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Me and Paul Daniels Part IV

legend leg endThe final time I saw Daniels performing live was in his Legend to Leg-End tour in September, 2013 at the Millfield Arts Centre in London.  By this stage in his career, Daniels was very much playing to diminished audiences.  This venue contained about 100 people, and was about one third full.  The reasons for his decline in popularity could be for several reasons: the fact that he hadn't been on television in any serious capacity for many years; the failure to introduce new material into his live shows; a style of performing which was considered rather dated; or just a public image which he presented of being outspoken and not someone you necessarily warmed to.

To be fair to Paul he did at least try to address one of these in this particular show - the repetition of old material.  The only trick which he did that helped make his name as a live performer was his version of the Linking Rings, with the patter about his assistance getting "confidence" to do the trick. 

village hallAfter the opening fifteen minutes of Legend to Leg-End I was fearing the worst.  A disjointed and awkward beginning with Paul and Debbie trying unsuccessfully to ad-lib with each other, was followed by the most bizarre and nonsensical trick that I ever saw him do - involving the Demon Wonder Box and production of a silk.  To make matters worse, he did an Indian accent half-way through, only to discover in a subsequent trick that there was an Indian woman sitting in the front row.

This was followed by a cringe-inducing version of Cards Across, when the two women helpers were told to put their cards down the front of their cleavages; and where he followed up his catch phrase of 'say, yes Paul' with 'good training for the car park'.  I was sinking into my seat with embarrassment.

However after that, matters considerably improved.  He did Harry Anderson's Three Card Monarch (a giant version of the three card trick) very competently, the above mentioned Linking Rings and finished the first half with an entertaining rendition of the Spirit Cabinet, sans Electric Chairs (see previous posting).  The second half, after an opening illusion, only comprised two tricks.  A rather long-winded mind reading effect (which the audience enjoyed though), followed by a borrowed note found inside a candle which also involved plenty of red herrings in the form of various fruits.  This was all done with plenty of laughs and the eventual finding of the note got a good reaction from the audience.

When Daniels borrowed the note and began to fold it up, I knew that he was almost certainly going to switch it for something else; indeed it ended up inside an envelope that was subsequently burnt in a frying pan, so there must have been an exchange.  But, watching like a hawk, I failed to spot it.  It was perhaps at that point that I had to remind myself just how good a magician Daniels was when it comes to sleight of hand magic. 

There was no greater master of the Classic Force (making someone take a specific playing card without their knowledge) than Daniels.  It was the fact that he was so obviously skilled (in a way that his television predecessor David Nixon was not) that partly brought Daniels to fame in the first place.  It was a pleasant feeling to be left with as I emerged from the arts centre - my final memory of him as a live performer was the knowledge that I had been completely taken in by something which, in all probability, was very simple. 

newcastleDespite the small audience in a rather unprepossessing venue, Daniels gave of his all that evening.  He didn't draw attention to the lack of numbers - perhaps at this stage he was used to it.  About a year before, in one of my newsletters, I had written that "audiences have stopped coming to see Paul Daniels".  I got an immediate rejoinder in the form of an email (I don't know who passed it on to him, as he certainly didn't subscribe) from Paul himself: "Having just done a tour with more than enough sell out shows, I do wonder where you get your information from. Audiences have not stopped coming to see my shows, but I know some magicians have, but who wants to do shows for magicians?"

As my sources had been second hand, I wrote an abject apology for my comment in my next newsletter.  But, on the evidence of my own experience, I suspect that I had probably been at least partly right in my assertion, tactless though it was to say it at the time.

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