Chantel Mcgregor – “is one of the bright lights on the British blues scene, stunning crowds with her wielding of the ‘Strat’ like any seasoned pro and, at times, singing like an angel” – this accolade comes from the British Blues Awards 2011 where Chantel won the British Young Artist of the Year Award. http://britishbluesawards.com/#/2011-winners/4554889188
Amazingly, for a young woman in her 20s, Chantel has already reaped international accolades, including featuring on the DVDcelebrating 60 years of the Fender alongside greats such as Keith Richards and Jeff Beck. Leo Fender’s Telecaster: The Original Twanghttp://www.fender.com/en-GB/news/index.php/?display_article=562
According to music journalist John Anthony Lake, “Somewhere in her past, some fool told her she should pack in the guitar because boys would be intimidated. Well so they damn well should be. Once she gets her dainty hands round the neck of a fret-board, she’s not afraid to take anybody on – Hendrix, Led Zep, Steve Vai, you name it – and look good doing it.”
I met Chantel in her home town in West Yorkshire and started by asking her how and when she got into music performance rather than following the classic route through school, university, career.
Chantel first picked up her father’s guitar at the age of 3 and was bought her own guitar, a half size acoustic, and started guitar lessons at the age of 7. She soon noticed that electric guitars had smaller necks, making them ideal for little hands – not only that, they made a lot more noise! It is safe to say that her musical influences during childhood reflected her parents’ musical preferences – which she describes as “psychedelic rock, blues – very free-form, lots of improvisation” and included Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin and Hendrix.
From the age of 12 she was jamming regularly with other musicians and was learning her craft through improvising and, as she puts it, “creating your own solos”. After completing school, Chantel decided not to pursue an English degree but to follow her love of music and went to Leeds College of Music where she gained a first class honours degree in popular music.
Chantel says, “Education for me has been so important. The household rule was: you’re either earning or learning. I am glad I did the academic route, including English A levels, because it gives you a different perspective when you are writing. I was performing most weekends when I did my degree, I was running a band and we did 2 or 3 gigs a week and every weekend. So I didn’t really experience the social side of university…. When friends asked if I could come out with them I would have to say No, I can’t because I’m working.
Was there a lot of theory on your degree course?
There was quite a bit of theory, but I never go on stage and think, what mode am I playing in tonight, what’s this song’s key? I never sat down and tried to learn every Jimi Hendrix song. I just pick up my guitar and it comes naturally… I guess it’s because I’ve practised so much, jamming for all of those years. It’s a great grounding: I’d sit and improvise to jam tracks and play over them. Or my dad would play chords and I would solo over them. And the jam sessions were literally jamming out a song that you’d never heard in your life, somebody pointing at you and saying, Ok, do a solo now! – you can’t emulate someone else in that situation, you just have to play and evolve your own style, composing your own solos, in fact. You learn a lot by doing that and you create your own sound by doing that.
Have you got a favourite tuning?
I tend to play a lot in standard tuning. I have four guitars on stage. I have a Musicman, a Petrucci, and then I have a spare one, that’s a second Musicman exactly the same but a different colour. Then I use a Fender Stratocaster – that’s for going into drop D, and then my acoustic which is an Adamus Ovation.
Is there a particular guitar that you would love to own?
I’ve got my Petrucci, they are my favourites – they’re really small, thin necks so they’re easier to play when you have small hands and they’ve got 24 frets so I can get higher than anybody!
Do any of your guitars have a particular sound?
The Stratocaster that I use on the live gigs. I use that on a song called Caught Out pretty much because it’s in drop D tuning. It’s got a really unique sound. My Fender was a Strat plus deluxe, but we changed all the pick-ups. My dad turned them into stacked Humbuckers and then did all the electrics to make it coil tapped and stuff, so it’s a really unique sound. I’ve never heard anything that sounds like it ever – it’s so grungy and loud.
How do you write songs? Which comes first, the music or the words?
Sometimes when I’m composing, it just comes quite easily. Sometimes I’ll just write what I’m thinking or feeling which I guess is the more organic way of doing it. But if I’m ever struggling, then I’ll think well, logically, what chord would go with this? Sometimes I’ll just get a lyric first, like when I wrote the title track off my album, Like No Other at Pontin’s. We did the blues festival and I woke up the next day and I hadn’t slept too well. I was sitting there watching someone else play and I just came up with these lyrics.
Like No Other https://www.audio-times.com/audio/Like_No_Other.mp3
I wake up in last night’s make-up
My head pounds more than my heart
I can still smell you on my my clothes, but you left a long time ago
It feels wrong, we should be apart
What is this I’m doing, can’t believe I’m losing
The way that you hold me gives you the power
The way you control me secret lover
The way that you lie to me, in the arms of another
The way you change your mind
I’m like no other
And I wrote the whole song, all the lyrics, exactly and I got them home and then about a week later, playing around with some chords, sang it and they fitted exactly, so I had the whole song.
I think you have quite a unique guitar style and a distinctive style. Where does that come from?
I’m not really sure if I have one particular style. My album is a mixture of everything that I like – track one is like Lady Gaga, track two could be blues, track 3’s like Fleetwood Mac and so on. There’s acoustic on there, there’s a bit of rock on there – and it’s everything. I call it Chantel music – I like all sorts of different kinds of music and I learn from every single different genre. I like experimenting and finding out what happens if I put this sound together with that. Sometimes I work out what happens if I take this chord and then invert it like this.
What is your next project?
I was thinking this morning that I might write an acoustic album for my next one. I am getting a shed built! I’ve bought a lot of antique oak furniture to put in my shed. I thought about having it as a communication-free zone, so that I could just go in there and relax and write songs, but in the end I wasn’t willing to give up contact with the outside world, so it will have a wireless connection and a laptop and so on, as well as double-glazing and super-duper alarm system! I know I will need to try and turn off the computer most of the time and only look at my emails when I’ve finished working! So the next album might be called The Shed Sessions!
Do you already have some ideas for the album? Is it a feeling? A concept? A theme? Or more a sound?
It’s more a sound. I’ve got this feeling – I think I’m going to do it acoustic. I’d love to do another band one – that was the original plan. But I’ve been enjoying playing acoustic this weekend on acoustic gigs, so right now that’s what I’m thinking. It can be done quicker, as well, as you don’t need to get out drummers and keyboards and all the kit… although I think I would call on my cello friend.
So you’ve got your own label, Tis Rock Music Ltd, do you have a favourite studio or sound engineer that you work with?
My producer is a guy called Livingstone Brown at Mill Studios – he’s fantastic. I’ve known him for years and we’ve worked together quite a lot. When I did my first album, I asked him to produce it because he knows me and my sound and he can get the best out of me. I think that’s really important in a producer – it’s not just to press the buttons, it’s how to bring out of the artist different things that you wouldn’t think of doing. If they can nitpick at you, to get the best out of you and pull it out of you and he does that. We recorded it down in his studio inSurrey. So the next job is to write a bunch of acoustic songs.
I asked Chantel who created her website and who looks after the business side of touring, gigging and marketing.
I made the website. I wanted it to be my own and to be distinctive and to represent me how I wanted to be. So I did it myself because that way, I retain control. I also do all the marketing – it was my idea to do Chantel TV – that’s just images and scenes from when we’re touring really, more about the hotel and the country we’re visiting rather than the gig itself –Chantel TV was another of my mad marketing ideas. http://www.chantelmcgregor.com/chanteltv.html
I write my own blog, I post videos to Youtube, I update my Facebook page. Social media is such an important part of business now. The website gets about a thousand hits a day, and this is one of my main ways of getting tours – I’m going to Finland for a few dates next.
As for the tour management, we do it all ourselves, me and my dad. It’s incredibly time-consuming, booking all the tickets and the hotels. When they say the music business, it is a business and you have to work at it. It’s 24/7 – if I’m not touring, I’m writing, or spending my weekends answering emails – I get about 20 a day asking about my next album or my next gig. If you don’t do the business, you don’t get to do the music.
It’s a male industry, unless you’re singing girlie country songs, it’s a very male industry, especially the business side. But for my image, I just wear what I like to wear. I like going shopping, I like looking girlie.
So Chantel Mcgregor – a petite, pretty lady with a big sound and a very bright future ahead of her. Check her tour dates here: http://www.chantelmcgregor.com/tour.html