After commenting on a recent post that I always try to arrive on time to gigs, in order to support the support bands, I was a little disappointed that a combination of fixing an amplifier problem at home (the DVD that the rest of the family were watching had no sound) and an earlier than usual stage time meant that I missed the start of Barcode Zebra’s set.
I didn’t recognise front-woman (and Joan Armatrading look-a-like) Jess Gardham, who supported Chantel back in February 2010 and I’m not sure whether this is a new version of the Jess Gardham Band as the line-up is three quarters the same, with the energetic Ruth Wilde replacing Michaela Winship on bass. The line-up is completed with Charlie Daykin on keyboard (I eventually remembered that I had recently seen him playing with Plumhall) and Emma Whitehead effortlessly playing drums. As I arrived, the band were starting the title track from their new EP. Into The Night has a slightly reggae feel to it, with Jess eschewing her guitar and simply providing vocals over Charlie’s keys and the rhythm section. The next track song started with a drum intro which, surprisingly, reminded me of Iron Maiden’s Run To The Hills before changing into a very bass-heavy upbeat, but slightly funky number. Devil On The Shoulder continued the upbeat mood but there set contained a nicely mixed bag of sounds – one song had Charlie’s keyboards more in evidence while another allowed Jess’s guitar to come through more. It might have been “support band syndrome” but I thought the vocals were a little thing, until the last, slightly slower song, when a little echo gave them a fuller sound. Barcode Zebra’s brand of “soul-tinged pop funk” may not be my cup of tea, but the playing was tight and the performance good, with the band clearly enjoying themselves. Definitely worth a look if you like that sort of music.
Chantel McGregor, on the other hand, definitely plays music that is my cup of tea and it’s a shame that we don’t get the chance to see her as often as we used to do, even it that is because she is enjoying more and more success, recently scooping Female Vocalist of the Year at the British Blues awards. Thankfully, that success doesn’t seem to be going to her head – before tonight’s gig she could be found sitting at the merchandise table, chatting to fans (and, it seems, being showered with gifts) and she still maintains her slight “dizziness” on stage, beguiling us with random thoughts between songs and, every so often, throwing in one of her trademark Yorkshire “Ta”’s.
The set tonight was the now usual mix of covers and songs from debut album Like No Other. The likes of Voodoo Chile and Up In The Sky mixed well with the album’s title track and the more “pop” sounding Fabulous. Her rendition of Red House, after the story of how she had gone through “amp hell” this week meant that she was thinking of taking up the triangle (I wonder if the British Blues Awards would include a Best British triangle player next year…), brought forth a comment along the lines of, “She’s just showing off now” from somewhere to my left while fan favourite Daydream, which featured not just stunning guitar work but some astounding and varied drumming, held the audience spellbound for fifteen minutes. The now usual mid-set solo section featured Chantel’s own I’m No Good For You, with its dirty Blues guitar sound counterpointed by soft and sweet vocals, before she switched to an acoustic guitar for covers of Gold Dust Woman and Bonnie Raitt’s beautiful Can’t Make You Love Me and her own Not Here With Me – the latter two being delivered with heart-rending vocals. In fact, it seems that Chantel’s vocals are getting better and better. The louder, more rocky songs may have drowned out the vocals tonight, but the quieter ones showed just how good she has become.
There was, tonight, some insights into what had prompted some of her own songs – I’m No Good For You was inspired by the True Blood T.V. show while Caught Out was written in response to some nasty comments on a forum. (Checks back to make sure that I haven’t written anything nasty…)
Once again, another brilliant performance from a still-rising star. Nearly two hours of quality music which, even without any new material from the lady herself, managed to remain fresh by the inclusion of different covers that hadn’t been heard for a while, whilst still showcasing her own songs and retaining the fan favourites. I know that at least three people had come to see her for the first time tonight (one on my recommendation). I doubt they went away disappointed.