Chantel McGregor + Half Moon Panic
Wednesday 29th March 2023
The Half Moon, Putney, London
Our half-yearly pilgrimage to see the wonderful, diminutive Bluestress, Chantel McGregor, took us to London's The Half Moon in Putney on Wednesday night, surprisingly a first for Chantel as we later found out, although the bonus ball was the support of the aptly named Half Moon Panic, who we saw supporting Laurence Jones in Sevenoaks at the end of January.
Indeed, we were not only looking forward to seeing our fellow wrinklies again, but we also wanted to catch up with the band following our recent review of their latest EP, 'The Pit Sessions', of which we described "If music was packaged like food, this would be the equivalent of a tempting looking half baguette so crammed with delicious looking filling that the contents tumble out of the side. Sometimes of course you find that there's not much content inside. Happily. this cracking little three song EP is full of Melodic Rock, leaving the listener more than pleasantly satisfied.”
Formed in 2018, but accomplished musicians in their own right, we first caught the trio at the equally iconic Ealing Club just before the pandemic in 2020. So what mouthwatering smorgasbord were Gerard Jacques on bass and lead vocals, Taj Mian on lead guitar and James Dixon on drums going to dish up tonight on their 'home' surf and turf? Loosening up with 'Hold On Tight' and the ZZ Top vibe of 'Survival', the Half Moon faithful were understandably all aboard with 'Chase The Sun', given it was raining cats and dogs outside, as this band, that gel so well, warmed the audience up with an opening triumvirate from their amusingly titled debut album, 'Welcome To The Small Time', all featuring extended arrangements and some nice work from Mian, who's multi-layered guitars shone throughout their 45-minute set,
Gerard's cheesy but genuine intro that "this is a beautiful club", linked nicely to the first airing from the new EP, namely 'Beautiful Places'. "It's one of our own" he gushed, before Taj admonished him. "They're all our own" he joked, as they continued with The Who vibe rallying cry of 'Second Time Around', another from 'The Pit Sessions', and despite no keys (Laurence Jones band member Benedict Holland played Hammond on the EP), Jacques' effective vocal more than made up for this.
So refreshing also from a selfish reviewer's point of view to have track intros, as the comedic banter continued in front of the impressive backbone of drummer Dixon, as Mian and Jacques jokingly swapped insults, with Taj coming out on top referring to Gerard as "Sting’s slightly older brother!" To be honest, we hold up our hands for that one! Cue then my particular favourite, as they slowed things down with the more guitar based EP opener, 'Sacrifice', smacking again of The Who, albeit without the acoustic intro of the EP, that featured the excellent picked electric guitar of Mian,
They completed a thoroughly enjoyable set of good old fashioned traditional Pub Rock with a hat-trick from their debut, starting with the more upbeat Covid inspired, 'Breathe', still having a laugh though as Jacques posed for crowd photos as the audience clapped along. 'Small Time' saw some equally big time moves from a female Panic fan, before they closed out with the Dire Straits vibe of 'New Blues'. That was that, despite a big cheer and vain cries of "One more song!", although the good news is that, to complement the recently released short-taster, most of these songs on 'WTTST' are being re-recorded at the moment for a re-boot of the album, so not only watch out for that, but also get along to London's The 100 Club on Tuesday 27th June, when they're playing with Misty Blues and Albany Down. You won't be sorry.
Given Half Moon Panic were the aperitif, the main course tonight was former WRC Best Blues Performance award winner, Chantel McGregor, who also headlined our BluesRockFest in Gravesend the following year in 2015. Continuing the food analogy, this Yorkshire lass is prime fillet steak, and despite a diet of dining out on her regularly over the years, we never get sick of her.
Indeed, the last time we saw her perform was at Kent's The Beaverwood in Chislehurst, back in August last year. Although, the last time I actually saw Chantel was standing at the front of The Islington Assembly Hall for a Prog gig last December, understandably trying to get a decent view. "What are you doing here Chantel?" I politely asked her. "I'm here to see Frost!" Well, ask a stupid question .....!!
Warm applause welcomed the red frocked guitarist to the stage, alongside regular drummer Thom Gardner, with the unfamiliar Jake Dickens replacing long-time bassist Colin Sutton. They opened with the powerful 'Freefalling', with its pure Old School Hard Rock, followed by some screaming American tinged Blues Rock, rocking out with the Devil on the Bluesy riff of 'Southern Belle'. Chantel then thanked Half Moon Panic, before admitting that this iconic Putney venue was surprisingly a first for her, although after seeing the local house prices, she wouldn't be moving in any time soon!
Shame, however the consolation was that the stage was next filled to bursting with Hendrix inspired power Blues and her beautiful singing. And boy was it loud, as memories of our 2015 BluesRockFest came flooding back, as Chantel, with an engaging smile on her face, rocked out with her third consecutive song, and title track from her album, 'Lose Control', ripping it well and truly up, by blistering the ears of a very appreciative and healthy Half Moon turn out.
Indeed, McGregor herself had just returned from performing at a Hendrix themed festival in France, and then decided to "quieten things down", with the beautifully sung 'Eternal Dream', written by Chantel and inspired by one of her favourite artists, Jeff Buckley, with an extended, emotive, atmospheric, second-half guitar solo, that was truly as spectacular as McGregor's spangly guitar belt! Other than her 2019 live album, 'Bury'd Alive', and 2021's 'Shed Sessions', that was a couple of albums of mostly cover versions, Chantel's last original album was the aforementioned 2015's 'Lose Control', so it was pleasing to hear some new material, tentatively entitled 'Crazy Little Voodoo'.
'Your Fever', another from 'LC', with its awesome stop, start driving riff, once again not only demonstrated with her white socks/tights tinkering on her pedals, that Chantel is a really accomplished guitar player and a talented songwriter, but also showcased that she has a great set of pipes, given the purity and tonal range of her voice. And is definitely no Nora Batty!
Unbelievably, it's now just over eleven years ago since we first saw Chantel McGregor perform at London's 100 Club, with her spellbinding take on Metallica's 'Nothing Else Matters', deservedly nominated in that year's WRC 'Best Acoustic' award. Hence, our sense of anticipation as Thom and Jake briefly left the stage, before a wonderful acoustic rendition of Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me". A pin drop moment except for two guys chatting behind, who sensibly decided to shut up as my partner in crime and I turned around and gave them a deserved glare. These people!
This was followed by the spellbinding, delightful and haunting 'Anaesthetize' from 'LC', before her talented engine room returned to the stage for 'Bury'd Alive's, 'Inconsolable', the irony of which was not lost on the audience, given it was brought to a premature end by Chantel, as a guy had collapsed stage right. Thankfully he appeared to be ok, so after a brief intermission, everything was now 'Fabulous', as she played the opener from her debut album, 'Like No Other', with its harder, rockier feel.
After thanking Alex on the sound desk (great job by the way), we were all a bit worried that vampires were in our midst, not only due to the venue temperature dropping (apparently thanks to the aircon) but also because Chantel (the wuss - in her own words) had managed to cut her one of her pinkies. Cue 'I’m No Good For You’, that once again allowed Chantel's guitar playing and vocals to shine through on this well-constructed song, inspired by her love of the TV vampire show 'True Blood'.
My partner in crime's itch for the 'Bury'd Alive' tour de force, 'April', was finally scratched, in an amazing instrumental that made good use of the large number of pedals set out on her pedal board, just waiting for her socked twinkle toes to engage them. It’s very much Steve Vai and Tea For The Wicked (remember them?) territory, with the imposing (when standing next to Chantel) groove master Jake, outstanding on bass.
After a multitude of deserved thank you's, including her dear Mum on merch, that saw Chantel jokingly shouting "Come on Mum", after asking her to find out her next London date, 'Lose Control's, 'Take The Power', was not only a fitting climax to the set, but also reinforced Chantel's heavier sound, more mature song writing and catchy riffs and melodies. With cries of "More!", given the interruption earlier, the trio thankfully remained on stage for one encore, 'Lose Control's 'Walk On Land', another wonderful example of Chantel's soft side, contrasted by the way in which she killed/nailed the solo on it.
As I've said many times before, the beauty of our current plethora of female Blues Rock guitarists is that they all bring something different to the live table. Although diminutive in stature, her talent, passion, tone and intensity is evident in every note. With a great voice, something that so many guitar acts lack, her warm personality is a pleasure to witness.
Suffice to say after yet another mesmerising performance from this delightful, diminutive Bluestress, we will continue our six-month pilgrimage on Friday 8th September, as she returns to her more familiar London surroundings of Oxford Street's The 100 Club. Just make sure that you join us!