Thursday 25th February: For me, at least, live music in York is beginning to kick into high gear. (Just wait until you see how many posts I make if I get to all the gigs I have pencilled in for March...) Tonight circumstances beyond anybody's control mean that it's just me and Roy out to see an old (but young) favourite in a new venue.
In what seems to be a trend at the moment, we arrived after tonight's support act had already started. Jess Gardham is a singer songwriter from York who began writing songs at the age of 12. As we entered the Duchess she (and her band) were playing a keyboard-heavy song, the title of which we missed, which immediately grabbed our attention and reminded Roy of Tracy Chapman. At the end of that song, Jess announced a couple of more "funky" numbers, which initially put us off slightly, but I'm happy to report that they weren't that funky and were still pretty entertaining. Jess plays acoustic guitar and was accompanied tonight by Charlie on keyboards (when he wasn't wandering around in the crowd), Emma (I think) on drums and a bass-player whose name I've completely forgotten but whose smile lit up the stage. Her MySpace page lists her style as acoustic/folk/R&B, so I was slightly surprised when the one cover version in her set was the Black Eyed Peas Where Is The Love. If I were forced to pick a favourite Peas song, that would be it and it was interesting to see it performed in a completely different style. With a clear voice, an obvious enjoyment of being on stage and some very nice and varied songs, Jess becomes the latest in a long list of artistes that I wouldn't mind seeing again. A debut album is available (sadly, I missed buying it on the night, but I'm working on it) and I believe another is on the way. Jess also plays regular acoustic sets at York's Living Room on Thursday nights and Sunday afternoons. Well worth checking her out.
Tonight's main act was The Chantel McGregor Band and, as part of The Awakening tour, appears to be the beginning of a new stage in Chantel's musical career. It has to be said that, on a proper stage with a proper sound system, the already incredible music was raised to new heights. Chantel herself took full advantage of the larger stage area and the strange positioning of her microphone to the side was soon explained as she used the centre to perform her stunning solos free of the mike. Martin Rushworth seemed to be playing the drums harder than any time we had seen him in the Bath and Alex (dressed up for the occasion) Jeffrey's bass lines really came through strongly on the much better sound system. Favourites from previous gigs were in evidence, along with songs that I don't remember hearing her perform before (such as Joe Bonamassa's Sloe Gin) and others that we definitely hadn't heard before. The middle of the two hour (with no break) set saw Chantel playing three songs acoustically and unaccompanied. These included Fleetwood Mac's Landslide. Bob Dylan's All Along The Watchtower and Not Here With Me, a lovely ballady-type thing about lost love penned by Chantel herself. I had, in fact, been expecting an original song as one had been mentioned in various postings from recent gigs. What I wasn't expecting was a second - the full-on electric rocker Freefalling, which showed that Chantel is equally at home writing both styles of song. Both originals were superb.
One of the most endearing aspects of Chantel's performance is the fact that her youth isn't hidden away and tonight her excitement (bordering on giddiness) at upcoming gigs in London and Manchester was very evident. You also can't help laughing as the pocket rocket chats to the audience between songs, recognising old friends, telling us how clean the stage is and, perhaps a bit too far, explaining how her cardigan leaves fluff under her armpits despite her having "bathed and shaved and everything...!"
This is the first time we Yorkies have had to pay to see the band and we have always felt a bit lucky to see them for free. Chantel told us after the gig that they are no longer playing pubs (good for her - nobody bumping into her mike stand from now on) and would probably only be playing York once or twice a year (bad for us fans...) and that she is halfway through getting the songs ready for her debut album, which she predicted would be about six months away. Can't wait, especially if the rest of the songs are as good as those we heard tonight.