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Chantel McGregor + Blue Nation

Friday 8th September 2023

The 100 Club, London

A rare Friday night outing for this reviewer, but the lure of WRC favourite Chantel McGregor and her great band outweighed the regular Friday night curry and a couple of bottles of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, so I found myself at a thankfully air-conned 100 Club on a very unseasonably sweaty evening.

I’ll be kind of honest here… dragging my sorry arse into town on a Friday night wasn’t of the greatest appeal when the time actually came, so I didn’t rush to leave home, thinking I could miss some crowd at the expense of the support band.

Big mistake.

Thankfully, I made a balls of this and only missed the first couple of numbers from Blue Nation, a Birmingham band in the best tradition of power trios with a bluesy tinge. I caught hints of Cream, Rory, you name it - but all with great originality and some of the best inter-track banter I’ve come across. I’m generally have a bit of a ‘ho-hum’ attitude to some such attempts, but guitarist/vocalist Neil Murdoch and bassist/vocalist Luke Weston have a career as a double act waiting if they get bored of blowing people away with their original tracks.

Amongst some great songs and Neil bludgeoning the crowd into participation during closer ‘Down By The River’, Luke’s introduction of the poignant ‘Echoes’ and the tragedy behind its dedication was obviously heartfelt and very touching. Along with drummer Nick Sharman powering them along (he must have had a helluva week… he pounded 7 shades out of the kit), everything about their set was nothing short of impressive.

They are also playing the Half Moon in Putney with Italy’s Eliana Cargnelluti (last reviewed in these pages as part of a double-header with Felix Rabin in January last year) on Tuesday 3rd October.. a contender, along with tonight, for the best ‘twofer’ this side of Xmas if you ask me… would thoroughly recommend getting yourself along.

(And at the risk of a theme developing, a quick check of their upcoming dates also shows they are playing with Spain’s Susan Santos at the end of October… no doubt outings with Samantha Fish, Ana Popovic, and Erja Lyytinen will be announced shortly ☺ ).

After a brief changeover interval, Chantel took to the stage with regular sticks man Thom Gardner and Jake Dickens occupying the bass spot tonight. Very unusually, Jamie Brooks (who Chantel fans may know from her Shed Sessions albums and from-home YouTube vids) is also present on keyboard duties.

A typically well-balanced setlist, with pairs of belters typically bookending slower, more delicate pieces and a couple of left-fielders mixed in, although the wonderful ‘Inconsolable’ was trimmed from the setlist I could see at Jake’s feet. Seems churlish to mention it really, given this was a great show even by Chantel’s exceptional standards… and it seems to be the case that I feel at Chantel’s shows, the setlist is more of a… guideline ☺ It speaks well of the band that they just follow her lead and just go where the show goes so seamlessly.

I’ve said before about bands you see repeatedly that sometimes things just seem to click… and tonight was such a night (for me, at least). I don’t think I’ve ever heard Chantel completely rip the solo in the Jeff Buckley-inspired ‘Eternal Dream’ (one of my favourites) as well as she did tonight… I mean, it’s always great, but tonight, it was just majestic. As was another personal favourite, ‘April’, with Jamie’s additional keyboard lines augmenting a building intro that had me fearing for Thom’s drumheads because of the pounding they were taking. It may be that I normally concentrate on guitar but I think Thom was embellishing wonderfully on versions I’ve heard before. … and, at a nod from Chantel, we were treated to (what appeared to me) an unscheduled extended ending which only added to the brilliance.

After being captivated when I first heard it on Shed Sessions Vol 1, the only time I’ve heard Chantel play Bonnie Raitt’s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ was at the Half Moon, when it was a wonderful rendition featuring just Chantel’s voice and an acoustic… tonight we had Jamie taking the lead accompaniment with Tom and Jake both providing delicate support …possibly even more enchanting.

Last ‘slowie’ of the night was a version of ‘Creep’. Full disclosure: I’ve never got Radiohead… they do nothing for me whatsoever, despite people trying to convince me otherwise over the years… if they crop up on a playlist I invariably click next; or if in the car, hit the next pre-set. But I have to say, Chantelle’s presentation of the song (which appears on Shed Sessions Vol 2) with just Jamie on keys accompaniment was pretty captivating (although I could have done with the guy behind not trying to join in). Maybe I’ll give OK Computer another go. Or maybe not ;-)

After picking the pace back up with ‘Take the Power’, just as it closes the ‘Lose Control’ album, ‘Walk on Land’ saw the end of a totally exhilarating set.

She may tell us that she’s ‘been dancing with the devil since the day that I was born’ (‘Southern Belle’) but as anyone who’s seen her knows, she’s far too charming and self-effacing for that to be true.

Might account for why she can play like a demon though.

Mark C.

Setlist: Blue Nation
(May have missed the first one or two… sorry boys… my bad)
Old Friends
Come Back Home
Every Single Time
Down By The River

Setlist: Chantel McGregor
Southern Belle
Eternal Dream
Lose Control
Crazy Little Voodoo
I Can’t Make you Love Me
I’m No Good for You
Killing Time
Take the Power
Walk On Land

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