Northern Magic Circle Summit
The Crown Hotel, Harrogate
April 26th, 27th, 28th
Reviewed by Donald Bevan
more than six decades NMC conventions have been highlights of the magical
calendar. The return to The Crown Hotel in Harrogate, scene of so many Easter
Parades of bygone days, again brought magicians and families not only from the
North, but other points of the compass too. Resulting in a relaxed, friendly
atmosphere, coupled with entertaining, instructive magic.
President Stuart Clarkson with his Lady, Claire, declared the event open at the informal dinner on Friday evening, which featured a close-up competition and cabaret. Between courses, six performers, also representing their local magic clubs, battled through a table-hopping session with diners as judges. The winner proved to be Chris Stewart of Leeds Magic Circle with smooth cups and balls and multiple card divinations. Runner-up was Kendrick for Newcastle MC, with penetration of coins through a chiffon scarf and neat rope and knots work. Steve Lewis (Middlesbrough MC), Rob Reed (Newcastle MC), Hedley Fawcett (Northern MC) were all worthy entrants, with Doug Gregg a non-competing guest. The competition was well organised and introduced by Stuart Clarkson.
For the cabaret, Chris Cross, an ebullient street performer and former NMC Junior (now 30!) showed progress into a forceful performer about to tour theatres and other venues. In among a stream of Geordie gag lines was a very good series of card locations and a version of Robert Harbin’s Zig Zag illusion.
At 9.15 Saturday morning a goodly crowd braved the hour for Geoffrey Newton’s opening lecture. Geoffrey is Editor of the I.B.M. British Ring magazine Key Ring and for the lecture had selected items from that publication – his own and other contributors. These covered items with numbers, several predictions, including a chosen drink, the volunteer receiving a mini-bottle of the stuff; a children’s sucker effect, and a cheeky Just Chance routine. Another prediction involved donning a volunteer as a Mayor, the predicted town of Derby being engraved on the mayor’s medallion. The whole was an interesting, entertaining and instructive lecture. On sale was a CD of over 20 mathematical items, all proceeds to the Northern Magic Circle; a most generous gesture.
With NMC regulars Clive and Jean, a mixed audience of children, mums, dads and magicians enjoyed Doug Gregg, Godfrey Shackleton and Andy Greaves, not forgetting his ventriloquial pal Lewis the duck (or was it goose?). It was a colourful if noisy show!
More Lectures and a Workshop
A highlight lecture came from stage, film and television star Freddie ‘Parrot-face’ Davies. His subject was ‘Stagecraft’. So who needs stagecraft today? The answer is every magician, from close-upper to illusionist for all are performers (or should be!). As not only an experienced performer but also impresario and producer, Freddie demonstrated techniques, of which one stood out – Stand Still! This was an interesting and enlightening lecture, enhanced by Freddie with informal chat during the weekend.
Steve Gore’s lecture was interesting but erred too heavily on his marked and marketed decks, some quite intricate but clever, plus ideas with rubber bands, transposition of knots in coloured ropes and a book test.
For the History of Mystery slot, Brian Lead delivered his deeply researched lecture (or part of in the time allowed) on the demise of Chung Ling Soo, fatally shot on the stage of Wood Green Empire, London 24th March 1918. So many questions: accident, murder, suicide? Brian’s research provides a possible answer, and as he will be touring the lecture around numerous magic clubs – my lips are sealed! Fascinating stuff.
In a lecture for children’s entertainers, Andy Greaves, with 45 years’ experience in show business, demmed lots of ‘business’ ideas and a little magic. Plus introducing his puppet Lewis and showing ventriloquial techniques.
The final lecture (or ‘talk’ as he prefers) came from Neil Robert. Subject, Pantomime. Neil has a wealth of knowledge on Panto, from performers, characters and scripts, to staging and intricate technicalities. Magicians of course have featured in many pantomime stories, mainly the ‘baddie’, possibly the most regular and popular being Abanazar in Aladdin. Neil covered many in his neatly researched delivery. I should note that at the AGM Friday afternoon, Neil came away as NMC President-Elect, for which congratulations are in order.
The Workshop was provided by Geoffrey Newton. The theme was ‘Paper Magic’, for which participants were first provided with Mobius Loops or Strips, producing varied circles of paper from double, to linked to giant. Then came Origami models, produced with laughter and fun. After several intriguing ‘paper puzzles’ Geoffrey climaxed with a neat twist on Arnold Furst’s ‘Fresh Fish Sold Here’ – a really amusing oldie!
The Gala Show
Registrants and general public (including a large coach party staying at the hotel) saw a mixed bag of magical talent on Saturday night. Clive Moore compèred brightly, showing Spotted Can and Chinese Sticks to Roy Johnson patter, plus other ‘fillers’. Studio 3 Dance Workshop, three stylish young ladies opened each half. Seasoned veteran Ray Roberts opened with T&R Newspaper and silk effects including Blendo. Pavel’s colour change rings and a floating table concluded a smart, classical act.
Chris Cross bounded on stage with a noisy intro, produced chips from a Rabbit Pan (a collector’s prop from bygone years!), did 20th Century Bra routine and other entertaining items, each with a comedic touch.
Genetics proved to be the family troupe of Steve Gore (Steve and the three ladies in his life!) in a domestic kitchen setting. The vacuum cleaner provided C&R wire and suspension of a girl a la Broomstick; the electric iron did a Zombie levitation, and another suspension using the ironing board had touches of Super-X. The concept was original, if a little cramped for the size of stage. It was an intriguing effort.
A brief interval and Chris Cross reappeared, this time in pseudo-Asian costume, to produce his shapely assistant from a Doll’s House illusion. He went on to swallow a sword (with explanation!), vanished a bowl of water from a tray (another collectible) and his partner performed Mutilated Sunshade. The act closed with a Dove Pan production of many large picture silks.
Andy Greaves opened his act singing, then introduced his Gran and Granddad, showing his skills as a practising ventriloquist. The duck Lewis (or goose!) returned to wind up a mixed act of entertainment the audience obviously enjoyed.
Closing the show came Neil Roberts ‘The Street Entertainer’, complete with lit lamp, busking his perfectly timed way through Cups and Balls to the music of Scott Joplin. From his initial entrance through to a multi-coin production from the ‘bottling hat’, to blowing out the light for a blackout, this was magical theatre.
During the weekend there were non-magical activities for wives and partners not into performing magic. Very secretive, so no idea what they were up to! For the magicians there were dealers, just three: Magic Adz (Alan Hudson) specialising in mentalism; Neo Magic (Vinney Sagoo) with a mix of intriguing items, and the welcome return of Harry Robson, always worth a visit for something new.
Roy Field (President-Elect) conducted an auction of books, DVDs etc. (no effects or props) kindly donated by the late Paul Freeman AIMC. The result in excess of £200 for NMC funds.
So we head towards the end of the Summit – a new word for convention! At 5pm Sunday came the installation of the new President Roy Field and his Lady, Hazel. Plus the presentation of prizes and awards.
So it was all over – or was it? Definitely not! Popular character and noted mentalist Kennedy provided a laugh-filled session of ‘Room 101’, inviting four teams to nominate the bad and the ugly in magic for ‘Room 101’. Subjects included long winded card tricks, white socks with dinner suit, animal acts, an illusion badly performed, and many more. Kennedy had the deciding vote as to what went into ‘the room’, with points scored producing a winning team.
For those who have never tried Northern Magic Circle hospitality, travel north, south, east or west next year: dates are 2nd and 3rd May 2020, venue The Crown Hotel, Harrogate. You could be surprised.
© Donald Bevan, May 2019.