“THERE is magic in this world right here,” says Nick Harper in the concluding verse of his epic poem A Wiltshire Tale, which he performed to a small but enthusiastic audience in St Margaret’s Hall at Bradford on Avon, part of a tour that also includes Bridport Arts Centre on 23rd June and the Larmer Tree Festival on 22nd July.
The performance of the poem is a phenomenal achievement of memory and expression. The work itself is a heart-felt, hilarious, thoughtful celebration of Wiltshire’s mystery and history. Through the voices of three archetypes – Nicholas Flamel, Farmer Giles and Mad Tom – it digs deep into the stories and the people of Wiltshire.
Nick, who has been dubbed “The Bard of Wiltshire” (by Mojo magazine) and “Betjeman with a guitar” (by Guitarist magazine), is a skilled poet and wordsmith and a genius on the guitar, producing sounds and music that seem to require at least four hands and two instruments.
He describes A Wiltshire Tale as a journey through Wiltshire’s history, landscape and wildlife, bearing witness to “this most magical of counties” in spoken word, poetry and live music.
Nicholas Flamel is a “fabled scribe,” an alchemist, the legendary discoverer of the Philosopher’s Stone, “an eternal wizard” – a figure at home in the county where many scenes of the Harry Potter movies were filmed.
He is a traveller through time, who leads the audience – and stolid, pragmatic Farmer Giles – on a madcap dance of word play, rhyming, alliteration and historic name-dropping … the Amesbury Archer, Athelstan, Harry Bolingbroke, Shakespeare at Wilton House, Sir Christopher Wren, Admiral Nelson, Henry Fox-Talbot … soldiers and scientists, architects and actors, kings and commoners.
Farmer Giles has the down-to-earth attitudes of a man for whom land is money– but he also shows how his work, through his toil and his soil, has fed and clothed these famous men, put bread on their tables and beer in their flagons.
And then along comes Mad Tom, a conflation of all those strange characters that we also know as Puck and Robin Goodfellow. In Wiltshire, Mad Tom was the half-wit who saw a woman and her married lover murder his wife. They were the only two people to be hung on the Combe Gibbet, high on the north Wiltshire downs. Nick Harper has a haunting photograph of this grisly memorial of harsher times – captured at sunset, with an unexpected pair of lovers wandering into the edge of the picture – and so the edges of myth, history and reality are blurred.
A Wiltshire Tale is a marvellous evocation of a landscape of ancient woodlands, mysterious stones, windswept chalk downs, sparkling rivers, hillforts and military camps, where skylarks sing high above and kingfishers dart over quiet streams below.
You will learn so much about Wiltshire from this remarkable poem, performed by a musician and poet who writes and sings with deep knowledge and love of a county that is too often neglected by those rushing past on the A303 or the M4 to the west or to London.
Visit Nick’s website for news of future performances – www.harperspace.com