SLIDESHOW: Record turnout at magic gathering

It was a case of ‘now you see them, now you don’t,’ as a galaxy of stars appeared – and disappeared – at the world’s largest magic convention in Blackpool.

Celebrity guests including Dynamo, Ken Dodd, Joe Pasquale and his Hollyoaks actor son Joe Tracini were due to pay fleeting visits to the Winter Gardens and Opera House complex over the weekend to join a record 3,700 turnout for the resort’s 63rd annual magic festival.

Illusionist Matthew McGurk with his glamourous assistants

Illusionist Matthew McGurk with his glamourous assistants

Organiser Derek Lever said: “It’s been the biggest and best yet, without a doubt. We’re absolutely delighted with how it’s gone this year. Just magic.”

Around 40 per cent of the magicians attending were from the Continent – a big increase on the 15 to 20 per cent of previous years.

“We have always wanted to attract more people from Europe and we have done that this year,” explained Derek. “It’s been very encouraging. Many of them have told us they haven’t seen a convention as large as this before.

“It is the largest in the world and we’re even in the Guinness Book of World Records for that. But it just keeps on growing.

“With the Pavilion Theatre being turned into a museum in the near future we are going to be out-growing the venue before long.”

The three-day festival brings together magicians from around the globe and more than 100 dealers to showcase the very latest tricks.

“I think the dealers have probably had their best-ever convention for sales,” added Derek. “It’s been a super weekend.”

Review

Blackpool magic convention 2015

Winter Gardens, Blackpool

Forget pulling a rabbit from a hat... it was parrots, budgies and macaws at Blackpool Opera House as the 63rd Annual Magic Festival got under way.

The opening night gala show had an international theme, with French magician Alpha getting the show on the road with a pirate themed display of illusion – eventually revealing a flock of birds from a handful of silk scarves.

The Opera House was packed with 3,000 magic fans and practitioners, so probably one of the toughest audiences you could face and Alpha certainly set the tone.

But the show was not all about illusions, with some great variety on show.

Compere Jimmy Tamley settled into the vast space with ease, bringing to life an increasingly hilarious gang of characters with his impressive mix of comic scripts and ventriloquist skills throughout the night.

More variety came from 2 Minds Combined, with an endearing display of shadow art – creating famous faces with just their own hands, a light and screen, and Bertox’s

Optical Circles took a while to get going (and perhaps the impact didn’t quite reach the furthest edges of the Opera House).

The standard throughout the festival is undoubtedly high, many of Friday’s acts have also hosted star lectures during the weekend run by Blackpool Magic Club.

And into the second act, the stars really came to the fore. Marco Zoppi’s bubble art was another high calibre variety show, which followed the utterly charming Charlie Frye and Co – an absolute masterclass in drawing in the audience and holding them in the palm of your hand, with his goofy character a combination of Charlie Chaplin, Lee Evans and Frank Spencer.

His combination of juggling skills and fairly standard trickery (linking rings aren’t the highest form of magic) drew standing ovations in some quarters such was his level of performance and perfection, set against a most amusing assistant Sherry whose deadpan delivery was an ideal foil to the beaming frontman.

Blackpool club member Danny Hunt showcased some of his Amethyst stunt work, escaping from chains and water to recreate Houdini-inspired tricks, although he didn’t quite capture my imagination in the way most of the other acts did – but the Opera House is a tough gig to play, never mind in front of thousands of your peers.

Closing the show, Matthew McGurk took a similar style of show to a different level opening his set with aerial silks performed by two of his three skilled dancers.

Fire and blades were the predominant theme, bringing the show to a rousing end with some genuinely breathtaking stunts.

As the event is generally closed to the public, it was an absolute treat to be part of the audience at the festival’s first of three big shows and I look forward to its return in 2016.

ANNA CRYER