The Session Convention
Newent, Gloucester
Sunday 15th January 2006
Reported by Stuart Bowie

In convention terms The Session is the new kid on the block and this new kid will, I suspect, set the standard to which others will aspire. From the outset the concept, the style and the marketing of The Session was different: contemporary, raw, edgy, street and cyberwise, a promise marking it out from the sometimes faded glitz and glamour of some of the established conventions. The promise was more than fulfilled. You’ve got it, I and the seventy other registrants thought The Session was brilliant.

Co-organisers Rob James and Andi Gladwin thought about what their ideal convention would be like, and then organised it. What they wanted was something small, friendly, interactive, and featuring some of the best but lesser know performers on the scene. This is exactly what they achieved. Four lectures, two close up shows, two ‘flash lectures’ (short one item presentations by novice lecturers), small numbers, lots of interaction, a convention booklet containing six effects, free refreshments on arrival and free chocolate bars and fruit all day, a cooked lunch, buffet tea, reserved seating, three dealers and probably some of the best contemporary performers around and all for £35. The Session was very successful, and it was different. Several reasons stand out.

First, the quality of the magic. The line up was very impressive, performances and lectures from Lee Asher, Pete Wardell, Andi Gladwin, Kostya Kimlat, Dynamo, Tyler Wilson, Tim Shoesmith, James Brown, Marc Oberon and Jack Parker. Presenting mostly card work they were, without exception, outstanding. Technical excellence was once the province of ‘technical geeks’ a small select band performing mostly for each other. Things have clearly changed. These guys combine technical excellence with, and an expression I hate, ‘real world ‘ experience. The majority perform commercially for ‘real’ people in the ‘real’ world and have developed a synthesis between technical excellence and performing reality, producing some beautifully effective and creative magic.

Second, the ability gap between the performers and conventioneers, quite prevalent at some other conventions, was much less evident during The Session. In many conventions the featured names are seen but don’t spend too much time with the ordinary conventioneer. The Session was like spending the day with your best magic buddies and even though there were about seventy conventioneers it felt smaller, more intimate, probably because there were no egos getting in the way. The atmosphere was due partly to the way the day was organised, partly that a substantial number of the conventioneers were themselves technically very competent. Conventioneers, lectures, performers mixed through the day, sharing ideas and chatting. I’m told this started the evening before when registrants and performers met up over a curry and carried on into a late night informal session. The atmosphere just continued on through the official day. Similarly, at the end of the convention anyone who wanted to join in was invited to meet up in a local pub.

Third, the nature of the conventioneers seemed very different from other conventions. Unusually, for a magic convention, there were a number of younger women. Many conventioneers were under thirty. There was a significant number under twenty, inspired I think by the Blaine/Brown, influence that has made magic cool again. A lot of conventioneer travelled a long way, some having flown down from Scotland, and for many this was their first convention. Above all, there was a significant block of people with good card skills aspiring to be as good as the lecturers. As much as anything the discussions were those between equals. Finally, and perhaps because of the preceding reasons, throughout the day there were lots and lots of informal sessions. How radical is that? People actually doing magic at a magic convention!

And the magic? There was just so much it would be impossible to record it all. My personal favorites will have to do. Some of this may not make too much sense, you really had to be there, but here goes:

Tim Shoesmith, IBM Champion of Magic for style, humour, and for making the ubiquitous crazy man’s handcuffs interesting and original. James Brown, loading a folded card under a spectators watch band, spectators coin and watch on their shoulder and the final production of a pot of jam in the spectators hand. Marc Oberon for a simple, elegant routine silently floating a silver ball.

Kostya Kimlat’s lecture for great insights into performance skills and the integration of technique, acting and body language, the demonstration of the Kelly bottom replacement and for the best philosophical patter ever to accompany a card effect. Jack Parker , for the two innovative short flash lectures. Really good content and such a good idea for a convention. Andi Gladwin, for a nice simple opener ‘Suits You’, for co-organising the event with Rob James and for having a Mum and Dad willing to help out all day, provide refreshments and home made cake!

Tyler Wilson, from Canada, attending only his second ever convention, for just being really funny, for the coin into sweetie coke bottle, his development of Roy Walton’s card warp and for having the hairiest seven of hearts on his chest! Don’t ask. You just had to see it to understand.

Lee Asher for quite the best hands on lecture ever at convention. He made us all get our decks out and step through the moves. We also all got a free plastic bag so that we could try out the ‘Deuce Bag’ effect. Dynamo, who made an unexpected guest appearance. If ever there was a personification of the new wave street wise, edgy in your face performer it has got to be this guy. Blaine doesn’t have a look in. He was great with a multiple card revelations and about as far as you could get from top hats, white rabbits and a sparkly jacket. Pete Wardell for the driest of dry humour, and his funny funny update to patter for the Soldiers Prayer.

Could I find anything to change. One or two minor things but they did not amount to a row of beans. Rob and Andi created something original and it worked. So much convention magic looks old and stale. The Session was a breath of fresh air. If they ever do it again book early, it will sell out. After years of seeing the same old stuff at conventions I’m glad to be able to tell you that innovative magic is alive and well and living in a little town called Newent, somewhere West of Gloucester.

© Stuart Bowie, January 2006.