I'm a fan of Stamford. The legend "Come stay a while, amidst its Ancient Charm" welcomes the traveller approaching this quaint market town with its spires, medieval lanes and Lincolnshire limestone.
The Arts Centre is a myriad of function rooms, theatre, bar and ball room, which was playing host to Nick. It is pleasantly decorated with plaster relief picking out the chandaliers and a low stage backdropped by plush red velvet curtains, trailing plants and an ornate mirror. The scene is truly set for a fun night of entertainment in the town described by the 18th century antiquary William Stukely as, "The most elegant town upon the Great North road".
The ball room was set for about 120 people, which with a few late arrivals it seemed to accommodate reassuringly. As the stage lights were dimmed, a crack of light appeared through a door to the right and the audience was treated to a glimpse of the cheeky minstrel. "I'm not going out - there's people there!" it whispered. "They're looking at me!"
Nick skipped through the door and jigged onto the stage to collect his guitar. He sat down and eyed us with a mild curiosity. "That's squashed my tagliatelle. Fantastic restaurent - it's new, have you tried it?" All the time his right hand was picking the strings on his guitar - his left hand was still free, yet already he was picking out a melody. "The Trattoria? I think," he replied in response to the audience asking which restaurent he meant. Nick then opened with A Hundred Things, the prelude to his finger picking, launching into a really strong opening number. There wasn't any of the trepidation that we may have expected and I really think he was enjoying himself.
He settled into a couple of songs to "...give you a chance to get into it, and me you," he said, smiling and generously opening his arms to us. "Liszt played here"... and with that he went into his set with glee, barely a hitch throughout. If we were describing a more "Commercially Successful" artist then at this point we'd be saying the hits came one after the other: Headless, Everything's Better, The Tyger, Shadowlands, 3 Magpies, The Magnificent G7, Crazy Boy ("For my Dad... it's great to have an astronaut in the family!"), In Our Time. Comic moments with The Galaxy Song. Virtuoso moments - Like Punk Never Happened, Smithereens. Then an unplugged moment as the travelling guitar man went straight into the audience. Look, take 4 CD's, select the very best and give yourself a two hour show (for six quid, now that's value for money!).
For Nick, I can say we gave him our very best behaviour - and our best ear. Applause was warm and generous and sounded thunderous in the ball room, which I suspected lifted Nick. He's a genuinely gracious performer - and I can only hope he has the fortune to reach an even wider audeince one day. Nice to have a clean atmosphere as well - "Between you and me it helps the singing" - and we left with Titties and Beer, chuckling into the night.
It'll be cool, one day, when the traveller comes to stay a while, walks along the old quarter to the Arts Centre and looks up at its Georgian facade: "You know - Nick Harper played here".