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The 18th British Juggling Convention, Perth
31-March-2005 to 3-Apr-2005
In a break from the norm Kevin, John & I flew up to bonny Scotland on the Wednesday before the official start. I suppose the tone for the festival was set at Gatwick airport before we even got on the plane. Kevin got stopped going through security & had his handcuffs (complete with pink fluffly tassles) confiscated. We were about an hour & a half late because of other planes being delayed by the fog earlier in the morning, there was another delay with getting the baggage onto the plane so we were about two hours late touching down in Edinburgh. After a short bus ride in to the city centre we wandered round until we found St Andrew's bus station only to find we were two minutes late, so we had to traipse back down to the train station where we got a train to Stirling. We met Tarim & Ali on the platform while we waited for another train to Perth, getting off the train with us at Perth station were Paul & Katie who were having a more interesting time travelling to Scotland after flying to a different airport than the one they expected.
A five minute walk around town found us at Bell's Sports Centre at around 9pm, around 3 hours later than we had originally planned for. At reception we were greeted by the main organisers Graham & Britta & we picked up all the usual convention bits & bobs & a chocolate biscuit.
We were all a little concerned about pitching our tents in the dark but need not have worried because the campsite was a very well lit rugby pitch. John still managed to take two hours to erect his tent though! Kevin & I combed the town looking for an open off license. Rumours of the pubs staying open until 3am were found to be greatly exagerated.
I can highly recommend travelling to the BJC the day before the official start of the convention. It is so much nicer to be able to wake up on the first day without having wasted half or more of the first day travelling. Given the number of tents that had already been pitched when we finally arrived on site it seems that an awful lot of people think the same way, so why hadn't anyone told us this?
The next morning I got up & enjoyed a steaming hot shower before the three of us went into town for a little shopping, as we entered Asda John set off all the alarms & had to empty out the contents of his rucksack for inspection by the rapid reaction team. We stocked up on drink, biscuits & inflatable toys before finding a nice cafe for a very welcome fried breakfast. On the way back we stumbled across a carpet store with a box of offcuts going on the cheap so for the rest of the convention I enjoyed the luxury of a fully carpeted reception area in my tent, while Kevin & John settled for welcome mats.
Next year: mirrored ceiling.
Bell's sports centre was a fantastic venue. The main hall was a large domed affair providing a fantastic juggle space. Tiered seating on one side provided a nice relaxing viewing gallery to watch other people strut their stuff. The staff were really friendly & kept the hall clean throughout the whole weekend. It was nice to overhear one of the staff saying to a colleague over his radio, "There is so much more to juggling than I realised: balancing, unicycles, ball spinning... they do everything." Despite the hit or miss opening times of the cafe which deviated from the advertsied opening times quite regularly the canteen served a good variety of reasonably priced food. I don't know if it was something to do with a very cleverly designed layout of the building or not but there was more than one occasion where Kevin & I were intending to go somewhere else but seemed to subconsciously make our way up the stairs towards the bar, & this was genuinely unintentional! The site was only a couple of minutes walk away from the town centre so it was really easy to pop to the shops & nice to have a look around even if we did get rather lost round a housing estate at one point.
At around 10am ish Beth & Olli arrived a little stiff after spending the night on a Megabus from London. We helped them settle in before cracking open the first cans of cider at around 10.30am, I sent a text to our man Dave K who unfortunately couldn't attend this year to inform him the festival had started in earnest with, "we have just started drinking". I love juggling festivals. We then met up with Russell Wells & located the bar for a pint. Russell proudly told us he was one of three people who have been to all 18 BJCs which is a very cool claim to fame, he was also hoping to win the oldest convention T-shirt competition with his 1986 BJC 1 shirt.
We spent some time wandering round the traders when they opened. The people at Unicycle.com had some very interesting new toys for sale, a ratchet unicycle where the pedals only drive the wheel forward so that you have to use the break as a balance looked fiendishly difficult to ride. There was also another very interesting bike that looked like it had been run over by a car, the wheel was almost square & bent in all directions but was still perfectly pedallable. Kevin was more interested in the fluffy pink stetsons on the stall next door though. Having travelled up without any juggling kit (which was highly indicative of how much juggling I was intending to do) I bought myself six balls to play with. John picked up six normal clubs to replace his aging radical fish & to stop people from booing him every time he joins in a passing session at TWJC!
I then spent some time juggling in the hall. Like many I enjoyed watching people showing off their skills. Drawing the most attention was Kristian from Norway running five club backcrosses & seven ball siteswaps for ages, Priam doing all sorts of tricks with three diabolos & a certain pair of young unicyclists from Germany. All of whom received a fair amount of hero worship throughout the festival. The volleyclub court also drew a lot of attention & was in pretty constant use.
At around 12.30 I received a text from Dave: "so have I". He's always with us in spirit.
In the evening we went into town for a very enjoyable meal with Ali & Jahn from unicycle.com, where we reminisced & swapped stories about conventions past (I have been to far too few festivals) & wrote derogatory postcards to our friends.
On the Friday it was into town for another fry up at another local cafe, where I discover that I do in fact like black pudding.
Getting back to site I joined in Luke's 5 ball tricks workshop, where Luke went through several methods of adding extra balls to 3 & 4 ball tricks to create interesting 5 ball patterns. Luke was unhappy that his workshop was unplanned because it was a spur of the moment thing but I think everyone went away with some good ideas & the end of the workshop which went along the lines of 'let's watch Luke do hard stuff' was very entertaining.
Sometime in the afternoon we wandered into the unicycle showcase show sometime after it started. The show was later described by one of the participants as, "the German freestyle duo doing hard stuff while the rest of us mucked about in between." The German freestyle duo were Hella Gandlau & Julia Hahn who turned out to be the icons of the festival. They performed two spots. The first was a duet to music consisting of every possible way of wheelwalking, one foot riding & coasting that I could think of & plenty more that I couldn't. The second spot saw Hella Gandlau performing many of these tricks in isolation with commentary from Julia. It was the first time I had seen a backwards spoke walk, which is where the wheel is turned by pushing the spokes with your toes. Wow. In between 'the hard stuff' our girl Beth did some skipping on a very nice blue ultimate wheel which was kindly on loan from Roger Davies. It took a few chunks of skin out of Beth's legs as all good ultimate wheels should. There was also a demonstration of trials unicyclists leaping between two benches laid an ever increasing distance apart which although impressive dragged on too long. Being relatively inexperienced in the world of unicycling I really enjoyed the show because I got to see quite a bit of new stuff & it really inspired me to spend more time riding my unicycle.
I also caught a ball spinning workshop with Charlie Hull which was very useful. Again another skill I haven't really done anything with.
The fire show was another fireshow, but passed the time while waiting for our pizza to arrive from one of the local takeaway places who were doing a fantastic job working overtime to keep a lot of jugglers fed into the night.
Probably the top highlight of the festival for me was the Ceilidh, hosted by top band Last Tram Tae Auchenshuggle. Seeing Graham spinning some poor girl off her feet like a Scottish hammer was very funny. One of the best dances featured the helicopter move (it must be called something else, I'm sure the Scots didn't have helicopters when the move was invented) where the two guys have to pick up the two girls & spin them round like the rotor blades of a helicopter. In the square I was in Olli & I ended up spinning two total strangers. I think their confidence in us was misplaced because they had their feet off the floor before we had a good grip. A special dance just for the unicyclists was chaotic & a lot of fun to watch. Lots of respect to Beth for being one of the very few riders to not fall off once. As ever it was great to see everyone joining in & enjoying themselves to exhaustion. In between each dance there was always a long queue at the drinking fountains which was a good sign. I also ended up walking away with some impressive blisters which tells me that I probably danced enough.
The biggest shame of the festival was how poorly attended it was. Where were you all? The final attendance was around the 450 mark but luckily the convention still managed to break even largely thanks to the high number of public show tickets sold to non convention goers. Some people said that Scotland is too far to travel, where obviously our friends from all over Europe put us to shame. Scotland is too cold? BJC 2005 was the warmest BJC I've ever been to, on the Saturday there were a lot of people taking their shirts off out in the hot sun. To all those that didn't go: You really missed out on a good one.
On the Sunday we packed up & made the wise investment of £3 on a taxi to the bus station before hopping on a coach to Edinburgh. We were delayed coming home because all the conveyor belts at Edinburgh airport had broken down. Getting off the plane at Gatwick airport we had the privelege of using probably the oldest & ricketiest mobile staircase in the UK. As I stepped out onto the steps in front of Kevin naturally I bounced down it as hard as I could. Unfortunately when I looked back Kevin wasn't there. So many apologies to the young lady who was following on behind me.
British Young Juggler of the Year Show
Picking up from where the Springboard Awards of years ago left off Luke & Mini organised a special competition/show to help nurture the British youth into the BJC acts of the future. Open to any British juggler under 21 years old, the performers are judged by a panel of experts (which included Barry Friedman of the Raspynis & Ruth the 'token female judge') & awarded various accolades which were as follows:
- A gold & silver award. These are awarded by the panel of experts & judged on individual rather than relative merit - so potentially everyone could win gold or go away with nothing.
- Two paid spots in two regional conventions (Nottingham & Durham) awarded by organisers Peachi & Mike Armstrong respectively.
- The Judge's Choice Award was awarded to the best performer in the eyes of the judges.
- Finally the title British Young Juggler of the Year award was voted for by the members of the audience.
Which is all pretty complicated & a few eyebrows were raised when the winner of the Judge's Choice award didn't receive a gold or silver (it was not explained at the time that the Judge's Choice was in place of the other accolades). I tend to think that all the different awards & the complicated judging of the show overshadowed the event. After the convention all the discussion about the show that appeared on Rec.Juggling focussed on the awards & procedures rather than the acts themselves which I think is a great shame.
The only thing that bothered me about the whole thing was the 'British' part of it. Are young British jugglers disadvantaged in some way? Do young British jugglers require more exposure than young jugglers from any other country? I don't think so. The BJC is an international event & we are lucky to be able to attract quite a large number of people from overseas. The UK's national & regional festivals recruit acts from overseas more than ever before. So why not give non British jugglers the same opportunity? I think it would be better for the juggling community as a whole to open the event up to all nationalities & maybe call it the BJC Young Juggler of the Year Competition. It doesn't matter if no one from outside the British Isles enters I think it just needs to be open. Hating to jump on the political correctness gone mad bandwagon excluding people by nationality is discriminatory & does not fit in with the ideologies of the BJC.
Anyway, enough about the awards & procedures...
The only Springboard Show I ever saw was in Nottingham at the 1997 BJC which was memorable for two things. One, a young lad named Luke who at age 10 could do 5 club back crosses & run 7 balls. Two, the huge chasm of ability between the best & worst performers was so painful to watch it made me cringe. I think this was one of the reasons why the Springboard awards died a death many years ago. The British Young Juggler of the Year had no such ability chasm, every one of the eight entrants made it very clear that they were all very good jugglers indeed. Instead there was a very noticeable gulf in performance experience.
The first act was by Tiffty who came on stage with a plastic carrier bag of beanbags & then poceeded to show us lots of highly technical siteswap juggling with numbers in the style of Ben Beever. For me Tiffty was the best juggler in the show, but was also the worst act. No costume, very little movement, loads & loads of drops & a plastic carrier bag is not what I call a good prop stand. Because of the lack of stage presence I find it difficult to recall any details of the actual juggling which is a great shame. But then that is the purpose of the show to give inexperienced performers a taste of being on stage. Hopefully next year Tiffty will return & give it a bit of sell, if so I think he'd walk away a winner.
Also lacking in the performance experience department was Paul Taylor, again another very good juggler doing a lot of nice behind the back blind transitions. Unfortunately though despite all the very good stuff the only thing I clearly remember from the act was when he messed up some numbers ring juggling, apparently threw a hissy fit & threw his rings everywhere, then had to be told to pick them all up again.
One guy pulled off some fantastic moves with flowersticks & another did some really nice diabolo work but again didn't create enough of a performance to be truly memorable (although things were getting better the diabolo guy looked the part). Zyllan juggled a case full of glow equipment to win a spot in the Durham convention show in 2006 & a silver award from the judges. Also winning a silver was Arron Sparks, his performance experience really made the difference (maybe aided by the ubiquitous 'vote Arron' campaign). He strutted around the stage in a 'vote Arron' T shirt performing tons of pirouette tricks with various props to music that fitted the routine well. A well thought out, fun & entertaining act.
Top act of the show for me & the panel of judges was Norbi Whitney who performed a technical ring juggling routine (rings that had been affected by the 'vote Arron' campaign). Again Norbi's performance experience showed through with his attention to costume, propstands layed out around the stage, music which suited the style of juggling & the juggling itself was varied & interesting. Well deserving of the Judges Choice award. The last act of the night was Jon Udry performing a lively Las Vegas club juggling routine which was fast & technical. Very few drops despite a flurry of fast pirouettes, alberts, treblas & other classic circus tricks. The slick performance earned Jon a silver from the judges & the title British Young Juggler of the Year 2005 from the audience.
Nice voting boxes I thought.
Officially there was no Renegade at this year's festival. In an effort to get away from the demanding audiences expecting continuous professional quality entertainment there were no advertised Renegade shows. Instead in their place was the Open Stage, a supposedly more formal & structured show. Then if anyone wanted to get involved there could be a Renegade show afterwards...
Instead of the NoFit State tent we enjoyed the luxury of three grandstands of tiered individual seats with backs to them. All in a nice warm brick & mortar hall. It was so nice to be comfortable while watching Renegade.
The first night's Open Stage show was hosted by Ste3void looking cool & sophisticated as only a man wearing sunglasses in a dark hall can. "Welome to the first Open Stage of BJC 2005!" he announced, then there was a heckle of, "Renegade!" to which the Void continued, "ah who are we kidding? It's Renegade!" Nice try I suppose.
The only act I remember that was officially part of the organised Open Stage was a plate juggling act by Nigel. Looking very smart in a tux, Nigel realised that his dinner date had stood him up so instead he entertained himself with some snappy plate manipulation, juggling & balancing.
Luke put his coat on backwards & tied himself in knots while doing tricks with three balls before flipping his hood up over his head to do some blind juggling. Luke also did another nice spot combining club & ball juggling with lots of tricks involving catching the ball(s) on the clubs as they were held in different ways. Paul from Ireland worked on improving his collection of badges by performing some Stephen Lynch songs. The song, 'Go down the old pub instead' brought the house down.
Priam Pierret was simply astounding as he performed three fantastic mini spots, the first a showcase of body move combinations, the second was a routine done entirely with one hand involving one continuous multicide with walkarounds & other flourishes. His final spot was a three diabolo feast with lots of around the world moves. On the Saturday night Priam joined Donald Grant for another stint on the renegade stage which was apparently the best thing that everyone who was still in the audience had ever seen & I'm really gutted that I missed it.
I was in the hall juggling.
A short walk into town found us at the City Halls for the public show. It was nice to see a lot more members of the public in the audience this year. It was a good five minutes before the first rocket balloon was launched. By that time we had our rubber ring inflated, balloons are all very well but jugglers just need something they can throw.
The evening was hosted by The Raspyni Brothers Barry & Dan, who were very entertaining in between each act. They did some 5 club passing while bouncing a football between their heads & juggling lethal garden weasels (unfortunately I have no idea what a garden weasel is). Their best spot was the 11 ball juggling spot. Obviously juggling 11 balls is pretty difficult so Brry used a special contraption consisting of a clear perspex box with a number of ramps zig zagging though it. This box was mounted on a pole & balanced on his chin, Barry then multiplexed pool balls up into the box then caught them as they dropped out the bottom. It took quite a few attempts to get it but I can still hear Dan shouting, "THE WORLD BARRY!" even now. They didn't seem to enamoured with 'show me the way to Amarillo' though.
The first act on stage were the Pylonauts from Germany who performed a wonderfully odd routine with small yellow traffic cones combining juggling, cigar box & shaker cup skills with silly faces & poses. Ewan Colsell did some very smooth contact juggling, top street performer Mark Segal performed the ladder walk of death over a volunteer from the audience & Ian Marchant did a comedy 1,2 & 3 hat juggling routine adding extra weight to the assertion that all the best hat jugglers have short (or no) hair.
Luke Burrage & Norbi Whitney faced off on stage, Luke juggling clubs & Norbi juggling rings each trying to one up the other with ever more difficult stunts. Then both ditched the toss juggling for the diabolo. I think Luke won the juggling, Norbi won the diabolo. Swiss yoyo champion Jan Schmutz surprisingly stole the show with a blistering display with one & two yoyos, this guy was easily the best yoyoist I had ever seen. Backward somersaults are always cool too.
The exceptionally beautiful Hella Gandlau took to the stage on her unicycle with graceful style, performing a catalogue of impressive wheel walking, coasting & one footed tricks with apparent ease. Diabolo master Priam Pierret was looking very fetching in his UV stripy trousers & braces. After doing a few neat tricks with his UV sticks & string we were treated to a stream of high end 1, 2 & 3 diabolo tricks. It struck me that the glow aspect was a gimmick for an act that really did not need any gimmicks.
Last on stage was Kristian Wanvik from Norway. Most people had already spent a lot of time watching him practise in the hall so we pretty much knew what to expect - big tricks with big numbers. I wasn't quite expecting the manic open mouthed caricature smile. His club & ball throwing propstands neatly threw extra props into his patterns, which included 5 clubs with backcrosses, half & full pirouettes & siteswap patterns, half showers & other siteswaps with 7 balls & rings. All in all a very impressive display of the Las Vegas style.
Thanks very much to...
Graham, Britta, Gandolf & Duncan for a job well done. We all had a fantastic time & really enjoyed our trip to Scotland.