22 June 2009

Take That at The National Stadium, Hampden Park, Glasgow, 23 June 2009

Hi folks

So, 15 years ago, if you had told me that I would have been attending a Take That concert with my sister and enjoyed it, I would have probably looked at you in a funny way – and I don’t mean “funny haha.” Yet, a couple of Saturdays ago, I was with Mhairi, her husband Callum and her best friend Irene at Scotland’s National Stadium at Hampden in Glasgow to see the former Boy Band perform. I knew it would be an entertaining show, I did not realise how much of a spectacle it would be!

The scene as we entered the stadium with some
of the props in view before the show

Mhairi, Callum and Irene in the crowd waiting for the show to start

When we arrived at the stadium, we managed to find my colleague, and good friend, Lisa as well as her sister, Karen, and some of their friends who were all there too. We even managed to bump into an old school friend of Mhairi's who I hadn't seen in some 11 or 12 years! Cheryl's now married with 2 kids and it was great to catch up with her for a short time.

Me with Lisa (left) and Karen

Mhairi and Cheryl catch up

On the whole, the show had a feel of a Cirque De Soleil show with phenominal circus performers appearing at different times during the show. They even had a wire walker, the first one I have seen live since I was on holiday in Spain with my parents when I was 3 years old! However, one of THE most amazing things we all saw that night was an elephant that appeared out of the floor of the small stage across the stadium from us and that walked to the main stage. What was so amazing about it was that it was operated by some of the dancers. People operating the legs, some more operating the ears and a girl hanging upside down as the tail. It looked phenominal!

Irene and Mhairi singing along

The elephant

The show was nothing short of phenominal and I am more than a little glad that I went. Yes, I sang along to the songs that I knew - I'm not too proud to admit that bit - but I did not do any of the choreographed dances that seemed to be going on in the crowd. They were great fun to watch, especially part-way through "Relight My Fire". I might just go next time they're in town.

Greatest Day
Could It Be Magic
Million Love Songs
Back For Good
The Garden
Up All Night
Wooden Boat
How Did It Come To This
The Circus
What Is Love
Do What You Like/It Only Takes a Minute/Take That and Party
Said It All
Never Forget
Relight My Fire

Hold Up A Light
Rule The World

Mark (left) and Jason wave their goodbyes
to the section of the crowd I was in

Speak soon

The Cardman :-)

17 June 2009

Mark Elsdon lecturing in Scotland next week

Hi folks

Just a quick post to let you all know that Mark Elsdon is doing a couple of lectures in Scotland next week. The first is one that he has organised himself and will be held on Wednesday 24th June at the SCA's headquarters - the Scottish Mask and Puppet Theatre, 8-10 Balcarres Avenue, Glasgow, G12 0QF starting at 7:30pm. The entry fee for this lecture will be £10 and includes 2 free sets of lecture notes (in PDF format on a CD-Rom) to each attendee.

His other lecture will be at West Lothian Magic Circle the following evening, Thursday 25th June, at their headquarters at East Calder & District Homing Society Social Club, Oakbank Road, East Calder, Livingston, EH53 0BT, also starting at 7:30pm. Visiting magicians are welcome with the entrance fee also being £10.

Please note that Mark's free lecture note offer is only available at the Glasgow lecture.

You can download a couple of PDF files regarding the lectures - the first is the poster for the Glasgow lecture, the other being a series of Frequently Asked Questions about his lecture. You can also read a review from a lecture that Mark presented last year by clicking here.

Whether you go to the lecture in Glasgow or at West Lothian, I hope you enjoy it.

Speak soon.

The Cardman :-)

16 June 2009

German Lecture and FFFF 2009

Hi folks

Well, things have been a bit busy of late, but there is a blog that is long overdue. Hope you’re sitting comfortably because it’s a big one!

The events themselves were a long time coming, incredibly fast in passing and now, sitting typing this, almost feel like the distant past. A trip involving a trip to Germany to visit Sonja for a few days and lecture for Magische Nordlichter in Hamburg (click here for the English translation of the site), a visit to New York City and then going to, and performing at, the legendary Fechter’s Finger Flicking Frolic, also known as FFFF or 4F. And all in 2 weeks. Pretty crazy, almost jet-setting, stuff.

The trip to Germany was great. I as staying, as always, with Sonja in her new house in the beautiful little town of Bruchhausen-Vilsen, about 45 minutes south of Bremen. Bruchhausen-Vilsen, also informally called “BruVi”, is a town a little smaller in population than Stewarton with just over 6,000 inhabitants, and is a real mix of old and modern.

The main street in Bruchhausen-Vilsen

My visits to Sonja are always very relaxing and great fun. This visit was more of the same – chilling out with Sonja at the new place, visiting her parents who live a couple of towns away and being shown various towns in the nearby area as well as walking around and getting to know the town of Bruchhausen-Vilsen itself It was a great few days.

There was, however, another reason why I was in Germany. I had been invited to present my card magic lecture to Magische Nordlichter in Hamburg. Now, normally, I don’t get overly nervous before a lecture but this was my first time lecturing for a group who’s first language is not English, therefore it would be my first time presenting my lecture with the assistance of an interpreter meaning that I was really nervous. Luckily for me, I had an interpreter that I know quite well – Sonja. I was also nervous about how many people were likely to turn up. How many people in a different country come to hear a relatively unknown Scottish card man come and teach them card magic? Well, I didn’t have to worry as some 35 people came along that day, making both the organisers happy and me both very pleased and very relieved.

Sonja and I before the start of the lecture
(Photo courtesy of Fred Husmann)

Being introduced at the start of the lecture
(Photo courtesy of Fred Husmann

The lecture itself went really well and very smoothly with everyone seeming interested in what I had to say during it. Sonja did a phenomenal job translating what I was saying so that everyone could understand the information I was putting across. Before I forget, I’d just like to publicly say thank you to a few folk:

  • To Fred Husmann for helping get the lecture organised in the first place and for taking a ton of pictures during the lecture (a few of which you’ll see just below here);
  • To Denis Behr and Henning K√∂hlert for their hard work translating my lecture notes into German; and
  • To Sonja for helping the all the translations, doing the interpreting on the day and being a constant source of encouragement (not to mention hugs) on the day itself.
Sonja translating the lecture
(Picture courtesy of Fred Husmann)

A light-hearted moment during the lecture

Sonja and I after the lecture - the relief is obvious!
(Picture courtesy of Fred Husmann)

A couple of days after the lecture, I was on a flight home to Scotland. A night at home allowed me to change over clothes in my suitcase and relax for a wee bit before the flight to America the following day and save some £150 in airfares compared to if I had flown to America from Germany! The flight to the States was fairly uneventful and passed pretty quickly. It helped that I watched “Back To The Future” (classic!), an episode of “NCIS” and the first Harry Potter movie.

I arrived in New York City having gone through Immigration, baggage reclaim and Customs at Newark Airport in less than an hour! Very impressed! I was staying with my friend Ali who stays in an apartment on Wall Street. Wall Street!!! How cool is that?! This location means that it is easy to get pretty much anywhere. After dropping my luggage off in Ali’s apartment and meeting Eric Leclerc, who was also staying at Ali’s before the journey up to FFFF, I did a bit of a whirlwind tour of New York City. First the Statue of Liberty seen from the Staten Island Ferry, then lunch at the South Street Seaport. After that, I went and met up with my friend Sara who works in the Chrysler Building.

The Statue of Liberty as seen from the Staten Island Ferry

Our intention was that we were going to go up the Empire State Building but that had to be re-thought as the top of the building was fogged in by low-lying cloud. Ach well. We went walkabout round some parts of the city doing some shopping and a few of the famous sites. I even got to see Times Square in full nighttime effect for the first time. To say the least, it was pretty amazing. Sadly, I made the mistake of sitting down at one point and that’s when the jetlag hit me like a ton weight.

The top of the Empire State Building shrouded in fog

Welcome to New York! And no, neither Sara nor I knew these people!
(Picture courtesy of Sara Crasson)

Sara and I in Times Square

The following morning Ali, Eric and I travelled by bus from New York City to the famed FFFF Convention in Batavia in upstate New York. The journey took the best part of 9 hours but it was good to be able to see parts of America that I would not otherwise have seen if we had flown to the convention.

Fechter’s Finger Flicking Frolic is billed as “The Original Magic Convention” and is limited to 200 invited attendees. It is considered a great honour for a Close Up Magician to be given an invite to FFFF. Not only do you have to get an invite, you also need to have 2 previous attendees willing to say that you are good enough to meet the “FFFF Standard”. For that, my thanks go to Ali Cook and Will Houstoun for their confidence in sponsoring me for my first 4F.

All first time attendees are expected to perform during one of the formal shows that take place during the convention. I did not know when I was due to perform until I picked up my registration pack on the Wednesday. Written onto my registration pass was “Thursday, 3:30pm show”. Great, I perform on the first full day and then I can relax and enjoy the rest of the weekend. Unfortunately, my roommate, Will Gray, was not due to perform until the Friday night.

FFFF is always dedicated to one particular magician. This year it was the 2000 World Champion of Card Magic, Argentina’s Henry Evans. During the convention, Henry presented an excellent lecture which showed exactly how creative and devilish he really can be.

With 2009 FFFF Guest of Honour, Henry Evans

The convention always starts with a lecture and this year’s opening lecture was by my good friend John Archer, a really funny person and a brilliant performer. His lecture was received very well by the mostly American audience and it was great to hear how his humour was as well received by the Americans as it is here in the UK.

Will Gray shows his FFFF badge to John Archer
Keith Fields whilst at dinner

After the lecture, and at the end of each day of the convention, we had access to what was called the “Hospitality Suite”, which was a fairly large room with 5 large banqueting tables with chairs around them and free coffee, soft drinks and Tim Hortons doughnuts. That’s one way of making sure we session late into the night – fill us with caffeine and sugar!

Sessions in The Hospitality Room

To be completely honest, the rest of the weekend is a total blur! Not because of the amount of time that has passed between it all happening and me finally sitting down to type this blog, but because of the amount of stuff that happened over the weekend. So, in no particular order, here’s a wee run-down of some of my personal highlights from the weekend’s activities.

  • Steve Beam’s hysterical finger prediction in the Teach-A-Trick session.
    The final show on the Saturday night – no other convention could put such a strong show together.
  • Stephen Bargatze’s comedy run-down of the week’s activities.
  • A wonderful little film put together by Dick Cook showing pictures from through the history of the FFFF Convention.
  • George Schindler, the “World’s Greatest Magician” performing his hysterical act.
  • Meeting Gary Ward, co-creator of Connoisseur Conjuring, for the first time having corresponded with him online for a good number of years.
  • Meeting the hysterically funny Geoff Williams – or “Go-eff” as he was called after a mis-print on his convention badge!
  • Watching Portugal’s Helder Guimaraes and France’s Boris Wild having session in the Hospitality Suite that seemed to take “Jazz Magic” to a whole different level.
  • 4 words – The Cups And Farts!
Me with Gary Ward - a friend of several years whom
I was only meeting face-to-face for the first time!

Helder and Boris in the midst of their multi-evening epic session

The hotel it was held in – the Holiday Inn, Batavia – was excellent and the staff there could not have been any more helpful or welcoming to all of us. For me, it was the perfect convention hotel – a magic convention in one of the function rooms and a free pool table in the hotel bar! I was in heaven!!!

There was far too much to be able to take in over the course of the weekend. It is an amazing convention that anyone who does Close Up Magic should aspire to get to. Work hard and you’ll get the invite. I loved every minute of it and look forward to hopefully going back next April for the 40th Anniversary Convention.

Me in the middle of performing at FFFF
(Picture courtesy of Robin Dawes)

The obligatory first-timer's picture - in front of the FFFF banner

There is one more wee story that has to be told. After the bus journey up, Ali made the statement that we were going to fly back to New York on Sunday – we weren’t taking the bus back!!! On the Saturday morning, Ali booked the 2 of us standby seats on the 6am flight back to New York, which meant being up all night on the Saturday night. Fine by me, means I can see as many sessions going on as possible. We got to the airport, checked in our luggage, got through security and arrived at the gate in plenty time. It looked good for Ali and I to get on the flight. After the confirmed passengers had got on the plane, Ali and I approached the gate. She was OK to get on, but there was a problem with my booking.

Apparently, there had been a glitch in the computer system meaning that my booking had not gone through properly. Ali tried her best to sort the situation but to no avail. So, while I went to baggage reclaim to get the cases, Ali went to the check in desk to find out what had gone wrong and to see if there were any other flights available that day. As it was, there weren’t any. After a few minutes, there was still no sign of our luggage. Ali went back up to find out what was going on and, sure enough, our luggage was on its way to Newark without us! We managed to get back to the convention hotel and got driven back to New York City by George Schindler. The interesting thing was surviving for a couple of days in New York City without any luggage. Thank goodness for the city that never sleeps as I managed to get the essentials I needed to get through the following day.

Then, before I knew it, it was all over. Time to head home. It was a great time and one that I hope I get to do again sometime very soon.

Speak soon.

The Cardman :-)