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!

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 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

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.

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.

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 :-)

27 November 2008

Thunderbird: The Modern Ace Production by Lee Asher

Price: $13.99
Available from:
Lee Asher's website

I thought that I would post one of my rare product reviews. I'm not normally one to do them but I thought the magicians that read this (hello and thank you for reading) might be interested.

Recently, I got one of Lee Asher's PDF e-books – "Thunderbird: The Modern Ace Production". I had seen Lee perform this a good number of years ago (possibly as many as 7 or 8 years ago!) when he lectured in Glasgow and was very impressed by how it looked. The effect is a swift barehanded one-at-a-time production of 4 aces. In the right situation, it could be an excellent opener to a routine.

Following an interesting introduction outlining the development of the routine, Lee takes the Tenkai Palm, the sleight that is a major part in the workings of the routine. His explanation is excellent and he also gives further references if you want to learn more about the sleight.

After the sleight, comes what Lee calls "Thunderbird's Five-Step Formula" which is the production of the aces broken down into, you've guessed it, 5 steps. This is where Lee's ability as a magical teacher and writer really shines through as he explains step-by-step how to perform the routine. This explanation is illustrated by a good number of photographs of Lee's hands performing the routine (there are well over 30 photographs throughout the e-book). There is also a link that will take you to part of the Lee's website where you can watch Thunderbird being performed, as well as a "behind the scenes" look at the routine being performed. Lee finishes the e-book off with some useful tips on the performance of the routine as well as a small variation which you might or might not prefer.

But there is more to this e-book than the routine. The e-book itself looks fantastic. Little touches like having arrows pointing to which photograph comes next in the sequence make the e-book stand out from the rest of the crowd. I only wish I could design things half as well as Lee can. Yes, I'm jealous!

Yes, this is a technical routine. Yes, it has some angle restrictions. However, don't let those points put you off. Lee's writing is very clear and if you're willing to put in the practice, you'll have a really eye-popping routine at your fingertips. This routine is worth investing in – both in terms of money and practice time.

Give Lee your support - you won't regret it. And tell him I sent you.

Hope you enjoy it!

Speak soon

The Cardman :-)

29 October 2008

Terrorvision, ABC Glasgow, 23 October 2008

Thanks to my best mate, Peter, I've been a Terrorvision fan for a number of years. It was him that pointed me in the direction of their albums after I heard a couple of their tracks being played at The Cathouse in Glasgow a long number of years ago. It was with great sadness back in 2001 that I attended what I thought would be their last concert in Glasgow as Terrorvision on that year's "Take The Money And Run" Tour.

Well, regular readers (greetings!) will remember my joyful post a short time ago when Terrorvision announced that they were performing at Glasgow's ABC venue in Sauchiehall Street. The tickets were ordered shortly after I heard about the gig and the long (7 year!) wait came to an end last Thursday night.

I was at the concert with my sister Mhairi, brother-in-law Callum and work colleague David, who was taking the place of Peter who had to pull out at the last minute. This was my first visit to the ABC and I have to say that my first impressions were all positive. The hall that the concert was in was huge with a bar right along the back wall. When we arrived, the support act - Million Dollar Reload - were on stage. When I finally got a chance to stop and listen to them (after visiting the cloakroom, bar and merchandise stand), I was impressed with what I heard. So much so that before they were finished their set, I bought their CD which is also well worth a listen if you like your rock loud.

After MDR finished, David and I made our way to the front of the hall for Terrorvision. Mhairi and Callum decided to stay up by the bar to watch the concert from there. While we waited on the stage being re-set for Terrorvision to step on stage, I got talking with a few of the fans standing around me. Terrorvision fans are, generally, a friendly bunch and although I didn't get any of their names it was great to have a chat with you.

Terrorvision guitarist Mark Yates

After a wee while, the stage was set, the lights went out and Terrorvision walked on stage to the theme tune of the classic TV police drama "The Sweeney". From the opening track, "Problem Solved", the pace was relentless, hardly drawing a breath between tracks at times. It was a great concert and an excellent set - even if they did miss out 2 of my favourite tracks: "Bad Actress" and "Some People Say". Suppose it shows just how good the gig was!

Tony Wright hardly stops dancing around while he's singing.
In the background, Shutty (drums) and Leigh Marklew
(bass) play their hearts out.

For their encore, some stools were brought out and they did an accoustic mini-set, including a swing version of Discotheque Wreck, the rock version of which they had played a short time earlier. After a few accoustic tracks, the stools were packed away, the electric guitars brought back out and they finished off the gig in phenominal style.

Mark was kind enough, and patient enough, to
pose for a picture for me

Set List
Problem Solved
Celebrity Hit List
Pretend Best Friend
Friends and Family
D'Ya Wanna Go Faster
Discotheque Wreck
Sometimes I'd Like To Kill Her
Dog Chewed The Handle
Fists Of Fury
New Policy One
Hide The Dead Girl
Didn't Bleed Red
If I Was You

Killing Time
Swingotheque Wreck
My House
Alice, What's The Matter?

It is safe to say that I enjoyed myself at the concert. According to Mhairi and Callum, who apparently had a clear view of the back of my head when I was at the front, I didn't stop dancing the whole night. I'm not surprised that I was sore the whole of the next day. Even so, I still want to do it all over again - and soon!

Mhairi and Callum enjoy their Chips 'n' Cheese
while waiting on the train home

To Terrorvision, I only have one thing to say - please don't make your Scottish fans have to wait another 7 years before coming to visit!

Speak soon.

The Cardman :-)

15 October 2008

Germany? Eastbourne? Where am I??? (Long post!)

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.

Sascha and Sonja messing about in the ice cream parlour

For a good time call... Unfortunately for Sascha,
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 view from Sonja's balcony with Murphy, Sonja's car, just below

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 Jordan

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 Simpson

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

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 James

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.

Mark Shortland

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 Ray

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).

Ali Shelley

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 Van Der Put

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 Melia

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 Allen

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:-

Brad Henderson

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.

Jason England
I had seen footage of Jason performing previously and was impressed with the phenominal stuff that he could do with a deck of cards. He can handle the toughest gambling moves and make them look easy. A couple of my favourites from his short spot were his ability to be able to cut the aces from a deck of cards - in the order that they were asked for by his spectator - and a great effect where he shuffled some face up cards into some face down ones and then tried to deal all the face up cards out of the deck. He succeeded, but made 5 mistakes along the way - those mistakes turned out to be a Royal Flush in Spades! Very nice stuff.

Bob Kholer

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 Del Guado

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!

Jon Armstrong
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!

Nicholas Einhorn

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.

Raymond Crowe performing his Hand Shadows
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.

Would you buy a magic magazine from these 2?
Yeah, I would too! Chris Power (left) and JJ,
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!

Speak soon.

The Cardman :-)

30 September 2008

Lynette Horsburgh Fundraising Pool Exhibition

Hi folks

Just a quick post to let you know that my friend, who also happens to be the 2008 WEPF Ladies World 8-Ball Champion, Lynette Horsburgh, will be doing a fundraising exhibition at Braehead Shopping Centre this weekend in aid of "Hearing Dogs For Deaf People". The dates and times are:-

Friday 3rd October 2008 from 10am till 9pm
Saturday 4th October 2008 from 9am till 6:30pm
Sunday 5th October 2008 from 10am till 6pm

Also, for your information, here's a little information about the work "Hearing Dogs For Deaf People" do.

"Nearly nine million of the UK population experience some degree of hearing loss. That's one person in every seven. Over 650,000 of these people are severely or profoundly deaf and could benefit from a hearing dog.

Hearing dogs change lives. They alert their deaf owners to sounds we take for granted, providing greater independence, confidence and security. Most are selected from rescue centres or donated as unwanted pets.

We rely totally on the generosity of individuals and organisations to continue transforming the lives of deaf people and unwanted puppies. Thank you for your interest in our work."

Lynette will be available to play between 10am and 9pm in return for a donation of £3 or more. At intervals during the day, trick shots will be performed, and lucky members of the audience will be invited to have a go.

If you can, get yourselves down there and help raise a ton of cash for a very worthy cause.

Speak soon

The Cardman :-)

15 September 2008

The Jill Deck - updated with more information

Hi folks

Thought I'd do a brief post about an item a friend of mine has launched in time for the IBM British Ring Convention taking place in Eastbourne next week.

Annabel De Vetten is a Birmingham-based artist who has designed a poker size deck of cards that I think looks pretty amazing. Now I am normally the first to denounce the use of the likes of "Viper" or "Tiger" playing cards which have black faces and white and/or red pips but these, in my eyes look really cool. The picture cards are actually pictures that Anna has designed and drawn herself. And the "Jacks" are what give the deck its name - all the Jacks are Jills, hence The Jill Deck.

The Jill Deck poster showing all the faces of all the cards

The cards cost £10 for the limited edition "Art Deck" which comes with a hand-signed Ace of Hearts and a free poster. There is also a "Magic Deck" which will sell for £12.

A closer view of a scattering of cards from The Jill Deck

The "Magic Deck" contains 60 cards, including 7 gaffed cards and has marked backs. The extra cards include some unquie gaffs. Included in the deck are some of the most important gaffed cards in card magic while others have been specifically created for the Jill Deck. As tricks are not included in this deck, how you use these gaff cards is entirely up to the owner of the deck. Included are:-

  • A duplicate Joker with a punched out bullet hole
  • A duplicate topless Queen of Clubs
  • A misindexed Ace of Diamonds/3 of Clubs
  • A misindexed 3 of Clubs/Ace of Diamonds
  • A double faced card
  • A double backed card.
  • A white Queen of Hearts

There will also be something called "The Jill Deck Community", which will allow users of the Jill Deck to share videos of effects using the cards and gaffs via YouTube. This part is still in development and is due to be launched on the Jill Deck website but to join, send an e-mail to info@card-shark.de with the link and a short introduction to your trick, if you like. There will also be a password-protected part of the Community where methods can be discussed. All the manufacturers request is that the explanation of the method (which would be appreciated) are kept separate from the performance.

For full details, go see Anna in the Dealers' Hall at the IBM Convention in Eastbourne.

Speak soon

The Cardman :-)

31 August 2008

The London Trip - long post!

Hi folks

Well, it took a while to arrive but in what feels like the blink of an eye, my trip to London has been and gone. It was a great few days. I just wish I had a little more time to enjoy it all!

I arrived at my hotel - the Wardonia Hotel in King's Cross - and quickly unpacked as I had a few things to get done before I presenting my magic lecture for International Magic that evening. Let me get this bit out of the way first. I liked the hotel. OK, so they don't serve food and the room was small, but it was comfortable, had everything I needed and there are loads of places to eat in the immediate area. I'll certainly stay there again.

I visited International Magic to make sure everything was arranged for that evening and a brief conversation with Jerry Sadowitz, who had not long returned from performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. When I returned a couple of hours later to get myself ready for the lecture, I couldn't help but continually think "who's going to turn up to see an unknown Scottish card magician?" Well, I only had to wait until people started arriving to realise that there would be a good crowd there to hear what I had to say and what I could do. In all, just over 30 people came along and they made for an excellent audience. My thanks to all of you for coming along and being interested in what I had to say.

I had arranged to meet up with my good pal Julie and her eldest son, Peter, at the Science Museum. While we were there, Julie wanted to find out some information, so while she was speaking to the people involved, Peter and I went and acted like big kids with some of the interactive stuff that is located on the 3rd floor of the Museum. Great fun, too! I even had my first experience of an IMAX movie. A fascinating film about dinosaurs that looked pretty cool in 3D.

Afterwards, we went walkabout for a wee bit. First of all to try to find a Pizza Hut for lunch, which we found, then to go to Covent Garden to see what was going on there. We stood for a wee while watching one of the buskers performing his slackrope walking routine - the exact opposite of a tightrope walker. Pretty entertaining stuff.

Julie and Peter (foreground) watch the slackrope
walking Busker in Covent Garden

After Julie and Peter left to head back home, I wandered about London a little more then decided to go back to my hotel. I was full of good intentions for the Friday night - go out to a show and enjoy myself. The truth, however, was that I was really tired and so decided just to stay in my hotel room, watch some TV and have an early night so I could ready myself for the following day.

Finally, the day had arrived. REM at Twickenham. When I woke, I wasn't as hyper-excited as I thought I would be, but that soon disappeared as I made my way towards Twickenham. On the way, I decided to make a slight detour and go look at a couple of London landmarks that aren't that well known - some clock and a big wheel that sits on the banks of the Thames.

Some big clock I'm sure I've seen on the TV somewhere!

The only ride at the London Amusement park -
it doesn't go that fast, but it's really tall!

Even though I had my REM Fan Club wristband, that allowed holders access to the stadium about half-an-hour before the rest of the crowd, I still wanted to get to there early so I could soak up some of the atmosphere, the surroundings and a little sun. I was, by no means, the first to arrive. From what I could gather, Fan Club members had been gathering since breakfast time so they could try to get a spot at the very front-centre of the barrier - right in front of Michael Stipe.

The wristband

REM Fan Club members sit inside the stadium
and discuss the tour so far

As it was, I got a good spot just one person back from the barrier and to the left centre stage, right in front of Mike Mills. Conversations that had started in the queue outside were continued inside the stadium and new ones started with the new Fan Club members sitting waiting on the first band on - Guillemots. Some of the others who had been to REM's other UK gigs during the week had said that they were not that impressed with them. However, it turns out that this happened to be the day they played a blinding set and where everything was perfect. Mike Mills even made a surprise appearance playing percussion during the last track of their set. Afterwards, more than one person was heard to say "they were a different band!" Very enjoyable and I'm going to have a wee listen to their albums.

Guillemots on stage

Next up were Editors, a band whom I've heard some of, but not a great deal. A lot of us had heard REM cover their song "Munich" on Radio 1 a few months ago, but other than that I didn't really know a lot of their songs. Like Guillemots, they played a great set and I'll certainly be sitting down and listening to their albums in due course.

Editors playing at Twickenham

Then, finally, REM made their way to the stage. They played songs from pretty much their entire history - from their current album "Accelerate" going all the way back to their first album, "Murmur", from 1983.

Michael practices his T-Rex moves during "The Wake Up Bomb"

Michael even came down to the front of the crowd - twice. Once during "The One I Love" and again during "Losing My Religion". The first time he came down, I managed to grab his hand for a second or so. Don't ask me why I did it, I felt it was something I had to do at that exact moment in time. When he came back down during "Losing My Religion", however, he was less than 3 feet from me. I held the sleeve of his suit jacket. Then I offered him my hand to shake and he did so! I shook hands with Michael Stipe!!! I couldn't believe it - I still can't! I got to shake hands with the lead singer of my all-time favourite band! I'm not going to be stupid and say "I'm never washing my hand again". The important thing is I have the memory of that moment when Michael Stipe shook my hand while singing "Losing My Religion". Fan-smegging-tastic!!!

OK, so it's a little blurry, but this is how close I got to
Michael Stipe. The blur near the bottom of the picture is
my left hand holding onto his sleeve.

Then, almost as soon as it had started, it was all over. The band were saying goodnight and I was working out how to get back to my hotel. But what a concert! What a day! Great weather (I got sunburned!), good company (thanks to Sarah, Samantha, Charlie, Ros and the others who's names I did not catch for your company during the day) and a phenominal concert.

It's the end of the gig as we know it (and we feel great!)

Set List
Living Well Is The Best Revenge
These Days
The Wake-Up Bomb
What's The Frequency, Kenneth?
Man-Sized Wreath
Disturbance At The Heron House
Walk Unafraid
Hollow Man
Fall On Me
The Great Beyond
I’m Gonna DJ
Exhuming McCarthy
The One I Love
I’ve Been High
Let Me In
Horse To Water
Bad Day
Orange Crush
Imitation Of Life

Supernatural Superserious
Losing My Religion
Perfect Circle
Country Feedback
It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
Man On The Moon

Before I go, however, I do have one amusing story for you from the concert. While waiting in the Fan Club queue to get in, one of the guys in front of me dug something out of his bag and started to inflate it. It turned out it was a 3-foot tall blow-up doll but he had been made up to look like Michael Stipe. When he was inflated and dressed, he really looked like Stipe in miniature - a "Mini Stipe" if you will. Best of all was that "Mini Stipe" managed to get into the gig with no problems from the security people and survived at the front until REM came on.

Mini Stipe being held up by his owner

During full-size Micheal's visit to the front of the crowd during "The One I Love", Michael shook hands with Mini Stipe and continued on his way along the front. At the end of the set, after REM had left the stage, one of the stage crew came running round from backstage and said that Michael had requested Mini Stipe for the encore. The owner duly gave Mini Stipe over and the next time he was seen was being carried on by Mike Mills and placed beside the piano. At the end of the concert, after taking their final bows, Michael walked over, picked up Mini Stipe and placed him in front of his microphone at centre stage.

What a great few days! What a great concert! I want to do it all again! I'll just need to wait for the next tour to come along.

Speak soon.

The Cardman :-)

P.S. Did I tell you I shook hands with Micheal Stipe? No? Let me tell you about it...!