Professional storyteller Jim McNeill on his evenings at Gravesend's Number 84 Tearoom and Eatery
PUBLISHED: 07:53 31 August 2013
As Jim McNeill gears up for another evening telling stories at Gravesend's Number 84 Tearoom and Eatery, he told Ramzy Alwakeel where he gets inspiration - and what really happened in Echo Square.
If you’ve ever wondered about the origins of the horse trough in the centre of Echo Square, Jim McNeill probably isn’t the most accurate person to ask.
But if you want to be entertained and challenged on a night out with a difference, Jim’s your guy.
The 63-year-old is a regular at the Number 84 Tearoom and Eatery in Parrock Street, Gravesend, where he has an unusual job – he tells stories.
You won’t hear any Dickens or Shakespeare, though, because Jim’s tales are one-offs.
“I create my own stories, usually stimulated by the venue or district where I tell them, or a recent personal experience,” he explained.
“To me, storytelling involves more than just giving people a good time.
“It’s also about stimulating and challenging the ways they look at the world – and the places they live and work.”
Which is how he came to tell the story of Echo Square, which he could see through the window one evening at Number 84.
So the story goes, a stamp collection led Jim to the trough, whicih had been relocated to Echo Square after a road widening. Workers had discovered two dead horses underneath.
It wasn’t a graveyard or the site of a massacre - in fact, they were a monument to a couple’s love.
But if you want to know more, you’ll have to pop along to the café.
“I don’t write my stories down,” explained Jim. “I commit them to memory and then let them unfold on the night.
“Some of the content of a story will change depending on the response and involvement of the audience.
“Sometimes I’ll be stimulated by a comment or movement and incorporate that into the story – so there’s always an element of innovation and invention.”
You won’t find Jim’s stories in any books, which makes his evenings even more unique.
But he’d like it if you remembered them – and perhaps even told some of them yourself.
“As a storyteller I work in the area where stories are part of an oral, not written, tradition,” he said. “They live on in the minds and imaginations of those who hear them.”
Storytelling isn’t something you see on too many CVs. So how did Jim get into it?
“Originally I performed as a poet, songwriter and unaccompanied singer,” he explained, “either performing on my own or as part of a cabaret act.
“I was always interested in the areas where poetry ends and lyric-writing begins.
“Poems and songs would merge into each other, blurring the divisions between the two art forms.
“For me, songwriting and poetry lead naturally into storytelling.
“I frequently incorporate song into a story, or at least into the evening’s entertainment.”
Today, Jim’s turned the page – and tells for fun rather than income.
To top it up, he co-runs a firm that trains not-for-profit workers and housing associations, as well as putting in some hours at Rowhill Junior School in Longfield.
But it’s evident his love of storytelling is intact.
“You know when you’ve told a story well when both you and your audience really enter into it while it’s being told,” he said.
“There’s a tension in the air you can almost feel, and there’s a connection of minds and emotions.
“It’s a terrific sensation and makes all the effort worthwhile.”
You can catch Jim on Sunday 8th September at Number 84. Doors open at 7.30pm, with the event starting at 8pm. Tickets are £8 and include food. You can bring your own drinks.