The 8th British Close-up Magic Symposium.
Bath University, Sunday 6th April 2003

Reported by Stuart Bowie

According to my dictionary, a symposium is "an after dinner drinking party with music and friendly discussion of contributions from a variety of different people". Come to think of it, apart from the drinking, this is a pretty good description of the 8th British Close Up Magic Symposium! Three outstanding lectures, two gala shows featuring six top magicians, food and refreshments throughout the day and plenty of time to mingle with like minded registrants and to meet the six dealers. So why weren't you there? Well you do need to book early as this convention is limited to one hundred registrants and was a complete sell out. If there is another one in two years time, book early!

Richard Pinner opened the first Close Up Gala show. He pointed out that given the unsocial hours professional magicians normally work they don't expect to be up by 10.30 am, never mind doing card tricks. It didn't show. Bright, professional and very entertaining Richard set the day off to a lively start. In fact a 'gasper' of a start. Three spectators named a colour, a suit and a value which proved to match the one card in an envelope on view from the start! A sequence of beautiful personalised magic followed, stylish and amusing, concluding with a super version of card to banana with the spectator holding the fruit and an explosion loud enough to waken the dead.

Joachim Solberg from Denmark came next with a sequence of card magic. Who ever said that technical magic was not entertaining has not seen Joachim at work. He studied with Michael Skinner in Las Vegas before embarking on a professional career and the combination of strong technical magic and real commercial experience shows. As he was later to explain in his lecture, some effects are deliberately fast and impressive to capture the attention, while others are slower once attention has been built. A thought of card just appearing at the finger tips is a good example of the fast impressive variety. Not all cards though, as he performed his own version of Professors Nightmare. A cliché trick for magicians? Michael Close apparently said, "Do we need another trick with three ropes?" then he saw the video and changed his mind! The routine impressed the magicians, at several points a short intake of breath, followed by a muttered 'Wow', could be heard across the auditorium.

Who could follow the first two acts? Well Jay Sankey could. Irrepressible, interactive, he almost literally bounced off the audience with a comedic style which is sharp and funny. If you have seen Jay work you will know that he takes a tiny event - a name, a cough, or a late arrival - as the trigger for an increasingly surreal riff. Hugely amusing, but also contained and controlled, the humor never overshadowed the strong magic, Jay's own apparent enjoyment in performance and in the magic making it shared and involving.

A brief pause to set the stage and Richard Pinner presented the first lecture of the day. An hour of solid, well constructed magic which was well within the reach of most magicians. Richard's handling is clean, clever and considered, designed to heighten the effect but never getting in the way. His construction of card in balloon allows the audience an extended time to handle the balloon. Later, an apparently incidental gag was included so that an unsuspecting spectator could be left holding a banana already containing the chosen card. Richard's offer to teach us his memorized deck might have been greeted with some initial skepticism, after all it was still before midday, but with his clear explanation, it turned out to be as easy as 1232123. Within a few minutes most of the audience had grasped the plot. A lively lecture to start the day.

This year the meal and refreshment package was an optional extra and most took it up. We retired for lunch in the university refectory followed by a visit to browse the six dealers. RAR Magic, Andy Nyman, Paul Gordon, PH Marketing, The Card Collection and Mark Leveridge Magic filled an adjacent room. A real feature of the Symposium is the opportunity to spend time talking with like-minded people and browsing the dealers, and there is time and space in the programme for both activities.

Refreshed and ready we settled down for the Jay Sankey lecture. A ninety minute burst of high energy, magical ideas and laughter. And tucked in amongst this was what I thought was the heart of his lecture, glimpses of Jay's thinking and approach to his magic. You would have to be paying attention, however, as there was no heavy sermonising, nothing on "My philosophy of magic", but it was there for those who wanted to hear it. For the rest? Great fun. It would be almost impossible to walk away from this lecture without taking something with you, be it an approach to magic, a routine, a piece of handling, a lesson in relating to an audience or the memory of a very enjoyable ninety minutes. If you are disappointed not to find a list of effects don't worry. The routines are mostly on Jay's Secret Files Video, or better still, catch one of his sessions during the current lecture tour.

A welcome break to collect our thoughts then back for the second gala show. The best of British, said Chris Payne, MC and co-organiser, by way of introduction. Sean Carpenter, current British Close Up Magical Champion, opened the show. It was warm so he removed his jacket, producing along the way a full half-pint glass of water to cool him down! A prediction effect preceding his own sequence with a deck on a ribbon. Clever and entertaining stuff. Personally I loved the routine with a chosen invisible pet! There is considerable comedic potential in the choice offered of kitten, puppy or rabbit. And Sean extracted it before hitting us with a strong magical finish. Quiet, clear magic and a perfect choice for the late afternoon.

Roger Curzon may not be seen performing at many conventions so this was an opportunity to see him in action. A quiet almost understated style might have been lost in other conditions, but with tiered seating and good lighting we were able to follow a sequence of subtle card magic. Well, not quite all card magic. A sequence with a small laser pointer providing a theatrical moment as spots of light were collected one by one and dropped into a waiting bowl to be subsequently displayed. A pretty and practical use of a well know prop.

To round off the show came Lee Davis. Lee lives in Bristol so was almost on home ground. He won the British Close Up Magical Championship in 2001 and we soon saw why. Working at the table he demonstrated his mastery of card magic with a sequence of apparently impossible controls, locations and colour sorts, gathering increasing audience applause as he progressed. The final sequence in which Aces were produced, changed and finally shown to have migrated to four separate pockets drew quiet gasps of admiration and loud applause. Impressive or what!

Time to eat again! High tea, a last visit to the dealers and we reassembled for the prize draw!! Lucky seat numbers winning prizes donated by the dealers. Time for Mark Leveridge to thank all those involved before introducing the final lecture of the day. Joachim Solberg had the task of closing a day full of strong magic and quality performance, something he managed with panache. If the heart of Jay Sankey's lecture was in his approach to magic, Joachim's was a master class in sleight of hand. Yes, he did explain some routines, coins through table, a subtle and fooling coin matrix and in detail his intelligent reworking of the professors nightmare, all of which were encompassed by Joachim's superb sleight of hand work. He gave excellent lessons on magic with sponge balls, the cups and balls, the side steal and an extended session on the classic force. Many lessons stop with the mechanics of the sleight. Joachim illustrated how the whole performance posture, body language, muscle tension, speed of movement and language blend together. Even after the explanation of his 'bounce vanish', it was still a strong visual fooler.

The Symposium only takes places every other year, so fourteen years have passed since the first gathering in Bath in 1989. How to summerise a day packed with so much magical content? Balance, contrast, light and shade seems to capture the sense of it. The two gala shows brought together performers, different in style and content yet complimentary, while the three lectures each focused on a different aspect of magic, Jay on the philosophy and principles, Richard on thoughtful and intelligent routining and Joachim a master class on sleight of hand. Taken together, it made for a perfect day.

© Stuart Bowie, April 2003