The Future Of Blues: The Tomorrow People
Fear not. The blues is in safe hands.
Meet the young artists who are flying the flag for the next generation...
**Bradford blueswoman brings the rock. And the acoustic. And the prog.
How can you tell that your daughter is going to be a blues rock star? Well, we’d say that your three-year-old demanding Hendrix and Free be played in the car is a sure-fire sign that you’re raising something grittier than a pop-fed princess.
That was the story for Bradford’s Chantel McGregor, who was raised on rock classics and got her hands on her first guitar when she was only just out of nappies.
Throughout a schooled upbringing, which included nine years of guitar lessons and culminated in a popular music degree, it was the bluesmen with a rockier edge that piqued her interest. “I’ve never swayed towards the traditional blues nor have I swayed towards the traditional of anything,” she says. “I appreciate the traditional blues guys, I’ve listened to them and learned from it but the rock-based stuff is more relevant to me and what I do. I’m a rocker.”
Today, the 29-year-old is on the cusp of releasing her second album, Lose Control, the follow-up to 2011’s Like No Other. It sees her rock side come gloriously to the fore. We’re talking the bluesy stomp of fellow up-and-comers Aaron Keylock and Virgil And The Accelerators mixed in with the snarl of Deap Vally’s Lindsey Troy. It’s full to the brim with raw emotion, rough-and-ready power and stellar songwriting craft.
“Musically everything has got a lot darker and a lot heavier since the first album,” she says. “The songwriting has really grown between the albums.”
Fists-in-the-air blues rock may be the record’s calling card, but there’s more just beneath the surface. McGregor tells us that while the likes of Killing Time and Your Fever are clear-cut blues rock crunchers, Home is a soft acoustic ballad and Eternal Dream was inspired by her love of Jeff Buckley. Oh, and Walk On Land is a Porcupine Tree-influenced prog animal.
I’m my own person. Why change anything? If it ain’t broken don’t fix it.
“That was written in a couple of days of me just wanting to write a big prog epic song,” she says. “It had to be as good as something Steven Wilson would write. I discovered Porcupine Tree five or six years ago and I love them. It was really cool that I managed to writeaprogsong,I’mproudofthat.”
The diversity of the record is a testament to McGregor’s headstrong nature. She’s also completely fearless when it comes to her almost scattergun approach to genre conventions, saying that as far as she’s concerned, if the music is good people will like it, no matter whether the ‘it’ in question is blues, rock, prog, pop or just about anything else. In an age in which young artists are often too easily pigeonholed and packaged, swayed stylistically by managers, labels and producers, McGregor is admirably confident in her own ability and resolute in her decisions.
“We’ve had a few people say I should do this, I should sign to this or that, I should change what I wear and change my image. I’m my own person, I’m comfy doing what I’m doing and it’s going okay so why change anything? If it ain’t broken don’t fix it.”
McGregor also has a firm grasp of the business side of things and will release Lose Control through her own label, Tis Rock Music.
“I have my own record company and I manage myself,” she says. “Maybe I’m a control freak. It’s your business to understand what is happening with your career. You have to be aware of it all and take control.”
And she is now comfortable holding her own in the studio. Not only did she lay down all of the vocals and guitars on Lose Control, she also recorded some bass tracks and got her hands dirty with production work in the making of the record.
“On the first album I went in with wide eyes thinking everything the producer said was right, so I didn’t fight for what I wanted,” she says. “This time I’ve gone in with a clear idea of what I wanted. A good producer brings their own ear to the songs and you need to be open to it, but you need to know when to say no. On the first album I didn’t know to say no.”
But there are still hurdles to overcome. She acknowledges that a twentysomething blues artist will face a backlash from the ‘pay your dues’ brigade.
“People think that you haven’t earned the right to play. You see on Facebook guys in their 40s and 50s saying the younger guys haven’t paid their dues. Hang on a minute, I’ve been doing jam nights since I was 12, how long do you need to pay your dues for you to be validated in your opinion? If you work hard and you’re good at what you do then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be up there doing it.”
And even in 2015 she is still struck by the stereotypes that unfortunately go hand in hand with being a female guitar slinger.
“It’s still an obstacle,” she sighs. “It’s a sad state of affairs that in this day and age girls still think they shouldn’t play guitar because it might damage their fingernails. I still walk into guitar shops and they talk to my dad or my bandmates, not me. They don’t think I’m going to pick up a guitar and play it. That’s wrong. That stigma needs to be broken. I don’t know how to break that but it needs to happen.”
We think we know how that can happen – writing more records like Lose Control will do the trick. And with this superbly eclectic collection, what on earth has she got left in her locker for album three?
“Next I’ll have to do my country album,” she laughs. “I’m joking. I’d like to keep going down the rock avenue. There’s no better feeling than absolutely ripping it up with a band on stage and rocking out.”
Lose Control is out October 9 via Tis Rock Music.