Magicians' Club 49th Annual Convention
23rd - 25th February 2001
Reviewed by Mandy Davis
This was my first year at Blackpool and I had a fantastic time - I was busy from 9am (breakfast) to 3am (talking!) and four days after it ended, I am still trying to recover!
The first event took place on Friday evening and was the Close Up Magic Competition. The standard was high and all the competitors were in with a chance of at least a place in the final three. As the competition took place in three different rooms, with the judges all in the same one, audiences in the other locations contested the results. However, one entrant told me that he knew had had not gone down as well in the judging room as in the others and he felt he deserved not to be placed - how often do you meet such honesty? Third place went to Peter Roberts who had previously won the IBM competition with a similar routine which culminated in some polished large ring and rubber band work. Second prize was awarded to Ian Barradell (whose act I fail to remember as I was one of the 'volunteers' sitting at his table) and the accolade of first place went to Lee Davis who has also won IBM with the same act showing clever card handling and the revelation of a shuffled deck into new deck order. The others taking part were: Tim Shoesmith, Mike Smith, Carl Royle, Trevor Stone and Kane.
One minor comment - why were these prizes awarded on the same night and not held over to the main prize giving during the Gala Show on Sunday? I did feel that this trivialised close up magic as not being important enough.
Let me confess here that I only managed to attend one lecture during the whole convention. As stated previously, I was too busy talking! However, I have spoken to those that did go to all of them and will impart to you the general consensus of opinion. The highly revered Salvano gave a well-received lecture on stage magic. Sadly, he was suffering from laryngitis which didn't help - although this didn't affect his silent stage act!
Children's Entertainer of the Year was fascinating - for the wrong reasons. Some of the acts were so poor that it was amazing to think that they had been 'invited' to compete. Also, although the competitors had been told that they were to perform fifteen minutes of their children's show, almost all of them exceeded this time-scale and one of them ran for forty minutes! Ali Bongo compered the event but it was felt that he was somewhat out of his depth with children of the 21st Century. However, the ten rows of kids all seemed to appreciate most of what was happening during the two and a half hours. The winner of this event was almost a foregone conclusion - Colonel Custard (Paul Megram) carried off the trophy although, in my view, Russell Brown's up-to-the-minute look, music and patter is worth a mention.
Due to the overrun of that competition, I missed the Topas lecture and the first ten or fifteen minutes of Stephen Bargatze's one. I heard that Topas was extremely professional whilst Stephen gave a memorable demonstration of comedy routining covering a chop cup routine among others.
The afternoon's Master Class offered some superb work from Bob King, Gregory Wilson, Topas (his name was almost everywhere!), Rafael Benatar and Chad Long - all hosted by Terry Seabrooke. From the comments afterwards everyone seemed to have enjoyed it although I am not sure whether anyone came away having learned anything.
I missed Rafael Benatar's lecture as I was still trying to get around the Dealers' Hall which I am told was a great improvement over previous years in size and layout. I had been dreading the crush that had been the hallmark of the Blackpool convention but now the dealers displayed their wares in the main ballroom with plenty of space for everyone, both sides of the counters.
The Stage competition opened with great pzazz and continued in that way throughout. It was divided into three sections with a different compere for each. Peter Scarlett introduced the first act - Daniel Dean who, with song and dance, illusions and girls who could really do their stuff, was the deserving winner of the Illusion prize. My only comment on the act was that the 'lovely Emma' should have billing as her contribution to the act was almost equal to Daniel's.
Joe Knight was competing for the Junior prize with a Coke machine as his centrepiece and effects such as doves from coke cans.
John Archer deserved the comedy prize for his wonderful sight gags, D'lite routine to music and bowling ball production. His card revelation defies description but included a friendly full sized skeleton!
Martyn James also went for the illusion category but didn't have quite the polish needed. His act included a cage of fire which produced two girls and a box with a mangle which 'flattened' out the girl assistant, only to re-inflate her and produce a second girl from the same box.
To herald each intermission, we were given a treat - a preview of acts which we were to see in full flow the following evening. To close the first half, Topas and Roxanne performed an excellent silent thumb tie routine where they were tied together and worked as one.
Tony Stevens compered the second section. Mark Taylor won the General magic and the Grand Prix with an act which incorporated some of the largest 'bangs' I have ever heard indoors! Fireworks and explosions interspersed productions of umbrellas, drinks and floating lights.
Philip Partridge, the camp conjuror, was just that and no more. Hampered slightly by a non-working microphone, it was considered just as well by some that not all his tawdry comments were heard. The magic was standard - restored newspaper pieces, folding mirror, silk to egg and balloon swallowing with obvious one-liners.
James Parker won the junior section with his Act as Known which he had honed and polished whilst performing at last year's Magic Circle Christmas Party.
Nicholas Mohammed was another magician who has yet to reach competition standard. He also started with restored newspaper pieces but spoke so fast and kept apologising after each joke. He had little delivery and I was not the only one to find it very difficult to understand his garbled repartee.
This section was closed by a Beauty and the Beast scene re-enacted by FISM winner Mask. His beast mask and costume were amazing and the whole vignette was magical.
Terry Seabrooke compered the final section and introduced the Carjons. Their finale of the production of a large white dog from fire in a cage was not enough to win them the illusion prize this year.
Alex Lodge, debuted a brand new act for the junior section. Gone was his usual tailcoat and classic magic. Instead we met a brash American kid who manipulated CDs, yo-yos and silver thimbles. The act isn't quite ready yet but it was a brave attempt and could become prize-winning in the future - watch this space!
Mark Shortland, the eventual winner of the Ken Dodd comedy award, regaled us with sight gags and failed to find a selected card. His well-known and well-honed cake spelling routine had the audience in fits of laughter and he amazed many when the card emblazoned on the back of his waistcoat finally changed to the original selection.
Tony Parx was the final competitor in the general magic category. This act seemed somewhat dated with a rose changing back and forth and silk productions ending with the production of a waist-high anchor.
Topas and Roxanne filled in the gap, whilst the judges judged, with a superb levitation piece.
Bob King started Sunday with an excellent lecture which he will be repeating and adding to at the Magic Circle and at selected UK venues in the spring. Suffice it to say - don't miss it!
The Close Up Magic performances were spread over three sessions during the day. Those who had attended the entire convention were able to see all the performers but single day people could only catch four as they were restricted to one session only.
Peter Scarlett opened with his polished diminishing cards, his well-known rope routine and the location of four aces.
Jarle Leirpol from Norway changed a £10.00 note for a £20, found a selected card with the use of a mousetrap and gave us Sleight of Mouth which included props such as a surgical glove and a pair of forceps!
Greg Wilson defies description. His fast cracking humour and even faster card locations have to be seen to be believed. I am afraid that I was too busy enjoying myself to take any notes beyond his Reboxed routine which opened his set! Don't ever miss this man.
Jupiter from Hungary produced a birdcage before producing some coins for a matrix and passing them through the table. Once again, a very well-honed set piece.
Our afternoon session began with Stephen Bargatze whose off-the-wall costume and zany performing style had the audience in fits of laughter. We saw two tricks, one of Stephen's own - This and That -and also Fred Kap's Eleven-Dollar Bill trick - both with excellent routining.
Bob King performed with cards, coins and rope and left us wanting more.
Rafael Benatar also had some great routining ideas. He found a selected card by 'faxing' it from one half of a deck to the other and he used the concept of emails for his cups and balls.
Great Britain was ably represented once more by Paul Wilson whose clever, card and coin work has benefited from 'audience friendly' routines which had been lacking previously. I found his act to be an enjoyable performance rather than just a clever one.
Chad Long and Gregory Wilson both lectured in the afternoon but both were repeating their previous lectures at the IBM conventions.
The International Gala Show opened with one of the greatest acts in the world and I felt very privileged to see what was probably their last performance. Marvin Roy and Carol produced light bulbs and chandeliers with all the polish and professionalism you would expect. Their light bulb chain from mouth led to a standing ovation and it was no surprise when they were presented with the Murray Award later in the evening.
Mick Miller was a great compere for the evening with some self-deprecating humour to link the acts. Roxanne performed in a Gothic setting but her loads were somewhat obvious and she seemed more relaxed when working with Topas than alone.
Amethyst gave us several illusions which impressed the professional illusionists sitting next to me. Their finale - a vanish of a motorcycle and rider - was rather spoiled for me as from where I was seated, I could see what had happened to the rider!
Stephen Bergatze's straitjacket escape was hilarious but his attitude to children was the thing that most people remembered. He lined up a few youngsters at the back of the stage telling them that this was a good place to watch the act from - and then closed the back curtains on them so they were hidden from view!
Salvano was another legend of magic whose classic but quirky presentation of card manipulations and drink productions were superb.
Greg Frewin closed the first half with a sub trunk style switch in the form of an inverted glass pyramid. Yet again, the illusionists were most impressed.
Mark Oberon's Black Art Theatre was very different and futuristic. He has certainly brought his art into the 21st Century with great style.
Topas performed his Act as Known with sunglasses and wands, ending with the production of ringing bells. Once again, this was an act which shone with polish and professionalism.
Mask's was the first of two FISM winning acts; using puppets and bubbles he created a story of rejection and love which ended when the puppets transformed into a real boy and girl. You either loved it or not - I loved it.
Ken Dodd limited himself to approximately ten minutes which I am told is a record in brevity but he was nevertheless warmly applauded by the audience.
The second FISM winners were Scott the Magician and Muriel from Holland. If I explained the act in detail, it would ruin it for anyone who sees it for the first time in the future. Suffice to say it was hilarious, it was different and it was talked about long after the evening had ended.
Topas and Roxanne worked together to present a wonderful levitation which then culminated in an Asra and was beautifully presented. Finally Greg Frewin did what he is famous for - his celebrated dove act where doves just erupted from nowhere. This was a cracking ending for a gala which gave us perhaps the finest magic ever put together under one roof.
The after Gala Party was well attended and the Lancashire Hotpot supper was most welcome. Duane Laflin and Mary performed their delightful silk act with class and humour and the evening was rounded off by the Bachelors - singing sensation of the Sixties. Well one of them was a Bachelor back then - one out of three ain't bad, I suppose.
With late card sessions among new and old friends in the HQ hotel bar lasting until almost 4 a.m. every night and an elongated train journey home which was a non-stop card school from Blackpool to London, I guess you can say that I had a wonderful time. Roll on 2002!
© Mandy Davis, February 2001