This convention, which takes place in South Shields, is organised and well supported by the local Council in conjunction with nearby magic dealer, Magic Box. Karri Prinn and John Archer collaborated to fill this year’s programme and did an excellent job of it.
This thirteenth year opened, like previous ones, with a high energy, sometimes manic, show from a top UK Children’s Entertainer, Colonel Custard (Paul Megram) who entertained around 200 excited children. Highlights, from talking to some of the delegates, were the Coke Can Russian Roulette and toilet paper sent out across the audience by a leaf blower!
After the children left, everyone else moved down to enjoy Paul’s explanations and wisdom concerning what he’d performed, including the leaf blower – although he didn’t explain the Coke Can Roulette as this was an effect by Sean Hayden.
Paul talked about his toolbox that often gets him out of trouble, even in the biggest venues. He continued by sharing an Ipad app that organises his sound cues and delivers them very accurately as and when needed. He also invested in a remote that can be used on Christmas tree lights or lamps in a client’s home.
Paul discussed party bags, his Ring in Nested Dolls trick, the construction of his leaf blower and coping with cancellations before closing with Nick Einhorn’s In-Flight levitation. This lecture had some unique ideas and great thoughts on keeping your act fresh.
Ken Dyne, or Kennedy, had a unique twist on the old Heads & Tails game, turning it into a prediction. He followed with a stage sized word divination with a cunning format and then his own version of the balls in the bag effect with a golden ball found among several differently coloured ones. This was a lecture with some simple but very effective thoughts that could be easily added to improve all kinds of tricks and stage items.
Peter Clifford is an actor, director and magician whose lecture on stagecraft was a highlight for me.
As magicians we get so little of this kind of thing – we need to lap it up in order to improve.
He covered voice production, with us all standing and making various sounds and facial expressions; he continued with movement on stage, handling volunteers, forming character and the ‘whys’ of what you perform. He advocated scripting and told us a few of his failures as well as his success stories. The whole lecture was a ‘must-see’ and was some of the most valuable information the weekend produced for the working professionals.
Will Houston’s lecture showcased his charm and wonderful dry wit which was greatly appreciated by those who attended. I didn’t make it to this lecture but he covered Coin 0.5 – his Two Coins Across trick, Shadow Coins, a super-clean four Ace assembly and his signature trick where two decks end up in exactly the same random order.
The Friday night had a gala show which was not over long but highly appreciated. Danny Buckler was the compere/MC and stirred up the audience by winning them over with disparaging remarks about the town! Danny’s rants became highlights of the Friday night!
The first act was Chad Long, a crazy force who never stops moving or performing on or off stage! He started with some fire torches that he positively dowsed in petrol – then was unable to set fire to them due to a lack of ability to strike either lighter or matches! His broken and restored spaghetti was very funny indeed and his gags and, literally, off-the-wall card appearances had the audience both giggling and amazed. He continued with some card foolery and ended with cards changing values before our eyes!
Steve Rawlings, quiet and unassuming off stage, is a crazy and manic personality when performing his juggling act. From balancing table, chair and a vase of flowers he moved on to plates and then balls which he juggled in his mouth! This was followed by lots of fire and comedy with a tray of wine glasses and bottles. The act was fast and furious, loud and haphazard but very controlled when you realise that Steve is actually doing the things he has attempted – a superior juggling act indeed!
Danny Buckler found himself filling in with some rope magic as Steve had drenched the stage but soon it was ready for the elegant Malin Nilsson, one of Sweden’s best magical entertainers. She performed some very different Linking Ring moves to some great jazz piano and juggled both rings and her hat, with a flurry of snowflakes thrown into the air to point certain climaxes in the routine. A change of tempo and a tiny cloth rabbit appeared from her hat which turned out to be a length of wrapped rope. Some clever rope ideas followed, all very slowly and carefully done; then a little juggling of the rope rabbit, a wand and her hat ended with everything back in its place.
Men in Coats has always been a favourite act of mine. They are still slick and fun, inventive and different. From spoof juggling to a hat from a rabbit (!) to superhero impressions and shrinking and growing bodies, this was a fast paced silent act that had some clever but age old moves and humour, yet with a very modern feel.
John Archer’s dance moves entrance to Meghan Traynor’s All About the Bass set the tone for his very funny act. He played his ukelele of course, a song with a groaning punchline, then spoke about Uri Geller for a while. As always, John made the journey of being blindfolded into a total routine of its own before he even got to do any magic which was secondary to the huge laughs and by-play with his volunteers. The effect was a psycho psychometry style divination of drawings on three cards – in case you wanted to know that!
Malin Nillson closed the show with a yellow silk mystery and some appearing and disappearing tea diffusers at her fingertips. This was performed sitting at a table in a spotlight. She then invited Danny to help her and she removed her jacket to produce two glasses and a bottle of wine. Some bubble blowing followed and she and Danny were able to pluck glass bubbles from the air, all very nicely done indeed and with a surprise ending.
That was the first show of the weekend and one of the best I have ever enjoyed!
But the evening was not yet over!
A bus took the majority of delgates to the Headquarters hotel where a late late show was waiting for us, complete with a buffet for those who wanted to eat.
Danny Buckler’s style is ‘rant’ and he does it so very well. Nothing was sacred – from his own youth to Bobby Bernard, to Dynamo, Phantom of the Opera and the location of the dealers’ hall. All were mulled over and lambasted in equal measure – it was funny, witty and so so unique.
Phil Butler opened with a rock version of a children’s song and then some fantastic comedy using the voice activation, Siri, on his iPhone. Phil’s unique comedy ideas kept the audience buzzing with laughter throughout. Juggling with a cigarette and his top lip, borrowing a note and burning it, a crazy ventriloquist alphabet, rude words from musical toys and a whole lot of sidesplitting lines had the late night audience rocking from beginning to end.
What a fabulous first day!
SATURDAY – DAY 2
Both Andi Gladwin and John Carney gave excellent lectures at the start of the second day. The great plus of this convention is that, although packed, the delegates can get to see everything on the schedule if they so wish.
For me, my day began with Will Houston’s lecture on Conjuring Curiosities and it was a very well thought-out and delivered piece, illustrated with many photos and film clips
He spoke about his work, with Paul Kieve, on the movie Hugo – a fictional story set in Paris and incorporating the work of early film special effects pioneer, Georges Melies. Will taught Ben Kingsley to look as if he’d been doing magic for years, not an easy feat; he researched Robert-Houdin and Hoffman to get the feel for the tricks of the time and ended up using a rising card effect as well as an ethereal suspension albeit with unconventional methodology! Willl ended by showing a film about Breathe! – the work they do to help children, attending the psychiatric unit of Great Ormond Street Hospital, to learn magic as a therapy.
The Close Up show was held in the small cinema and enabled good sight lines as well as a huge screen behind the performers. Michael Vincent proved himself to be the Master of moves, shuffles, Triumphs and all kinds of eloquent card magic, using two decks on occasions, as he produced Aces and cards at any number.
John Carney worked with three small white balls which disappeared and reappeared with a well-heard clink as they landed in the large glass bowl he held. He then introduced John Ramsey’s classic routine with a small cork, a leather cylinder and some silver dollars. Some fun with a hat and a flea followed before John ended with a chop cup routine using a small ball, a tumbler wrapped in paper and a hat which was very well executed all the way to the final loads.
Paul Wilson opened with a Find the Lady routine, then a selected and signed card had holes punched in it, all eventually moving to the same corner. Four Aces appeared from a very well shuffled deck, then Paul dealt some poker hands, with all the Aces converging to the one ihe’d dealt for himself.
Chad Long, our last performer, just blew the audience away with gales of laughter and amazing magic with cards and coins. To list the effects – Coin Matrix, Ambitious Card, Card to Wallet etc – does not do justice to the manic hilarity and skill that makes up Chad’s never ending repertoire.
I caught the end of the following lecture in which Michael Vincent included a triumph-style trick utilising some Pot Noodle containers; a good explanation on swapping cards held by the spectator; and an informative powerpoint presentation demonstrating Michael’s goals in magic which he was happy to share with us. As always Michael’s deeply thought-out explanations and teaching style were highly appreciated.
Rafael gave the last lecture of the day and it was great fun. A card trick which involved a second deal was followed by a scam where an envelope chosen at random proved to contain ‘a drink’, whereas the rest of the envelopes had monetary rewards – an ingenious method, very reminiscent of Rafael’s mentor, the late Ali Bongo.
Rafael had some great lessons to teach us and excellent advice:
Ask four questions of yourself – Who am I? What am I doing? Am I believable? Am I a comedy performer?
He suggested taking a routine and changing something in it such as colour or design. He demonstrated this with an old coin wand and explained how he had changed this to a pair of chopsticks that produced a coin instead; he adapted a Miser’s Dream bucket so the sound is louder as the coins drop; he also showed us a pair of scissors that became spectacles and many other clever examples. He ended by dedicating his lecture to Ali Bongo who had inspired him so much and showing his own version of the PomPom Sticks.
THE SATURDAY GALA SHOW
In an unusual opening an evocative short movie, made by Paul Wilson, had some of us in tears. Called ‘The Magic Box’, it was a beautiful piece about magic through the generations of one family. Watch it if you can get a chance – I recommend it highly.
Maybe it wasn’t the best way to warm up an audience but it did get tumultuous applause for Paul when he appeared as the first act. After some warm up fun and humour Paul then performed close up at a small table, with a screen to show his performance to those not seated near enough. He changed all the Aces in his deck to Jokers and then back again before making balls appear and vanish in a small coffee cup or under a tube held by a spectator. This was very gentle but effective magic with all his tricks having well written stories to present them.
Steve Rawlings was back again – this time balancing golf clubs and knives with raucous humour and audience participation.
Kennedy’s first trick was reminiscent of a Tossed Out Deck routine – but he named specific cards to each spectator rather than listing them generically. He then went on to perform a version of the trick he’d explained in his lecture.
Peter Clifford also performed mentalism with some very unusual routines. He started by reciting all the names of Shakespeare’s plays in chronological order – then threw ‘Yorrick’s skull’ into the audience to find a random volunteer. A Shakespeare book test followed which was very impressive as was the amazing prediction of a tune selected from a deck with names written on them. Audience members had been given hand bells of different colours earlier and the prediction took the form of Peter touching coloured squares, in sequence, to indicate which colour handbell would be rung so that the tune could be played! I found this act to be innovative and impressive.
Ilana’s act was silent but was great fun as she manipulated earrings of different colours and had fun with many hands inside and outside her leather jacket. She ended with a Heads Off illusion – standing with her back to the audience and removing her head for a very brief moment!
John Carney used a portable black hole to produce, at first, lemons and then a glass of lemonade. His slick version of the Eleven Dollar Bill Trick had the audience delighted, ending it with The Sting – the money which he had put into an envelope now proved to be nothing but newspaper pieces. To end this very well constructed and well executed act he took a rose petal and swirled it around inside a large clear bowl until an egg appeared which was then cracked and opened to prove it was real.
John Archer, who was the excelent compere/MC throughout this show, came on stage to play a serious piece of ukelele music before introducing Rafael’s amusing and colourful dove act.
Unfortunately the ending didn’t go as planned – the cage did open up, high in the air to show it as a almost a 2D piece – but the doves were still to be seen in the centre! It’s a great act when it works!
That was a lot of magic for one day! A high quality close up show, five professional lectures and a snappy gala show – you couldn’t ask for more!
DAY 3 – SUNDAY
Paul Wilson gave an admirable lecture first thing but, after another night of fun and laughter at the Headquarters hotel, I didn’t manage to arrive until just before the Comedy Forum.
The panel consisted of Phil Butler as Chair with John Carney, Danny Buckler, John Archer and Chad Long – an amazing group of funny men. We need more funny women!
The questions were varied. When asked if they considered themselves comedians who do magic or magicians who do comedy they all agreed they were magicians with comedy – even Danny who performs mostly in comedy clubs and without magic (although he is reintroducing magic into his act for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.) John Archer said he finds a lot of pressure if introduced as a comedian. John Carney explained that his act covers both serious and comedy magic.
Phil asked Danny if it’s usual for him to find observational comedy material in the town where he is performing. Danny replied that he does so to make it feel that his show is really special to each place. Comedian Michael McIntyre is known for his research and scripts for each venue he works
John Archer said that the secret is to commit to new material and not chicken out of doing it and John Carney explained that Steve Martin would never let the audience know it was new material as some do. Phil Butler, on the other hand, felt that if you commit to new material and it does not work then be honest and tell the audience. John Archer added that it’s easier to put new stuff in the middle of your act as people like you by that time.
When talking about scripts, Danny tended to be inspirational with his material but with some scripted pieces while John Carney is totally scripted and aims for sincerity in his act. John Archer confessed to using his original sight gags as crutches and wanted to ad lib so had some scripted set pieces to work around. Danny told us that comedian Ross Noble has three set pieces and he swims around those, using them only if he needs to do so.
John Archer talked about the inclusion of his ukelele playing. It is something people don’t expect and, in fact, is something different that people remember him for. It’s rather like Jay Marshall, a very competent magician, is remembered for his puppet, Lefty. John wants his audiences to like him and was adamant that if it’s not like that for you, then you will never be as good as you can be.
Phil Butler asked John Archer to explain his reasoning for judging correctly about the comedy moment in his act where he kisses his female volunteer. John explained it’s not always a kiss – sometimes he kisses on the cheek or, very obviously, the back of his own hand while the night before he had kissed on the lips which had greatly surprised some audience members. He told us he can usually tell, from earlier reactions, how the audience will take it and also from the girl’s reactions and body language while she is on stage with him. He added that Luke Jermay has said: ‘You have to realise that not everyone is going to like you.’
Danny worked with a guy who, at the end of his set, became Mr Bojangles, acting it out and crying
real tears. He told Danny that when you are at your most vulnerable you become the most powerful person in the room. John Archer agreed, saying that he plays himself down all through his act so that he has vulnerability to set up the flirty stuff later on.
Chad Long spoke about setting up a room to the best advantage he can and will arrive early to have things moved around to overcome the five foot space of dance floor between him and the audience. John Archer said he hates a centre aisle in a theatre as you tend to stand facing that in the middle of the stage.
When asked about their warm up practices, Phil told us he makes faces and also paces the dressing room. Danny goes quiet while John Archer talked about Vito Lupo who advocates getting out of breath, using press ups or running, to get rid of some adrenaline that causes nervousness. John Carney prefers to calm himself down and Chad just admitted always being scared and nervous before going out to perform.
This was the most valuable of discussions with very different personalities who all perform magic in different ways to different audiences. There was some great advice, well worth taking.
The final event of the three days was the long-awaited lecture by Chad Long. His humour throughout the weekend, and his amazing magic, had been evident whether on stage or off, at any time of the day or night. Now we were about to learn from this fine craftsman while laughing almost constantly throughout.
He began by talking about the early days when he worked noisy clubs and couldn’t be heard. So he devised routines that were great visually, showing us how he would take three pieces of flash paper and produced coins from each flare. He explained his spaghetti trick, which was so well received the night before, and told us of the time he had leg cramp while performing it and no one realised his cries of pain were real! He also showed us his card stab using a plastic dart gun and knitted a yellow silk as an antidote to producing one from a thumb tip as the audiences expect these days.
He showed us a coin matrix, using a specially constructed card utility prop and did a book test with pages rather than a bound book. He went on to explain how he takes cards from, apparently, inside a wall with all the subtleties needed to do so smoothly. He loves little things that are off beat and magical. He demonstrated his own ‘penknife’ routine that uses brightly coloured flash drives with a kicker ending. Coin in Bottle, for him, now translates to Ballbearing in Spray Paint Canister and is easily performed impromptu in DIY stores! He closed by telling us that doing magic is all about the experience. He was in a hotel in Spain one time and was walking to the pool with a deck of cards in one hand and a phrase book in the other. He came upon three cleaners who asked him to do a trick and they loved it, telling him it was the most fun they had had all week. This got him thinking how lucky he was when someone felt that he’d made a huge impression on their lives.
He ended by saying: ‘Magic is a gift and you have the power to give it – so give it!’
What a fitting ending to a truly fantastic weekend!
Photos by Mandy Davis