Photo credit: Heather Elliott
Photo credit: Anthony Stamp
Photo credit: Anthony Stamp
To say that Blues singer-guitarist Chantel McGregor has achieved a lot in her career to date would be a bit of an understatement.
At the age of 8 she became the youngest person to pass a Rockshool exam. Then, whilst studying Popular Music at the Leeds College of Music she became the first student in their history to achieve a 100% pass mark. Chantel also holds the record for the longest song ever to be played on BBC Radio 2. She's played with some of the finest blues players in the world and to top it all, in September 2011, she was named "Young Artist of the Year" at the British Blues Awards.
We caught Chantel on the BBC Introducing Musicians Masterclasses and thought we had to ask her for an interview. Fortunately for us (and you!) she said yes.
And here's what Chantel had to say...
Could you tell us about how you got started as a musician?
I started detuning my Dad's guitar as a toddler and he got fed up of me knocking dints in his classic guitars, so my parents bought me a half-size guitar when I was three. He taught me some basic chords and I started with lessons when I was seven. Because I started so young, it was always something that seemed quite natural to me. When I went to high school, there wasn't a music GCSE course running at the school, so I did my Grade eight privately and ended up choosing GCSEs and A-Levels that were nothing to do with music (English Language, Literature, Art etc). At 18, I was toying with going to University to study English Language, but instead I realised that I'd much rather do music, so I went to Leeds College of Music and studied on a BTEC course (the equivalent of four A-Levels), and then did a degree in Popular Music. Throughout my degree, I was gigging locally and building a following, so it's been a natural progression into music, with a bit of English thrown in.
What made you decide that you wanted to play music full time?
It's hard to imagine doing anything else now. Back when I was thinking about doing the English degree, my heart was into music, but academically it made more sense to do the English degree. I'm really glad I stuck with the music career.
When you were learning to play, what was the biggest obstacle that you came up against and how did you overcome this?
There's been a few. Firstly as a child, my hands were tiny, so finding a guitar that I could play properly was hard, that's why I ventured down the electric guitar route, the neck on an electric was much smaller for me to get my hands around than a classical or acoustic. Being a girl made it harder too, being taken seriously as a 12 year old girl wanting to jam was tricky as they didn't think I had much credibility. I still face the 'girl thing', sometimes going into guitar shops is weird, as they don't expect me to be the one looking at guitars. Only last year I had an assistant explaining to me what a plectrum is! I look at these obstacles as ways to make me stronger and more determined to be successful, hopefully then I can show other people that they can overcome their obstacles too.
Having met and played with some of the biggest names in blues music, what was the best piece of advice you've been given?
I've met so many wonderfully kind and talented people in the industry. I think the best bits of advice I have been given are:
The music business is two words, and business is the biggest. You have to treat it professionally and be totally aware of what is going on with your business. There are a lot of sharks in the industry and you need to make sure that you know when they're trying to target you. There are also a lot of good people in the industry and you can't put them in the same category, so being aware of what's going on with your career is imperative.
Also, be humble and be grateful for what you are doing, to have a career doing something you love and to make people happy with is, is a privilege and something you should be so thankful for.
How did it feel being named Young Artist Of The Year at the British Blues Awards?
A total shock! I didn't for a second think I'd win, so when they announced my name I was really ecstatically surprised. I was so happy that people all around the world voted for me, it really meant so much to me.
What are you looking forward to for the rest of 2012?
I'm looking forward to continuing touring, writing my next album, going back into the studio to record it and meeting more wonderful people on the road.
What are your thoughts on the Take it away scheme?
I think anything that helps young people to be able to afford instruments and music lessons is great.
Music at any level is a wonderful thing, try and imagine a world without it.
You never know, Take it away, by allowing people to be creative who might not have otherwise had the chance, might be responsible for future superstars?
Thanks to Chantel for her brilliant answers. You can catch Chantel out on tour across the UK in 2012. Check out her website for tour listings and more.