As she gets ready to rock Chesterfield’s Winding Wheel on Saturday as headliner of the cancer charity fundraiser, Spirefest, we caught up with guitar ace Chantel McGregor to ask her a few questions....
Q - How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard you?
A - It’s a mix of everything that I’ve ever listened to, I guess it’s a mix of rock, singer/songwriter, blues, pop etc, and me working on the theory that if I listen to anything and everything, take a tiny bit of inspiration from it all, roll it into one, it’ll come out as a mash of everything and be a little bit different.
Q - How did you get into playing guitar?
A - I got my first guitar when I was 3, before that I used to detune my dad’s, hence he got me my own, so I suppose that it was my dad who got me into it. I started with guitar lessons when I was 7, did my grades until I was 16 when I passed my grade 8, and meanwhile, used to go to lots of jam sessions to gain experience as well, that was invaluable!
Q - What advice would you give to up-and-coming musicians?
A - Practice and persevere, there’s music and business in the music business, and it’s important to understand both aspects. You need to be at the top of your game musically but also look for the opportunities and pit falls of the business. Also don’t let people discourage you from following your dreams, if you believe in yourself and are passionate about what you do, hopefully, you’ll succeed.
Q - How do you feel about being one of the relatively few female guitar stars?
A - Guitar star??? Me??? I’m not sure about the star bit, but there seems to be very few females playing guitar, which is a real shame as there is no reason for them not to go for it. It is harder being a girl as it is primarily a male dominated industry, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for women in the business, you’ve just got to go for it and make your own path.
Q - Has it helped or hindered your career?
A - Initially it hindered it as people saw me as ‘just a girl’ who would ‘grow out of it’, although I never did! Nowadays I see it as a positive thing as it makes me different, plus, it means I can wear lovely dresses on stage.
Q - Do you think you are an inspiration to other young female guitarists that see your success?
A - I’m not sure if I’m an inspiration, but if I can help and give a bit of guidance to other young female artists then great! I’d like to think that young female guitarists could look at me and think, if she can juggle the music, the business and education, then so can I. It’s a hard, challenging industry, but as a girl you just need to make your own mark on it!
Q - What do you think of Chesterfield?
A - I think Chesterfield is lovely. I spent some time by the crooked spire which was really interesting. I also spent a while in Gregg’s deciding which pasties to buy to eat on the way to London, but that’s just me!
Q - Why did you choose Spirefest for your first performance in the town?
A - Long story - I’ve become really good friends with a family over in Chesterfield, their daughter, Amy, plays guitar, and is fab! They asked me if I would be interested in performing at the Spirefest charity event for Cancer Research UK, which I said I’d be honoured to do. I’ve done quite a few cancer charity concerts over the years, it’s a tragic illness, and if I can do something to help people suffering from it or find a cure, hopefully it’ll have made a difference. So that, together with my friendship with the family who are organising it, meant that this was a show that I would never have said no to.
Q - What do you think of the current state of live music in the country and the region?
A - I think there is a good live music scene in the UK at the moment, although I think there is a huge decline in venues at the same time. The credit crunch has hit audiences, promoters and venues, and in turn there are fewer opportunities for artists to get out there and play, which is a massive shame, but I think it’s important to make your own opportunities. Don’t follow the grain when it comes to the music scene, find venues that other people don’t necessarily play, promote the show well and do your best.
Q - What songs do enjoy playing the most and why?
A - Such a tricky question, I don’t have a favourite per-say, I enjoy different songs for different reasons on different occasions. Some nights I like to improvise more, and other nights prefer the sensitive acoustic singer songwriter songs. It all depends on what sort of day I’ve had and how I’m feeling at the time. I’m enjoying playing the songs from my new album at the moment, the novelty hasn’t worn off yet .... lol!
Q - What does ‘The Blues’ mean to you?
A - I don’t think you can define the blues as a genre, people will always say a certain chord progression is blues or specific lyrics are blues, but in my opinion the blues is an emotion, it’s how you feel, how you express it and ultimately how it makes other people feel.
Q - Do you think too much guitar music, especially solos, is self-indulgent?
A - I think there’s a time and a place for it. Some people see guitar solos as self-indulgent, I see them as another way of expressing yourself. I think if you make every note in the solos mean something and put feeling into it, so it’s not just about playing the notes, you can play a never ending solo, and, as long as it means something, play it for as long as you see fit.
Q - What makes a great solo / instrumental piece?
A - I think feeling, melody and thinking outside of the box. There’s no point in playing scales for 10 minutes with a few tricks chucked in. Think melodically and make up your own ideas don’t follow what everyone else does, that’s what will make you stand out.
Q - Tell me a little about your CD, is it identical to your live style?
A - My CD is completely different to the live set, the songs are completely rearranged, some rewritten, and I brought in cellos and other strings, sitars, synthesizers etc. I wanted it to be a proper studio album, not just what people experience at the gigs, more what I imagined when I wrote the songs. I’m really happy with it and I hope that people like it, especially since it’s different to the live shows. I also wanted every track on the album to be totally different to each other, so it’s a bit like a concept album, where the concept is the production and musical style appropriate to each song, each song having its own theme and “Like No Other”.
Q - Where will people be able to buy it?
A - It will be available at the shows, from my website chantelmcgregor.com and from iTunes/Tesco/Amazon etc
Q - Do you have plans to do International tours such as Canada and America in the near future?
A - I’ve been in talks over the past few months about touring Canada and America, so we shall see what happens there... I’d love to tour that part of the world, it’s fabulous, but it’s such a big place, so logistically it’s quite difficult to organise, but hopefully I will make it somehow.
For more on spirefest see www.spirefest.co.uk