Q&A with UK guitarist Chantel McGregor - the Blues came calling first, but rock was always waiting around the corner

"I don’t think there’s anything necessarily missing in music at the moment that was there in the past, I think as a listener, there’s so much amazing music out there, you maybe have to look a bit harder for it nowadays than years ago, but the music is out there."

Chantel McGregor:

Blues Meets Rock ... (Why Not) & Pop  

The Blues came calling first, but rock was always waiting around the corner. Well it would be, wouldn’t it? Coming from the deep south, it was inevitable, but living in the deep south of a major Yorkshire City, there’s a gritty hard edge to life! A female guitar prodigy, Chantel was told by a major label that she had a "great voice, but girls don't play guitar like that!" Wisely ignoring their comments, she enrolled at the Leeds College of Music and became the first student in the college’s history. Chantel then pursued further education and left with a First Class Honours degree in Popular Music and a coveted prize, the college’s musician of the year award. Chantel released her highly anticipated album, Lose Control, in 2015 on her independent boutique label Tis Rock Music, this being the follow up to her critically acclaimed 2011 debut album, Like No Other. After years of touring and festival appearances, Chantel returned with a vengeance with ten new songs that not only salutes contemporary rock, but shows her gradual transition from conventional Blues to a harder, bigger and bolder rock sound with progressive influences.                    (Chantel McGregor / Photo by Howard Rankin)

McGregor released her highly anticipated live album “Bury'd Alive” in 2019. Chantel and her band recorded “Bury'd Alive” at the prestigious venue, The Apex in Bury St Edmunds, UK on the 29th of March 2019. Being one of Chantel's favourite venues, The Apex seemed the obvious place to record her first live album. “Bury'd Alive” brings together tracks from her first two albums, together with crowd favourite, the anthemic track “April” which is only available on this album. In May 2020, Blues meets Pop as British blues rock guitar phenom shares her cover of Lady Gaga’s “Stupid Love!” Like pop sensation Lady Gaga, Chantel McGregor has had to fight twice as hard as her male peers for the respect she deserves. A female blues guitar prodigy, McGregor has been dismissed by major label reps as having a “great voice, but girls don’t play guitar like that.” Well, this one does, and she’s teamed with indie giant Cleopatra Records to release her new studio single, a superb reworking of “Stupid Love.”

Interview by Michael Limnios      Special Thanks: William James (Glass Onyon PR)

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Interestingly, there isn’t particularly a blues and rock counterculture in the UK any more. I’ve known people in the past who’ve had the different lifestyles, ideas and cultural references, and generally not wanting the traditional way of life, but over here, if you’re not going to fit in with tradition, the labels don’t want to know. If you’re doing it yourself, you’ve no alternative but to fit in, the circuit is relatively small so it’s either do it that way or don’t do it!

How do you describe Chantel McGregor sound and songbook? What characterize your live performances?

I think my style and sound crosses many genres. When I was younger (aged 12-16), I used to go to jam sessions most nights of the week, so I cut my teeth on improvisation, psychedelic rock, blues, country etc; basically, anything anyone threw at me. I think its so important to learn and listen to all different styles. It’s easy to just say ‘I play blues’ and close yourself  off to everything else, but I think to be a well rounded musician, you have to consider every style and genre. I really enjoy playing rock, I’ve always been interested in rock bands, even as I child, I used to play along to Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden CD’s. I think my style has always been rock. I think I was labelled blues at the start of my career as the two genres are often so closely related through guitar solos and a lot of rock has its roots in blues.

I honestly think and have always said that there are two different genres of music, good and bad, and both of those categories are down to the individual and are all subjective. I’m so lucky with my fans, in that they appreciate what I’m trying to do with my music, they enjoy the fact that I experiment and try different styles, like for instance I sometimes do some acoustic solo shows, which are totally different to the band shows, but people enjoy them equally. I think the band shows are known for being quite exciting and every show being different. I like to do different songs each night as we have quite a few fans who will come to many of the shows, so I like to keep things fresh for them each night. There’s also quite a lot of improvisation in the show, I like to push things with the band, so that keeps things exciting.

"In the UK there’s a tendency to categorize music into genres but personally I think there are only two, good and bad, and even that’s subjective! I don’t see a reason why a song that originates in one genre can’t move to another and it’ll either work or it won’t, so to that extent genres are a state of mind." (Chantel McGregor / Photo by Howard Rankin)

How started the thought of Lady Gaga's “STUPID LOVE!”? What was the hardest part of "Blues Meets Pop"?

Lady Gaga is such an innovative and creative songwriter and performer, and the thing with a great song is that you can listen to it and imagine different versions of it. “Stupid Love” was one that just cried out to me and said “listen, I can be changed, I can be anything you want!”, so the “Blues Meets Pop” was easy!

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Ooh, a good question! A few years ago, John Courage, who used to be Fleetwood Mac’s tour manager started coming to my gigs and we became friends. I was lucky enough to go with him and meet Fleetwood Mac a couple of times and it wasn’t what they said or any advice that was important, it was how they were, natural, friendly, and nice people. I think that’s the best advice, be that and be yourself.

Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

In the UK there’s a tendency to categorize music into genres but personally I think there are only two, good and bad, and even that’s subjective! I don’t see a reason why a song that originates in one genre can’t move to another and it’ll either work or it won’t, so to that extent genres are a state of mind.

What would you say characterizes Cleopatra Records' philosophy in comparison to other labels?

It’s got to be their willingness to look at all genres and base their output on their confidence in their artists. With “Stupid Love” it was a case of “here you are, see what you can do with this!”

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?

Be humble, you never know who you are talking to and everyone deserves respect. The other thing is to be yourself, there are enough egos around without adding to them!

"I think I’d like to go back to the 70s, my parents tell me of the days when they would go to gigs every night of the week, there were so many amazing bands on tour all the time and it was so cheap to go to gigs, so they would see amazing bands like Free, Queen, Yes etc on a regular basis, that must have been a great time for music." (Chantel McGregor / Photo by Howard Rankin)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I think the most recent fabulous memory was playing to a fair few thousand people at Ramblin Man Fair in the UK in July. It was a whirlwind few days, I was on holiday with my family and I flew home to play the festival, drove about 600 miles in 3 days and had a couple of hours sleep, it was the most exhausting 3 days of my life, but the gig was so worth it. It was just such a wonderful day, the crowd were amazing and the gig was so much fun. On a surreal note, someone wandering across to you and saying “hello, I’m Eric” isn’t something that happens every day!

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I don’t think there’s anything necessarily missing in music at the moment that was there in the past, I think as a listener, there’s so much amazing music out there, you maybe have to look a bit harder for it nowadays than years ago, but the music is out there. I think the only thing that’s changed is the music industry, how things are marketed and how people find out about new artists. I think it’s an interesting time for music, with the whole DIY approach, it’s so easy to get your music out there without being reliant on major labels, although it’s harder to get it heard because there are so many artists out there also self-releasing, and without a major label and their contacts and money behind you, you’re restricted by self-financed budgets.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

This is probably something more specific to the UK, in that being a relatively small land mass, we have national radio. The problem that creates is that everything becomes corporate, so independent artistes can’t break through into the playlists, even the BBC is playlisted, I’ve been told that the DJ’s have one song per program of their own choice! It would be nice to have a culture of radio that is based on the music not how it’s promoted. Having said that, radio is getting less important, but it’s still one of the main ways that people hear their music, and why the festivals are headlined by heritage bands. The knock on effect of this is that there’s no room for new music to be heard or seen, the festivals are busy because they’re an occasion, but below arena level, the live music scene is dying. That needs to change otherwise we’ll be watching and listening to holograms, which I am told is coming soon!

"I think the band shows are known for being quite exciting and every show being different. I like to do different songs each night as we have quite a few fans who will come to many of the shows, so I like to keep things fresh for them each night. There’s also quite a lot of improvisation in the show, I like to push things with the band, so that keeps things exciting." (Chantel McGregor / Photo by Steve Howdle)

Make an account of the case of Blues Rock in the UK. Which is the most interesting period in local scene?

Mmmm, an interesting question, it’s not now though! It was interesting about 12 years ago, Joe Bonamassa caught the imagination of the British audiences doing great covers of British bands, and for a few years there were quite a few bands who looked like they were going to break through, but then it all seemed to fizzle out, bands stopped putting out new material  and fell back onto covers, and it all became predictable and boring. To be honest, I can see where they’re coming from. I went to a blues rock festival earlier this year and watched three bands play mainly the same songs. Why would you struggle to write originals and try to convince an audience to listen, when all they want to listen to is what they already know?

What does to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

I think the industry is changing slightly, but has a long way to go. When I was 14 I had a major label tell me that guys wouldn’t buy into a girl playing guitar like that and that I should listen to Nick Drake! It hasn’t changed that much since, when I released the previous album one of the UK’s guitar magazines told the PR company that I used that they wouldn’t do a feature because they’d already done one on a female guitarist that year!

I still get the situation at guitar shows and music shops where people will talk to whoever I’m with before realizing that I’m the one who is interested in the product. I do think there are more female musicians now than there were when I started out, which is brilliant. I don’t think the gender imbalance will change overnight, but I do think there are more women working in the industry, be that musicians or on the business side, so there surely has to be a shift in the imbalance and opinion at some point.

What is the impact of the Blues and Rock music and culture on the socio-cultural implications?

In the UK at the minute, I would say minimal. I appreciate that sounds a bit like it’s trivializing the question, but the fact is that the blues rock audience in the UK is aging, it’s the same audience that have been watching the same bands for years, and if it’s not the same band, it’s the same songs!

"If you’re doing it yourself, you’ve no alternative but to fit in, the circuit is relatively small so it’s either do it that way or don’t do it!" (Chantel McGregor / Photo by Keith Newhouse)

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I think I’d like to go back to the 70s, my parents tell me of the days when they would go to gigs every night of the week, there were so many amazing bands on tour all the time and it was so cheap to go to gigs, so they would see amazing bands like Free, Queen, Yes etc on a regular basis, that must have been a great time for music.

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