I’m going to start this entry with a bit of a disclaimer. The old adage about art applies to me when describing my relationship with music. That is, I know nothing about music, but I know what I like. To be clear, I know nothing about making music (except what the instruments are called). My only brushes with any chance to play an instrument came at school where I ended up being able to play Frere Jacques on the recorder and spent one music lesson strumming one chord on a guitar whenever the teacher pointed to me. I can’t read music and, under normal circumstances, I couldn’t tell you whether somebody was playing or singing in the right key or not. To me, musicians are akin to magicians – they pick up items that I could probably make squeal or howl, fiddle about with them and produce, at very, least interesting sounds or, at best, something beautiful.
The preceding paragraph is a way of setting my stall out to explain that, when I write about music, I am writing about what I feel and think. The technical aspects are beyond me.
Which, finally, brings me to tonight’s gig – The Chantel McGregor Band at the Roman Bath.
Chantel is a rock/blues guitarist who, according to her website, has owned a guitar since the age of three and started lessons when she was seven. Now, barely into her twenties, she has been described as a prodigy but has also been told that girls shouldn’t play guitar the way she does – it scares the boys. Thankfully, she ignored this “wonderful” piece of advice. She now plays with Martin Rushworth on drums and Jonathan Clapham on (five string – apparently that’s impressive) bass.
My first impression on arriving was that Chantel herself was tiny and seemed a little nervous as she stood in the middle of the performance area while the sound check was completed. Then the nervousness seemed to fall away as she started playing what I thought was the first track of the gig – five minutes of delightful, multi-faceted guitar with a vocal section in the middle. The music was brilliant and I was a little surprised when, at the end, Chantel announced that that was the sound check complete and that they would be back in a few minutes. Definitely the best sound check I have ever heard.
Shortly after that my fellow music-lovers (both more knowledgeable in the technical aspects than me) arrived into a Roman Bath that was rapidly filling up. Although some people had walked out during the sound check, the pub was probably the fullest I had seen it since the last time Breathing Space played there. Judging by the various conversations going on, quite a few of the audience had seen the band play before.
The gig itself was another selection of covers but, unlike the cover bands that I expressed a bit of boredom with a few entries back, not only were the songs not the usual fare but were also added to and extended by Chantel’s superb guitar solos. The various tracks came from the likes of Led Zeppelin (Tea for One), Jimi Hendrix (All Along the Watchtower, Purple Haze), Fleetwood Mac (a wonderfully heavy version of Gold Dust Woman), Jethro Tull, Cream (The White Room) and many more that I didn’t recognise. Chantel’s apparent nervousness had, by now, completely disappeared and she showed a good rapport with the audience who were, in turn, appreciative of the wonderful music. (As usual, apart from the shouters in the back – why stay in a music pub if all you want to do is chat??) Certainly the guys I were with had a good time. At least one of them was seen frequently shaking his head in wonder at the exceptional level of guitar-playing, made all the more incredible by the fact that, for most of the time, there appeared to be little effort of concentration involved. Vocally, I thought Chantel was more than adequate, especially given that the majority of the songs she was performing were originally sung by males. She performed with a certain doe-eyed innocence, which belied the formidable sounds coming from her guitar.
Now, out of the so-called “top” guitarists I have, arguably, seen three of them live – Eric Clapton, Brian May and Chris Rea. In my opinion, Chantel is up there with them. It’s beyond belief, to me, that somebody with this much talent is playing in pubs. You could run out of superlatives to describe her. She really does have to be seen to be believed and I hope that I get the chance to see her again soon.