Aynsley Lister + Chantel McGregor

Friday 4th February 2022

The 100 Club, London

The 100 Club yet again offered music lovers, and fans of top-notch guitar playing in particular, another double dose of entertaining acts at a very reasonable price. First up, and for me the most enjoyable part of the evening, was Aynsley Lister. In my opinion he’s the standout male solo Blues musician in the UK, and is up there with the best on the global scene. A lot of players know their way around the fretboard, but very few have the ability to express themselves consistently in a manner that is both individual and tastefully entertaining. It helps that this youthful looking veteran of 20 years plus on the scene has a strong, tuneful voice that doesn’t at any point descend into that dreary Blues growl adopted by too many guitarists who'd be better off taking a vow of silence. Most importantly, the musician has a strong body of songs that manage the rare trick of being melodically interesting and musically diverse while still conforming to a classic Blues style of playing.

His superb set kicked off with ‘All Of Your Love’, the opening track from his excellent last studio album ‘Eyes Wide Open’, driven by a propelling bass line and a variety of different riffs and jangling guitar patterns. His soloing on this and throughout the night was just beautiful, note selection perfect, building intelligently to a quick climax, with no sign of redundant widdling. The set was selected from across his impressive back catalogue and included many familiar tunes like the title track from 2013 album ‘Home’, as powerful a Blues ballad as you’ll hear anywhere and fan fave, the sultry groove of ‘Soundman’. The guitarist introduced a few numbers from a forthcoming new album, which is very welcome news given the long intermission since his last release. The new ones stood up well against the older numbers, one of them ‘Stay with Me’ (possibly!) had an almost 70s Californian vibe about it, with some tight harmonies from Jono Martin on bass making this instantly memorable. A great set.

One of the songs missing from Aynsley’s set, which has become one of his trademark live numbers (and is illustrative of his own melodic approach to songwriting) was his version of ‘Purple Rain’. It turned out that the reason for this was that the number featured in Chantel McGregor’s set and was an opportunity for the opener to reappear for a guest spot. It’s not unusual these days that the best number in a set by an upcoming act is a cover version of some 70s Rock classic. This often highlights the lack of interesting ideas from the band involved. This isn’t the case with Chantel McGregor, but suffice to say, for me the most memorable number of the night was ‘Purple Rain’.

The barefoot, diminutive guitarist has recently released a couple of albums of purely cover versions, Volume 1 of the ‘Woodshed Session’ featuring her performing lovely versions of an eclectic selection of songs by different songwriters, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar. This showcases the purity and tonal range of her voice and is an example of how effective a simple, clean presentation can be. Chantel is a really accomplished guitar player and, as mentioned, has a great set of pipes. She also has a charming stage presence, managing to effortlessly pump out power chords as well as more complicated chord voicings, not to mention endless power riffing and wild solos, while having the air of a schoolgirl who’s invaded the stage at an end of year play and is cheekily enjoying her friends see her before she gets chased off by the head of drama.

Unfortunately, for me, her quite heavy, Prog rock songs aren’t that engaging or memorable. Opening track ‘Take the Power’, like many other songs played on the evening, taken from 2015 album ‘Lose Control’ was typical. There was a lot going on, heavy riffs, drummer smashing around the kit as if it was the encore, a repeated chorus with big crashing chords that was monotonous rather than uplifting (it has to be said the youthful drummer and bassist were both excellent players but didn’t allow much light and shade into their playing, it was full pelt all the way through). The highlight for me was the simpler Smokestack Lightning influenced, stripped down feel of ‘I’m No Good For You’ from 2011 album ‘Like No Other’. This allowed her guitar playing and vocals to shine through and was a well-constructed song. Her crowd pleaser, ‘April’ is really where this artist is coming from. It’s a tour de force, show off instrumental that made good use of the large number of pedals set out on her pedal board, just waiting for her twinkle toes to engage them. It’s Steve Vai territory and obviously a lot of fun, albeit in a slightly self-indulgent way.

I was undoubtedly in the minority in being a little underwhelmed by the quality of the songs (not the quality of playing); my fellow Wrinkly Rockers in attendance, along with the sell out crowd, clearly enjoyed what was a really musically powerful performance. I personally think that if she could introduce the melodic purity of her covers albums into her live sound she would be onto a winner; she clearly enjoys both ends of the musical spectrum and could benefit from finding the common ground between these (without ending up like the Tap’s Derek Smalls, as lukewarm water between the fire and the ice).

Simon Green