4 July 2014

Neil Gaiman narrates The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains

The last time that I saw Neil Gaiman in person in London it was in the holding room while waiting to see a recording of The Now Show and I was the only person in the room who recognised him.

That was a few years ago and things like American Gods have happened since then and now to see Neil I had to fork out £50 for a decent seat in the Circle (B27) at the Barbican Hall. This is the largest space at the Barbican Centre and it takes almost 2,000 people. It looked sold out to me.

I was not quite sure what to expect, though there is a clue in the poster, because the Barbican had listed it under their music section and one of the artists mentioned was FourPlay String Quartet.

It was the quartet who opened the evening and they started it with some tuning-up sort of noises that quickly became the Dr Who theme. Cue much applause. They played some of their own songs too and they did a pretty good job of entertaining us for twenty minutes or so.

Then Neil came on. Cue much more applause.

The first half of the show was a bit rambolic and felt almost as if it was made up on the spot, some of it probably was. Neil told a few tales, some that he had written and some about writing them. The substantial material came from his 2013 collection A Calendar of Tales, a set of very short stories commissioned by BlackBerry and each inspired by a tweet sent to Neil in response to his request for an idea or image for each month.

I have read A Calendar of Tales but it was nice to hear Neil read a few of them.

And that was the first half. In about forty five minutes we were back out looking for beers having had a fairly thin feast. I was somewhat disappointed but that was only because I did not know what was coming next.

The second half was filled with the tale The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains and some tales about the making of it.

The tale had been originally commissioned for an event at the Sydney Opera House and had been told a few times since then. The more that it was told the more pictures there were from Eddie Campbell to illustrate it. It developed from an illustrated book to a picture book.

It was a long rambling tale firmly in the Neil Gaiman tradition of folklore and magic with little things planted along the way to reappear later when least expected. It was consummate storytelling from somebody who has mastered the art.

The tale was significantly enriched by Neil's telling of it. He usually records his own audiobooks for this reason and I have his reading of Neverwhere (I also have the book and the DVD of the TV series). It was also significantly enriched by Eddie Campbell's many illustrations.

I did not check my watch but the story lasted around an hour. Then we had some chatting about it with Eddie joining Neil on stage (in a kilt). Neil generously explained that he had nicked some of the ideas from a Scottish writer that nobody else had ever heard of while staying in his Skye retreat.

The evening ended as rambolically as it had started but that did not matter. The evening was all about The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains and that was a pretty tale prettily told.

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