances tedious, they hung on to every note.  

A player whose talent deserves far wider appreciation and recognition.

Chantel McGregor - KK's Steel Mill – 4 May 2023
Chantel McGregor – KK’s Steel Mill – 4 May 2023. Photo: Andy Shaw/MetalTalk

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Comments

  1. I,ve seen Chantel McGregor twice this year once with Elles Bailey & secondly in her own right at The Tivoli in Buckley, every word of this review i can concur with as well as being an amazing guitarist & singer she has a wonderful giddy sense of humour i had some great banter with her at The Tivoli, fantastic review of a real talent 🎸🔥🤟

  2. A fantastic review of a real talent seen her twice this year & i can concur with every word, she deserves all the plaudits & accolades that is bestowed on her.🎸🔥🤟

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