Rob James


My mum always tells me that when she was pregnant with me she went to a pub and a magician who was doing a cabaret act there got her up to use her for the head chopper illusion. She maintains that that is the reason for my lifelong love of magic! My earliest childhood memory is of seeing a magician at a party doing the die box. I remember how much it messed with my head when I discovered that the die wasn't in the other side of the box after all...

As a fifteen year old I flicked through the Yellow Pages and called the person I thought looked the most likely to be able to help me out. I chose pretty well as it was Tony Griffith. Tony was generous with his time and advice and his encouragement really motivated me during those early days. He also pointed me in the direction of the Bath Circle of Magicians where, at the first few meetings I went to, I got to see some great magic. I still remember seeing Stuart Bowie doing a routine with a coin and a pen where he used a striking vanish to make the coin disappear - the most amazing thing I had seen! Also Simon Lane did a cups and balls where I missed every move and every one of the final loads. As someone who thought I knew all about magic it was great to have those beliefs blown apart and to find out that I still had a huge amount to learn.

A few years on and I had some time away from magic. My hobby took a back seat about the same time that I discovered that I had managed to look old enough (just about) to get served in the pub. I was still playing around with cards though and when I resumed my attendance at the magic club it dawned on me that I had been involved with magic for about seven years but had never really performed for anyone other than occasionally for friends. I was itching to show people magic but lacked the confidence to approach a group. After one of the club meetings in Bath, Mandy Farrell gently persuaded (ahem) me to go up to a couple and show them some card tricks. I took a deep breath and went over. It went OK and over the next few years I slowly started to do more and more until I did my first few paid bookings and eventually decided to quit my day job and give the world of full-time close-up magic a go.


A lot of people told me initially that I would need to do more than just close-up to make a living and that it would take a while to reach a stage where I was able to achieve any degree of success. I would like to say I proved them wrong immediately but I didn't. They were completely right. It's only really been in recent history that I have been able to make a living.

I now seem to spend most of my time driving to and from different hotels. Some of the more interesting places I have worked include the Tower Bridge Walkways, the House of Commons, the Science Museum and Plymouth Aquarium. Magic has also taken me to Dubai twice, Egypt, Florida and Las Vegas.


Top Trick?
To perform it is probably a multiple selection card routine. With the revelations done at a good pace it is a great, great trick. I have been stealing watches for about a year and the first time I got one and realised the person hadn't felt it was one of the best rushes I've ever had! As part of the routine I use I give the watch that I have taken back to a different person at the end of the trick. Recently I had an email from someone who was being wound-up by their friend who still had the watch. They took a photo of the watch next to a hammer and sent them messages from the "Watch Liberation Front" saying that their demands must be met or else! In terms of other performers I love to see good theatrical pickpocketing. It's a skill that can't be bluffed (although some magicians do try...!).

Top Book?
I read "Dr. Sawa's Library of Magic" recently and thought it was really interesting. I bought it after seeing his performance on an old Stevens video. His performing style and whimsical plots are the antithesis of the brash and flashy magic that is currently in vogue. Ortiz's "Strong Magic" has probably had the most influence on the way I perform. When I started out performing properly I took a lot of the information on board and applied it to what I was doing. It's fun now to reread it and find that I challenge a lot of what he writes. I have also found this with the "Magic Menu" bound volumes. I used to read bits of it and think "that is great information" now I find myself thinking that actually, it's awful. It's not that the advice or information is wrong, it's more to do with the fact that that more you perform, the stronger your opinions get on certain matters.

Top Magician?
Too many to pick just one or two! I know lots of magicians say David Williamson but he is definitely my choice. Immaculate skill, an eye for the most commercial magic and a wonderfully honed performing persona. I always love watching David Copperfield or Lance Burton because the performances are so well put together. You know that when they perform a trick or illusion that they and their team have looked at every possible method, every possible presentation and come up with the very best they think it can be done. And it normally is. As a close-up magician I find watching very polished stage magic to be pretty humbling. Andi Gladwin is a good friend and his influence is a good one as when you are a pro. magician, it's very easy to stop your creative processes and just do the same tricks all the time. Andi is constantly coming up with things so it spurs me on to do the same. I saw some great informal performances at Magic Live! last year from people like Gaston Quieto, Karl Hein and Kostya Kimlat. Kostya's card handling is beautiful and his version of "Triumph" is absolutely phenomenal. I have seen him perform it about a dozen times and I love to watch the faces of the other magicians watching when they see him do it. I have met Gaston a few times and he's a cool guy - charismatic and really skillful. He's very underrated by the magic world.

Top Magic Quote?
"What's the point of the magician? It's like, 'Here's a quarter. Now it's gone. You're a jerk.' Sometimes they ask you to blow on it. That's something mature adults love to do, blow on a deck of cards. I also love that little pretend look of surprise they do when the trick works. Like, "Oh I didn't know that was going to happen myself. I even amaze me." Jerry Seinfeld

Top Magic Moment?
I always get starstruck at conventions when I walk past Wayne Dobson or someone like that. It's weird to think that I am now making my living in the same world as people I vividly remember watching on TV. I once met the comedian Mike Osman at an event. He came up to me and said, "I like your style - it's clever... but funny". That made my day as I used to watch him on CopyCats when I was much younger!


MagicWeek 2005