‘THERE’S magic on your doorstep wherever you are. It’s just that for me, Wiltshire has got the best magic.’

This week I caught up with singer-songwriter Nick Harper to discuss his latest project, A Wiltshire Tale.

Nick’s illustrious musical career has spanned twenty-five years and a dozen albums, but while he is renowned for his guitar playing, this latest show sees him putting down the instrument that made him famous.

Part poem, part a ‘story that rhymes’, A Wiltshire Tale is an epic spoken word paean to our county – a celebration and exploration of its history, language and landscape.

Nick described how the genesis of the piece began many years ago. Starting with the opening line rattling around in his head, he found himself adding lines as he toured the country.

There was something about being away that gave him ‘a better view’ of where he called home.

He then started performing the piece at gigs: when he needed to change a string or there was a gap in the setlist, Nick would recite sections, and to his delight, it went down really well.

The result was that the original version was included as the finale of his 2005 album, Treasure Island.

Since then, A Wiltshire Tale has continued to grow and develop. Nick has expanded the piece into something much longer, richer and more developed.

He told me how he has researched extensively into the history, language and nature of Wiltshire, and is clearly taken by what he has discovered, whether it’s the etymology of the phrase chalk and cheese or the beauty of a purple emperor butterfly, found in Savernake Forest. He told me the tale of Maud Heath, who travelled nine miles a day over the Chippenham mud flats to sell eggs: when she died, she left money for a causeway to be built on the route she travelled.

For Nick, the particular magic of Wiltshire lies in the long-standing relationship between people and the land. Human history here stretches back as far as anywhere in the country, and wherever you are, you don’t have to travel far to come across an embankment or an earthwork.

This human imprint is always apparent, Nick explained, even if its meaning is often less so: it leaves the land full of mystery, always enticing and beguiling.

A Wiltshire Tale is clearly a labour of love for Nick and is somewhat different to his musical day job. With no guitar to hide behind, it’s a project that he finds both daunting and exciting in equal measure.

As he says, ‘it’s great to be scared again.’

n Nick Harper’s A Wiltshire Tale is at Salisbury Arts Centre on September 14 and 15.