Now, that's Magic!
PUBLISHED: 01:16 18 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:51 20 February 2013
Self-proclaimed hobbiest magician Steve Knibbs says the art of magic is becoming credible and cool again...
Think of a card. Any one you like. Happy with that? Want to change your mind? Good.
Now look at what it says at the bottom of this page then come back here.
Welcome back. For most of you I would have got it wrong. But for some of you that would have been a minor miracle. OK, it was a 1 in 52 chance but for those of you that thought the same as me that initial reaction felt good didnt it? Thats a moment of magic remember that and forget all the old impressions you have of what magic used to be like: Paul Daniels in tuxedos in the 1980s, Uncle Arthur pulling a coin out from behind your ear, a childrens entertainer at your birthday party called Mr Wobble doing amazing things with a toy rabbit. All good entertainment and of its time, but does it show that magic is actually cool? Probably not. It really isnt what magic is about in 2011. Its really a credible art form and its becoming popular, sophisticated and, yes, cool again. Let me explain.
Being a child of the seventies I was brought up on the likes of David Nixon and Paul Daniels. I loved magic. Then I went through my teenage years, met girls, became a student, left home and grew up. About ten years ago I went to Las Vegas on honeymoon and fell in love with magic again because I realised that it was more than card tricks it was baffling and entertaining. It was around the time that David Blaine started to appear on TV doing card tricks in the street. For me, and thousands of other hobbiest magicians, it started me on a renewed journey of discovery.
Its fair to say, and my wife will agree after picking an endless number of cards, that Im now pretty obsessed with magic. I do need to qualify that. Its more close-up magic than big illusions. Seeing someone floating in a spangly leotard is impressive, but its not for me. Over the last 10 years, Ive spent too much money on tricks Ill never perform, expensive books (and trust me, magic books are expensive because youre buying the secret), DVDs, lecture notes and attending magic conventions across the country. Its taking over too much space in the house but its all getting ready for the day I win the lottery and get a house with my own magic room. Im a classic hobbiest. Thanks to the renewed interest in the art there are thousands of us and were supporting the magic industry by buying the stuff they produce. Some of us perform, some dont and some only for their long-suffering partners. Elsewhere, magic conventions around the world are selling out, lecturers are doing good business. In fact, this year the Cotswold Magical Society is hosting some international lecturers at its meetings. The big names in magic are coming to Gloucestershire. That says a lot for the state its in. Theres a big demand and thats rubbing off on the audiences who are getting interested in magic again.
Andi Gladwin is flying the flag for Gloucestershire magic. Not only is he one of the busiest performers in the UK, he also co-runs an online magic store selling tricks to magicians, organises a magic convention in Gloucester which attracts magicians from all over the world and hes creating tricks for a new magic show for children which airs on the BBC next year. Magic has become far more accessible than ever before. Its easier to see magic on television, live and on the internet (with some magicians getting over a billion views on YouTube!). And in comparison to the prominent magicians of the past, these magicians are smarter, funnier and cooler.
Andi mentions magic on TV and thats a sure sign that magic is making a resurgence its back on primetime TV. David Blaine started it. Then Derren Brown swept onto UK TV screens. But now were leading the way around the world were doing particularly well with The Magicians (BBC1), Dynamo: Magician Impossible (Watch) and Penn & Teller Fool Us (ITV1). The good news for the TV executives, and the magic industry, is that millions are watching.
But there is no substitute for seeing magic live. There are no camera tricks and youre seeing performers close up with the chance, if they let you, of trying to catch them out. I compere and help organise an intimate magic show called An Evening of Deceptiont at The Everyman in Cheltenham. The first one-nighter sold out. This year it sold out three nights. Next year were extending the run again. We bring in professional performers from around the UK and abroad. I also use it as excuse to perform to justify my hobby! An Evening of Deceptions success is proof that people want to see live magic. This is great news. I always dreamed about putting on a show like this. Getting people to see what contemporary magic is like. The show is now getting a great reputation and performers are approaching us to be on the bill. We must be doing something right but it wouldnt sell if people didnt want to see magic.
Its great that all this is happening in Gloucestershire and its just another chapter in the countys magical history. The famous Victorian magician, John Nevil Maskelyne, was born in Cheltenham in 1839. He started life as a watchmaker and worked from his shop in Montpellier. One day he was asked to fix a strange apparatus for a woman who wouldnt tell him what it did. Maskelyne worked out that it was a device that attached to a table to make a secret knocking noise. He realised the woman was one of a growing band of fake psychics and mediums sweeping the country. She would use the device at sances to create the classic knock if anyone is there. It was a business that horrified him. Soon he was able to expose one of the most famous fake medium acts in the country.
The Davenport brothers came to the Cheltenham Town Hall in 1865 with their spirit cabinet effect. Basically, one of the brothers was tied up and locked in the cabinet with musical instruments which would play when the doors were closed. Proof, apparently, of spirit activity. Maskelyne was at the performance and managed to see how it was done. He later performed the effect, as a magic trick, in the towns Jessop Gardens to great fanfare in front of the press and hundreds of spectators. The Davenports were discredited. After that, inspired by his success, and along with his friend George Cooke, he went on to set and raise the bar for live magic at The Egyptian Hall in London. Out of his many achievements, hes credited with inventing levitation.
Back to today, and where does magic go from here? Well, The Magicians and Penn & Teller have new series. Derren Brown is selling out theatres around the UK and in the West End. More intimate magic shows are cropping up, and magicians are in demand. Andi Gladwin says, Magic is quickly starting to evolve again; the more people we have to take it forward the better it can be. If we keep the right performers at our forefront like Derren Brown, Penn & Teller and so on, then magic could once again become an extremely credible form of entertainment.
I actually think were close to that. The magic of today is fresh, contemporary, fascinating and exciting. Its back doing what its supposed to deceiving people who love to be tricked, and irritating those who like to know how its done.
Steve Knibbs is the Gloucestershire reporter for BBC Points West.
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