It was around this time that my parents realised that magic had become a proper hobby of mine, so they sought out a way to take it further. As it happened, a social club just down the road from where we lived at the time was home to ‘The Merseyside Junior Magic Society’, who met on the first Tuesday of every month.
My mum phoned the organiser’s number on the website and arranged for us to go down to the following meeting. I couldn’t have been more excited! A real magic circle, with real magicians! ‘I was going to meet with the elite’ I remember thinking, ignoring the fact that it was held in a social club and these real magicians were all under the age of 12.
Fashioned in my black suit and playing card tie - I wore that a lot at the time - my parents and I arrived at the club. Genuinely, I can remember the feeling of butterflies I had as I made my way through the doors.
I looked around the function room, decorated with stuffed rabbits coming out of top hats, oversized playing cards stuck to the wall and a variety of colourful boxes and magical props, with utter delight. Suddenly, across the room I recognised a familiar face. It was none other than Richie Smith - the very same Richie Smith that I’d met at ‘The Liverpool Magic Circle’s Convention’ just a few weeks earlier. He shot us a warm smile and made his way over to say hello.
Richie was, and continues to be, absolutely hilarious, supportive and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. As a broad, 6ft 2in ex-boxer, he’s not what you’d typically except a magician to look like; but his creativity, knowledge and love of magic astound me even to this day.
As a completely coincidence, he happened to be hosting that evening at the Junior Society, teaching some basic tricks and passing on pearls of wisdom. Following the meeting, after some discussion with my parents, my dad told Richie about my keenness in all things magic related, and asked if he would possibly be able to give me some lessons.
“I will, but only on one condition,” he said, reaching over the table to pick up his pen and the only thing he could find to write on - a beer mat. “Before I give you any lessons, I want you to get hold of The Royal Road To Card Magic and learn each one of these sleights.” He began scribbling down the names of 6-8 different moves: ‘The Elmsley Count,’ ‘The Jordan Count,’ ‘The Double Lift’… the list continued.
Magicians have some interesting code names, abbreviations and slang terms for the various sleight-of-hand moves and techniques that are used to accomplish their tricks. The ‘gimmicks’ and even the way in which a deck of cards is held can be called all manner of terms. A ‘TT’, a ‘Raven’ and a ‘Mechanic’s Grip’ for instance, are some of the things you slowly start to get accustomed to. It’s almost like a second language. Albeit, a second language which really has no use to anyone - like that used in Dungeons and Dragons, or Welsh.
“Spend a few weeks learning these, and only when you’re ready, then give me a call.” He outstretched his arm to pass it over to me with gravitas. At the the age of just 9, I could feel the magnitude of the list I was now holding… even it if was written on the back on a slightly damp, dog-eared beer mat.
The gauntlet had firmly been set. Never before had magic tricks been taken so seriously.
I spent the next month or so diligently practicing each move, trying to decipher the words in ‘Royal Road’ to figure out exactly where each finger should be positioned. One move in particular, the ‘Hot Shot Cut’, forced the cards to dig into my fingers to the point of causing them to bleed. Still, I pushed through each sleight in turn, until finally, I was ready.
A few days later my parent took me to see Richie and his lovely wife Chris in their home. Being the over-confident 9 year old that I was, I picked up my cards and rattled through each of the moves he’d assigned. Naturally, they weren't perfect - there is only so much technique you can learn in print - but it impressed Richie enough to offer to give me lessons, and I honestly couldn’t have been happier.
I spent the following few months going to see him regularly, being assigned a new list on each visit - trying desperately to soak in each new piece of knowledge. Richie had become my mentor in magic - my Mr. Miyagi, if you will. Just with a Scouse accent.
His help, advice and teachings during that time was invaluable and I can’t thank him enough for it.