63rd Blackpool Bonanza
February 20th, 21st, 22nd 2015
Reviewed by Walt Lees
Photos by Daniel Eden/Eden Photography
Photos © www.eden-photography.co.uk used with permission.
To view or purchase official Blackpool Convention photos visit www.eden-photography.co.uk 'Proofing' and enter BMCDAY1 or BMCDAY2 or BMCDAY3
In its 63rd year, Blackpool it is still drawing
vast crowds. There is nothing else like it, for sheer size, quantity and
excellence. On an event of such a
scale, with regular attendances exceeding 3,500, it would be impossible to get
it all spot on, but there is more than enough to satisfy everyone, no matter
what their particular taste or speciality.
Unofficially, events kicked off on the Thursday afternoon with a mammoth auction conducted mainly by Mike Shepherd. Derek Lever, who should have been joint auctioneer, had to retire early with a viral infection, against which he struggled throughout the entire convention, while still managing to fulfil his role as principal organiser. The auction went on for some eight hours, before everything was sold and bidding stopped.
Apart from the evening gala shows, held in the vast Blackpool Opera House, events run concurrently, making it impossible for any one person to attend everything. This is deliberate, as none of the rooms in the Winter Gardens complex, despite their size, would be capable of holding all the delegates. So it is necessary to entice different groups to different locations. Plus, there are the two dealers’ halls (where some 120 exhibitors from all over the world display their wares) which are open all the time, bars, restaurants and the main concourse itself to serve as places to meet, chat or just sit and watch the world go by.
From 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. belonged to the dealers, with demonstrations being given in the Pavilion Theatre and the trading halls open for business. Then from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. there were star lectures by Mike Chao, Vittorio Belloni, Charlie Frye and Mel Mellers and at 4.30 pm a Star Lecture in the Spanish Hall by Mario Morris.
The first International Close-up Magic show, followed. It could either be watched live in the Pavilion Theatre, with overhead screen projection for those unable to see, or you could sit outside and view it on one of the half dozen giant monitors dotted around, although, you had to be prepared for people walking in front of the picture, if you chose this option. It is surprising how many seem oblivious to either the screen or those trying to watch it.
Performers, introduced by President David Plant, included: Christian Schenk, Mike Chao, Vittorio Belloni, Diamond Jim Tyler, Matthew McGurk, Andi Gladwin, Joseph Barry and Chris Hannibal.
8:00 p.m. brought the first of three International Gala Shows. With Dave Windle at the organ (as he was for all the events requiring live music), this one was emceed by well-known ventriloquist Jimmy Tamley, who without a puppet, is rather low-key, but once he has a character on his hand, ups the octane level.
The opening act was Alpha, with a pirate theme and the production of exotic birds from budgerigars to huge parrots. Following, came 2 Minds Combined, which sounds as if it should be a telepathy act, but is, in fact, a couple making hand shadows. Apart from all the usual rabbits, birds and elephants, which are the standard fare of this sort of act, they also formed bare-hand silhouettes of well-known magicians, several of whom were in the audience. For the benefit of anyone unfamiliar with those being portrayed, photos were projected onto the screen alongside the shadows.
Bertox, with his Optical Circles, who followed, is one of those novelty acts that are difficult to describe. Using large rings, he combines mime with contact juggling and precision of movement, to produce an effect that was the subject of much favourable comment in the bars afterwards. To close the first half, Kenris Murat and partner, combined skilled card manipulation with Latin-American ballroom dance – a sort of Strictly Come Fanning.
Amethyst (Danny Hunt and new partner Steff) concentrated on escapology, performing some of the items Danny has worked up over the years and finishing with his well-known lock-picking to free his head from a tank of water in which it is submerged.
Charlie Frye and Sherry stole the show with an act that seems to improve at every viewing. Charlie’s knockabout comedy, juggling and magical skills are awe-inspiring, while Sherry’s bored indifference to all it all as she files her nails and refreshes her make-up, enhances the fun.
The bubble-blowing act of Marco Zoppi began with all the usual stunts (blowing smoke into bubbles etc.) but then took a novel turn when he introduced a device which enabled a flat sheet/film of bubble mix to be formed, through which he could push his hand, pass bubbles and, incredibly, insert a plastic bangle to create a movable hole. Jimmy Tamley then did his own hilarious spot, the highlight of which was the antics of his hopeless boxer puppet.
To close the show, came Matthew McGurk and his company of five girls, who made an unusual start when two of them descended from the top of the stage, in acrobatic style on lengths of white cloth. Then followed a fast-moving series of illusions, many involving fire. Matthew is not a man to push a sword through a woman, when a flaming spear will do.
After the show, for the diehards, Andi Gladwin’s lecture took place in the Pavilion Theatre.
Events kicked off early, with a 9:00 a.m. lecture by quick-change performers Natalie & Ellie in the Pavilion Theatre. Diamond Jim Tyler started an hour later in the Spanish Hall. However, for many, the two main events were the British Children’s Entertainers National Championship in the Opera House, which ran alongside the British Magic Close-up Championships in the Pavilion.
The children’s competition was compered by Terry Herbert, who, having expertly performed the warm-up introduced the five competitors. Many agreed that the overall standard was higher than usual, perhaps because there was a greater variety of approaches, getting away from the standard formula of: do a warm-up; get a kid up for a feature effect; make kid a balloon model; finish with a puppet.
Colin Dymond, whose speciality is vent, used mainly puppets; Gemma Raymond (2nd prize) was outstanding at handling children and finished with a dress change; Frank Kearns mostly juggled and unicycled; Hannah (3rd prize) came from Japan and did a slick silent act with cards and floating canes, which appeared to be primarily designed for adult shows and competitions; Simon Sparkles got a father and son to participate, suggesting an act designed for family audiences rather than one specifically aimed at children. The winner, billed as Mr Styx, was outstanding. Actually, it was a double act assisted by his father in clown attire. Mr Styx, himself, is a young man with mobility issues, which necessitate walking with a long stick, so only ever having one free hand, hence the need for a partner to handle some of the props. But what he lacks in mobility, he more than makes up for in personality, charisma, energy and the ability to punch home a funny line. The winners were decided by audience vote.
While all this was going in the Opera House, the British Magic Close-up Championships were taking place in the Pavilion Theatre. Somewhat unusually for a major national competition, two of the contestants were a father and son: Phil and Douglas Tilston. Douglas (the junior Tilston) took the 3rd prize. Wayne Goodman came 2nd, whilst the winner (by a long way, if my informants are to be believed) was Matthew Wright. Other competitors included: Carlos Vinuesa and Chris Stickland. The judges, who were able to reach a decision which allowed the results to be announced immediately after the competition, were: Obie O’Brien, Joan Caesar, Gerritt Brengman, Peter Din and Andrea Baioni.
Concurrent with both competitions was Kenris Murat’s lecture in the Spanish Hall.
Wayne Dobson & Friends is always a popular fun-filled event, with Michael J Fitch fronting and Wayne interjecting throughout. This year’s crop of friends included: Mel Mellers, Amethyst and Jon Allen, but the highlight was a spot by comedian/impressionist Hilary O’Neil.
Immediately afterwards, Luke Jermay’s lecture began in the Spanish Hall, while Martin Braessas fired up (quite literally) in the Pavilion Theatre, demonstrating the truth of Eugene Burger’s famous dictum that there are few close-up effects that cannot be enhanced by the judicious use of flash paper.
At 4:00 p.m. in the Spanish Hall came the Magical Speed Dating, under the auspices of Quentin Reynolds. For 90 minutes, a number of performers circulated around the tables, spending about 10 minutes at each, demonstrating/talking/explaining their own specialities. Taking part were: Christian Schenk, Joseph Barry, Mario Morris, Chris Hannibal, Alex Pandrea, Vittorio Belloni, Diamond Jim Tyler and Peter Roberts. Meanwhile Alpha was lecturing in the Pavilion Theatre.
Mel Mellers emceed that evening’s Gala Show, as only he can, taking complete command of the audience from the word go. Opening were Natalie & Ellie who combine an extraordinary number of high-speed dress changes with stage-filling productions of flowers. Kenris Murat (unusual to see the same performer on two separate Galas) followed with a completely different act to the previous night. Here the theme was slightly voodooesque, where changes he made to a cut-out paper figure replicated on his female partner.
This was a show where the women produced all the most popular acts. Katrin Weissensee’s rapid-art sand pictures were a novelty that had everyone talking. She pours coloured sand onto a table and using only her fingers, forms pictures, which continue to change and evolve. These are projected onto screen, so that the audience can watch the process and results.
Then “Mr Weird” himself, Rob Zabrecky, sidled up from the auditorium to deliver his own unique brand of edgy comedy. To close the first half, was the act which got everyone talking, Lara Jacobs Rigolo with her feather balancing spectacular. We all wondered what the finish would be, and when it came, it was an applause-pulling, roof-raising surprise.
French illusion team Cubic, who emerged from the last FISM, opened the second half with their “act as known”: mysterious floating box, costume changes etc. Mike Chao manipulated balls and cards with a green theme; Mel Mellers, in his own spot had some fun with a couple of audience members, while Sean Alexander’s Illusion Spectacular closed the bill, repeating many of the same effects that Matthew McGurk’s company had presented the previous night, but working even faster. There were some spectacular additions, too, including the production of two girls in a small boat and a heart-stopping levitation, where he rises to the flies along with the assistant who is being floated.
Afterwards, for those still hungry for yet more magic, Andrew James and Magic Sam’s anarchic Beat the Wand competition took place in the main bar. This is a gong show, where the acts which fail to please are ruthlessly removed and the winners chosen by popular acclaim from those that remain – usually the craziest ones. Tom Crosbie won with his Upside-down Underwater, Rubik’s Cube Death Tank Escape. In 2nd place was Aaron Cummings and his invisible assistant Wez Evans (dressed in black in the hope that the audience would not see him being the force which caused things to levitate). 3rd prize went to Luke Oseland producing sponge bananas while wearing a horse’s head.
The first programmed event was the 10:00 a.m. Master Class of close-up magic in the Pavilion Theatre, where: Vittorio Belloni, Christian Schenk, Mario Morris, Diamond Jim Tyler, Joseph Barry, Chris Hannibal and Alex Pandrea were each allotted about 15 minutes to demonstrate, teach and/or talk about their various specialities. Card magic tended to predominate, but coin work and street theatre were also given more than a passing glance.
Meanwhile, for children’s entertainers, Terry Herbert and Shane West delivered talks and demonstrations in the Ice Room, while Michael Webber lectured in the Spanish Hall.
At 1:00 p.m. Christian Schenk delivered his talk on the Phoenix Deck in the Pavilion Theatre, also distributing complimentary decks to the 300 or so people assembled there. While this was happening, Joseph Barry was also lecturing on card magic in the Spanish Hall.
The International Stars of Close-up show was introduced by Quentin Reynolds in the Pavilion Theatre. Those appearing were Martin Braessas, Charlie Frye, Alex Pandrea, Luke Jermay, Michael Webber, Viktor Renner and Mario Morris. Meanwhile Chris Hannibal was lecturing in the Spanish Hall.
The two final lectures of the day (and the convention) were by Alex Pandrea in the Spanish Hall and Rob Zabrecky in the Pavilion Theatre.
The evening’s International Gala Show was a mostly South Korean affair, hosted by Mick Miller, whose comedy and use of written boards to cope with his alleged inability to pronounce the performers’ names, added considerably to the success of the evening. First he introduced Do Ki Moon, an energetic young comedy performer, whose antics as a hapless orchestra conductor plagued by the vagaries of a wilful magical baton were both skilful and amusing.
It quickly became apparent that most of the acts had been designed primarily with competitions in mind. All were silent, ran for around 8 minutes, and opened on a darkened stage. The second performer was billed and announced as E.K. Diamonds. It turned out to be a young woman, whom I recall seeing previously as Park Eun-Kyoung. Dressed in a Spanish style, she performs much of her manipulative magic while seated. Zhao Jun featured mainly silks, fans and flowers in a act with an artist/painting theme, while Hyun Cheal Yong brought some highly original touches to dove productions which took the audience by a storm, and despite a mishap at the end, drew tremendous applause. To close the first half, 13 year-old Red Star Sun did a fast-paced act featuring the manipulation of eggs and cards.
President David Plant appeared immediately after the interval to present the Murray Award, for distinguished dedication to the art of magic, to Michael Weber, before bringing on octogenarian superstar and national treasure Ken Dodd to present his own Comedy Award to Charlie Frye & Sherry, and the Neville King Trophy to Mick Miller. Doddy then did a short spot, with many gags about getting old.
Snooker was the theme of Nicky Yang, who manipulated balls and cues with equal dexterity. While Liao Xiao Run, the second female performer, appeared in traditional dress and featured costume changes, masks and card spinning.
Hyung Joon Kim drew considerable applause for his slow, elegant manipulation of balls and cards. While Duo Magic, both of whom had been seen previously in the show with their own acts, shot through some of the fastest costume changes imaginable.
To close the show, and as a complete contrast, came illusionist Marcel Kalisvaart billed in the programme as Prince of Illusions. This was the act that won the illusion category at FISM 2012, but with additions and improvements. Unlike most such acts, it was not just a succession of tricks, but rather a themed scenario of a nerdy young man’s nightmare as his sleep is disrupted by cavorting demons and hellish creatures, who subject him to numerous torments. Many people, afterwards, said that it was the best presentation of big-stage magic they had ever seen, and got a well-earned standing ovation.
Finally, for those still not satiated, there was the After Gala Show in the Spanish Hall, where Karl K introduced Alpha, Chris North and Matthew Wright to perform, while close-up magic was presented in the Theatre Bar.
It should also be mentioned that, throughout the entire convention, Robert Ormesher was on hand to sketch caricatures on demand, and Ken Bowe’s copious exhibition of theatre posters was open daily in the Link Room.
So Blackpool chalked up another success, of which the club can be proud. It has its detractors, but the 3,600+ people who voted with their wallets, know better. The next one will be 19th – 21st February 2016 and it has already been announced that Jeff McBride will be bringing his complete Mystery School.
The principal people who did all the hard work were: Derek Lever (Executive Event Chairman), Ann Lever (Executive Event Chairman’s PA), Arthur Casson (Executive Registration Officer), June Casson (Assistant Registration Officer), Les Pybus (Chief Security Officer), Karl K (Assistant Security Officer), Russell Brown (Stage Director for Blackpool Magicians’ Club), Duncan Jump (Stage Manager), David Plant (President and Chief Steward), Mike Shepherd (Executive Treasurer), Christine Shepherd (Executive Treasurer’s PA), Harry Robson (Executive Dealers Officer), Russ Lowe (Lecture Note Sales), Dave Wilson (Website and Programme) and Diane Halliwell (Assistant).
But there must have been numerous others too: stage crew, registration desk, stewards, fetchers & carriers, casual volunteers etc. all helping in their various ways to oil the wheels.
© Walt Lees, March 2105