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Noel Britten Interview

Noel Britten with a gun!You are the talent booker for the International Magic Convention in London. How long have you been doing it and how did you get the gig?

This is my second full year of booking the Convention, although I had some input three years ago. I did a spot on the Gala Show in 1998 and then was asked to compere the show the following year and have done so each Gala Show since. I started suggesting acts to Martin three years ago and it was an organic sort of thing after that. It freed up a lot of Martin’s time to deal more with the registrations side of the Convention and Georgia to sort the hotels etc.

What was the first convention you attended?

First Convention ever was The Reading Junior Day in 1976, organised by Keith Churcher / The Home Counties Magical Society, followed by Luton One Day Convention and then The International Convention in December of 1977-which was the first big Convention I had been to with foreign performers being flown in as oppose to members of the local society etc. Line up included Fred Kaps, Richard Ross, Juan Tamariz and Albert Goshman

Which 5 acts from the past would make it onto your dream gala line up?

Difficult choice so I’d take either of the following in their field
Manipulation-Channing Pollock/Richard Ross
Comedy Patter-Roy Benson/Frank Van Hoven
Comedy Visual-George Carl/Cardini
Speciality Act-Enrico Rastelli/Francis Brunn
Illusions-David Devant/Dante

What criteria do you use for booking acts?

As the Gala Show at International is open to the public my over riding concern is not to subject them to duplication. An audience compised entirely of magicians may happily watch one Zombie routine after another, but a lay audience at such a show just leaves thinking that all magicians do the same thing.

So creating a balanced bill with the right blend of comedy, skill, magic and variety is very important
I’ve made a list of (currently) 708 acts-both magic and speciality that I would consider booking. The interesting thing is that as soon as you book any one of the acts approximately 30-40 of the other acts can easily be crossed off as too similar, either in style or crossover of material. So depending on the first three or four performers that you book you can be left with a very limited number of acts to choose from in the later stages. The idea is to pick the right people so that you can end up with the best overall performing standard without duplication.

The other element of the International Convention is we are very keen to bring new performers to the UK. David Williamson, Gary Kurtz, Rick Merrill, The Morettis and Lennart Green, just to name a few, all made their UK debut at International. Just last year 7 of the acts in the Gala Show were all new to the UK.

Magicians are difficult to please however-if you have a list of performers that everyone knows, they say what’s the point in going I’ve seen them all before. If you book entirely new talent, people say I’m not going to go-I’ve not heard any of these people. So it’s a question of getting the right balance.

My personal view is that each of the big UK Conventions (IBM, Blackpool and International) have a different feel and facilities that are both to their strength and weakness. For instance, for us, The Shaw Theatre will compliment some acts much more than the Opera House at Blackpool (for instance David Sousa who we had last year in our show looked great in the Shaw but some of his manipultions would be lost at Blackpool), but other acts which look great at Blackpool would be too big physically for us to showcase to their best.

I’m obviously biased but I think we have the best close up performing conditions of the three Conventions, and in that there is one show of the Close Up performers one can choose a theatrical running order for the acts as oppose to seeing them in a round-robin order when any performer can be opening or closing.

Have you got a worldwide scouting network?

Conventioneers certainly recommend performers or ask why we’ve never booked them and that kind of input is invaluable. Indeed if any one would like to make suggestions to me, please email me at noelbritten@talk21.com , Booked acts, once they have been to the Convention and seen the theatre size and close up set-up, often recommend other acts too

You compere the show as well but do you get to enjoy the acts as well?

One of the things I said when I first started booking the Convention was that I wasn’t going to book any acts that I hadn’t previously seen live. Recommendations are sometimes ill founded and promo tapes, while giving an idea of an act can always be edited to their advantage. It’s far rarer to see a good act that looks poor on its promo than a poor one that looks good. So hopefully I have always seen the act before the Convention which is just as well as you don’t get to see the show if you’re compering it. I’d seen Ray Crowe’s Shadow piece before and having worked with him in Australia, I knew whatever he did would be great, but I hadn’t seen him do his Coat Routine, that he did for us last year, before. And it was shame having to watch that for the first time from the sidelines as oppose to out front

You love your magic conventions. What’s the furthest youve traveled for a magic convention? What’s the oddest thing youve witnessed at a convention?

Been to the US for a few Conventions-some as bookings, some as a Conventioneer and a couple as a booker. In terms of oddities I have to say the Competitions are the best areas to look at. The Close Up performing conditions at Magic Hands were pretty odd. If you imagine the same situation as Blackpool but instead of being in a semi circle it’s a straight line and the acts are even closer to each other. And of course a lot of Conventions have the “whatever were they thinking?” acts cropping at least once. Acts out of their depth/environment etc.

How much does your personal preference come into booking acts or are you booking to please the crowd only?

Luckily I think there are enough acts that I like, and I think the audience will like, to choose from at the moment. There’s a an act I want to book for this year that I think is great but I’ll be introducing him and then going into the audience to watch him. As soon as he walks on the stage you realise what he is going to do, and think that’s not all he’s going to do is it?-and he then does it and that’s all he does. I want to watch the audience reaction as much as the act itself.

There are acts that are definite crowd pleasers but if they’re hard work to deal with, demanding backstage etc it’s just a more stress free option to go for someone else. Watching someone do a technical rehearsal for lights and sound at another Convention is a great way of judging them!

Certainly on a personal level I could happily drop a magic act for another speciality act. To be given a chance to book a spesh act rather than a magic one gives you a far wider range of styles and talents to choose from. But magicians moan if there are not enough magicians on the bill (although it’s always guaranteed that the spesh act will get the best reaction of the night!).

Variety is becoming a little bit more popular than in recent years but its still in the doldrums. Do you think that a lot of magic convention acts are only suitable for an audiences of their peers?

Unfortunately, yes, I do think that. I go and see a lot of circus and variety shows here and in Europe. Whilst there are part time magicians I don’t think there are part time acrobats/contortionists to the same extent. I suppose juggling is the closest to the magic world in that there are professionals and hobbyists, and at their Conventions you’ll see acts that people have put together especially for the Convention but do not perform professionally. They have elements that are of interest to other jugglers but it would not necessarily strike a regular audience as anything of note

Are there acts that you personally feel are great but you couldn’t book for one reason or another?

Islington Council which licenses the Shaw Theatre has strict rules concerning flames and animals on stage. It’s not a reason for not booking someone but certainly you want the trouble that you have to go through to be justified in terms of audience reaction when the act actually performs.

As a compere, I have low tolerance for acts that use confetti, and generally leave a load of mess on the stage. There is a story that when Johnny Hart worked the Lido in Paris he was docked a considerable amount of his weekly wage for each card that he missed dropping into his top hat. The owner of the club said the girl dancers if they slipped and were injured were coniderably more expensive to replace and retrain than getting another spesh act. I really can’t envisage where some acts that drop the amount of stuff on the floor that they do, can actually work on a regular basis. Having to kill time while the stage is being swept is just unnecessary

You spend a lot of time creating custom material suitable for an audience of magicians each year. What do you think of acts who steal material/gags?

Firstly I’d say that I do write material for the show each year but the fact that the audience is composed of magicians and laypeople means material has to be understood by both sides. If the audience was only magicians I’d find it a lot easier to write stuff. In-gags are a lot easier to write! But you have to be aware of the lay people in the audience and that the gag has to be “gettable” by them too. At the last IBM convention I did a gag (to an all magician audience) with an Arthur Dowler Legs Table where only one leg dropped down and then made a couple of Heather McCartney references. The gag as I did it there would have worked in front of a lay audience. In order to parody something (the Legs Table) the audience has to be aware of it in the first place-a lay audience wouldn’t be and therefore the gag wouldn’t register as strongly-it still would have got “something” as the audience would link the one leg with Heather McCartney but overall the gag would not be as strong

Most people have a bee in their bonnet about some issue in the magic world whether it’s exposure, fee undercutting or whatever. Nicking material is my particular thing-if you want my full rant on it and the household name, convention attending, squeaky voiced little piece of shit who is the main culprit please ask me at any convention.


About Noel Britten…Noel Britten is a busy comedian working all over the country and also finds time to co-run the Bizzare Bath comedy walk which is a roaring success. Oh and he is the fantastic compere and act booker for the International Magic Convention in London. Interview by less famous/less talented Noel