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...!


26 August 2008

London, Here I Come!

Hi folks

Just a quick post to remind you that I am presenting my card magic lecture for International Magic. The lecture will be taking place on Thursday 28th August at their usual venue - 'Casa Italiana', 136 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1R 5DL (click here for a map). If you are interested in coming along, please e-mail or telephone Martin MacMillan on martin@internationalmagic.com or 020 7405 7324. Times are 7:15pm for a prompt 7:30pm start, and it will be finishing around 9.45pm. The cost is £10 per person.

Once I have presented my lecture, I will be able to relax and start properly looking forward to the R.E.M. concert at Twickenham on Saturday. I have been looking at the setlists for all the previous shows on the tour and am hoping that they will play one or 3 of my all-time favourites. Songs like "Pretty Persuasion", "Driver 8" and "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville". I don't ask much! Please?! And with me being in posession of an R.E.M. Fan Club early entry wristband, I am looking forward to hopefully having a prime spot at the front of the crowd.

Now, roll on Thursday morning! I want to get to London!

Speak soon.

The Cardman :-)

15 August 2008

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2008

Hi folks

Regular readers (Greee-tings!) may know that I enjoy going to Edinburgh at least once each August to see what's on at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This year, I managed to go through for a few days in a row, and great fun it was too. This was thanks to my good friend Julie, who had decided to travel up to Edinburgh from Watford for a few days to see what it was all about.

We were staying at Pollok Halls, part of Edinburgh University's student accommodation which is taken over by tourists and some groups taking part in shows at the Fringe. I thought the accommodation was great. OK so there wasn't a TV in the room, but they were clean, comfortable and spacious and the breakfast was excellent.

So what did we go and see? Well, that's a fairly extensive list but one that I am willing to type for you, dear reader, along with my own personal thoughts of each show. So, here goes...

"Britishness" :: Shelley Cooper :: Laughing Horse @ Espionage
We decided to start our trip to the Fringe by going to this show for 2 simple reasons. First, the venue was easy to get to and second, it was free. It was part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival, which you'll hear a wee bit about in the next wee while as we did a few of their shows. The venue was a pub just off the High Street and the room was pretty packed for the show. Sadly, the show wasn't really up to much. After a bit of time with the age-old "hi, where are you from?" start to a comedy show, Ms Cooper started to give us her definition of what being British was. There was an interesting part of the show that dealt with the history of Britain, but the show itself was pretty disappointing from the comedy side of things.

"Devlin's Daily" :: Bruce Devlin :: The Stand 1
After our first trip to the High Street (aka The Royal Mile) where all the street performers gather and do their shows, we made our way to The Stand for what is a regular weekday show that takes place at lunchtime and takes the form of a live talkshow giving people wee previews of things that are on at the Fringe. The first thing that needs to be mentioned here is that it is free. And before anyone thinks "free = crap", this is the show that goes against that rule. It might be free, but it is excellent. Each lunchtime Bruce Devlin introduces a few of the performers from around the Fringe who then talk about, or perform a little bit of, their show. On this particular day, a packed house was treated to Jason Cook and Kate Robbins talking about their respective shows and Jarlath Regan performing a few minutes from his. On the strength of what we saw, Julie and I decided to go see Jarlath the following day but more on that later.

A crowd in Parliament Square watching one of
the many street performers

"The Expert At The Card Table" :: Guy Hollingworth :: Assembly Rooms @ George Street
OK, biased review alert. This is for a couple of reasons. First, I've known Guy Hollingworth for a good number of years. Second, it is a show about the first book to really fully explain the methods of card cheats. So, of course I was going to like it before I went in! I just didn't realise how good the show would be or how packed out the theatre would be. The room holds 120 people and all but some 10 or 20 seats were filled. The show revolves around the story of the book "The Expert At The Card Table", its author and his best friend who came together through a mutual love of playing cards. Peppered throughout this story are some brilliant pieces of card magic (these go beyond being simply card "tricks") which had the audience gasping in amazement. Regular readers (hello!) may remember me saying in an earlier post that I had seen this show in London back in November. Well, it is the same show, but there are some differences to it. It is also a lot "tighter" as a theatre piece, mostly due to Guy working on the show with a Director. Excellent show and highly recommended.

Kreisler '08 :: Jeff Kreisler :: The Stand 4
Next up was American Stand Up Comedian Jeff Kreisler who's name had intrigued me as the 2006 recipient of the "Bill Hicks Spirit Award for Thought-Provoking Comedy". Being a fan of Hicks, I thought I would give the show a go. Before I go any further, let me give you this advice. If you are not up to speed on your American politics or what is going on in the American Election, then this show is not for you. If you have some knowledge of what is going on, then you will get a number of the references that are given. Kreisler will make you think about what is going on. It seems like the set that was performed on the day I attended required a lot of knowledge of what is currently going on in American politics and from what I've read, this could have been the show that he is referring to on his Blog as "my one i’ve-barely-slept-and-am-taking-it-out-on-the-audience show." I'd be interested in seeing a well-rested Kreisler performing to a more responsive audience.

RJ of "All-Star Magic and Comedy - Direct from San Francisco!"
resplendent in his kilt

Ali Cook - A Touch Of Vegas :: Ali Cook :: Gilded Balloon Teviot
Ali Cook is another in the "I've known this guy for years" crowd who are performing at this year's Fringe, so again this might be considered a biased review. I had seen Ali performing Close Up in the past, as well as lecturing for magicians, but had never seen him perform a one-hour magic show for the general public. This show was a lot of fun. Good magic well executed. He was also increadibly funny as well. He had some great reactions from the audience with a lot of his magic, especially when he was messing about with a dove. A great bit of mind reading with a magazine had me scratching my head with multiple theories, none of which I think are right. He also managed to get the perfect spectator up for his Finger Ring in Walnut routine. If I wrote what happened, it wouldn't seem funny. You just had to be there. Another excellent show that you should try to get to see before the run finishes next week.

The Piper's Trail :: The Army in Scotland, in Association With ImpAct Universal (Scotland) :: Musical Theatre @ George Square
One of the great things about the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is that you can arrive in the city without any real plans of what you are going to see and decide while you are there. We got given a flyer for this show about 10-15 minutes before it was due to start and, with about an hour-and-a-half to kill before our first planned show of the day, we went along. Personally, I was ready for this to be terrible, but it was actually an excellent family show which went down very well with the wide-ranging audience. The idea was that two tenneagers with troubles at home discover themselves as they face a series of challenges while they journey across the country. The final scene does actually move you, at which point you realise it has been building up, although the shortbread tin tartant finale is a litle cliched. On the whole, surprisingly enjoyable, and free too!

"Devlin's Daily" :: Bruce Devlin :: The Stand 1
We enjoyed this the day before so much that we decided to go again. The room was only about half-full today but what we saw was still enjoyable. We had to leave early to go to our next show.

Electric Mouse - A La Carte :: Electric Mouse :: Laughing Horse @ Espionage
A show that consisted of 3 comedians - 2 male and one female - and a comedy singer-songwriter and that had the feel of a show that was put together at the last minute. People forgot who was coming on stage next to perform. Some even forgot their fellow performer's names! As for the performances themselves, the first comedian on looked like he was on stage for the very first time, another tried doing edgy/contraversial material that was mostly unfunny, the female comedian had a few good lines (and was rather cute, too!) but the strongest performer was the singer-songwriter. He had some really sick songs which were also quite funny. Sadly, however, overall I found it to be a fairly weak show.

Jarlath Regan - "Relax The Cax" :: Jarlath Regan :: Guilded Balloon Teviot
Jarlath Regan was the guy that we had seen do a few minutes of his show at the previous day's "Devlin's Daily". I was impressed by those few short minutes and I was equally impressed by his one-hour show. The whole show stems from a wee story about him and a car clamper. From such humble beginnings, Jarlath opens his world up to the audience and what a world it is. I won't quote any of the gags that were used in the show, you'll have to go and see him yourself! The one thing I will tell you is watch out for his greetings cards! Great stuff and I recommend you go and see him the next time he is in your area.

London Underground and Yet More Ballads :: The Amateur Transplants :: Medina & Negociants
The Amateur Transplants are 2 doctors who put rude and very un-PC words to well know (mostly pop) tunes. Julie found this one hidden away in the Fringe Brouchure. She suggested that we tried to get tickets and I was more than happy to do so. My good friends Carol and Emz had introduced me to their stuff with their first CD, "Fitness To Practice", so I knew what I was in for. Well, they did a ton of stuff from that album, along with new tracks that I had not heard before. Suffice to say, the whole room was rocking with laughter throughout the entire show. If you ever get the chance to see these guys live, and are not easily offended, then beg, borrow or steal to get a ticket. Just don't say I didn't warn you about how offensive it can be!!! This was probably the funniest thing I saw the whole week.

The Golden Age Of Magic :: Ian Kendall :: The Zoo
Ian Kendall is a long-time (I won't say old!) friend. He's also a long-time performer at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe - this was his 17th straight year performing at the Fringe. During that time, Ian has built up a bit of a following and his shows have now started selling out. Always great to see a friend doing so well. This year's show's theme was about magic from the turn of the 20th century with stories about some of the performers of that time. Technically, Ian performed the material perfectly (I knew there was a reason I disliked Ian!) and presented it with his usual droll sense of humour. On the night we attended, there was a Spanish couple in the front row. When he asked the girl to help with the last trick of the evening, it turned out she spoke very little English, but then Ian's professionalism (also helped by the fact that his wife is Spanish!) came to the fore and he performed list last routine in Spanish with an in-running English translation as the routine progressed. Great stuff and I would recommend this show if it hadn't finished the weekend after we saw it! Seriously, though, if you get a chance to see Ian perform next year, do so.

Magicians gossip - Kevin McMahon (left), Ian Kendall (centre)
and Julie in mid-discussion about all things magic. "Big Al" Catraz
of "All-Star Magic and Comedy - Direct from San Francisco!"
checks his e-mail in the background

In The Mouth :: Laughing Horse @ Espionage
This was the first of 4 shows that we saw at the one venue. We had left our digs in the morning and had several hours to kill before getting Julie to the airport and me back to Stewarton so instead of trying to walk around Edinburgh with our cases in tow, we decided to go to Espionage and see a bunch of free shows. (And before anyone asks, we were going to put our cases into the left luggage at Edinburgh Waverley Station, but the queue was miles too long!) The first show we saw was a 3-person sketch show was more miss than hit. A lot more. There were a couple of good sketches in it (my personal favouite involving a DVD shop), but upon reflection the whole show felt like a series of sketches, each of which had been written in a very short space of time.

Julie's obviously enjoying the show

Angel Delight Is A Dog's Best Friend :: Ben Brown :: Laughing Horse @ Espionage
How funny can a baby-faced teenage stand up comic be? Answer - very. Ben Brown is a young and confident stand up comedian who held the audience's attention for around 40 minutes. And had us laghing, too. I say that without trying to sound surprised but you need to remember that this was one of the "Free Festival" shows and, generally, Free Festival show = good chance of it being crap. This was the show that broke that rule. Watch out for this young man in the future. He could be big.

(James Mason Is Not) Bill Hicks & (Bobby Carroll Ain't No) Richard Pryor :: James Mason and Bobby Carroll :: Laughing Horse @ Espionage
OK, so we're gluttons for punishment. Three shows in a row at Espionage and this one, for some of it, was back to the usual Free Festival level. James Mason came on in a black lether jacket and pretty much mumbled his way through his set. Sadly, I didn't find him particularly funny. It came across as if it was this young man's first show. Bobby Carroll, however, came across as someone who does stand up comedy for a living and who, by his own admission, was trying out new material. His material was not-too-bad and he got a few good laughs from around the room.

Dog Day King :: Snorri Kristjansson :: Laughing Horse @ Espionage
Another show to brake the Free Festival rule. Snorri is an Icelandic stand up comedian (no, I didn't know there were any either!) who's name sounds like a bunch of unfortunate words in different languages. For me, this was the best show of the day. Sadly, his microphone decided to play up and so had to make do without. This meant that Julie and I had to try very hard to be able to hear him as we were sitting right underneath the air vent that was bringing cool air in from the outside world (Julie gave up after a few minutes of struggling). I enjoyed his set and, given the chance, would try to go to see him again.

And so, it was time to leave Espionage. After a walk around a few wee bits of Edinburgh (with cases in tow - not exactly fun!) it was time to get Julie to the airport and me back to Stewarton. We both had a great time and we both saw the sorts of shows that we wanted to see - the good and the bad. Luckily, we saw more good than bad and didn't have to pay too much for the bad.

This year's Fringe is nearly finished, but mark a weekend in your diary for next August and try to get to Edinburgh. You won't regret it!

Speak soon.

The Cardman :-)