Apropos of nothing, my dad was telling a friend of his, Iain, about the fact that I was on my way to becoming a professional magician and how I was now doing gigs! He ignored the fact, I’m sure, that these gigs currently only consisted of one free charity event I’d performed at, for about an hour, a few days prior.
Iain, as it happened, owned a cool bar in the city centre of Liverpool called The Late Lounge. It was directly alongside the main business hub and was an established hangout place for young, Patrick Bateman types.
Amazingly, Iain seemed quite taken by the idea and asked my dad if I’d be interested in performing some close-up magic in the bar on Friday nights. Not only would I be able to perform magic each week and work on new material, but he also offered to give me the grand total of £30 for my time. This is going to be amazing, I remember thinking!
Looking back, just why he did this is beyond me. He might have thought that having a 12-year-old magician performing each week was enough of a novelty to bring people into the bar, or maybe he was just trying to be nice and help me out so I could perform more?
Whatever the reason (and I assume it was a bit of both), being full of naivety and ego, I jumped on the idea and immediately agreed to do it. I’d performed at literally one gig and was now prepared to conquer the world with my new-found magical abilities… well, the North-West area of the UK, at the very least. We’ve all got to start somewhere.
I can remember the first night I worked there with utter clarity… mostly, it should be said, due to one fat man.
There was a certain amount of tension for me on the night - the staff had been told that a kid magician would be performing, and Iain had also come to watch to see what the response was like. Still, I hid my nerves and pushed on regardless - you know, conquering the world and all that.
Trying to convince myself I was in control, I scanned the room looking for the first table I should approach. As simple as it sounds, this is a skill you learn as you develop as a magician. The first group you perform to is crucial as to how the rest of the night is going to go. If they applaud loudly, laugh heartily and generally seem like they’re having a good time, the rest of the tables typically follow suit. If, however, they seem a bit distant or not too keen, it’s difficult to win anybody else over. It’s a fine line that can make or break a night. As you can imagine, on this occasion, I made the wrong decision…
The table I chose consisted of one particularly fat man, surrounded by a gaggle of much younger, more attractive women. Not knowing any better, I went in for the kill.
“Hello everybody! Sorry to interrupt, I’m Stephen, your magician for this evening. I was just wondering if you’d like to see a few quick tricks?” I said in my most upbeat, affable manner, before pausing with baited breath. A moment passed before the man looked up at me. There was a palpable tension before he raised his eyebrows and said, “Fuck off, kid!”
I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.
I didn’t know what to say! I didn’t know what to do! I could feel the eyes on the back of my head from the staff and manager as they silently tried to gauge how it was going. I knew I couldn’t just leave the table - I’d be considered a failure! I have to try and brush it off, I thought. I assumed the employees wouldn’t have been able to hear what the man said over the music, so in the heat of the moment, I felt it best to completely ignore his comment and do a trick anyway. It wasn’t a great idea.
I started off with a card trick, which is pretty much a rule for a magician. The man put his card back into the deck, snatched them from me and proceeded to give them a thorough shuffle. Now, I had no idea what his card was or where it was in the deck. So, I did what anyone would do: I guessed. Guessed! There was a 1 in 52 chance of getting it correct, so the odd weren’t too bad, were they?
Dramatically, I waved my hand over the pasteboards and just went for it. “Sir, was this you card?” I said with gusto. It wasn’t. My eyes darted around the table and I put the cards back into the box, gauchely.
It was going from bad to worse. I started to sweat.
Realising that it was probably for the best I wrap things up, I decided to do one final trick. My routine was supposed to build to an exciting crescendo: I’d blow up a balloon, pop it and have a full-sized bottle of wine appear, which I’d give away to the table. Knowing this was an ace up my sleeve, I decided to skip the rest of my set and jump straight to the end.
This trick, thankfully, they gave a nice round of applause to - so I decided to cut my losses and bid them goodnight. Whether they were applauding the trick or simply the fact they’d been given a free bottle of wine is beyond me. Either way, I was taking applause wherever I could get it at that point, so I ended on the highest note I could and left the table.
“How’d it go?” Iain asked as I made my way back towards him. “They loved it!” I said, trying to seem even the slightest bit convincing as I put my trembling hands deep into my pockets.
Thankfully the rest of the night went great and Iain asked me back the following week. As it happened, I ended up working there every Friday night for about a year and absolutely loved it! Genuinely, the amount I was able to learn about performing close-up magic there was incredible. Anything that could happen, did happen. I was able to master how to handle different kinds of people and situations, and build upon the kind of magic that works best for me. It was honestly invaluable experience which I wouldn’t give up for the world.
It was those tough experiences and those unfriendly people who helped me learn and grow more than anything else. So, to that fat bastard all those years ago, I salute you.