I was now ‘professional’. The first thing I’d need was a business card! I took one of my terrible promotional pictures (See Part Two) and my friend Andrew Green turned it into my first promotional giveaway.
I look back on that card and laugh, but I also remember the incredible pride I felt when I held it. It seemed professional and with no sense of self awareness I sent some to my parents in a gesture that suggested I’d finally made it. It must have meant as much to my father as it did to me, he carried that same business card in every wallet he owned until his dying day.
It was Christmas 2006 and the Blackpool hotels were busy. Audiences were usually made up of older couples aged 60+. I headed to my first show, The Edwardian Hotel on the seafront.
My friend Darren Robinson (also a magician) came with me for moral support and to take notes on my performance. I remember my first setlist and to my relief, with one altered exception, it is entirely different from anything I’ve done for at least 10 years!
I set up my table, with a huge sign affixed to it’s front that read ‘Magic, Mentalism & Mayhem’ along with my name. Any class was apparently a few years away.
Blackpool has been a great many things to me in my life from a holiday destination to an exciting relocation. Now it was a home and about to become the literal stage for my next evolution. My affection for this town has always never wavered but I don’t see it with rose tinted glasses. Parts are wonderful, nostalgia laden tourist hot spots that hark back to the golden days of the 40’s and 50’s. Others are broken down and dirty, underfunded and in desperate need of regeneration. This analogy stretches neatly to the hotels too.
It would be fair to say that the shows were weird. They provided the backdrop to the epic portion of ‘learning experience’ I desperately needed but their inconsistency made it very difficult to find your feet. One day I’d be performing in a large, well appointed venue with a stage and all the technical trimmings. The next day It’d be something more closely resembling a living room.
I received a complaint to my agent after one show. The booker said I was unprofessional and didn’t have appropriate equipment. They wanted to hold out on paying me, even though in my opinion the show itself had gone really well. I enquired to the exact nature of their grievance. The reason: I hadn’t used a PA system to amplify my voice. It was true, I had not used a PA system. The thing is, the venue was less than 20 feet squared and only had 12 people in it. The addition of a sound system would’ve been extremely unsettling to the audience and they hadn’t cared either way. The agent argued my point and I got paid. Eventually.
I still keep my first invoice on my office wall. I’m shocked to see how low the fees were in those early days. Even doing the maximum possible three shows in a night I still couldn’t get to the more respectable fees I’d expect now.
I hear that in the 12 years since I performed there, some of the fees have actually gone down!
Here is that first invoice. A reminder to never let money be the divining factor in decision making when possible…
I also learned another lesson. I was now a fairly confident driver and planned to visit my parents in the north east of England.
The trip would coincide with the day my agent said I could go to his house and be paid for the shows I’d done. Some shows were ‘cash pickups’, others were ‘payment via the agent’.
As I was driving home to visit my parents, the agent had kindly agreed to settle my invoice in cash so that I didn’t have to wait for the mandatory (at the time) five days for the cheque to clear.
Arriving at his home I was expecting to leave clutching bundles full of cash but after working things out he presented me with a much smaller sum. In fact, zero. I hadn’t factored in the ‘agents commission’, a tally that all acts pay for the pleasure of having someone find them work.
The fee is usually 15-20% (plus VAT if they’re any good) and it’s taken off before they pay you. Being that this was my first ever payment from an agent, I didn’t know. The bigger problem here was that the agent had not yet collected commission from the gigs I’d already been paid for in cash. This was also to be deducted from what I was now due. All things considered it now turned out it was me who owed him! Just over £150!
I had foolishly assumed that the venue paid the agent for finding them acts, rather than that the acts paid the agent for finding them work.
The agent kindly agreed to let this pass and take what I owed from future invoices so that I could still go visit my family. If not for my steady job in the magic shop, I couldn’t have afforded to be a star…
My security was about to come to an end and I’d need to find alternative arrangements.
The last six months at JB Magic we’d ceased to be open as a magic shop you could actually visit. We were in the same place, on the same street but no longer opened our doors to sell magic.
A year previously the owner Mark, had permanently relocated to Florida and a huge portion of the customers erroneously believed that the shop was closed. Mark was the beating heart of that place and people were often be disappointed if served by someone other than him. This was to be expected, he was the owner and founder of the business and on his talent and reputation it was built. Now the shop was much quieter and the manufacturing aspect had picked up, closing the physical store was the only thing that made sense.
After a further six months the manufacture move to the USA too and the store closed for good. Thankfully, my saviour was about to gallop over the horizon on a figurative, and literal horse. I’d been offered the opportunity to audition as the Emcee/Host/Jester at Camelot Medieval Theme Park in Chorley. It was now March 2008.
The audition was little more than a meeting with the boss Richard Timpson. I met him in the car park outside his office at the theme park and followed inside. The corridor was filled with plastic statues of medieval soldiers. As he walked ahead I paused to shake hands with the statues saying ‘nice to meet you, I think we’re going to be working together’. As we sat down in the office Richard said ‘well you’re obviously completely mad, so you’ve got the job, let’s talk about the money’.
I started the following week and the show was an absolute riot. It took place on a jousting area! Along with another performer named Paul Dawson, I would warm up the crowd for the show. Often the audience was over 2000 people! It was here than I found confidence and freedom. The script was extremely loose and outside of passing on the important information (inflatable hammers are £1.50 or 2 for £3) we ad libbed our way through a great many laughs. Our shtick involved laughing at the audiences terrible fashion choices, calling them ugly and taking sandwiches from their lunch box to stick down our trousers. It wasn’t classy, but it was a lot of fun. It was also entirely in keeping with the mood of the show. We were recreating a medieval joust, not hosting foreign dignitaries at Buckingham Palace.
The problem is, we also worked with horses and once they were warmed up, the show had to begin. The riders had a real love for their animals. Their safety and comfort always came before laughs. The debate is raging now about the use of animals in entertainment and I have nothing to add to it, other than to say that the horses in that show were kept like kings and queens who enjoyed a good amount of exercise.
I was incredibly sad to have left my days at JB Magic but things were picking up pace. I had a small amount of career to look back on and the knowledge I’d leapt from one opportunity to the next without hitch kept me from worrying too much about the future. I’d made a lot of great friends via the magic shop and one was about to change my life again.
Early 2009 I received a phone called from the well known TV magician Wayne Dobson. Through his frequent calls to JB Magic we’d become friends and having not been into magic as a kid, I was unaware of the glittering TV career he’d previously enjoyed. I suppose it’s for that reason that we became such friends. I didn’t ‘fanboy’ or ask him for pictures when we met, we just talked. Wayne asked me if I’d like to demonstrate magic for him at his dealer stand at the World’s Biggest Magic Convention, also conveniently held… in Blackpool!
I jumped at the chance and soon found myself standing next to one of magic’s legends performing the tricks he’d invented. On the next stand was a magician called Russ Stevens. Having been the star of The Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s ‘Mystique’ show and toured the world with his own illusion show, Russ had now set up a new business producing instructional magic DVD’s. I knew Russ and his products as we’d sold many of them in the shop. They had top class talent and changed the game for magic regarding production value.
After a full weekend of standing beside him, Russ asked me what material I had of my own and if I’d be interested in putting it out there for the magic community to learn. I was excited, if not a little apprehensive but Russ was sure I had something to offer.
I’d also been sharpening my skills elsewhere. About a year previously I’d been introduced to John Harding. Having performed close up magic successfully at a restaurant for about ten years, as well as starring in a TV magic show called ‘Astounding Celebrities’ (I’m certain he’d like me to add), John had now been tasked with finding resident magicians for 20 Chiquito Restaurants. I began performing 3 hours of close up magic every Sunday from 1-4pm at the Chiquito in Ashton Under Lyne. The manager loved magic and saw the opportunity to expand what we were doing. Soon I was performing twice twice per week when we added Tuesday evenings.
John called one day as another restaurant had become available for Sunday evenings. He was delighted that I’d managed to get an extra evening from my current spot (extra commission to be paid) and it was only 10 miles from my first gig. Now I was performing 9 hours of close up magic around the tables per week. I didn’t know if my tricks were any good, but they were certainly well practised!
We filmed in April 2009 and were happy with the result. The release date was set for June 2009. I’d spent the last five years working solidly on my craft and getting to know magicians.
Now I’d enter a phase in my life where they would start to know me.
FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED NEXT IN PART FOUR (coming soon)