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Tony Bell had one of his long meandering chats with one of the UK’s most accident prone and possibly un-insurable musicians who has a degree, knows all about plectrums but can’t cook and who may have recently become a train spotter. Chantel McGregor and her amazing novelty freak show will be appearing at The Apex in Bury St.Edmunds on Thursday 8th September.
I have to start by asking you how on earth you dislocated your knee looking out a window!
Do you know, I couldn’t believe I’d done this, what a nightmare! I was going on holiday a month ago and I was flying at about 4 o’clock or something stupid on the Monday morning. So, Sunday afternoon I was locking all the windows in the house, didn’t realise that somebody had left some books on the floor in front of the window, put my foot down on them and the books went one way, my thigh went one way and my calf went another and my knee went somewhere totally different. So I ended up with a dislocated knee, four hours in hospital and potentially now some ligament damage as well.
Did you get away on holiday thought?
I did – I wasn’t missing that!
And it didn’t effect any of the shows?
Well, I’ve had to wear a leg brace which has been a bit embarrassing and a bit rubbish but I don’t think I could have done the shows without the horrible big leg brace, just put up with it and hobble! It is not as bad as it was when I first did it but it’s not good – I fell down some stairs yesterday! It is really unstable!!
I trust you have yourself insured?
I think I need to be bubble wrapped let alone insured!
You recently travelled from Preston to London in the cab of a Virgin train – are you a secret train spotter?
(Laughs) I wasn’t but I am now! It was amazing, one of our fans, who has now become a friend he drives for Virgin Trains and he said about going on a cab ride for ages an’ ages an’ ages and I was like, OK, when I have some time… So I had a day off yesterday and he picked us up in Preston and drove us down to London in the cab so we learned all about the train and how it works. It was really interesting, like how the whole network works and all the different switches and levers and stuff, that was really cool.
So you will be travelling all around the country by train from now on?
I don’t think I could afford to!
I know you will have been asked this before, but I am going to go for it anyway. Once upon a time being a guitar playing rock and blues musician was purely the preserve of the male of the species…
It still is, isn’t it?
Oh I don’t know there is yourself and Jo Harman and Joanne Shaw-Taylor and others. There are a lot of women out there.
Yes, I suppose there are but I think it is a double edged sword. This is the way I see it; which is maybe a bit controversial, I don’t know. It is great because it is a unique selling point, so people go ‘wow, that’s a great thing’ because nobody is doing that really, or very few of us are doing it. But then it is the whole thing of how you get taken seriously when you are a bit of a novelty freak show! Trying to get taken seriously by the industry which is mainly male as well is pretty difficult. It is still tricky and a bit weird – I’d have thought by now it would have got better but it hasn’t.
You take music very seriously, you have a degree on popular music, has that degree helped you deal with the industry itself?
I’m not sure if it helped me deal with the industry. I think that the way it has helped me is when you do an interview with a guitar magazine or something and they are treating you a bit like a girl, like do you know what a plectrum is? Or you walk into a guitar shop and they ask if you know what a plectrum is?
Do you seriously get reactions like that?
Oh god yes, I know, its bonkers! It is absolutely stupid. Most people are op[en minded and wonderful which is brilliant but you still do get the odd person here and there like… oh, you are a girl, what do you know about guitars?
So having the degree I think that it kinda makes it a little bit easier to say that actually I do know what I’m talking about.
I am guessing then that you have been ‘doing music’ for quite a long time?
Forever I think. It feels like forever anyway. I have played guitar since I was three and been doing it professionally for probably about seven years now… But I did my degree before that, music has always been in my life.
What drew you to the blues?
Well, it has never been strictly blues, it is kinda a rock thing really. Probably because my Dad was always into bands like Led Zeppelin and Hendrix and The Who and stuff like that. He was always into the rock guitar stuff and I was raised on it. We’d get in the car and we’d listen to things like Fleetwood Mac and Hendrix…
Headbanging in the back seat?
Yeah, pretty much! I was always like – can you put ‘Free’ on` when I was about two or three year old. Nowadays I listen to absolutely everything, it can be pop music and I still listen to it – I don’t listen to Rap, because I’m not into it.
In our book there is only one sort of music: good music.
And that’s how it should be. I don’t think people should be limited by genre, I think it should be just is it good or is it bad?
It is so easy to put somebody in a box and then they do something different and you think ‘oh that’s wrong’!
Exactly. We still get it because this album that we’ve just done, Lose Control, is heavier than the previous album. It is less blusey – because there is none on it! (laughs!). People think its not blues because its not got a twelve bar and a shuffel and its like well who said that that was ever blues? And how can anybody be authentic blues? How many of the people, that the blues police consider blues, were off picking cotton in a field or been in slavery or whatever. Nothing is authentic anymore, for me blues is emotion – its not about the chord structure or the rhythm. If it is emotional and it connects to people then its got blues roots to it.
On this wonderfully Southern Gothic looking and sounding ‘Lose Control’ not only did you write the songs but you also helped produce it and you arranged it and designed the cover and you took the photographs – is there anything you don’t do?
Cook! I’m not a very good cook! But I’m a better cook than my Mum! Yeah, I’m probably a bit of a control freak that’s why. I love photography and I love art and stuff like that so to me it was a thing to have an involvement in the artwork for the album and I enjoyed the production as well. I wanted a hand in that – maybe I just want to have my fingers in every pie.
You are a busy woman – always out there gigging, does touring ever get you down?
It is difficult, the most difficult thing we have ever done was last November, we were out in Europe for a month. I was out there on my own with the band and it was when all the things were happening in Paris and stuff like that and we had to cancel a show in Brussels because they had closed down the transport network that particular day because there was a terrorist threat. That was hard because you are sort of thinking oh gosh, what if something happens, I just want to go home. You love the tour and playing and visiting there places but it was that uncertainty. Everything was kicking off and you are thinking is everybody safe, whats goin’ to happen, are we going to be able to do the shows, are they going to get cancelled because of threats. That was a hard tour for me, I found it difficult. Also being away from your family when those sort of things are happening, you think – am I goin’ to go home! Maybe a bit over dramatic, but you just don’t know.
In many ways I enjoy the travel. Its the only time I get to read a book – like when you are sat in a van for eight hours you can get through a few books on tour.
So what are you currently reading?
Don’t laugh! Because it is probably a bit rubbish… I’m reading ‘Call The Midwife’ which is about post second world war England and nursing and stuff like that. Its a very girly book.
What is the ideal day off for Chantel McGregor? Assuming you get one that is.
Oh for me the ideal day would be something really random like a day at Alton Towers or any theme park or visit somewhere new – which sound a bit stupid because I spend everyday visiting new places on tour. But to have time to spend to look around.
In Europe I get a bit more time because we tend to get to a hotel at maybe lunchtime, and you don’t do a sound check until five so I have a couple of hours to either sleep, which would probably be the sensible option or go for a look around. To me it is more interesting to have a look around.
Who is your favourite guitarist, the one you would pay hard earned money to go and see play?
Oh – not so much a guitarist, but as a band I sort of have a bit of a wow thing for Steven Wilson and his old band Porcupine Tree. At the time when I was like mega obsessed with his albums he had a guitarist in his band called Guthrie Govan who is just like monstrous, his hands are huge, he is just the best guitarist in the entire universe. He is in a band now called The Aristocats which is him and a bass player and a drummer and their music is just like insane! It is just so technically amazing it is brilliant.
Chantel, it has ben a pleasure talking to you, thank you for taking the time to talk to GrapevineLIVE.co.uk
Chantel appears at The Apex, Bury St. Edmunds on Thursday 8th September – click here to buy tickets