Aside from the self-admitted Pink Floyd influenced Chase The Winter and “disco” song Wires, The Rory Holl Project’s songs reminded me of something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Until, that is, the last song of their short opening set – a cover of Free’s Ride On A Pony. It wasn’t that they reminded me of Free’s output. That would be difficult when before tonight I could probably only name three of the more famous band’s songs with any degree of certainty. It was more that they brought to mind that style of music – influenced by, rather than copying, I would say, in much the same way that you could hear the Floyd influences in Chase The Winter, with guitarist Daniel Empsall starting off with a large amount of effects, but you wouldn’t have thought they were trying to produce a Floyd song. There was something endearingly jovial about Holl himself, on bass and vocals, as he, almost nervously it seemed to me, introduced each song with a laugh, his vocals getting stronger as the set went on. The remaining members of the trio let him do most of the talking, with Empsall adding the odd quip and Calvin Sargeant preferring to let his solid drumming speak for him. This was the first time I had seen this band and the first time they have played the new Fibbers, although Holl told us he had played the old venue (presumably with a different band – he obviously has history as he also admitted he still Liked Wires after eight years) and they were also in York earlier this month at the Edinurgh Arms. Would I see them again? Yes, I probably would.
It’s almost seven years to the day since I first came across Chantel McGregor, playing covers in the Roman Bath and, coincidentally, almost a year to the day since I last saw her play Fibbers. (Both those gigs were on the 20th of June.) Tonight’s gig is the tenth time I have seen her live and, I think, I’ve only missed one of her York gigs since she moved from The Bath to “proper” venues. It has been and continues to be a pleasure to experience her musical journey – from those sets of covers, so different from the songs usually picked by other covers bands, to hearing the first of her own songs, through to tonight when the hour and a half included just one cover and, more importantly, songs from her second album which is due in September. (Definitely, she says.) It has also been a pleasure to see how her performance has changed over the years – not musically, although I suspect she is an even more technical guitarist than she was back in 2007 – who am I to comment on that? – although it seems to me that she imbues her instrumental sections with even more passion, emotion and soul these days. During the first half of tonight’s set the word that sprang to mind was “maturity”. The “dizzy blonde” persona seemed to have been banished and, apart from telling us that there would be a lot of new songs in the set, there was hardly any interaction with the crowd. In fact, the only “Chantel” moment of that half came during the hard-rocking, guitar-shredding opener Caught Out, when the Diminutive Dynamo turned to her microphone for the first time only to find it positioned around forehead height.
The first of the new songs, Burn Your Anger came early in the set and had a heavy Blues sound, while the next, coming after the gentler Like No Other and, as far as I remember unintroduced brought to mind Alannah Myles. The new songs seem to have a harder edge, exemplified by a hard-rocker which preceded an early outing for that one cover, an even-more-extended version of Robin Trower’s Daydream that left the audience spellbound, contained some of Chantel’s trademark stunning guitar work and saw drummer Keith Partling switching between a feather touch and necessary brashness. The end of the song drew extended applause and, as she sang “I’m fabulous” during the next track, I would bet that most of the crowd were in agreement. It was at the end of this track, as she thanked the audience with her first and only, “Ta” of the evening, that the old Chantel started to come through. Timed perfectly to fit in with a break for the Bierkeller’s Oompah Band, Partling and bass-player Colin Sutton left the stage as Chantel performed two acoustic songs from the new album. The first, a slow quiet Blues track, saw that old “sparkly” persona come through even more as she explained how remembering somebody thinking her name was Ann Acoustic had suddenly caused her to smile during the emotional lyrics. Home was less Blues-like and more standard Singer/Songwriter and contained some lovely vocals.
With the band back on there seemed to be a more relaxed atmosphere on stage. Sutton became more animated and there was more verbal interaction between the band and the audience. Chantel explained that the set list was in her head because people kept stealing the printed ones (and how she tried to mess with those people’s heads by putting odd symbols next to song titles and random phone numbers on the paper versions) before moving onto Killing Time, another hard-rocker, and then the True Blood-inspired Southern Blues of I’m No Good For You and then another new song, the comparatively short Your Fever, about being hot (“Not in a Barbie way. Or like a meerkat”) All too soon the final song was announced. Initially Walk On Land seemed a strange choice to end a set as it opened slowly but then the second half instrumental section brought the track to life and the set to a superb close. Of course, that wasn’t the end. The trio didn’t even leave the stage and the shouts for more had hardly started before the performed their one-track pseudo-encore, ending the evening with another hard rocker which was, I’m told, called Take The Power.
These days, seeing Chantel live seems to be an annual event (for me, anyway, I know one audience member last night is seeing her again in just a few days) and I’m already looking forward to next year, with the added anticipation of that second album just a few weeks away.