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26 May 2010

Chantel McGregor

Chantel McGregor doesn't so much redefine rock as deconstruct it. Apart from actually greeting her audience at the door, the partial sense of disbelief was compounded as she was introduced on stage by Steve Halliwell aka Emmerdale Farm's 'Zak' Bartholomew Dingle.

'Zak' alluded to the huge musical potential he had spotted when first seeing Chantel in Leeds some years ago and we weren't about to be disappointed. Casting aside all the usual rock signifiers, the Bradford bombshell (sorry, couldn't resist that) took the stage barefoot and in a full blown summer dress and set about rewriting every rock cliché in the book.

Think of all the pained expressions, all the grimaces and all the exaggerated shapes ever thrown by your favourite rock guitar heroes. Then think of every exclamatory yells, every pose and every macho gesture that ever populated rock's historic landscape.

Over the course of her two hour show Chantel binned them all. For this was rock blues for the new age played by a musician born with an effortless virtuosity, peppered by flights of incendiary guitar and flanked by moments of poise, grace and fluidity.

And while she has plenty of time to find a signature sound and an identifiable tone, she offered more than enough in terms of natural technique and instinctive feel for light and shade - including the occasional use of sustain - to stake her claim to being that rare quality in the contemporary music world, virtually unique performer.

At times it was hard to believe that this slight figure is capable of creating some of most intense guitar phrases while conversely being able to quiet a rock audience to the point of hushed reverence, as she switched from electric to acoustic guitar to let her mellifluous voice soar round the room.

Equally impressive was the way she brought her own material such as Peter Green tinged instrumental 'Cat's Song' and the powerful bluster and catchy hook of 'Free Falling' to sit quietly alongside the best of Bonnie Rait ('I Can't Make You Love Me') and Stevie Nicks ('Landslide').

Indeed while her understated persona is built on the fundamentals of technical excellence she's spontaneous enough to make light of the unexpected, in this case a collapsing chair at the front of the stage, offering a cursory, 'are you OK'? and a giggle before getting back to business.

But while Chantel breaks the mould by crossing the divide from Gracie Fields to Steve Vai, through a combination of a broad Yorkshire accent, an occasional shake of her mane and a truckfull of notes - as on Joe Satriani's 'Up In The Sky', Blind Faith's 'Had To Cry Today' and later on Hendrix's 'Red House' - her musical acumen is simply too impressive to play second fiddle to her bubbly personality.

Chantel proved to be as expansive with her soloing on Bonamssa's 'Mountain Time' as she was abrasive on closing, bone crunching rendition of Tull's 'New Day Yesterday'. The latter would surely have brought a rueful smile to Ian Anderson's face. Of course Bonamassa role as a musical conduit looms large over the new generation of Rock/Blues players ranging from Chantel to Virgil & the Accelerators, all of whom seem to have been caught up in the JB led rebirth of British blues. But it is Chantel's ability to make something new out of the familiar that provides the integral part of her appeal.

She also has stage craft, sweeping from left to right and back again, smiling briefly, occasionally twirling elegantly, but always coming back to reinvent a song with an interesting solo.

And in between the flurries of notes, the speed, the dexterity and occasional moments of intensity, came a few unexpected nuggets.

Her guitar playing on 'Sloe Gin' was far better than her singing, but the best number of the night proved to be Robin Trower's languid but smoulderingly engaging 'Day Dream'.

Chantel leant into the song with an unhurried, precise style, and built up a mesmerising solo full of a warm toned notes on the back of an acute sense of dynamics, as she finally brought the piece to a rousing climax.

Of course being a post modern rocker, she made light of the moment and the delightful whoops of the crowd to offer another warm smile, a cursory 'Ta' and headed towards the most acutely deconstructed moment of the night, announcing, 'we've got one more to do before the encore'.

It wasn't so much a case of being presumptuous as the primacy of her buoyant enthusiasm over convention. She simply wanted to play more. Chantel had won over her audience on this her debut London show and there will surely be many more to come.

Review by Pete Feenstra

Photo by Prakash Acharya

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