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Penn & Teller at the Hammersmith Apollo, Wed 18 June 2014

19 Jun

My wife and I had a GREAT TIME at Penn & Teller’s show at the Hammersmith Apollo last night. I’d heard months ago that they were going to tour the UK (Manchester, Birmingham then London) and managed to get tickets in the stalls before they went on general release thanks to being privy to the news through various magic circles (no pun intended!).

Penn & Teller

If you’ve not heard of them, they’re a pair of magicians from the US that have been working together since the 70s. Penn is a colossus of a man at 6’7″ and is a loud, magnificent showman. Teller looks tiny next to him (although he’s probably average height) and doesn’t speak. He’s silent throughout the show, which adds another dimension to the act.

I’m definitely not going to give away what’s in the show, as it’s on until Sunday and you might be going, but all types of magic are here. From the opener, which left one lady in the audience with a video on her iPhone of how it was done, through to sawing a lady in half, from explaining that all mind-reading, clairvoyancy and mediumship is just a trick then demonstrating exactly that, to a visceral demonstration of a very risky trick with a nail gun, nothing disappointed.

In the interval, we spotted Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee having their photos taken with fans – if I’d known he was going to be there I would have dropped him an email to tell him to bring the money he owes us!

Paul Daniels up to his old tricks, just left of centre of the picture

At the end of the show, Penn made a poignant monologue whilst performing a ‘carnie’ or freak show act which was designed to give everyone an even bigger sense of wonder about what they were watching. “Don’t wonder ‘how’ we do it, wonder ‘why’ we do it” he told us.

As soon as they’d taken their bow, the pair shot off stage through the auditorium and stood outside the Apollo, chatting (well, Teller probably stayed silent) and signing autographs for fans.

Penn Jillette surrounded outside the Hammersmith Apollo

None of this ‘we’ll sign anything you have at the stage door in about half an hour.’ No. They went from stage to street in a matter of seconds. There were hundreds crowding both of them. They were going to be there for AGES.

They don’t tour the world very often as they’re resident at one of the Vegas casinos most of the year. If you can get tickets and have time to get to London this week then go see the show.

Podcast recommendation: The Comedian’s Comedian Podcast by Stuart Goldsmith

18 Dec

I really enjoy podcasts. They can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They might be all the interesting stuff from a long radio show boiled down to 30 or 60 minutes like Richard Bacon’s 5Live Daily Bacon Podcast or Chris Evans’ Best Bits. They are sometimes a whole episode of a comedy radio show like Radio 4’s News Quiz or Now Show. Quite a few are specifically made as a podcast, like The Comedian’s Comedian Podcast.

Stuart Goldsmith

I became aware of The Comedian’s Comedian Podcast after meeting the stand-up comedian host, Stuart Goldsmith, at an Equity workshop in London. It was just over a year go now – we were there to learn about marketing techniques. I wanted to know how to market my magic show, he was trying to figure out how to market his podcast.

Since then I’ve listened to every podcast, some of them more than once. I’ve found them interesting, insightful and, even as a performer for children, invaluable.
Stuart interviews headline comedy stand-up acts and asks them how they go about constructing their shows, ‘from head to page to stage.’ If you’re a performer that does a lot of solo work, you’ll find the series as essential as I do.

From how to try out new material, to honing and performing the same stuff over and over, from how to keep creative gems from being forgotten to using your phone to record shows (and not listen back to them!), the life of a one-man show is right here, coming from those at the top of the tree.

Steve Martin – Born Standing Up

Particular highlights for me include the interview with Terry Alderton that I found tremendously empowering and a very recent one with Al Murray. In both those episodes, Steve Martin’s autobiography, Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life is recommended by the interviewees. Buy that, by the way.

If you’re not a performer and you’re reading this blog, then I’m guessing you’re a lover of live entertainment of some sort. The Comedian’s Comedian Podcast is for you, too. It’s a great listen. It’s always funny (they are comedians), never boring and occasionally emotional. In a good way.

I’ve just re-downloaded Stuart’s interview with Sara Pascoe after seeing her on Never Mind the Buzzcocks this week. That one precedes Stuart’s latest interview, with Jason Manford, in my playlist. Can’t wait.

You can find and subscribe to The Comedian’s Comedian Podcast right here at the website, or just search for it on iTunes or whatever your podcasting app of choice might be.

I’ve just thought – Stuart obviously paid more attention in that marketing workshop than I did. I’ve listened to every one of his podcasts and written a blog about it. He’s never seen my show even once! :D

Paperless office? Nearly.

15 Nov

Some time ago I set my mind on making Magic Iain a paperless business. Printer ink was £35+ per pack, stamps 60p each and the technology to make it happen surrounded me.

The key to my paperless office is an online notebook program called Evernote. It works on my PC, my tablet and phone, as well as being web-based so accessible from any computer with an internet connection.

I was originally using Evernote to keep lists in one place, but, after reading a few blog posts from their ‘Paperless Ambassador’ Jamie Rubin I soon came around to the idea that I could ditch all paper from my work process and home lifestyle.

Here’s roughly how I do it. All my business receipts get scanned and converted to pdf using Camscanner, a free app on my phone then stored in Evernote. I stopped sending paper confirmations and invoices to my customers and email them instead. Those emails get forwarded to my Evernote and stored in my ‘Forthcoming bookings’ notebook.

As far as stuff that is not business related goes, I’ve opted for the ‘online only’ option for bank statements and utility bills, I store instruction manuals in Evernote and use Evernote whenever I need to write a shopping list. After all, I’ll always have my phone on me when I go shopping.

Paperless is great. Any information I need is probably in Evernote. Any information I’d like to keep gets put in Evernote. Any paper-based information is scanned, put in Evernote then shredded. Tidy and efficient.

Picture of Mark Wilson's Complete Course in Magic

Mark Wilson’s Complete Course in Magic – Hefty

Yesterday, however, I craved a notepad.

I’d sat down to put together some ideas for teaching magic to children. I took my copy of Mark Wilson’s Complete Course in Magic (500 pages, published 1975, an essential for any budding magicians, young or old) off the shelf and started flicking through.

Picking out bits from the book, I started to make notes in the Evernote app on my Nexus 7 tablet. Only I wasn’t satisfied. A screen interface just wasn’t cutting it. I wanted to scribble. I wanted to draw lines connecting ideas. I wanted to make a visual representation of some of the stuff I was writing down. I wanted a notepad. A big, blank pad. And pens. And pencils.

It was then I realised I can’t be 100% paper-free.

Going paperless is great for my business as a children’s entertainer. It’s brilliant for all the boring stuff that home life throws at me. It’s not, however, any good when I want to scribble, doodle and draw. Ideas can’t always be jotted down using a keyboard. Not yet, anyway.

Children’s entertainer in Colchester – that’s me!

7 Nov

As my twitter followers and those that like the Magic Iain Facebook page will know, it’s been just over a week since I took the plunge and left my other job completely to become a full time children’s entertainer. I’d been doing both for a few years, and this year, after putting in a bit extra on the marketing front, the magic show has really taken off.

An eery cartoon halloween scene

Halloween – a bit scary, to be honest

I didn’t notice much difference last week as I was pretty busy all of half term. I performed at Cressing Temple Barns between Braintree and Witham for their Halloween celebrations, and also for the Barnardo’s Children’s Centres Halloween Parties in Brightlingsea and Harwich. I was at Space Kingdom in Clacton last Friday and had a great time on Saturday at a joint birthday party in a lovely village called Tattingstone on the Essex/Suffolk border on the old Colchester to Ipswich road.

I’ve definitely felt a change this week though. The amount of time I now have to devote to the show, my customers and the business is huge. I’ve stocked up on props, brushed up on technique and had time to get my bookkeeping all up to date – all in one week. I’ve even had time to write this blog post!

A small selection of magic books

A selection of my collection of secrets

I’ve no idea how I’m going to fill my time next week, but right now that’s quite an exciting feeling. I’ll probably dig out some fantastic magic books, look for some new tricks and get stuck right into the magic side of things for at least a couple days.

In the meantime – if you need a children’s entertainer in or around Colchester, my contact details are right here!

I’m a Celebrity… Get me out of this traffic queue!

26 Jul

I’m not sure how you measure, define or otherwise categorise someone as a celebrity, but I’m calling myself one from now on. After a trip from Colchester to a birthday party in Hornchurch on Saturday to perform my magic show, my Twitter app notified me of a new mention – this is what it said:

“Just see @magiciain at the traffic lights at Squirrels Heath Lane!!#CelebSpotting” It’s here.

If I’ve been mentioned in a tweet, by someone I don’t know, with the hashtag #CelebSpotting, I’m a celebrity, right? I can’t believe I got recognised 44 miles away from home! Absolutely definitely nothing to do with my spare logo’d shirt hanging in the car window…

Play parachutes are perfect for children's parties

Play parachutes are perfect for children’s parties

In other exciting news, I’m now the proud owner of two rainbow play parachutes. I bought two sizes to suit all venues and they’re now part of my two hour package. They’re perfect for children’s party games as no-one’s eliminated during the party and they really inspire children’s imaginations!

Right, I’m off to pack. I’ve a full weekend off this weekend as I’m off to Silverstone! I’m going with my brothers Mark and Stuart to the Silverstone Classic. It’s the biggest classic car race meet in the world with F1, GT and Le Mans cars from the last 70 years competing on track, along with Porsche, Lambourghini and many others celebrating anniversaries. There’s full pit and paddock access, a concert tomorrow night and we’re camping there, too. I can’t wait to be woken up by the sound of Historic Formula Fords at 9am on Sunday!

Have a great weekend, whatever you’re up to :)

An outdoor theatre!

10 Jul

I was lucky enough to perform two of my three shows on Saturday outside in the glorious weather we had.

One was at Copford Primary School’s first ‘Camp Out’ event. Organised by the school’s PTA, the Camp Out is a great idea. Families paid for a pitch for the day and night, there were plenty of activities going on, a barbecue and me kicking off the evening’s proceedings with my magic show. Roz and the rest of the organisers did a cracking job, especially in securing a local sponsor and I hope they raised plenty of money.

The other outdoor show I did was a birthday party being held in the grounds of Parsons Heath Primary School, here in Colchester. It had the most perfect outside performance area and I’m a bit annoyed with myself for not taking a picture of it.Outdoor theatre!_01

It’s a large, decked area about eighteen feet square, with space to walk all around it. It had a kind of pergola arrangement with supports in each corner, a lattice over the top and decorative trellis masking each post. The best bit though, was written across the top on one side of this wonderful wooden stage. The word ‘Theatre’. MY jaw dropped when I saw it. I was performing magic in an outdoor theatre in the most beautiful sunshine I could have hoped for.

Instead of a photo, I’ve drawn it on my phone. I knew having a massive phone with a stylus would come in handy one day. My old art teacher Mr. Green would be proud of my use of perspective.

Enjoy the sunshine!

I was never like that when I was a kid.

16 May

What a little darling.

A quote from a magician:

“During the past quarter century, a subtle change has gradually taken form in the mental attitude of our children. Today’s child is sophisticated to a greater or lesser extent. Through the so-called benefits of modern science – the impossible exploits of movie heroes and blood-curdling video games – the child is thrilled to such an extent that a magician’s bag of tricks becomes a poor substitute.

“All this has brought about another more malicious change. Fifteen or twenty years ago the average child, with a few exceptions, was well-mannered, and quiet and attentive. The magician had very little difficulty in keeping them under control. Today it appears that those few exceptions have become the rule. It may be true that children today are no worse than fifty years ago. But the most casual observer must admit that today’s children are more ill-mannered. They have less respect for their elders and their conduct in public places is often far from commendable.”

Anyone nodding in agreement and thinking to yourself, ‘no chance you’d see me entertaining the kids of today’?

Eddie 'not so' Clever

What you’ve just read is from the introduction of the book Entertaining Children with Magic by Eddie Clever. It was written in 1939. Over 70 years ago.

How times change, eh? NOT.

OK, OK so the bit about blood-curdling video games should actually read “blood-curdling action stories on the radio”, but the general point is there. The misconception that children today are ‘so much worse than when I was a kid’ is one that will continue forever more.

In my opinion, Eddie Clever wasn’t so clever. Children’s mental attitudes haven’t changed. Children will always seek out the exciting, be it on the radio, in a video game or even watching a magic show. In that instance, the magician’s job is to bring the excitement to the children and wring it for all it’s worth.

I’d like to credit David Kaye (aka Silly Billy) and his book ‘Seriously Silly’ for bringing the passage from Eddie Clever’s book to the attention of those of us who enjoy entertaining children with magic. I guess that perhaps Eddie wasn’t one of us.

Paul Daniels comes up short

5 Mar

The Paul Daniels Magic Set from the 80sA few years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Paul Daniels. It was announced that he would be lecturing and performing at the Ipswich Magical Society’s annual convention that year and there was no way I was going to miss that. Paul Daniels! I had the Paul Daniels Magic Set when I was a kid! This was my chance to see an internationally successful stage and TV magician in action. If I worked it right, there’d be a good chance I could get to meet him, too.

Vicki and I bought the convention tickets (yes, Vicki went with me – she’s good like that. One day she might let me saw her in half!) and found that the mighty Paul Daniels had an autobiography that maybe we could get him to sign. Bingo. Our way in to meet the legend. We’d buy the book, ask him to sign it and in doing so, get to meet the great man himself.

The first problem was finding the book. It was listed in the usual places around the internet, but only if you were happy to wait two weeks or so for dispatch. It was still in print, but it seems no-one was stocking it. Not even Paul’s website.

So where could I get a copy of his autobiography? I had no idea. I chanced an email to the enquiry address at pauldaniels.co.uk, asking if they had any idea who the current stockists were. I got an email back from Paul Daniels. I’ll say that again as I nearly collapsed when it happened.

I got an email back from Paul Daniels.

Not only did I receive an email from Paul Daniels, but he said he’d bring a copy of the book along to the convention and we could personally collect it off him. Amazing. We were definitely going to meet him.

The convention was that October – Paul’s car was in the car-park, number plate MAG 1C. His lecture was brilliant and taught me the Classic Force better than any book ever has. For any magicians reading, his explanation was so good that not only did it give me the confidence to try it, but whenever I have tried it since, I’ve nailed it pretty much every time. Email me with any further questions.

At the end of the lecture, Paul announced that if the young couple who wanted the book would like to meet him backstage he had it for us. This was it. The big moment. We were about to meet Paul Daniels.

He’s a lot shorter than you think he’s going to be and looks a lot older close-up than he does on stage or on TV. He produced a copy of the book. Not magically, just took it out of a bag. At this point, the first question in my head was ‘Is he going to charge us?’ There is a reason he’s a multi-millionaire magician and it’s not because he gives his autobiography away to fans. I don’t remember how he put it, but that’d be £16.99, please. Fair enough. The guy’s making a living travelling the country and selling his wares like any other magician.

I asked if he would sign it for us, as that was the whole point of buying it, so we could ask him to sign and therefore meet him. He did so, mentioning that if he didn’t put our names then we’d get a bit more on eBay for it. Cynical? Maybe. I was slightly disappointed he didn’t find my affection (granted, it was now dwindling somewhat) for him genuine.

The next bit of the story is possibly the weirdest bit. Having handed over a £20 note for the book, Paul (I’ll call him Paul from now on, as I am one of his creditors) looked slightly sheepish as he searched for change. He asked his nephew (around 12 years old I reckon) if he had any change – he had the penny but not the £3.00. Neither of them did.

Paul

This was awkward. The legendary Paul Daniels searching his magical pockets for some loose change to give us. The moment felt so awkward that I said, ‘don’t worry about it,’ saving any further embarrassment all round. ‘No, no,’ came the reply, ‘I’m Paul Daniels I’m sure I can get you three quid. I’ll sort it for you later.’

He couldn’t. He didn’t. Paul still owes me £3.00.

We do still have the book though. Somewhere.