Out of the shed and back on stage at The 1865, Chantel McGregor shows her six-string skills
Guitar-playing wizard Chantel McGregor has never been one for sitting idle.
Even though it has been six years since her last album, the hard-rocking Lose Control, there have been plenty of projects keeping her busy.
And over the past year, with her favoured outlet of live gigs having dried up due to the pandemic, she has turned to weekly livestreams – The Shed Sessions – to keep in touch with her fans.
She also landed a weekly show as a DJ for Hard Rock Hell Radio last May after impressing the boss with what was meant to be a one-off for the station.
‘It's been going really well – not for live shows, obviously – but the rest of it has been going well,’ Chantel tells The Guide, ‘with the livestreams and stuff like that, it's been fab.
‘I first started doing the livestreams right at the start of lockdown and I thought it would only be a few weeks – I didn't expect to be doing them a year later...
‘It's always been a way of keeping the fans involved.
‘It's so easy to say: "Oh, I can't gig, I've got nothing to talk about, I won't bother connecting with them”. But these are the people who pay to come to gigs and they've lost that place to go – they've lost going to see live music.
‘I wanted to stay connected to these people and give them something to look forward to each week, like a gig.’
The sessions are also about to yield a brace of albums, which divide rather nicely into two volumes. The first, in the original ‘shed’ in Yorkshire. The latter from sessions in Cambridge – where she moved a few months ago.
‘The first was just me doing acoustic on my own. For the second part, I had moved down to Cambridge and my boyfriend's an amazing pianist, so I wanted to incorporate him into it as well. That gave me an outlet to play more electric music as well and get my electric guitar out, which was really cool.’
And the biggest change in moving south?
‘It's a lot more expensive going to the pub! I've noticed it much more since the pubs have reopened.
‘It's lovely here though, and all the people are really nice – but I do miss a northern pint...’
The radio show wasn’t something Chantel had been looking for when it landed in her lap. But with her own well-established talk-based podcase, Tel Tales, she’s more than comfortable with the speaking side of things.
‘I know some of the organisers from playing the Hard Rock Hell Festival. one of them got in touch and said they run the radio station, would I like a show as a one-off on the bank holiday Monday night?
‘I thought that sounds like a good laugh, and it's something I've never done before. I did a two hour show, and they said afterwards, that went so well, do you fancy doing a weekly one?
‘I said: “Yeah, all right, I'll give it a go.” A year later and I'm still doing that as well.’
‘They said raid your CD collection – find the things you want to play from that, and they've got a playlist as well which you can pick from, but nobody's ever said: "You have to play these songs". It's really free and easy – it's great.’
Originally labelled a teen prodigy for her six-string talents, Chantel first made her mark in the blues world before branching out in to rockier territory.
But before the pandemic, her next release was to be an acoustic album, reworking her own electric material.
‘I was recording that up in Leeds, pre-pandemic with the band. We were doing a bluegrass version of one track, or an acoustic version with a cajon or double bass or banjo, and it was going really well and it was nearly done. Then the pandemic hit and that's scuppered that!
‘I assume as soon as we can get back in the studio we'll get that finished and out as well. It's going to be a busy year.
‘It's like buses – I haven't had any albums for a few years, then they'll all come at once!’
Then there’s the follow-up to Lose Control too, which was taking her in new directions.
‘I was in the progress of writing that as well. It's always difficult to sit down and write when I'm gigging because I was on the road or travelling here and there. I found it tricky to lock myself away and write an album
‘Then pandemic hit, and I've filled my weeks with radio shows and livestreams and everything else. It's like: “I need to write some songs”, but I've not had nothing to write about, other than getting a new cat and a hamster and some fish.
‘The stuff I was writing was a bit more singer-songwriter stuff.
‘It was more about the songs than shredding guitar. I don't consider myself a decent guitarist – I just play it and sing.’
Chantel is being modest – she has a first class degree in popular music from Leeds College of Music where she became the first student in the college’s history to achieve a 100 per cent pass mark, with 18 distinctions and won the college’s musician of the year award.
‘I think it's more of a case of what I like listening to, because I don't tend to listen to guitarists particularly.
‘I listen to a lot of country and things like that, which is more about the songwriting. For me, it was more, I want to write an album that people want to listen to, rather than have people go: “Wow, listen to that guitar solo!” or whatever. It's more listenable with catchy songs and something you can relate to.
‘You can still put the guitar solos in – look at a band like Fleetwood Mac, Lindsey Buckingham, what an amazing guitarist! But he only shows flickers here and there, it's not in every song.
‘To me that's more musicality – where you can do it, but you don't need to do it in every song. You can hold it back and make it what's best for those songs and that album.’
The forthcoming gig will feature Chantel playing solo.
‘They were going to be full band shows, but we'd have to social distance the whole gig which is bizarre, and doing it as a rock gig when everyone's still sitting miles apart is harder.
‘I did a couple of socially distanced gigs last August, and it was lovely, but it was still a bit strange, where people who were friends who'd normally stand together had to be apart at separate tables.
‘You can't do it as a rock gig, I don't think. It doesn't have the same feel.
‘There's a show we play in Derby called The Flower Pot, and it's a sweatbox – 200-odd people crammed in a small room where your feet are sticking to the floor. To me, that's the atmosphere – that's what a gig is, not being sat at tables like you're at a wedding.
‘I can't wait though – it will come.’
The 1865, Southampton
Sunday, May 30
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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