03 December 2008

2008 International Magic Convention, London

Well, another convention has come and gone. The International Magic Convention – otherwise lovingly known as “Ron’s Day” (even though it is now held over a weekend) after the late, great Ron MacMillan who started it back in the 1970s ­- is held in London at the end of November each year and has become one of my favourites over the years that I have attended it. This year’s line up had 2 major highlights for me, 2 cardmen – Richard Turner of America and Germany’s Denis Behr.

I arrived in London on the Thursday evening, straight from work and after checking into my hotel, I was staying at the Wardonia Hotel once again, I went and got some food which I took back to my room to eat and then fall asleep. I needed the sleep!

Friday
Since the convention did not start until the evening, Friday daytime was spent going around some of the shops in London. I spent some time on Tottenham Court Road (aka “Electric Avenue” due to the large number of computer and electrical stores there are on that particular stretch of road) and also visited Davenport’s Magic Studio – the “London branch” of Glasgow’s “Tam Shepherd & Co”.

The evening saw this year’s International Magic Convention starting with a couple of shows. The first was by Richard Turner, The Cheat, someone I had seen performing a long number of years ago on the Paul Daniels Magic Show on BBC1. He performs gambling-related magic and routines that show how people could have been (and still could be) cheated while playing cards, whether the game is Poker, Blackjack or whatever happens to be the game of choice at that time. During his flawless display, Richard also told a bunch of stories including ones about his time learning from Dai Vernon and Charlie Miller at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles. Some great stuff.

This was followed by an interview with Richard by Matthew Field, current editor of The Magic Circle's in-house magazine, "The Magic Circular". It was at this point that, for those that did not already know, it was explained that Richard Turner is legally blind. Since the age of 9, his eyes have suffered from a degenerative disease that nowadays means that all he can make out is light and shadow. There is no detail in vision. That bit of information made what we had seen in the previous hour all the more impressive.

Me with Richard Turner

Then came a stand up comedy show which was hosted by Phil Butler and had John Lovick as his alter ego of Handsome Jack, David “The Great” Kaplan and Rafael performing acts. Some of it was hit-and-miss while some was both very funny – Phil Butler had an incredibly funny and extremely rude bit with toys for teaching very small children letter sounds and music – and pretty amazing – Rafael’s bit with his tie changing places with a length of rope he had been performing with caught me out completely.

Saturday
Saturday morning saw the 25th International Close Up Competition for the Kevin Raey Trophy. This competition is regarded as one of the most prestigious competitions in close up magic the list of winners reads like a who’s who in close up magic over the last quarter of a century. With next year being a FISM World Championship year, the standard was expected to be high.

This year’s competition started some 10 minutes earlier than advertised meaning a few latecomers arriving during the first act, who was...

Troy Von Schreibner (UK)
Troy was funny from the start of his act and he has a great personality. He did a nice wee colour change routine, including his t-shirt. From a technical standpoint, he nailed 4 Forton Pop Outs in a row. A very entertaining opening act.

Vittorio Belloni (Italy)
Vittorio did some nice stuff with coins and fire and the first matrix of the competition – Shoot Ogawa’s one-hand matrix. A charismatic personality, he did some great looking vanishes and even did Matrix with clear cards. Looked good, too, although some of his stuff did seem to get a little confusing. But then that’s maybe just me and the earliness of the hour. Could be a possible prize winner.

Woody Aragón (Spain)
Woody is a bit of a manic Spaniard – almost in the style of Tamariz. He performed a very nice “Call To The Colours”-style routine using the red and blue backed Jokers and finishes with the backs of all the cards that he used changing to various different colours. A very nice act that could win something.

Kolos (Hungary)
Kolos performed his routine silent to music. The act was OK, but it didn’t thrill me the way that others have done – even at this early stage. Some nice things in his act but nothing earth shattering.

As Paul Wilson is pointing out, Guy Hollingworth is finding
things far too exciting in the Close Up Competition

Igor De Ruitz (Italy)
Igor performed as a nutty doctor character. It was a carefully scripted act but one that immediately lost this spectator. This act was, what I like to call, “quality shite”. Coin effects that had no real effect with barely understandable stories and links to a Pinocchio doll. Very strange and the sort of act that makes a lot of us watch competitions.

Tatsuya Mishimagi (Japan)
Tatsuya dressed his spectator like a princess - in a tiara and given a magic wand. His act was about size and scale. Very nice effects but also had a funny finish where he shrank in size. Very, very funny ending where the performer shrinks to a puppet who then puts the miniature props into his miniature case before reappearing full-sized to take his final bow.

Shawn Farquhar (Canada)
As always, Farquhar buzzes on the stage in his loud purple suit. Performs his FISM Act as seen several times before – an excellent time travel effect where a deck of cards re-seals itself in its case with a signed selection in the right place in the new deck order followed by his Cups and Balls routine ending with the cups ending as solid blocks of metal - and gets the best reaction of the day so far. Also the best act of the day so far.

Matthew Wright (UK)
Matthew is the current Magic Circle Close Up Magician Of The Year and he performed a nice act with some good bits in it, including Michael Ammar’s Cups and Balls routine with a TON of magicians’ in-jokes in it. Could be in with a shout of a prize.

Gary Charm (Hong Kong)
Gary had some nice effects but it was a little annoying when his mobile phone went off a couple of times during his act. He did, however, perform a couple of nice wee bits with his phone, including shrinking it. An excellent finish with his mobile phone changing to a very early style telephone but I don’t think this will win any prizes in this competition.

Dynamo (UK)
It’s time – It’s the Dynamo attack!!! Steven performed an excellent lottery number prediction and followed with a wallet prediction trick that apparently went wrong, but when the true outcome was revealed completely fooled everyone in the audience. Very much in with a shout of winning a prize.

Toto (Japan)
I thought he was from Africa!!! (subtle musical joke!) Toto did a couple of rubber band tricks and what I found to be a couple of confusing coin pieces before catching the audience with some excellent card magic with cards rising and popping out of the deck in impossible ways. This has become a pretty tight contest!

Johan Stahl (Sweden)
And now it’s time for another Cup and Ball routine but this routine is this performer’s entire act! There was a nice wee moment with the pen that he was using as his magic wand in his act where it vanished from his hand only to find it behind the spectator’s ear! Sadly, this one routine went on way too long but he did have a nice finish where he poured some liquid from the cup.

Giacomo De Carlo (Italy)
This routine, bizarrely, was a series of card tricks all based upon the 2006 football World Cup Final between Italy and France! Seriously!!! A bunch of card tricks with the story of the match!!! He had some nice effects in the act but I feel that the presentation was too off-the-wall for him to win anything.

Kiko Pastu (Spain)
Things didn’t start off too well for Kiko as he was attempting what is a nice production of the aces by blowing them out of the deck of cards which had been spread across the table only for a couple of the aces to refuse to appear. After that, however, his act was excellent. He performed a very nice effect in the style of “Invisible Palm Aces” based around “Alice Through The Looking Glass” followed by cutting to all the cards of a named suit, one-at-a-time and in order, only for these 13 cards to change into the cards from another previously named suit. Very clever stuff.

René Frotscher (Germany)
René started with a great gag handing out laughing permits to the Germans in the audience. Sadly, this was the highlight of the act for me as his routine went downhill pretty rapidly. It didn’t help that he kept dropping things and apologising for doing so.

There are 6 awards for this competition. The “Awards of Merit” are awarded, alongside the cash prizes that are for first, second and third places. Since the awards were not to be announced until later, I made the following predictions:-

1st – Shawn Farquhar
2nd – Dynamo
3rd - Woody Aragón
Merit Prizes – Kiko Pastu, Matthew Wright and Toto

Between the competition and the announcement of the results, there were to be 3 lectures. The first was one of the 2 that I was really looking forward to – Richard Turner. The previous night had been a nice wee taster of what he could do with a deck of cards. Here, he showed not only what he could do, but told us how to do it – including a few more stories along the way. False deals, false shuffles, ways to cancel out the cut in a card game, they were all in here and although he did not have a lot of time to explain in the fine detail required, the spectators saw enough to make them head out after his lecture and buy his lecture DVDs immediately (I was one of them!).

At this point, I needed to go and take a break from the magic for a wee bit but was back in time to hear the results for the Close Up Competition. They were:-

1st Place (£1,000 cash and the Kevin Raey Trophy) – Shawn Farquhar
2nd Place (£500 cash and a trophy) - Giacomo De Carlo
3rd Place (£250 cash and a trophy) - Vittorio Belloni
Awards Of Merit - Woody Aragón, Matthew Wright and Toto

I have to admit that I was surprised not to hear Dynamo’s name being read out as a prize winner. I was not alone in that thought. Many others were equally baffled, not only by his act but that he did not receive any sort of prize. However, there were an equal number who thought that it was right that he should not have received a prize as they thought that his act had made use of a pre-arranged stooge (something that is, I believe, against the rules of competition). Still, that’s magic competitions for you – there’s almost ALWAYS some sort of controversy with the results.

While the final lecture of the day was going on, I went back to my hotel room to change into my suit as I had been asked to perform in the Theatre Bar for the people arriving for that night’s performance of the Gala Show. As always, it was great fun to do with lots of great people to perform for.

Dinner was, to say the least, interesting. Interesting on a couple of counts – first of all by way of the company I had, which included several of Britain’s top Close Up Magicians, and secondly by the menu of the Shezuan Restarant that we went to. We thought Guy Hollingworth was kidding when he started to read out the restaurant’s menu off his internet connection on his iPhone, but he wasn’t kidding, as the photo below will testify to (yes, I took a picture of part of one of the pages of the menu, but I had to!). I played it pretty safe, going for one of the set menus with (TV’s) Paul Wilson and Dr Peter Lamont, someone whom I have not seen for far too long. I hope it isn’t such a long time before we meet up again. Tim Bran (a magician and music producer who’s credits include the current album by The Verve) and (TV’s) Alex Conran also played it safe with another of the restaurant’s set menus. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Mr Hollingworth and Shiv Dougal (one of the UK magic’s best Close Up Magicians) decided to be somewhat adventurous going for the likes of duck’s tounges and a dish involving intestines. Those of you that know me really well will not be surprised to read that I didn’t try either of them!

A few of the options in the restaurant menu

Sunday
Traditionally “Ron’s Day” itself. One of the great things about this convention is that they do not start things off too early. The Dealers Hall opens at 10am and the first event starts at 11am. This year, the first event was the International Close Up Show which had performances by Americans John Lovick, Peter Samelson and Andrew Goldenhersh and Germany’s Denis Behr.

Lovick showed his mastery of what is now commonly known as the “$100 Bill Switch” and performed a very funny routine to do with a “Dear John” breakup letter. Samelson gave some fantastic presentations and had an intriguing effect in which coins appeared one-at-a-time in a smoke-filled glass. Behr had a great effect in which a rubber band was wrapped around a deck of cards only to visibly vanish and reappear wrapped around a selected card – twice (the second time was in slow motion and looked fantastic!). Finally, Goldenhersh produced a butterfly (yes, a real one!) and performed the “Hindu Needle Trick” which saw him swallow some 25 needles and a length of thread, only to pull them back out of his mouth with the needles threaded onto the thread.

Afterwards came the lectures but, due to the overrunning of the Close Up Show, I wasn’t able to see the first 2 – food was desperately needed as I hadn’t had any breakfast (yes, my own fault but I didn’t really want to get up any earlier!). I did, however manage to catch the final lecture of the weekend – Denis Behr. He gave a short performance at the start performing a few effects that were simple for the spectators to understand and then went on to discuss some of the techniques involved. I enjoyed the lecture and if you get the chance to see him lecture at a place near you, take it!

At last year’s convention, David Berglas, former President of The Magic Circle, presented the first “David Berglas Award For Promoting The Art Of Magic” to the MacMillan Family, for all the hard work that they have done over the years running their shop and organising, promoting and running their annual convention. It was a huge surprise to them. This year, Mr Berglas was going to present the second award for helping promote the art of magic around the world. This presentation also tied in with this year’s “Surprise Event”. The recipient was Uri Geller – a man who is not, and has never claimed to be a magician. After a long ovation, he sat down and answered questions on a whole number of subjects. He was funny, he was interesting and it was amazing to hear this man’s thoughts on various subjects. My favourite bit of information was that there is no such thing as bad publicity. We’ve all heard that before. He went on to say, however, that you should not read your reviews in the papers – you should measure them!!! Imagine how much it would cost to buy that space in the paper and you’re getting it for free. As I said, very interesting stuff.

Uri Geller receiving his award from David Berglas


Getting to meet Uri Geller


After doing more close up in the Theatre Bar, it was time for the second performance of this year’s Gala Show. The line up was, as ever, a truly international one and the audience were really up for it as attested to when the traditional “Ron’s Day Gala Show Overture” started up and the whole audience started clapping along with it. As is usual these days, Noel Britten was our host for the evening and, as is usual these days, he was on top form with gags and jokes too numerous to write down!

The show opened with Suma from Hungary who performed an act mostly based around mobile phones, performing some nifty manipulations with them. Clever wee act. He was followed by David “The Great” Kaplan from American who came on with a totally different act from the one seen on the Friday comedy show. He is a true Vaudevillian combining magic, juggling, deadpan comedy (his material with a bowling ball was hysterical) and music (how much time does someone need to have on their hands to work out how to make a balloon play a song???). Really, really funny stuff.

Fellow American Peter Samelson (Noel thought it cheaper to get these 2 guys to come over the London than to fly everyone in the audience to them!) followed with a nice act which once again showed his real prowess at presentation. He also finished with one of the best ‘traditional’ “Snowstorm In China” presentations I have ever seen. The first half finished with Rafael from Belgium. I have seen Rafael perform on a number of occasions but tonight would be different as he was presenting 3 pieces that had never been seen before. This first one was a very clever quick change act.

After the interval, the house lights went out and the curtain opened to reveal someone sitting on a chair. A voiceover came on explaining that he was a child trapped inside a man’s body but that he had a unique gift. This was to be the first act of the second half, Robert and Emiel from The Netherlands, who, it must be said, performed one of the best 2-person mental acts I have ever seen. I have no idea how they did it! Now, I have known these guys for some time now and I have to admit that I did feel somewhat uncomfortable at the start of the act, especially with someone acting as if they have some form of learning disability. However, as the act went on, I seemed to get “into” the act more and enjoyed what they did.

Next up was a little less controversial – British Juggler Rod Laver. Laver isn’t a juggler in the traditional sense. He juggles ping-pong balls. With his mouth! And we’re not talking one or 2 – he was doing 5 at a time! Brilliant – if somewhat bizarre – stuff! We had our second visit of the evening from Rafael who performed a short piece in the guise of a mad scientist who placed a disembodied head onto a headless body, only to have the whole body come to life. Short and clever. Andrew Goldenhersh from America followed with a fascinating minimalist performance that included the production of a live butterfly, a very entertaining Misers’ Dream and a very funny, and baffling, straitjacket escape.

To finish the show, Rafael was re-introduced with the third and final of his new pieces. His performance of the now classic “Excalibur” Illusion but done in the style of “Monty Python’s Spamalot”. Very entertaining stuff and very well presented.

3 good friends - Stephen, Kerry and Andi

Now, you may have noticed a distinct lack of mentions of late night activities. Well, there were some late night sessions going on but the convention hotel decided to try their best to stop this from happening by closing the bar unbelievably early on both Friday and Saturday nights (around midnight) and then on Sunday night, closing the bar at midnight and then throwing all the non-residents out of the hotel. We, politely, decided not to move so the management decided to call the police. When they turned up, they told the Duty Manager that they were not going to do anything as nobody was breaking the law. But, sadly, the hotel’s security (read “thugs”) decided that they wanted everyone out, so they made sure we left.

Monday
As is now usual after Ron’s Day, I went and stayed with my good friend Julie and her family near Watford. What was funny was that she hadn’t told her kids that I was coming to visit so when the twins, Anna and Michael, arrived home from school, I was duly rugby tackled for hugs. That evening, Julie and I made our way into central London to go to the Magic Circle. After a visit to the library where I bought a few manuscripts including a copy of the original manuscript of John Ramsay’s “Cylinder And Coins” routine for the princely sum of £3. Fantastic!

That evening’s event was a Dealer’s Dem by The Magic Cave, who have a stall at Covent Garden market (always worth a visit). They had a few interesting toys on offer, but after a weekend at a magic convention, I was starting to get a bit “magiced out”.

There was also one more small thing that happened that evening that has had me smiling ever since. I was handed an invitation to one of the most prestigious close up magic conventions in the world - Fechter's Finger Flicking Frolic (aka “FFFF” or “4F”) – by “Head Forker” Obie O’Brien. I am really honoured and pleased to have received this invitation and am currently looking at getting myself over to New York State at the end of April 2009 for this very special convention.

Tuesday
Time to go home. I spent some time going around Watford with Julie, managing to get some more Christmas shopping whilst I was there. Before I knew it, it was time to head to the airport and make my way home.

And so, another International Magic Convention is now in the history books. It was a great weekend and an excellent convention. I was taught a fair bit, now I need to go away and actually learn it!

Speak soon.

The Cardman :-)

1 comment:

Dan said...

Phew, what a comprehensive review.

I don't feel so bad about missing the convention now.

Maybe I'll go next year... or maybe I'll just save my money and read your review afterwards!

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