The Achievers: Life in Lockdown Part II

The Achievers’ front man Steve Ferbrache rewinds back to the very start of 2020 when things just started to change. Steve talks us through what The Achievers had planned, the harsh reality for the music industry as a whole and how everything (almost!) went up in flames before it all even started.

Going into lockdown

Back in January we were sitting in the departure lounge of Memphis International Airport – tired but pretty pleased with ourselves. We’d just reached the final rounds of the International Blues Challenge – a global roots music showcase that takes place on Beale Street every year. Little did we know that the short gig we played just a few days earlier would be our last for over 12 months.

By early March we’d set up a temporary rehearsal studio in the skittle alley of a rural Gloucestershire pub and were preparing for a 21-date tour of UK and Europe, including the biggest Blues/Americana festival in The Netherlands.

Beale Street, Memphis. Home of the Blues

The Achievers had started 2020 with a performance on the legendary Beale Street, Memphis.

A fiery reception

I arrived at the pub before the other guys but couldn’t get down the narrow lane because it was being blocked by a fire engine. I wandered down towards the pub but was stopped by a member of the Fire Service who promptly told me the pub was on fire – with every last bit of our touring equipment still inside!

Great. Over the next 5 minutes, as I waited for more news, I began to run scenarios in my head:

“What would happen if we had to cancel all our gigs?”

“How could we possibly reschedule everything?”

“How could we recover financially from such a massive, enforced break?”

I really don’t get stressed very easily but I’ll admit, I got a bit flustered for a minute. I had to accept that things probably wouldn’t be the same again. We might not even survive such a massive loss of momentum.

Eventually, the pub landlord came out and said we could all come back in – it was just a chimney fire and everything was going to be just fine. The guys arrived and we sat around all excited to carry on rehearsing for our epic tour. What a relief!

As I was packing my guitar away at the end of the night my phone pinged in my pocket. It was an email from one of the tour promoters:

“Dear Steve,

Due to the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus outbreak, we will need to review whether your gig with us on 25th March can go ahead. The steady ticket sales we’d been having have now completely dropped off – and a few people have even asked for refunds as they don’t feel it would be safe to come. If this carries on there’s a good chance that we’d both lose money if the gig goes ahead, so – we might have to call it off. I hope you understand, we’ll both be screwed if we’re not careful. Let’s talk tomorrow and see how it all pans out.”

Heading into the unknown

Over the next 48 hours I’d had near identical conversations with all the promoters. One-by-one our gigs were cancelled, and our tour fell to pieces. We all know how the rest of the story goes, and it’s the same story for thousands of musicians across the country.

There have been times where the disappointment and frustration has gotten to us. If I hadn’t been so busy delivering sub-standard home-schooling I could easily have shaken my fist at the sky and screamed “Why me?!”.

But that’s the thing – it’s not just about me and my band is it?

Having your livelihood taken away from you is a shocking and confusing feeling, and it’s been a real test at times. What has really hit me about all our cancelled gigs is the chain of consequences for everyone in the industry.

We have a gig cancelled and we might feel sorry for ourselves for a bit. But, no sound engineers will get paid either, promoters will lose the money they’ve invested, the grass-roots venues who struggle at the best of times will lose essential income, bar staff will lose shifts. The chain goes on and it’s the same for every cancelled tour happening around the country.

Sure, we’re disappointed that we can’t play live for a while, but this is all so much bigger than our band and our goals. Just like when I thought we’d lost all our gear in a fire, I’m having to accept that things won’t be easy for a long while. And, when things do eventually get a bit easier I doubt that it’ll be exactly the same as it was before. Despite all that, I can feel some positive vibes starting to emerge from the live music community – and as a band we’re definitely looking forward to the next chapter, which is almost certainly going to involve a new album!