Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Tangent Perspective -The British Ring 25 - 2011 Convention Review

A Tangent Perspective -The British Ring 25 -  2011 Convention Review

By: Anthony Darkstone Brook

I like tangent  lines. They balance well outside circles and give them a certain depth that adds to the radii and the diameter. Of necessity, my perspective has to be on a tangent. There is no other view I can take as I was part of some of the events before, during and after the Convention.  

Nothing would be easier to dash off a report based on mere observances. However, they would be merely superficial and serve no purpose than a surfeit of information that would be of little value. Therefore, any thoughts and subsequent words can only fully be valid from a tangent perspective – a kind of objective view with subjective information.

As I had some commitments in England soon after September 26th, and during a conversation with Former British Ring 25 President, Shirley Ray several months prior she asked if I could fly in a few days before & invited me to be a Judge on the Stage Contest Panel. Subsequent conversations with John Pye, British Ring Executive Secretary & IBM International President Elect, led to discussions on Producing & Hosting a Live TV Style Talk Show & MCing the  International Close-Up Gala. I was delighted when the discussions came to fruition.

Anthony Darkstone Brook
 with Simone Marron, Mandy Davis and Jason Andrews.
 Although I had been a Member of Ring 25 in the past, I had never had the time-slot or availability to attend a British Ring Convention. This was the perfect opportunity. Once John also told me who would be on the bill and that I could pick my own Guests for my Talk Show it was irresistible. This seems like a good point to publicly congratulate John Pye on the outstanding line-up of Talent. To use the vernacular. Every show rocked!!!

I flew into Manchester and John Pye had kindly arranged for a car to collect me. I was expertly driven to the Hotel in Southport. The driver was well versed in Parapsychology & Esoteric topics. The journey was all the more pleasant because of our conversation. I have to admit I had a few reservations about provincial Hotels but that was soon dispelled with minutes of my arrival. I have, over many decades stayed at several hotels in several places on this planet but I must publicly sing the praises of The Ramada and its excellent staff.

Anthony Darkstone Brook and the legendary Mark Raffles
Soon after I had checked in and got to my room I called John Pye. I proceeded to his room where a welcome cocktail party had already begun. It was a delight to meet up with dear Bob Haydn (who was for many years the wonderful PRO for the British Ring) and several other friends I had not seen in a while and indeed meet new ones whose names I knew but had never met.

The party finished around 7 PM. Neil Roberts, Pat Fallon, Michael & Lori Finney and I took a short leisurely walk and settled on a nice Chinese Restaurant for dinner. After dinner, we hung out in the friendly lobby bar with other Conventioneers. Personally, I love these moments at Conventions.  

Breakfast next morning was an opportunity for more socializing and my time was spent in the delightful company of my good friend Jason Andrews and a new friend, the charming Simone Maroon. Equally delightful was meeting Rob Cox & Mandy Davis.  

Registration opened at 10:30 AM all expertly managed by John Palfreyman and crew. The opening ceremony took place in the SouthPort Theatre at 2 PM. John Pye – Executive Secretary of The British Ring & International President Elect, Keith Cooper President IBM Ring 25, IBM International President Vanni Pulé & their respective ladies plus His Worship The Mayor of Sefton and other dignitaries were on stage to officially open the convention and extend a welcome to all. 

This was followed by The Opening Show featuring Mandy Fletcher, Chris De Rosa & Mark James. All expertly MC’d by the sartorially elegant and very experienced Master Entertainer from Ireland - Pat Fallon.
The downside on that show was, that considering the nature of the event, one of acts should have used a little more good sense & judgment in his choice of material.

Anthony Darkstone Brook with Eric Eswin - FISM
However, Mandy Fletcher’s performance was a joy to watch. I had met Mandy when I was performing In Scotland, some years ago when she was just a child. She is now a stunning young woman and a great credit to her showbiz family. 

After the show, I went over to the lobby to meet up with Shawn Farquhar, Michael Finney, Jason Andrews and Joe M. Turner to have an informal conversation about my Live TV Style Talk Show. As both The Producer & Host of the Show I had to wear two hats simultaneously and needed to run thru some of the fine-tuning. In particular we discussed the nuances of Operation Smile. 

As a side note, I had suggested to John Pye, several months prior that I organize an event within the context of the Talk Show. It was to be a fundraiser and the proceeds to go to a charity. He graciously agreed and Operation Smile was chosen. This is part of work done by The Michael Finney Foundation. It’s sole purpose is to provide funding for children all over the world that are born with Cleft lips to have the surgery that resolves the problem.

Anthony Darkstone Brook, Jeton & Jason Andrews

The fundraiser was simple. Attendees placed a British banknote in an envelope along with their business card into a box. During the Talk Show names would be drawn and prizes awarded.

Prizes were as follows:- Two decks of Bicycles from each of the above named guests. Each card in the deck was individually signed. Three other good friends also contributed. George Schindler, PNP & current Dean of The Society of American Magicians not only mailed two signed decks but also two of his in –demand DVD’s entitled” Entertainment First” .  Jon Racherbaumer sent a signed copy of The Linking Ring with him on the cover, a signed set of lecture notes and two signed cards. Victoria Skye from Atlanta who apart from being a Talented Entertainer is also a master craftswoman and sent via Joe M.Turner several of her Impossible Arrows.

I cannot hope to do these excellent hand-made pieces justice with mere words.  These arrows measure about 2.5 inches and are made of wood and reside thru Chinese coins or glass beads. Photographs can be seen on her site or facebook page.

Back to Thursday night. A wonderful social evening was held in The Floral Hall. This was followed by a full gala stage show. I was a guest at British Ring Executive Secretary, TVP & International President Elect John Pye and his Lady, Carol’s table. Others at our table were   FISM President Eric Eswin, International President Vanni Pulé & his Lady Mary Anne, British Ring President Keith Cooper & his Lady, Pam,

Anthony Darkstone Brook, Robert - the Ballon Magicain from Malta , Tom Owen and the King Mark Raffles & Shirley Ray & her Mother
Billed as Cabaret Night, the Festivities comprised a wonderful idea entitled “ The Ali Bongo Micro Magic Marathon + Tombola”  . I had never experienced anything like this before and found it enormously original & entertaining. Briefly, over drinks and whilst the Tombola was in progress, several Magicians came round to each table and performed a set.

Anthony Darkstone Brook with Mark Raffles & his citation from the IBM President
Each person at each table was given a form to evaluate the performance & the performer with the most points/votes won a prestigious Trophy. The winner, was Bharat Patel who collected his award at the Awards’ Ceremony. Having bent & twisted metal in my time and being friends with some of the best in that field, I must state that Bharat Patel’s technical skill and Presentation were excellent. 

The show that followed was excellent. As stated previously, John Pye did an outstanding job of assembling some great performers. I would need reams to do it justice. I must congratulate the very talented Vittorio Marino from Italy who MC’d the Show. Each time he introduced an act he “assumed” a slightly different character of varying height! His command of the English idiom was superb!  A very creative, highly original & very Entertaining MC.  

One act that stood out was Canadian Wes Zahruk. I am truly at a loss of words to describe this outstanding magical entertainer. He is one of those acts that has to be seen & experienced to be appreciated. His original comedy & entertainment will astound you and you will laugh so hard you will amaze yourself. Also on the bill were Sonny Pennington and Safire (Jayne & Stuart Loughland) who performed a thrilling Illusion act that merited a Standing O.

Anthony Darkstone Brook
 with Annette Claire and Danny Hunt
Earlier on I mentioned we were on a table near the stage and Eric Eswin was at our table. He got “volunteered” by Wes Zahruk. At one stage he was, and indeed so was Mary Anne Pulé, covered in toilet paper. Nothing gross, but very good natured comedy from Wes.  After the show, I congratulated Wes and during our conversation I asked him if he knew who Eric Eswin was – he said “no”. When I told him, he was blown away and said he now understood why he had got such a great crowd reaction. A showbiz story for the future history books!!!!

Friday was a full day and I could not attend everything but did spend a good deal of time in the Dealers Room. Met up with lots of pals and had a few pics taken.. Spent quality time with Mark Raffles, Bobby Bernard, Domenico Danté & many other good pals.   

A wonderful time spent with Clive of The Card Collection who kindly donated a £20 note and a Giant deck as a prize for Operation Smile. The Dealers’ Room had a good number of stands and there were a fine number of items displayed including one or two highly original items. Several were very tempting that even I managed to spend some money!!!  One of most inviting stands was that of The Budget Editor Stephen Tucker. I managed to contribute to his Pension Fund by purchasing a few items. One of which was a very intriguing item that allowed for a very visual coin thru inverted drinking glass penetration.

Escorting the 2010 British Ring President Shirley Ray & her Mother to the Gala dinner.
Later that evening was the Black Tie Gala Dinner attended by The Mayor, His Lady and several aforementioned IBM British Ring dignitaries. As Dave Cass was the Live Musical Entertainment for the evening, I was honored to escort 2010 IBM British Ring President Shirley Ray and her mother. At our table was Mark Raffles, Tom Owen, Robert –The Balloon Man from Malta and several Maltese IBM members. International President Vanni Pulé presented Tom Owen, Mark Raffles & others with Presidential Citations.

After a splendid dinner and toasts we were treated to a Stage Magic Gala. On the bill were Jordan Gomez, Mel Mellers, Mat Ricardo and Amethyst.  A truly wonderful show MC’d by Michael Carr. As a member of the audience I was wonderfully Entertained. As a Producer and Director I was greatly impressed by Mel Mellers and Amethyst. I did make a point of talking with them afterwards to express my appreciation & admiration.

Mel Mellers was the consummate professional and delivered one of the finest acts I’ve seen in a long while. To categorize him as a Comedy Magician would truly not do him justice. He is, to those who know how to observe, a very erudite man who understands Audience control. Sadly, due to other commitments I missed his lecture. However, I heard great praise from those who attended. 
I am not usually a great fan of duo Illusion acts as so many of them tend to be pretty much the same. I’ve seen some great “box-jumpers” along the years and a few years ago at The TAOM in Dallas, Texas, my pal Scott Wells invited me to join him, Simon Lovell, Mark Wilson & Nani Darnell for lunch. Enlightening conversation with Nani on female assistants.  This preamble is to offer high praise to Danny Hunt & Annette Claire.  Their act was captivating; not just because of their technical skill but also because they actually looked like they were enjoying what they were doing. Danny’s smile held the audience throughout the entire act and all of Annette’s movements were precise and subtle. Obviously a lady who understands Kinesics. A wonderful duo who not only understand the nature of Magical Entertainment but also understand all the necessary nuances of how to effectively use a stage.

The Anthony Darkstone In Conversation Talk Show was at 11:30 AM on Saturday.  For all kinds of reasons the stage set that we had arranged at the tech rehearsal the day before had to be altered literally 45 mins before show-time. Fortunately, I had my backdrop on a DVD that I had brought for a gig after The Convention. That was hastily projected, lighting changed and we were good to go. 

Murphy’s Law tends to be alive and well in Magic Conventions than any other place I know of…..  however, empirical experience has taught many of us to go with the flow and be prepared …just in case!!! 

Naturally, I cannot comment on the show but despite the unfortunate acoustics of The Floral Hall, as Producer & Host I was very pleased with the results.

Anthony Darkstone Brook, Jason Andrews, Michael Finney, Shawn Farquhar & Joe M. Turner.
Apart from spending around 10 mins with each guest we had a 20 min conversation on Performance & Presentation. Many thanks to my Superstar guests -  Jason Andrews, Joe M. Turner, Shawn Farquhar & Michael Finney. We had a great time and judging by the applause and indeed all the kind comments I received from several people it must have played well.

At the end of the show, British Ring President Keith Cooper brought the Operation Smile box on stage and each guest drew winner’s names. Michael graciously thanked me on stage for my work in making this fundraiser possible. I thanked all those who kindly donated the prizes.  I could not attend Michael Finney’s lecture on Sunday but the full amount raised was presented to him at the end of his lecture on Sunday.

I would also like to take a moment to publicly thank Neil Roberts and to the two great Stage guys Chris & Howard! A very real pleasure to work with such Pros.

That evening, together with Don Beattie, Keith Cooper, ( British Ring President)  Brian Lead, Stuart & Jayne Loughland ( Safire)  and Vanni Pulé ( IBM International President) I was a Judge at The Stage Competition For The British Ring Shield Awards. The Competition Organizer was Shirley Ray and the Compeer was the very able Steve Evans who expertly fulfilled the role of Master of Ceremonies with flair and highly Entertaining Presentation skills. 

The competition acts were a very interesting mix and the show flowed very well. Results are available on the Ring 25 site. The competition was followed by the Awards ceremony & the Installation of the new British Ring President Brian Miller.

Shawn Farquhar, Anthony Darkstone Brook & Joe M. Turner
Sunday was a fun day and my last duty was to Compeer the International Close -Up Gala at 2:30 Pm. Taking part were Mark James & Shaun McCree from the UK and two of the guests from my Talk Show - Joe M. Turner from the USA and Shawn Farquhar from Canada. This took place in The Floral Hall and was projected onto an on-stage screen. Personally, I have never been a great fan of projecting Close-Up Magic as I believe it loses some of its intimacy. Having stated that, the four performers took that into account and chose their material accordingly.

The show opened with Shaun McCree who, using two volunteers, performed some highly skilled card magic. His closing effect was his version of Dave Forrest's The Man Who Paints the Future. It drew much applause. He was followed by Mark James who was also the opening act at the Opening Show. Mark performed a series of effects in his style/ personality. Playing to a house of Magicians he used that to create some effects and in-jokes.

A few months prior to The Convention I had made a conscious decision not to do any effects between acts. Due to the nature of the show and caliber of Talent it seemed the right thing to do. I spoke to John Pye and to Steve Evans and they agreed.

However, having introduced two Performers from England and having two more from North America - the USA & Canada respectively, I thought it would be interesting to link both   geographical locations with an effect involving an Internationally respected well known Magical personality.

Anthony Darkstone Brook ‎and Michael Finney
I approached Sinde Richison, The International Executive Secretary at The IBM Headquarters in St. Charles, MO, USA and asked her to kindly send me, by snail mail, the membership number and year of joining of a particular Internationally famous British Magician.  

Having worked with this personality on several occasions & having been on the Bill with him in Scotland a few times and, over the years shared many interesting times over lunch & dinner, I knew a little more about him than most. I gave the audience various clues regarding his identity and asked them to form a Mental image of this personality.

This personality spoke perfect French, was an acknowledged illustrator, although British, he was not born there but was born in India a former British colony; a Master magician, extremely knowledgeable on all aspects of Magic, Consultant and TV Consultant to many famous British & other magicians. He bore the same name as his Scottish  ancestor.  He was also President of two leading British Magical organizations - The British IBM Ring 25 and The Magic Circle.

Using an audience member and random multiplication, a number was arrived at. I wrote the number down on a large pad and asked the volunteer to open the sealed envelope from the IBM Headquarters. Inside, she found a letter that was addressed to me & signed by Sinde Richison. She then read aloud that Ali Bongo (William Oliver Wallace) joined the IBM in 1971 and that his Membership number was 24394.  It matched the number she had randomly arrived at. I was delighted with the audience response.

Anthony Darkstone Brook
 with Joe M. Turner
The next performer was Joe M.Turner from Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Joe has a Doctorate from the 4F. He is a well known Corporate Entertainer, a much sought after Speaker, an IBM Board Member and a Columnist for The Linking Ring. From the moment he stepped on stage  he positively oozed Professionalism and astonished the audience by producing a Deck from thin air. Mutual friends had praised him highly. He went on to perform some awesome magic. His closing effect blew me away! ……and indeed the rest of the audience too! He removed a card from a deck and placed it in his jacket/coat pocket. He then invited the volunteer to check his pocket & confirm that it was only one card in his pocket. He then asked that she think of any card from a deck. She did and named the card out loud. She reached into his pocket and withdrew the single card. It matched!!   

Next up was Shawn Farquhar. He also has a Doctorate from the 4F and is a Board member of The IBM & Linking Ring columnist. He is also the current FISM Champion of Magic. I first met Shawn back in 2001 at The Society of American Magicians Convention in New Orleans. He was a competitor and together with my pals Scott Wells and Jon Racherbaumer I was a Judge at The Close-Up Contest. Shawn won joint First Place with a version of Sealed Surprise ( which fooled Penn & Teller on British TV) and a very unique rendering of The Cups & Balls. Since then I had seen him a few times and we had spent quality time together over lunch & dinner earlier this year.

Much to my delight he told me he was going to perform versions of these two effects on this show. Shawn excelled himself. He had a card selected and signed. It was found in a sealed deck. One of those effects that truly defies description. You have to see it to believe and even more to appreciate the artistry of a Master & richly deserved FISM champion. The applause wasn’t instant….  in Magic that is a rare accolade especially when that incredulous silence is by Magicians who then burst into perfect appreciative applause of having witnessed the Art as it should be performed.  

Shawn concluded with his unique version of the Cups & Balls. Historians and keepers tell us this effect originated in Ancient Egypt. Shawn’s version would have totally perplexed them. I will greatly resist describing it as I don’t wish to spoil the enjoyment of those who have yet to witness Classic Magic performed by a Master. At various times during his performance he would playfully say ” c’mon FISM boy can do better”  …and each time he time he did!  No surprise to me that he drew a standing O.

I closed the show by bring the Performers back on to more applause and acknowledged Steve Evans the Producer, who in turn brought me on for a round of appreciative applause.   Thus concluded a very wonderful and very entertaining International Close-Up Gala.  Throughout the afternoon I received some very nice comments & compliments.

Throughout this article I have remarked on the fact that John Pye arranged some amazing talent. Little did I know that even he would supersede himself by the line-up he put together for The International Gala of Magic & Variety. It was a rare opportunity for me to just sit back and enjoy a show just as an audience member. Interestingly, John & his Lady Carol were seated literally right behind me and we often nodded & exchanged appreciative glances. 

Expertly MC’d by Aonghus McAnally from Ireland, the bill featured from the UK, Romany –Diva of Magic. We had met briefly during the day and it was a real joy for me to watch her wonderful performance. We have many mutual friends and they all told me she was awesome. I was not disappointed. Her magic and performing persona make her truly deserving of her many International accolades.

Rafael & Jenny from Belgium gave wonderful performances and lent a wonderful playfulness & interesting Magic to the evening.

I confess a certain bias but I have nothing but I highly praise Jason Andrews. Jason is from Vegas, we have many mutual friends & I’ve known him for a few years and have watched his star rise. No less than 25 awards at 25 years of age makes him a highly sought after Entertainer. My full article on him can be found on -  MAGICAL WORDS

Shawn Farquhar performed a remarkable Topsy-Turvy Bottle routine that brought tons of appreciative laughter. In his own style, he went on the wow the audience and fulfilled all the expectations of a FISM champion. And Yes! ..he just had to… he stole her watch!

The legendary World Class Performer, Michael Finney, impeccably demonstrated his Entertainment & audience handling skills. A genuine Master & exceptional Entertainer. There are not enough superlatives to do his performance justice. Yes ..he did the signature piece of Card On The Forehead and no matter how many times I see it I absolutely love it. He still gets standing O’s for that effect. Not bad for an effect that he has been doing for some 30 years and performed on The World’s Greatest Magic. His skill, timing and mis-direction are lessons for the learning.

Anthony Darkstone Brook with 
Jeton - Gentleman Juggler


Jeton – The Gentleman Juggler from Germany was a Class Act. In every sense of the word. Winner of several accolades he was, in every aspect the epitome of a sartorial & elegant gentleman. Impeccably dressed, he performed, ably assisted by his exquisitely dressed wife Carmen some of the most amazing juggling I have seen anywhere   -  anytime. He even at one time juggled a 4 x 2 foot mirror!!!  The only current active act of this style of juggling it is easy to see why audiences in the Far East, Vegas, cruise ships and Danish Royalty highly rate this skillful duo. 

The Gala closed to the fast moving & interesting illusion show of Guy Barrett & company.

A fitting end to an enjoyable Convention. My personal thanks to all those who helped make it a memorable experience.

Anthony Darkstone Brook
Copyright:-  October 2011 .