As the clock ticked nearer to the hour I would have to leave, I became increasingly nervous. I was making my intrepid journey to Nantwich alone. Not only that, but as far as I knew there would be no one at the gig that I knew (well apart from Nick of course). I had contemplated bottling out and staying at home, but then it became more a matter of principle than about the actual gig. I wasn't going to let this thing beat me. Also, this gig might be instrumental (no pun intended) in bringing my MPNHG into "the zone"... but that's another story, just ask Dave Gorman. ;)
And so it was I set off for what was - other gigs considered - a bloody short journey up the M6 to Nantwich. Finding the venue wasn't a major concern - I had a map and directions from Multimap (I wonder how I ever got anywhere without them). Nantwich was a small town and the guy I had bought my ticket from had told me it was easy to find, which turned out to be true. I did make a wrong turn somewhere but didn't lose sight of where I was on the map.
I soon spotted the venue and pootled into the car park (nerves rising more by the minute). As I did, a car pulled up next to me and out came two woman. Together we realised that the door that was open near where we were was not the door we were supposed to be using, so we walked around the front where a smallish queue had already assembled. It was 7.45 and the doors were due to open at 8, but it was a lovely warm evening so no one minded having to wait outside.
So... I waited, chewed my nails, checked the time, sent Paula a text to say I was here and had a short chat with a woman in the queue. I sized up the crowd - mostly middle-aged people who seemed to be music fans but not Nick fans, mostly talk of folky type stuff, whether that's good or bad I dunno.
After what seemed like an age they opened the doors. First things first... toilet! So toilets succesfully located and facilities partaken of, next stop was the bar. While I was stood waiting (again), I noticed that next to me was a guy wearing a Cropredy teeshirt. There had been many Cropredy-related posts on the Stormcock mailing list that week, so I couldn't help but stifle a chuckle. He noticed, argh! But it wasn't so bad - turned out he was a member of Stormcock and understood my amusement. So we stood oblivious to the fact that we were getting nowhere nearer the bar and chatted about Stormcock, and all things Harper (mostly Nick on my part, Roy on his). We also commented on how seemingly unsuitable this venue was, mainly due to its size and how spread out all the tables were. Also, the stage was huge. I was sure any atmosphere would be lost in a place like this.
We found a table and proceeded to compare digital cameras... geeks, you just can't beat 'em! The rather large and adamant compere came on and proceeded to read to us a list of rules. I felt like was back in a school assembly: no smoking, something about a change of venue for tomorrow, no running in the corridors, and Dawkins will you please tuck your shirt in! Whatever else he was saying I don't remember due to the fact I wasn't listening - see, just like school. ;)
Oh yeah, and he said something about a tired and sweaty Nick Harper coming on next. This came as a surprise to me - no, not the sweaty thing although that was surprising too as I had never thought of Nick as particulartly sweaty. Hairy, yes. Sweaty, no. The actual surprise was that he was on first. Had he really driven all the way from Edinburgh just for a support slot? Yes, it seemed that he had.
So on he came... not that you would have noticed if you had been going on the reaction from the crowd. I could only make out that it was him from such a distance from the pink blobs on his shirt. As usual he kicked off with She Rules My World. Showing his tiredness, it was a relatively quiet set, Guitar Man being the only real uptempo number.
But he did try his hardest (bless him) to woo this crowd. He came down from the stage and crooned whilst meandering though the throng (quick! get your camera out!). He stepped precariously over the tables, grinning and singing his heart out. Slowly but surely the crowd were warming up, so much so that when he ran and slid on his knees in a Marc Bolan stylee across the floor, they postively went mad! I'm sure in all their folky experience they had never seen anything like this.
A couple of well meaning (I'm sure haha) blokes at the back were insistant that Nick play some of Roy's material - "No, he plays it well enough himself," was all they were gonna get. A shout of "Where's your dad?!?" was greeted with the reply, "I dunno, where's yours?"
By the end of the gig the majority of the crowd were well and truly converted, and when Nick launched into a particularly storming rendition of Titties And Beer, they couldn't get enough. He got a standing ovation, the works! The main act Dave Swarbrick, who was good (though he had the tendency to ramble), didn't seem to get half the applause that Nick did.
The whole setlist was:
She Rules My World / Before They Put Me In The Ground / Radio Silence / Guitar Man / Smithereens / The Magnificent G7 / In Our Time / Being (Lily's song) / The Verse Time Forgot / Galaxy Song / Headless medley / The Tyger / Titties And Beer
So all in all, if I had never seen Nick before, I would have still been blown away and come away thinking how great he was, pretty much what the crowd that night seemed to think. BUT having seen him before (who? me?), I know that he can be much better. Although he was tired, I would put the lack of atmosphere down to the size of the venue, and the tables being so far away from the stage. There just wasn't much contact between Nick and the audience, which as we know makes for half the fun... sandals, anyone? ;)