The Achievers @The Foxlowe Arts Centre 23/10/21

4 stars (out of 5)

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Photo by Pauline Felstead

Time for an apology here. Things have been so busy here at The Riot House that we misplaced this review for a couple of weeks. Steve Jenner went along to the traditional closing gig of the Leek Blues & Americana Festival and sent us this review of The Achievers and Greg Brice at The Foxlowe. And thanks also to Pauline Felstead for the shot of The Achievers and to JR Mountford and Dave Swarbrook for finding the photo at really short notice. When you read the first paragraph review you’ll see that it’s appropriate that it’s been published the day after the Lord Mayor’s Show. We’re looking forward to October 2022 already. Over to Steve:

It was last night of the proms for the Leek Blues and Americana Festival. It had also been a busy week in radioland; and not really feeling much like it in all honesty I headed for central Leek more in hope than in expectation. The main event had been a couple of weekends back and the town certainly had a feel of ‘After The Lord Mayor’s Show’ about it. However, the Festival had been a triumph over considerable adversity and the gig certainly deserved a show of support at the very least.

Which just goes to show, sometimes when you really can’t be…sometimes you should force yourself out. Just occasionally it pays and this was just such a gig.

Firstly, Greg Brice. Looking like a cross between a primary school teacher and Manfred Mann, an unassuming presence with vocals in the upper range and an absolutely lovely guitar sound, very mellow and ‘rounded’ but also with occasional sharp and genuine stabs of the blues in there. Very slick slide playing once he’d found the tube, and some of his own songs which stood up well. Definitely a class above what I could reasonably expect at this time of night.

And so to The Achievers. Radio 2 like them. Blues and Americana radio jocks are playing their records all over the place. A mixed bag in terms of presentation, they come from Stroud in deepest Gloucestershire and they look a bit like it. However, off we go and it is instantly promising, a situation helped by an absolutely crystalline sound, well done you knob twiddlers. Bit more volume needed for the excellent lead guitar picker for me, he’s good, don’t hide him away – but they sounded great. Really great, and that’s not always the case in small-to-medium venues.

Anybody who writes a song where the central premise is ‘everybody loves you when you’re dead’ is alright by me. The easy charm and twinkling humour of their frontman and lead singer Steve Ferbrache soon wins over the battle-weary and we’re definitely off and running.

And what a vibe they have. It just rolls. Rhythm section is light and tight and they keep lobbing in sub-Motown fills here and there which are delightful to observe. Songs about unrequited groupies and what it is that gets you out of bed. Tea, apparently, in Leek, according to a significant percentage of the assembled. A few songs are lobbed in taken from their latest album ‘The Lost Arc’. They’re funny amusing, and also a great dance band, which is a trick and a half to pull off.

But is it the Blues? Nope, by their own admission. Does it matter? Nope, this is the closer for the Leek Blues and Americana Festival. But is it Americana, then? Well, in bits. There’s the aforementioned Motown tricks and occasional Gospel-style (I kid you not) outbursts and twangy great country slices here and there and a harp blower of considerable elegance, and Lindisfarne keep bursting through the door accompanied by Little Feat and Jonathan Richman but really, this is a classic slice of Britishana rather than anybody else’s ana. Despite the originality of their songs you keep hearing snatches and throwbacks from all over the place; was that the ghost of ‘Back In The USSR’ I heard somewhere in there…and why do I keep referencing Janis Ian part-way through another of their originals?

Had they been ‘around’ in the seventies, they would no doubt have had half a dozen hit singles along with a few top 50 albums and all the rest of it. And in fairness, in the context of a music industry that barely exists any more in conventional terms, they are, well…Achievers. And they are a bloody good night out. So good they kept me away from the wonderful Reefy Blunt and the Biftas who were playing across the road until very late in their set, who on the evidence of a brief visit before taxi time were brilliant fun, which is always the problem you are presented with as a punter during the Festival ‘proper’ but isn’t that a lovely problem to have? So, a brave and unusual way for the Leek Blues and Americana Festival to go out on for 2021. And if the organisers can make such a decent fist of it in this godforsaken year, then this time next year, Rodney…!  

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