What a fantastic end to a truly great year at the Mid Wales Rhythm & Blues Club – the very welcome return of our old friends The Achievers, ably supported by the amazing Greg Brice. The Muse was packed with a sell-out crowd in festive spirit, with mince pies and fairy lights to get us all in the mood.
Introduced by our ever-stylish compere Mr Paul Keddle, Greg Brice unassumingly picked up his acoustic guitar and immediately captivated the audience with the quality of his masterful finger-style playing.
Treating us first to some rhythmic Louisiana swamp blues from Professor Longhair, he moved on through some of his self-penned songs, delivered with an engaging sense of humour, then held the audience in rapt silence for a lovely, soulful and delicate rendition of “Still crazy after all these years”.
Perhaps keeping the best until last, he swapped over to electric guitar for some brilliant and exciting Sonny Landreth blues slide. His set was warmly greeted as more than “sufficient” by the audience, but “sufficient is seldom enough”, and we could have listened to him for ages.
Then, after a short break, it was time for The Achievers.
There are some things in life you can never do too many times – and seeing The Achievers is one of them. They have a magical ability to conjure up the most life-affirming, soulful, positive, good-time atmosphere, with lots of fun and laughter thrown in along the way.
When you’ve seen them once, you’ll be back for more… it’s no accident that so many of the Brecon audience were seeing them for their second or third time. And of course they weren’t disappointed – the band were clearly happy to be back in a delightfully Christmassy and welcoming Muse, and they delivered a memorable performance.
In this tour they have been performing a more acoustic set, which works really well for them and gives the audience a fresh insight into their music. The acoustic setting provided an opportunity for us to appreciate the excellence of their musicianship, the tightness of the band as a whole, and the quality of their songwriting.
The bass and drums of Jack Thomas and Aron Attwood were just perfect in their delicacy – allowing the subtlety of some of their more gentle numbers to shine though. The addition of Toby Wilson’s dobro to the band added a lovely old-time feel to the sound. So we were treated to a slowed-down, bluesed-up version of the mischievously suggestive “Careful Sabrina” and a gently soulful version of “No one remembers”.
The interplay between Robert Holmes’ superb bluesy lead guitar and the plaintive wail of Rufus Fry’s harmonica led us into old-time folk-blues territory for “The cuckoo”, and there were plenty of up-tempo raunchy numbers to get the audience up and dancing… which they duly did!
Steve Ferbrache was in particularly fine voice tonight – he is the consummate front-man, delighting the audience with his wicked sense of humour between songs, not to mention a hilariously unexpected (by himself) horn solo.
Their choice of cover songs was fascinating and tasteful, with great versions of Kevin Brown’s “Your train will come” , Eric Bibb’s “Just keep going on” and The Alessi Brothers’ “Seabird” providing us with a bit of an eclectic musical education along the way.
Perhaps the most memorable highlight was a soulful rendition of “When I go away” in which the band’s gospel-tinged harmony singing was just superb and powerfully moving. You don’t really need to compare the Achievers to any other band, but this really did summon up thoughts of the best of the Grateful Dead.
All too soon things were drawing to a close – but we got to request another favourite from them: the gospel soul-shuffle of “See me back Jesus” just epitomises their playful sense of fun.
It really was a great evening among good friends – we can’t wait to hear what emerges from their planned period of new songwriting, and we’ll certainly be glad to see them when they swing past in this direction again. We do hope they “just keep going on”.
Grateful thanks as ever to everybody who helped to make this gig possible, to the wonderful team at The Muse for all their support and hospitality over this past year, and to everyone who has turned out and bought tickets to see so many wonderful artists. See you all in 2024 – we have more excellent music lined up for you.
Photos by Barry Hill
Review by Jim Kerslake