Where was everybody? It was 5pm, the start-time of the Christmas Lights switch-on concert but no performers were to seen. Stallholders were stamping their feet, looking expectantly at their watches. Was November 14th just too early to expect folks to turn out for Christmas? If they were panicking, Stafford Radio presenters Cliff Goodwin and Paul Dean never let on.
But, first in a trickle, then in a rush arrived the children and teachers of the eight schools who make up the Stone Combined Schools Choir. Far too many to fit onstage, they lined up in front of it, a sea of bobbing red hats. And how they sang! In ‘When Santa got stuck up the chimney’, they held the ‘When’ for so long that conductor Sue Campbell-Kelly left her post for a break! It was a night of youth talent, spearheaded by Everyoung, a vibrant pop quartet from the Sylvia Young Theatre School, whose latest single “You got me” got to number 30 in the charts.
Then followed a young singer with tremendous talent and a voice to match. 12-year old Holly Smith from Christchurch Middle School proved herself more than equal to Maria Carey in her rendition of ‘All I want for Christmas is you’. In a twist to their usual performance, Phoenix, the duo of Linda Weaver and Town Councillor Jackie Nelson teamed up with fellow music teachers Emily and Melissa of Harmonix in an upbeat, armwaving set.
At 7pm, Everyoung then took to the stage again to join Stone Town Mayor Jill Piggott and Father Christmas for the switch-on. “The lights are now energy-saving,” announced compere Cliff. “We can keep them on for even longer now!” Taut, then the heavy-metal Fubars kept the beat going while the youngsters whizzed on the spinning teacups, twirled down the helter-skelter and hurled themselves around on the trampoline on Market Square.
Further down, the High Street was lined with stalls taken by local traders and charities. Artist Emma Joustra went back-to-back with Stone in Bloom on a nifty fold-out, rollaway stall-cum-trailer. Brisk business was reported by those shops which stayed open – Chantilly, Stone Baked, Francesco’s and Plants the Jewellers, where visitors were treated to Christmas bakes and mulled wine. And as I worked my way from the top to the bottom of the High Street, the thought occurred – you could declare Christmas just about any month you liked – the readers in Stone would turn out just the same!