Before I get into this post, let me warn you that it is a big ‘un! Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy it.
As regular readers (greetings!) may know, I love going away to Magic Conventions and I love going to Germany to visit Sonja. On my latest trip, I managed to do both – go to Germany for a few days to visit Sonja, then travel to Eastbourne for what turned out to be an excellent magic convention.
The problem with the start of this trip was the start time – I was getting picked up to get taken to the airport at 5:15AM! Yes, A.M.!!! It was still dark! Still, I was on my way and after an uneventful flight and a series of train journeys, I finally made it to the city of Osnabruck where Sonja was waiting on the train station platform for my train to arrive. After some pottering about and a few bits and pieces in town we met up with Sonja’s friend Sascha, whom I had met when last in Germany, at one of the best Ice Cream parlours in the city. Of course, the “Ice Cream Headache” – aka “Brain Freeze” – hit before too long, but it was well worth the pain.
he decided to strike this pose outside a sex shop!
On the way back to Sonja’s apartment, we stopped off at the school that she teaches at where a school disco was taking place. She showed me around a couple of parts of the school – the parts that hadn’t be locked due to the disco going on! – then, as we were about to leave, a group of Sonja’s students came up and started talking to her. They were wanting to know who the strange guy walking with their teacher was. After a brief introduction and me talking to them (which scared them!), Sonja asked the immortal question – “have you got your cards with you?” Of course I did, and thanks to Roy Walton’s ever-brilliant trick “The Smiling Mule” I can guarantee you that one girl will never forget the English for “7 of Hearts”.
The rest of the weekend was spent going around Osnabruck city centre, going out to dinner (you should try Greek food if you’ve never tried it before – excellent stuff!) and generally chilling out. Well, I spent time chilling out – Sonja had to prepare and plan her lessons and mark her students’ school work. Saturday evening was spent in the company of Sonja and a few of her friends. It was a fun evening with food, drink, stories being told and magic being done. Sonja was even good enough to take me to one of Osnabruck’s pool halls on the Sunday so I could knock some balls about a table for a short time (thank you Sonja!).
A HUGE model of the International Space Station
that hangs from the ceiling of Bremen Airport
As always when I’m with Sonja, the time passed too quickly and, before I knew it, it was time to move onto the second part of my holiday. My journey took me from Osnabruck to Bremen to London and finally to Eastbourne. While in Bremen Airport, I happened to stumble upon a HUGE model of the International Space Station hanging from the ceiling of the airport. For a few moments, I turned into a tourist taking a ton of pictures of it. Pretty cool stuff.
Another uneventful flight followed by a fairly easy journey from the airport down to Eastbourne and I was set for the Convention. As always at Conventions, it was a chance to catch up with friends that you only get to see at these sorts of events. It was also a chance to get to see some great magic performed by those considered to be some of the best at what they do. This year, I took some notes on what I thought of the different shows and lectures I saw at the Convention. Let’s start off with the Opening Show.
The Opening Show
I knew that the show would be in safe hands with Michael Close MCing the show. He told stories and gags that can be found in his wonderful book “That Reminds Me: Finding The Funny In A Serious World” which had everyone laughing. My other highlight in this show was Gene Anderson who, with a whole load of sheets of newspaper, performed a bunch of great effects including his world-famous Torn and Restored Newspaper and an effect in which he openly cut a circular hole into a piece of paper only for it to become a square-shaped hole! This one had Paul Wilson and I looking at each other in disbelief. Brilliant stuff. Of course, there was a down side to this show and, for me, it was Mel Mellors. He had a lot of the audience laughing but, personally, I do not find very much funny in continuously making fun of members of the audience just so others can get a cheap laugh. I never have and doubt I ever will.
Michael Finney Lecture
I had seen Finney lecture at the Irish Magicians Convention in Limerick just over 2 years ago and it was fascinating. This was equally so, if for no other reason than being a lesson in being a true professional. He admitted from the start that his head wasn’t “on the game” as his wife had just had a fall and been taken to the local hospital, but that did not stop him from sharing stories, effects and advice on all aspects of Comedy Magic. He was also good enough to finish off the lecture with some of his stand up comedy (I can recommend his CD “No Tricks” – some funny stuff on there!).
The IBM British Ring Stage Competition
This turned out to be one of the funniest Stage Competitions I had seen in years, but for all the wrong reasons! A few of the acts were polished while a few looked like they had been thrown together at the last minute as if to say “let’s enter for the hell of it”. Here’s what I thought of the acts. From an act that started off by skateboarding on stage, through a series of major errors and technical difficulties and finishing with an act which was obviously going to win the competition there were some highs and lows. In no particular order, here are a few of them, along with some random thoughts:-
Surely if you are 16 years old and performing a silent magic act, your music should reflect who you are. Why is it that there was a kid magician on stage performing a (technically brilliant) manipulation act to the music of Glenn Miller? Surely he should be doing it to some of the modern-day beat combos.
Why do so many magic acts (especially illusion acts) use “Children” by Robert Miles as their music? After many years of this, it’s beyond annoying!
One act had a nightmare time when, after performing the first illusion of their set the main curtain came down as the performer started to perform his second illusion. Sadly things got worse as music cues failed, and his rose failed to float – not once, but 3 times!
Another act, which was meant to be a serious act, almost won the Comedy Award! A few minutes into the act, the performer realised that the audience were laughing their way through his act and so seemed to decide to go with it. He came out with 2 of the best lines of the competition – part way through a routine, he stopped and said “…where are we? This was great in our lounge!” This gained what was possibly the biggest laugh of the night. Sadly, he over-ran on time to such an extent that he was disqualified. A shame, really.
If an illusion act is doing a large production of, say a motorbike (read “scooter”), then it should be fairly fast and slick. Sadly, the production of said motorbike (read “scooter”) took what felt like an age – somewhere around 45-60 seconds. However, this act did do a great piece with a drawing of a wineglass into which he “poured” red wine, only for it all to be a pen and ink picture. Very very clever.
We had a tramp doing magic – and quoting Billy Connolly’s “Wellie Boot Song” at times.
Why do I get the feeling that some acts are purely on stage to say “look at all the toys I’ve been buying!”?
After the competition, I had a read through my notes and made the following predictions for the awards:-
1st – Jonathan Shotton
2nd – Edward Hilsum
3rd – Joe Ray
Originality Award – Rikki T
Manipulation – Jonathon Shotton
Comedy Award – Not awarded
Close Up Competition
In the run up to the Convention, I had volunteered to be a “runner” for this year’s Close Up Competition. This meant making sure each performer got from the set up area to the room that I was in and back again. It also meant that I had a good seat from which to watch each performance. Sadly, the room that I was the runner for ended up being called “The Morgue” by the performers and with good reason. It was probably the smallest room out of the 4 that the performers had to perform in and, as such had no more than 25 people in it at any one time. This meant that it was difficult to create any sort of “atmosphere” within the room, so the audience was “cold” for each new performer. Here’s how everyone performed in “The Morgue”.
Michael started by playing a song on his guitar that lead into a nice ESP prediction effect. The rest of the act was all good but his finishing effect – where he uses his deck of cards to “paint” a previously selected card had great potential. Sadly, it was very difficult to see what was being “painted”. My personal opinion would be to angle the performance area so that the audience could see what had been painted.
Don performed his act silently to music and performed variations on the Matrix theme, using rings and cloth “cards” as his props. Sadly, from where i was sitting, a little more than I am sure Don would have liked was seen during one of his routines. He also performed an unusual lights from fist routine. Each light produced was placed into his mouth when then caused his ears to light up and finished with him producing a string of lights from his mouth.
Will Gray is a very competent performer but who was visually nervous when performing in the room I was in. He opened with a nice wee coin production routine that ended with the production of a jumbo coin then moved into an Ambitious Card routine using a blank deck of cards. His finish to this part of his act was excellent with the signed card appearing inside a sealed deck of cards (there was more to that but I won’t spoil it for you). My one criticism is purely technical – his palming requires both stronger misdirection and a little more work on technique.
Rob is one of the organisers of The Session Convention, which is a Close Up Convention that takes place each January, but in the couple of years that I’ve known him I had never seen him perform – not even in the informal setting of a “session” during a convention – so I was interested to see what Rob had to offer. What he gave us was an excellent performance which included a computer gag counter (very funny!) and a very good multiple selection routine.
As always with Mark, there were too many gags in his act to be able to scribble down! Always a very funny performer who is able to handle most situations, Mark was thrown slightly when performing his Ambitious Card routine – he started to try to explain a little of what was “supposedly” going on when one of his spectators turned to him and said “I don’t like chemistry!” Where that came from, I have no idea (or recollection!) but it was somewhat out of the blue and very funny to watch Mark’s brain nearly explode trying to find a funny come-back like.
Paul mixed magic with some impressions. The magic alright – he had an excellent trick here a signed card appeared between 2 sheets of clear plastic bound together with rubber bands – but his impressions were a little “hit and miss” so while his Billy Connolly went down as one of the worst I’ve heard, his Paul Daniels was one of the best I’ve heard. He also did an impression of “Del Boy” Trotter whilst performing a routine with hats and balls (ala Cups and Balls).
I count Ali as one of my best friends, both within and outwith magic, so this review might come across as a little biased. Ali’s act was based upon her being cabin crew in a magical airline, “Thin Air”, and the audience being the passengers. From the safety briefing through to a killer effect where she had multiple ways of showing that she knew what destination the spectators were going to pick, Ali performed a great act (I warned you it was biased). What I will tell you without any form of bias is that she completely fooled me with her destination prediction. Great stuff.
John’s act was great fun, warming the audience up (well, as much as this audience could be warmed up!) with a really funny Sponge Bunnies routine (yes, I said Sponge Bunnies). The main part of his routine was a really entertaining way of discovering a selected card. When he wanted to find the card, he opened his laptop and sprung the cards at the screen. When the cards cleared, there was a card stuck to the other side of the screen – only it was the image of a card that was stuck onto the other side of the screen. Realising what had happened, John ran out of the room. A few moments later, John was seen running up towards the card on the screen, which he peeled off and ran back into the room. All very, very funny. Good stuff.
Andrew performed a card-only act opening with a nice mental effect that caught me out. He did, however, he did spend too much time flicking cards out of the deck as he was dealing poker hands. Just my opinion, though.
Dave came out and did a nice card fusion effect in which 2 signed cards fused back-to-back to create a single card with a signed face on each side. He seemed to fumble a ring vanish but I was not aware of the finish. After the vanish, he performed another card effect then climbed up on top of the table and showed that the previously vanished ring was now tied to his own shoelace.
After the competition was over, I read over my notes and made the following predictions:-
1st – Rob James
2nd – John Van Der Put
3rd – Will Gray (I would have put Ali Shelley in this spot, but because she is such a good friend decided that I could not let personal bias enter into the predictions)
Rovi Award (for exhibiting a high level of skill with playing cards in an entertaining manner) – Rob James
Most of the rest of Thursday was spent hanging out with friends old and new. People I had not seen in many years, such as Neil Smith whowas the top Close Up guy of Paisley Magic Circle when I first joined and Bill Seagreaves, originally from Aberdeen but now of New Zealand. The last time I had seen Bill was in 2002 while standing in the queue to get into the Magic Castle in Hollywood.
Neil Smith ponders the qualities of a deck of cards
Catching up with Bill Seagreaves
The Micro Magic Marathon
This was the idea of Ali Bongo, the new President of The Magic Circle, and was created to try to have a fun competition for Close Up Magicians in “real world” surroundings. This turned out to be a brilliant idea where everyone – both performers and spectators – fun, allowing us to see some excellent magic done by some excellent magicians.
The Thursday Night Show
The show that takes place on a Thursday night has a heavy emphasis on comedy. After a brilliant musical introduction by Michael Close (is there anything this guy can’t do???), compere John Archer arrived on stage and caused his usual fun amount of mayhem. Sight gags, one liners and puns galore. Mark Mitton did some crazy sight gags galore, including some gags that, sadly, went over the heads of a lot of the audience. Michael Weber gave us a taster of what was to come in his lecture a couple of days later and Levent proved that he can handle technical manipulative sleight of hand along with side-slitting funny comedy.
Geoffrey Durham Lecture
With me being a close up guy and Mr Durham being primarily a stage magicians, I knew that I wasn’t going to get any new tricks from this lecture. I did, however, know that I was going to learn a lot about the most important part of magic – presentation. He called his lecture “Finding The Magic Ingredient” and he gave us 7 steps to allow those of us that attended his lecture to find that magic ingredient to make our presentations and our magic better. I’m not going to give you those 7 ingredients here, but what I will tell you is to make sure you go see him lecture if he is somewhere near you. You will not regret it, I promise.
As part of this lecture (and, I believe, this lecture only) he even allowed his old alter-ego “The Great Suprendo” to make an appearance. It really took me back to watching him performing as Suprendo on “Crackerjack” (thank you those that shouted the response). Great stuff.
Meeting Geoffrey Durham
Juan Tamariz Close Up Show
I’ve been a fan of Tamariz since I first saw him on “The Best Of Magic” at the start of the ’90s. His manic performance persona, his phenominal magic and his crazy comedy all added up to create a real impression on me. This one-hour show was nothing short of amazing. Looking at my notes from this show, they mostly consist of “look up [insert routine here] from [insert magazine name here]”. At the end of the show, he received a well-deserved standing ovation from the audience.
After the Tamariz show, I went to see 2 of my best friends – Paul and Mhairi Nardini – performing their “The Great Nardini” act in the Eddie Dawes Show, which traditionally takes place on the Friday afternoon. As always, their act was great fun and a huge hit. The last couple of times that they have been performing their act, I have been backstage helping out so I had completely forgotten a couple of the gags in their show. It was great to be able to laugh as loudly as the rest of the audience whilst watching one of my all-time favourite acts (and that is my unbiased opinion!).
Hard Core Card Session
This did exactly what it said on the tin – 2 of the top card men on the planet doing some of the most technical material I’ve seen in lectures. From false shuffles to false deals and so much more, I was very impressed by both Jason England and Derek Del Guado’s handling of a deck of cards. I left this lecture with serious brain melt-down but it was worth it.
From left, Jason England, Derek Del Guado (standing)
and John Lovick in the Hard Core Card Session
The Presentation of Awards and The Late Gala
So, earlier on I gave you my predictions of who I thought would win what. Here’s what really happened. First, the Close Up Competition:-
1st place (£1000 and the Zina Bennett Trophy) – John Van Der Put
2nd place (£500) – Rob James
3rd place (£250) – Will Gray
Rovi Award (for exhibiting a high level of skill with playing cards in an entertaining manner) – Rob James
And now, the results for the Stage Competition
1st (The New British Ring Sheild and £1000) – Jonathan Shotton
2nd (The Theo Speaker Cup and £500) – Rev-Illusion
3rd (The Alastair Wand and £250) – Joe Ray
Originality (The Conventioneers Trophy) – Rikki T
Manipulation (The Dittia Shield) – Joe Ray
Comedy (The Tom Harris Cup) – Not awarded
So, from my predictions, I managed to get 5 correct. I even managed to get the top 3 in the Close Up Competition, allbeit with first and second in the opposite order. Personally, I think Ali Shelley should have been awarded third place in the Close Up, but then I could be called biased since she is such a good friend.
After the Awards Ceremony came The Late Gala. My personal highlight was seeing Richard McDougall performed his wonderful cigarette mime act, which I had seen before, and his equally wonderful piece with a goose, which I had not. Another highlight was Guy Holloway on the xylophone. Trust me, you had to be there to see it! Actually, thanks you the magic of YouTube, you can! Click on this link to see some of his performance.
Paul Wilson – The Way Of The Con
Paul’s midnight show was a combination show, lecture and question and answer session. In the last few years, Paul has become well known in the UK due to his BBC-TV show “The Real Hustle”. Paul was entertaining and informative, performing some great magic and telling some fascinating stories about the behind the scenes goings on the show.
Paul Wilson performing in his midnight show
Friday wasn’t finished yet as after Paul’s show, a select band got together for the 2008 edition of the IBM Poker Championships. I got knocked out in about 11th place and was too tired to stick around this year to find out who won. Sadly, I don’t even remember the name of the guy who did win! Still, it was good to see everyone take part in both the pre-game formalities and the game itself.
TV’s Paul Wilson is wondering what TV’s Alex Conran
is talking about while Paul Nardini tries to concentrate
on the poker game at hand
Michael Weber Lecture
For many years, Michael Weber’s name had always been just that – a name on the pages of books and magazines. At this Convention, I finally found out why he was rated as one of magic’s most innovative thinkers. His lecture was fantastic with brilliantly clever ideas ranging from a brilliantly easy memorised stack to a method for bending cut-out pictures of spoons in pieces of card. Really, really clever stuff that lived up to all expectations.
International Close Up Gala
As a thank you for being a runner during the Close Up Competition a couple of days earlier, I was given a reserved seat in the front row of one of the rooms of the International Close Up Gala. This had a really strong line-up. Here’s what I saw:-
For some time, I only knew Brad’s name from the pages of Genii and Magic magazines. Well, it turns out he’s an excellent performer too. He opened with one of my favourite pieces, John Bannon’s “Play It Straight Triumph” and continued on with some coin stuff and more cards before ending with a nice single miniature cup and ball routine.
Bob Kholer came out and started telling us about John Ramsay, the shop keeper from Ayr who became a legend within the world of magic. He performed one of Ramsay’s greatest routines, “The Cylinder And Coins” but made the mistake of forgetting to put the little piece of cork inside the cylinder before he vanished the coins. He also performed an excellent Rising Card effect with the deck being more and more isolated from the outside world before each card rose from the deck.
Derek did a few card discoveries, including a version of Roy Walton’s “The Smiling Mule”, and followed up with an amazing demonstration of false dealing, dealing from the second position, the bottom and from the middle of the deck. He finished his act by dealing the deck out to show that it was now in order! I hate this guy! He’s too good!
Armstrong’s main strength is his ability to discover cards that have only been thought of. Not selected and removed from the deck, but thought of my a spectator. Here, he showed his ability with this, along with getting a spectator to name the card someone else had only thought of – and all with no stooges!
The only UK performer was the last in the room that I was seated in and he performed a whole load of magic in his allocated slot. Coins moving about a table and gathering at one corner, coins vanishing and aces being produced from a deck of cards. He finished with a great version of “Ring Flite” in which the vanished ring re-appeared on a key chain, instead of inside the usual key case. I liked that one a lot.
Juan Tamariz Lecture
The Tamariz lecture started at 2pm and was due to last one hour. He ended up doing 1¾ hours! He spent some time talking about a couple of the effects he had performed in his one-hour show the previous day and using them to illustrate the principles outlined in his seminal book “The Five Points In Magic” which is his study of physical and psychological secrets that use the body to fool the mind by using the eyes, voice, hands, feet and body to create seemingly impossible happenings. Sadly, I had to leave some 15 minutes before the end as my brain could not handle any more theoretical information!
International Gala Show
On paper, this year’s Gala Show was one of the strongest line-ups I had seen. In reality, it surpassed it with act after act amazing us all with their brilliance. MC Jeff Hobson held the show together brilliantly with his wonderfully camp persona and outfits (including his “Liberace Starter Kit”) and some stunning magic. Jason Byrne opened the show with his dove act which caught me out on a number of occasions, including his finish (I won’t spoil it, its too good!). Raymond Crowe, last seen in the UK in the 2007 Royal Variety Performance, was next with his various talents, including making a suit jacket dance around the stage with him and his wonderful hand shadows routine.
routine at the 2007 Royal Variety Performance
Next on was the hysterical Michael Finney who had the audience roaring with laughter. He was followed by the suave sophistication of Norm Nielsen who had been talked out of retirement to give one last performance.
After the interval, Tony Chapek performed his TV act which sees him interact with a character on a telelvision – taking objects from teh picture as well as putting objects into the screen. You have to see this to appreciate just how good the act is. Juggler Claudius Specht was the show’s variety act and he blew everyone away with his amazing abilities.
The show finished with Kalin & Jinger who performed for some 45 minutes and I enjoyed every moment. There was a bit of a scare at the start of the act when Mark Kalin fell backwards off of an illusion but being the true professional he is, he got up, brushed himself off and continued with the show as if nothing happened. The only mention made of it was when he made a joke about it with his wife, Jinger. My personal highlight of the show came from Kalin and Jinger when he performed the Wakeling Sawing Through A Woman which fooled me all the more live than it did when I saw it on TV.
Kalin and Jinger perform the Wakeling Sawing
Meeting Raymond Crowe
And so, that was the end of the convention for another year. Most folk, myself included, went back to the headquarters hotel and chatted until the wee hours. The following day, it was time to go to London for a few hours until I had to go catch my flight. I had 2 options – either sit around St Pancras Station for a few hours bored out of my skull or pay a few pounds to have my luggage kept in left luggage and go around London. I took the latter option and I was glad I did. I stopped off at Covent Garden, saw some of the street entertainers and looked round the market. I even stopped off at one point to listen to a brilliant group of classical musicians. The girls of the group had been joined by the bassist from a group called “Grafitti Classics” whom I first encountered at my first Irish Convention in Dublin back in 2002. Why did this guy stick in my head? Put simply, the boy’s a nutter! He dances with his double bass, jumps around with it! He is the funny bone of the whole operation and was on this occasion, too.
The group of classical musicians entertaining a huge crowd at
Covent Garden. Wish I could remember the group’s name!
And to round the trip off, as I was walking from Covent Garden back to St. Pancras I reached the top of Tottenham Court Road. A few moments later, I hear a voice (no, not the ones inside my head – for once!). I thought I recongnised this voice and was amazed to see JJ (one half of the Opus Magazine Editorial Team™) standing there. Of all the people I could bump into in London, I bumped into a good friend! It turns out he was going to be meeting up with Chris Power (the other half of the Opus Magazine Editorial Team™) in a Burger King a few minutes later. I had a fun hour or so talking and catching up with Chris and JJ and giving them some of the news from the Convention.
Yeah, I would too! Chris Power (left) and JJ,
the Opus Magazine Editorial Team™
And so, it was off home. It had been a crazy 10 days and I had loved every moment of it. I wouldn’t mind doing it all again!
The Cardman 🙂