Tonight sees a welcome return to York for Chantel McGregor, fresh from not only releasing her debut album – Like No Other – earlier this year, but also being crowned Best Young Artist at the British Blues Awards.
Support came from Patrick McCallion, a very confident and talented A-Level student from Halifax who added a twist to the man and guitar format by adding a couple of harmonics (not both at the same time) and who, at various points in his set reminded me of James Blunt, Bob Dylan and a Yorkshire Billy Bragg. His set was a nice mix of songs, from the upbeat opener Stephanie to the slower and more melancholy Petals, which was inspired by the poetry of Wilfred Owen. He threw in a couple of covers – David Ford’s lovely ‘Til The Day and The Barenaked Ladies’ One Week, which he performed so fast that I nearly couldn’t pick out any lyrics to search for and work out why it sounded so familiar – as well as one song – Nice – which he normally plays with his band, Small Words. This latter song brought a wry smile as the chorus described relaxing in the sun with his Raybans on, just after Patrick had played one about giving up on living the American Dream and called I Don’t Suit Shades. One of the nice things about this set was that we did get a bit of background about most of the songs. Another was that, just after announcing that we was going to play his last song, Patrick got a message to say he had a bit more time and so decided to play another of his own which ended up being my favourite of the set. Unfortunately, he didn’t introduce this one but it might have been called New York Nights or, perhaps, Neon Lights (based on the lyrics). The very entertaining set ended with a medley that included snippets of Should I Stay Or Should I Go, Hey Jude and, I think, Elbow’s On A Day Like This.
Tonight is the first time I’ve seen Chantel McGregor in too many months. (The last time she played York was on my birthday last year and I couldn’t justify going that night.) I’m not sure whether I had simply mis-remembered who good she was or whether she has actually got better, but tonight’s performance was nothing short of brilliant. This was the first time I have managed to get close enough to the stage to closely watch the Guitar Goddess perform, seeing her fingers dance across the strings and fly up and down the frets and to truly appreciate how such wonderful sounding riffs such as those in her cover of Joe Satriani’s Up In The Sky are played. Being up close also let me see just how she treats the intricate guitar work of both the covers that she has laid as the foundations of her career and her own songs on which that career will rise with not just mind-blowing ease but verging almost on utter contempt, barely breaking into a frown of concentration let alone anything like a sweat. It also gives a better view of Martin Rushworth’s incredible drumming and newboy (to me, anyway) Richie’s bass-playing, allowing me to more easily pick out the bass-lines of some of the songs.
To a degree it appears that the set-list is fluid, Chantel often turning to Rushworth and Richie and saying, “Let’s do…” or asking the audience what they want to hear next and only turning down one request because that song was due to be the encore. Classic covers are still part of her set, which opened with Bridge To Better Days and A New Day Yesterday and included Sloe Gin and Red House (with the latter producing howls of appreciation from the crowd and chuckles of amusement from Rushworth) as well as crowd favourites including the brilliant interpretation of Daydream and Rhiannon, both of which feature on Like No Other. Her own compositions are now coming to the fore, though. The first we heard was album opener Fabulous which, with its killer riff and stripped of the production that made it more of a pop song on the album, is much heavier in sound. Not as heavy, mind, as Caught Out, which Chantel introduced as her “metal song”. The middle section of the set was given over to a solo acoustic performance and it was this section which showed that Chantel, despite having a more than adequate voice for the rockier songs is, perhaps, even more suited to the quieter ones. The riff from the title track of the album might not sound quite so dirty when played live, but if vocals from Screams Everlasting and the exquisite Rhiannon don’t tug at your soul, there’s a good chance that nothing will. The set ended with Had To Cry Today before Chantel, encouraging the crowd to shout for more, gave us the inevitable encore of Freefalling without leaving the stage.
But it’s not just the music. During the two-hour, fifteen song set, Chantel manages to both charm and amuse with her anecdotes and asides to the band. Despite the leaps her career seems to be taking, Chantel appears to remain grounded, picking out familiar faces in the audience and giggling at the number of people who indicate that they’ve bought the album. There’s little doubt that you are unlikely to see a better guitarist perform in York and that you would, in fact, have to travel quite some distance to see one.