Meet the Members… John Needham

John is a true gentleman entertainer and always has a twinkle in his eyes when performing. John has built up a wealth of magical and entertainment knowledge over the years and is always there to offer sage advice and wisdom. John is a former Blue Coat at Pontins Holiday Camps and more recently an Art Teacher. Now retired, John enjoys his leisure time painting on canvas, honing his magical skills and organising the lectures and diary for the Society.
Q When and why did you first get interested in Magic?
A I first got interested in magic when I was about fifteen or so. I knew Bernard Anderson then (a former and well-known member of the Leamington and Warwick Magic Society). I went to school with his son and daughter. I often talked magic with him and gained an early interest from the tricks he showed me. I also saw a magic show at the University of Warwick Arts Centre which also developed my interest. The magician was the Great Kovari. Magic is a fascinating hobby and there is always so much to learn- either new things or just improving what you do. From the mid-1980s I went to work for Pontins Holidays where I performed regular shows. I virtually stopped doing magic after about seven years of working with Pontins when I became a school teacher. I guess the magician never left me as a few years later I renewed my interest again.
Q Who is your biggest inspiration in Magic?
A When I was young I watched people like David Nixon, Paul Daniels, Doug Hennings as well as David Copperfield. These were inspirations. I don’t really have a particular favourite as I prefer to be myself rather than a copy of someone else. It is the same with my artwork- I prefer to have my own style and be known for myself. When I perform magic I want people to remember me as John Needham- not someone who tries to be another David Nixon or Paul Daniels etc.
Q What was the first trick you learned?
A Probably the first was a rope trick where you can tie a knot in it without letting go of the ends or doing a cut and restored rope trick.
Q What type of Magician/Entertainer would you say you are when performing?
A There is an old saying in magic where a magician is not a magician but an actor playing the part of a magician. You play the role that is suitable for the audience you are working to. To me I am a performer first and magician second. It is my role to entertain an audience so I try to be conscious of the audience and what will entertain them. Some people like the comedy and humour while others want to see more straight magic. It is all about getting to know your audience and adapting to that. I do like magic that not only baffles an audience but has a strong fun element. Being baffled should be fun for an audience.
Q What are you working on at the moment?
I am doing a lot of work into the psychology of magic and how to make the magic I do even more effective and appealing to an audience. Mastering the sleight of hand and skill elements is only a part of the task- it is also about performing it and gaining and maintaining their interest to create an entertaining experience. I constantly go through all the tricks I do and improve and amend. I will even drop tricks that I feel might be getting tired and old to keep things fresh for myself. I tend to be my own strongest critic! I am fortunate that I have friends that I can try out material on (thanks Denis and Andrèa).
Q You’re a very talented artist and painter and was an art teacher, has this creativity helped you with your magic?
A Thank you for saying so! I have always had a strong creative streak in me from a very young. So I guess that this feeds into a lot of what I do whether it is magic or painting pictures. However, the two are usually separate. When I am doing magic I am playing that role and when I am painting pictures I am in that zone. I also am learning to play the flute. I have always enjoyed doing different things.
Q When and why did you join the LAWMS committee?
A I joined the Leamington and Warwick committee a few ago as Lecture organiser. These magic clubs are very important and should be supported by magicians. We can get a lot online but nothing should try to replace the actual meeting of likeminded people who can together strive to develop the art and promote magic to the public.
Q What is your vision for the Society? What sort of Society would you like us to be in 5 years-time?
A This is kind of answered with the previous question. I would like to see a society that promotes the improvement of the art not only within the skills of its members but as a respected group of people by other magic societies and sought after by the public as an excellent group of magicians.
Q What would you say is the best thing about being a member of a Magic Society?
A Again as previously stated being a member of the society means that like-minded people can get together and discuss magic, share ideas and help each other to improve their personal skills. You cannot really do this online. I am not really a fan of all this internet and online stuff- I prefer the personal approach. The society allows magicians to show each other tricks and share ideas and give positive and constructive opinions. We also have an excellent lecture programme which is generally much more useful and meaningful when done for real rather than virtual.
Q Is there anything you don’t like about magic?
A Not really.
Q What advice would you give to anyone thinking of learning or starting magic?
A As a child I was quite a shy person and magic is an excellent way of developing yourself as a person and learning to be confident. So my advice would be to not only develop your skills but also develop yourself as a person and think about how you perform as well as what you perform. The mechanics of the trick is only part of the story- presenting the trick is also very important. Also, try to be discerning about the tricks you buy. Most magicians very quickly build a cupboard full of things they have bought but will probably never see the light of day! Also learn a variety of magic- card tricks are fine but they can become very repetitive.
Q What is the most difficult thing you have tried to do or learn in magic?
A When I paint a picture I want people to see and appreciate the skill that has gone into doing it. Magic, however, is different. If the audience sees the hard work that goes into learning something (the sleight of hand etc) then that is a bad thing in my opinion. If something requires too much work then it may not be suitable for you. If it is too difficult then do it differently or leave it out and do something else because this will come across when it is being performed. It will look awkward and lacking in confidence and you will be more focused on the mechanics rather than the performance. You will be more worried that it will go wrong. Practice and practice but realise when something is just not working. But if I must choose something then doing coin magic is probably the most challenging.
Q What is your favourite thing to perform?
A So many things to choose from but I do love doing the sponge balls. Audiences always seem to enjoy this.
Q What do you do when someone asks you to ‘do something’ when you’re not expecting it?
A I usually carry a little something in my pocket when I am out socialising- even if it is just a pack of cards. I always wait for someone to ask what I do and then I say I do magic. Usually, that ends up with something like “ really? Can you do something?” Keep it short though.
Q You have entered a lot of competitions, why do you enter these?
A Doing these competitions is a great way to practice and improve my skills and performing ability. There is only so much you can do in front of a mirror! You can only practice the skills in front of the mirror anyway. You probably thought that I enter the competitions to try and win. No not really. If I do then fine but that is certainly not a priority! There is also a big difference between performing in a competition and performing to an audience- the former you are trying to impress with the skills while the latter just want to be entertained with magic and have fun. The latter is my main interest. Magic should be about entertaining people not just about displaying your skills and trying to be clever. The more you perform the better you will become- so I take every opportunity.
Q What would be your ‘Desert Island’ trick?
A If I am stuck on a desert island then something from a David Copperfield act to make a ship appear! That’s probably not what you mean though! There are so many to choose from. I mainly like to do close up magic but would not be able to choose just one. Maybe the sponge balls since they have already been mentioned.
You can contact John here: JNEEDHAM47@YAHOO.CO.UK