Today has been a good day for Blue Nation. They announced a tour of Holland with Laurence Jones. Their new video will be out by the time you read this, and they’re in Wolverhampton for a gig. All of this is true. But still, we’re left wondering if bassist Luke stroking a bookcase the last time he was in the Netherlands was a euphemism or not. Blue Nation do this to you. They sucker you into their world. And you don’t want to leave. They are a brilliant blues band. One that has cultivated their own sound over the years – and that new song “Strangers” is proof that they’ll keep on pushing themselves – but they are also unlike any other group. Better dressed than if MV was going to court but, in singer Neil and the aforementioned Luke, they have the effortless banter that only two mates can have. Of course, none of this would matter if their songs weren’t from the top draw, and make no mistake, the one thing they take seriously is that) but listen to them doing “Come Back Home” or the sensational “Echoes” – a plea to help men’s mental health, they raise money for The Samaritans at their shows – and you’ll hear an outfit that makes good on a claim one review had made that “they are the future of The Blues” (“we’re sorry” offers Luke…..) and when they finish with “Down By The River” you are left with the same thought you always have when it comes to Blue Nation: why aren’t they headlining big venues and surely they will. A busy 2023 will help them, but Blue Nation for all the larking about, are seriously good.
Chantel McGregor is introducing “Anesthetise”. She’s playing an acoustic section in her set. “It’s about addiction,” she says, before hesitating: “Well actually it’s not, I’d watched True Detective and that was, so I wrote it about that.
That sums McGregor up. She’s about as far removed from the clichéd image of the grizzled blues veteran as you can get. She’s ever smiling, she’s affable and she’s right that the second season of True Detective was awful…..
But she can play the guitar as well as anyone. The one she plays after “Anesthetise”, a jam on “Inconsolable” (her band are back in situ by then) proves that, as does the instrumental “April”. The difference is she doesn’t feel the need to tell everyone how good she is.
Maybe her understatement counts against her but you wouldn’t want her any other way.
Working without a setlist – or to be accurate ignoring the one she had – “Freefalling” is played off the cuff, her homage to Jeff Buckley “Eternal Dream” is utterly glorious and after she smiles “spontaneity at its best”, then so is “Lose Control”. And the nights one new song, As yet untitled, it’s a more country affair than normal, inspired, apparently, by TC3.
There’s a wonderful take on “Gold Dust Woman” (“I’ll play it now I’m Stevie Nicksed up”) to usher in the acoustic section, but this is very much a band show, bassist Colin and Drummer Tom are in fine form, and “Walk The Land” stands as a highlight.
Announcing “This is our encore” without leaving the stage (she’s many things is Chantel, but she’s not a rock star) they end with a rocking “Take The Power Back” and, as they do, you realise you have just watched an artist go under the radar at their own show. Chantel McGregor’s warmth and personality can mask her skill as a musician, sometimes, but for almost 90 minutes here, she’s as good as anyone, its just she does it entirely on her own terms.