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The 25th British Juggling Convention, Southend-on-Sea
11-April-2012 to 15-April-2012
The BJC started on the 10th of April for me. I arrived at Kev's at 7.45am just after Simon who arrived just after Kev woke up. We rammed the car full of stuff. It was an easy, uneventful drive up (which I think is a first) & we arrived on site at 9.30am. We met Mini & Emily who told us that the fencing (for which I already had my gloves on & was ready to launch into) hadn't been delivered on time as expected. So instead we went for a second breakfast & a cup of something that was almost but not entirely unlike tea at McDonalds.
The build was already well underway. The Cirque Normandie tent was up, the beer tent & the Food Groove kitchens were a hive of activity. The first batch of fencing finally turned up at about 10.30am & around 8 of us laid out the panels in place. Daryl loaded up his car with the blocks & Sciz was looking very regal as he rode sitting in the boot, depositing blocks in place as they went. Once all the panels were in place we pitched our tents while waiting for the next batch. By the time the second batch of fencing arrived there were a lot more willing hands available to help. So much so that it was a bit of a piranha feeding frenzy as people scrabbled to get the panels out. It soon settled down though & I enjoyed being part of an assembly line with the SJC crowd which was fantastically efficient & the fence shot up. Good work peeps.
On my travels through the campsite I saw Sciz holding Graham's arm in the air, which I thought was odd. Graham was looking very translucent because he had dislocated his shoulder. He maintained a very impressive stiff upper lip while in obvious pain as we waited for the paramedics. When they arrived I was on arm supporting duty. They cut away his shirt to see what was wrong & yes even I could tell that something was amiss. Out came the gas & air so that they could manoeuvre his arm into a sling. I took a step back as the paramedics took over & braced myself for what I thought would be a blood curdling scream as they carefully brought his arm down. But in the end there was just an, "Ahh, it just went back in!".
Graham was carted off to A&E but was back later in the evening.
As the sun went down, we celebrated a successful day's work with pizza, pasta & a few beers in the beer tent. Everyone was pretty tired though so most people turned in before 10pm.
The morning started much the same as the previous day with a lot more carrying & fetching: carpet, tables, chairs, water, beer kegs, more fencing. Crawley Dave had made a start on sign posting the day before but we still had a lot to do so I said I'd help him out. I honestly thought that putting up the necessary signs would take about 2 hours (Mini burst out laughing when I told him this in the evening) but it ended up taking all day. We weren't helped by not having a great understanding of the site layout & an uncooperative printer, but still why shouldn't it take a couple of hours?
It was a real struggle to get main organiser Amie out of the office & into the bar, but we finally managed it & got our first pints of the Juggling Convention Ale in at about 10pm. We welcomed old & new friends & nattered a lot. Before we knew it it was way past midnight. Time flies in Southend.
I was up early so trekked to Waitrose for a pint of milk & some tins of Vaseline to combat the cracked lips we were all suffering in the dry sea wind. Turns out I was too early as the doors were closed. I don't like to say that I broke in but I did time my run to slip between the doors when the trolley attendant came out. The staff all gave me strange looks as I was walking around the store. To their credit they were happy to serve (get rid of?) me.
I had some breakfast then went to the main hall for a juggle. The space was fantastic & possibly one of the best we've ever had at a BJC. Many tennis courts in size with a high ceiling & good lighting. The courts were split in two by a raised walkway which provided a convenient & social viewing platform. The stereo system was set at one end so that there was a loud side & a quiet side which I think kept people happy.
I juggled clubs for a bit, passed with Simon & did some handstand practise which was really painful on aching shoulders. A shout went out for volunteers to carry the unicycle trials course so I joined a group of a dozen people who all helped carry various logs, tractor tires, benches & other broken bone inducing material.
After lunch it was time for...
The British Kendama Open
Conveniently organised by The Void of The British Kendama Association to coincide with a heavy downpour the competitors & spectators sheltered inside the Cirque Normandie tent. Although it didn't provide the greatest protection from the elements as the panel of judges had to also shelter under umbrellas.
Louisa (not Laura) & Kevin both competed in the beginners division & both did well in difficult conditions - it was very cold & the light was very poor. The eventual winner Andy did a fine job though to complete the whole ladder with just 4 misses.
I had a go in the advanced division drawing Tom Derrick in the first round which was great fun. It was really cold so we did some exercise to warm up. We seemed to be on stage for ages as we both went through miss after miss on numerous tricks. I managed to get through to the next round picking up points with a knee bounce & 2 slip on sticks.
In the speed trick challenge I spent my 20 odd seconds trying to untie the knot I created...
For the next round in the advanced division I was drawn against Matt Nix & inevitably didn't score a single point. Matt exemplified what I love about the BKO in that he was a great sport & helped me out by demonstrating what I should be doing on the tricks I wasn't familiar with (what do you mean I should've revised, I've been busy with the Edge!).
Matt continued with his usual solid performance to take his second title of British Kendama Champion.
Many thanks to Void for organising & also Sunrise Kendamas for their generous sponsorship of the event.
After all that excitement I went back to my tent for a quick nap. I must have been more tired than I thought as I woke up around 3 hours later just in time for...
The Open Stage Show
I was a little bit late but found there was plenty of space round the sides. The seats were hard & uncomfortable & the lights were shining straight at me at eye level, but I've had worse. I was surprised at how much empty space there was up in the stands, even more so when I heard that loads of people had been turned away because capacity had been reached!
The show opened with Jeff in a monkey suit aping round the stage, then with great timing he launched into a poi routine using his suit's oversized arms. Although it went on a little too long it was a well thought out & fun routine that set the show up with a great atmosphere.
Next up was with a sexy club swinger. It was a nice act with some slick moves but it lacked flow for me. The gentleman juggler performed a variety of tricks with hat, cane & cigar boxes with good humour & a lot of surprising touches. Pouring a drink from the end of a stack of cigar boxes made me laugh out loud.
Jake performed a beautiful silky smooth devilstick routine. The music was a great fit to his style & it was well choreographed with a wide variety of 1 & 2 devilstick trickery. I liked the careful manipulation of two devilsticks one balanced on the other in a cross shape. Easily Public Show standard.
The next act saw 2 contact jugglers sporting their acrylics on their heads start with some amusing & impressive darting glances at the audience & each other to various musical queues to the soundtrack (Teardrops by Massive Attack). The act included some very nicely performed synchronous contact & some very impressive 2 person body rolls. Easily Public Show standard again.
I thought Naoya Aoki started off pretty flat with his diabolo routine. But then he went vertical which was truly exceptional. There were loads of moves & surprising stalls that I had never seen before as well as the crowd pleasing multiple genocides performed without a noticeable slip. The circular circus ring really suited the vertax style enabling everyone a great view. Possibly the best vertax I've ever seen. Well deserving of the standing ovation he received.
Rob Firey juggled hats & rings, the hats were very good, but the rings left me underwhelmed, but very impressive for just 2 months worth of practise. Another Rob performed a staff spinning routine using a prop with 2 large umbrellas at each end. It was a nice idea but but didn't hold my interest. Perhaps because the prop has too much drag to do anything really complex?
Closing the show was Seb with a club juggling & manipulation act. It was big & impressive with lots of flashy flourishes & some big multiplex tricks with 5 clubs & a 5 club cascade with outside spins was a worthy finish for the Open Stage.
Very well done to Matt for pulling it together. Lots of variety, lots of quality.
Later in the evening concern was expressed over the security or lack thereof. They seemed to be more interested in hanging out in the bar rather than manning the main gate to the campsite despite repeated requests to do so. I impressed Simon with my badge control (kettling) ability until they came back.
The Old Skool
New for this year was a Grumpy Old Men/QI style panel show hosted by Jay Linn. The panel consisted of Guy Heathcote, Ben Cornish, Dave Jellybean, Michael Ferguson & Toby Philpot who were tasked with spinning yarns from their experience over the years prompted by various cue card subjects. It's difficult to write anything meaningful about this other than it was a really enjoyable, interesting & very amusing evening's entertainment. One which I hope will become a regular fixture at the BJC.
One highlight for me was Guy trying to find a way to defend poi, "um, ah, um ah..." ad infinitum, "they come in lots of nice colours!"
Renegade happened in the beer tent this evening due to the Cirque Normandie not wanting alcohol in their tent. Bungle did a fine job as host for what little I saw (a guy stripping on a unicycle, Jack singing a song, Pete doing some whip cracking). But it was difficult to get a good view so I spent most of the time chatting at the back.
We woke to a thick blanket of fog. I tried out the showers in the leisure centre which were a lot warmer than those in the block at the campsite. The showers were split into cubicles, but the shower heads all shot out the door so you had to stand outside the cubicle to receive any water. The showers were also button activated but the moment you let go the shower stopped which made showering difficult. Many apologies to those people walking through who witnessed some of my 'hands free' methods of keeping the shower running.
After breakfast it was back to the main hall for a bit more of a juggle. My right shoulder was still very crunchy but functioning. Tony Pezzo was drawing a lot of admiration with lots of studly club tricks such as (6x,4)* with the 6s on singles, 5 clubs with a balance, 5 clubs with triples from one hand, singles from the other.
Andy from Hastings taught me the highlights of a passing workshop he attended earlier that focused on zaps (short half spin passes). I particularly liked a simple 4 club pattern where both jugglers pass zap zap zip,one on straights one on crossings.
In the afternoon it was time for...
British Young Juggler of the Year
Our compères for the evening were Rosie & Charles who I thought were a lot of fun, very lively but at the same time relaxed & maintained the energy between acts. My only criticism is that costume is just as important for the compère(s) as the acts & they did bring on the next act before the stage hands had finished setting up on a couple of occasions.
Opening the show was Mark Watson with what I think was the first comedy juggling routine seen in a BYJOTY competition so well done for that. It was a very well put together routine revolving around a 'How to put together a BYJOTY routine' audio track. It was very well thought out & well performed. It was choc full of in-jokes that made me laugh out loud, but I wonder if this counted against him in the judging because it would not be a re-usable act?
James Maidment wore sparkly shoes & performed a slick cabaret act. I was offended & highly amused by his opening kendama trick.
Ashley came on stage wearing a bright orange shirt & a spangly waistcoat. That's good - a nice visible costume. But wandered around stage as if he was just passing through but decided he was going to do a show. Who wears an orange shirt & spangles if they are not going to perform (too picky?)? He juggled balls & clubs. Pretty good but didn't stick in my mind.
The next act had loads of stuff going on with a flip chart that I couldn't read from where I was sitting round the side. His ball juggling though was pretty sensational with lots of Dave Kelly style behind the back blind tricks & combinations. It was a bit droppy but very highly skilled. I think a dropless performance would have seen a much higher proportion of the audience vote go his way.
Jason Lu woke up on stage & performed lots of nice siteswaps with balls. The routine was good & relatively drop free, but didn't excite me at all.
I'd already seen Sam Goodburn on the renegade stage at Crawley so I knew what he was capable of. We were treated to a wide range of Really Hard Stuff™ such as a unicycle kick up mount, juggling 2 balls on one foot & foot stalls while juggling on a unicycle. As an act I felt it was very disjointed, but the wow factor was enormous.
We then had a ball passing double act who did lots of side by side patterns with interesting takeouts. I could tell they were very good, but I couldn't get a good view of what they were doing from my side on seat. Shame. Well done them for a creative way of getting round the votes for individual performers only rule.
A chap from Wales pranced about in a flat cap & wellies which was fun & I always like the catching of a hat on a club balanced on the chin. I don't like overuse of the enforced rhythmic clap though.
The final act was Luke Hallgarten who is currently studying at Circuspace with a dynamic club routine. He used all of the stage well, & juggled with lots of last second catch tricks. Another slick & well presented act.
While the votes were totted up we were treated to the best trick competition. Highlights included Sam with a 3 ball 1 up pirouette & also a helicopter kick up back into a 3 club cascade while riding a unicycle. Numbers legend Alex Barron pulled off a DB97531 back into a clean run of 7. There were some very nice 3 diabolo suicides. One very tiny lad did an excellent genocide combo trick & also a sweet vertax move which really wowed the crowd. I expect big things from him in the future.
This was by far the most professional, stand out BYJOTY show I have seen. Ieuan deserves a lot of credit for the build up to the show which clearly had a positive impact & is one I hope will continue. For that he can be forgiven his faux pas of incorrectly announcing Luke as the winner of the competition. There was a lot of confusion but it turns out that Sam Goodburn took away the top honour of British Young Juggler of The Year.
Again, well done Ieuan. Top job.
Circomedia/Circuspace Showcase Show
In the evening there were going to be two performances each of the Circomedia/Circuspace Show & a performance of The Event by the Gandinis. There was much deliberation over which to see first. We decided to go for the Circomediaspace show because we thought the tent would be marginally less freezing earlier on in the evening.
The opening act was very odd & involved 3 people crawling on stage carrying chairs, then arranging props on & around them in different ways. Perhaps an advert for Ikea?!
As per previous years the acts were interspersed with skits by the first year students to some funky electro swing sounds which we enjoyed dancing to in the back row.
My notes for this show are lacking but I remember a girl in a white dress & silver hoops doing lots of very fast & smooth hoop swinging. A contact juggler did a piece with a large stage ball that could be wedged in various places of a chair, this act in particular contained a lot of nice ideas but lacked polish. A guy in a stripy t-shirt performed a great rocky ball juggling act with lots of impressive 4+5 ball shower material. Very upbeat & enjoyable. A club juggler was amusingly carried on stage & positioned in a collapsed state around a table. I particularly liked the point where he had 2 clubs balanced on the upturned table's legs then causually walked through with a 3 club cascade & went into 5. Nicely done.
The Gandini Juggling Project - The Event
The queue for the first Gandini show wound its way through every corridor of the leisure centre but well worth the wait.
It was really nice to see young jugglers Jon Udry & Arron Sparks make the A team.
It is a little pointless picking out individual bits from a Gandini show because it works so much better as a whole but I'm going to do it anyway. I was impressed by Kati's 3 ring triplex pass. I liked the section where the whole troupe balanced a club while 2 of the troupe took turns to steal clubs for some snappy 3 club spots before handing them back. The Melee of the whole troupe juggling lots of balls doing more Really Hard Stuff™ was phenomenal. Each time someone pulled off a big trick they'd shout 'yes' or 'no' depending on whether they landed it or not. Great to see some WJF level juggling in an artistic setting. There was a spectacular 4 person 20 ring line. Sean running forward to rave about a Prechac pattern in typical Seanese, then hearing it again in German then Italian really made me smile. As did Arron sprinting in circles, good running that man.
In the evening we got decked up for the black & silver party. I just had a nice shirt & trousers with a ridiculous silver bow tie. Kevin wore his beautifully tailored pink dinner jacket which is possibly the sexiest jacket I have ever seen & received a lot of attention for it. Although perhaps not quite so much attention as the lovely young girl in the silver hot pants. Who again did not receive quite as much attention as the equally lovely Tom Derrick sporting nothing but a bow tie & a thong.
The band for the evening were the awesome Scooby. They played a great set list of covers from all eras that encouraged a lot of bouncing & shouting. I danced myself sore & shouted myself hoarse. Yet another band leaves a BJC delighted by the enthusiasm of their audience.
...was a very groggy morning. Emily, Kev & I helped tidy up the aftermath in the bar in the morning. I had a chat with the barman to say thank you for what a great job they were doing, I think this was one of the best run bars we have ever had at a BJC. The barman was all smiles & gushing about what a great time he was having.
Even by my standards I over did it with breakfast.
I helped ferry the parts of the huge balloon dragon made by the BBMC to the seafront. I traveled on the bus completely hidden under a mass of latex which was fun as I got to play at being the disembodied voice of the dragon to scare the kids. We took the parts to the parade starting point & assembled them together.
I've never really been interested in the parade but I did watch it move off from the big viewing tower. I liked the idea of having a team of whip crackers clearing a path at the head of the parade. The Samba band were excellent & I really liked the group of contact jugglers wearing their acrylics on their heads too.
The space for the games was too small for the number of people & the PA system was too quiet, but Pete & Russell did a fine job as hosts. I had a go at 3 club gladiators but there was no space to move & I didn't last very long. Simon & I had a respectable attempt at the long distance passing.
Before the games finished a group of 9 of us went off in search of somewhere to eat. Main organiser Steve recommended some Italian places near the theatre so off we trekked. The first restaurant we tried was completely empty, but they decided to refuse us entry. Now I know I do look a little tramp like but really? We still come from Royal Tunbridge Wells don't you know. In the end they probably did us a favour because the next restaurant we tried couldn't have been more welcoming. All the staff had a great sense of humour especially the Maître d' who enjoyed brandishing Cat's whip at his serving staff. Good food, good beer & good company. It was a great evening out.
Which was only going to get better because then it was time for...
The Public Show
You know it it going to be a good show when the likes of Luke Wilson & Arron Sparks can only make it to the level of stage hand :)
Donald Grant ably took the reins as compère.
Opening the show was Phil Os with a spectacular diabolo routine. It did unfortunately contain some unnecessary glow & I have to agree with Mini though that the soundtrack was about 100 decibels too quiet. Aside from that it was big & bold with no build up, just straight into the spectacular stuff. All performed with high energy & appropriate head banging. A storming start.
Ian Marchant did a comedy street routine which would have been awesome on the street but went on too long for the theatre. I really liked his finishing trick despite taking too long to get there.
Matthias Romir performed 2 spots in the show his clown character shuffled on stage & performed some really nicely done hat manipulation with disappearing/reappearing glasses but unfortunately he milked it a bit too much. He then went on to create an amusing juggling mini man by wearing his hat & glasses on his bent knee & a coat around his leg. My favourite trick was the shower with the balls rolling down the brim of the hat.
Matthias' second spot used a weighted helium balloon that threatened to drift up into the rafters, in between pulling it down again he would perform some snappy club manipulation & juggling. Excellent timing. He then pulled up his hood & inflated a balloon in front of his face & drew a cute smiley face on the front then continued with lots technical club manipulation performed blind. Woo!
Smashing the shows camp homo erotica quota was Gunnar Erik. In amongst some astonishingly solid hand balances with seemingly zero flailing or counterbalancing with his other hand (the aloof & controlled flicking of dust from one of the canes was a nice touch) was a lot of tongue in cheek posing including gratuitous pectoral & buttock flexing. Donald also helped send up the act as his assistant. Nice chest hair Donald!
Closing the first half were the Gandini Juggling Project with one of their beautiful gloclub routines. I'm told that there was an almost mistake but it totally passed me by. Well deserving of the standing ovation.
From the US, Tony Pezzo performed a sensational ring routine beautifully combining technical & manipulation. The 5 ring outside pancake throws was sensational. Best ring routine I have ever seen.
I don't get Rod Laver. I've seen him perform his ping pong ball routines dozens of times now. But he still amazes me, & I still laugh really hard.
Tigris performed a hula hoop act with contortion. High skill indeed but I was not excited by this act.
The finale was Françoise Rochais who juggled parasols & rings in period dress before whipping the costume off & going into some modern high level technical juggling with batons. It was slick, classy & dropless. A fine way to close the show.
Congratulations to Luke & Donald for assembling a very fine line up & running an excellent show.
Back to site I had a brief spell in the bar tent. I wasn't particularly fussed by the band that was playing so went over to the hall. I chatted to Void about kendama for a bit before being enticed into the late night combat. It was good to see our Simon playing really well & that it is not just me that he can make look stupid without any visible effort. It was also nice to see a lot of the stars from the public show joining in as well.
Tony Pezzo called me an arsehole (asshole?) for taking him out, at first I thought I must have clipped him when I hit his club but no apparently I'd just taken him out from behind (dude I was totally beside you!). I don't think I'll ever get these limitations on play. At TWJC our only rule is 'try not to hurt anyone', which unfortunately wasn't being succeeded at. I retired myself after taking a fist to the face to staunch the flow of blood from my mouth (in the shower before I went to bed I also found 3 massive yellow & purple welts, only 2 of which I could account for).
I sat out for a while to recover & watched from the walkway to see Hairy take one to the face which resulted in a chipped tooth. He then started the next game by charging into the centre of the circle screaming, "COME ON YOU FUCKERS!" then proceeded to systematically charge (& I really mean charge) at each person in the circle in turn knocking them out then running back to the centre to reclaim his dominant position. Each attack he made was what I'd term kamikaze but he was pulling off attack after attack. With every person he took out the excitement built that he might win the game & myself & the other spectators cheered him on. Seeing him take out the last remaining combatant was a moment of pure joy & Simon, Nigel, Andy & I applauded our respect.
In the morning I cleared the wreckage from the beer tent again then pulled up the nails & the fuck off tape in the camp site.
There was a pause for the business meeting which was very positive. Good luck to York for 2013.
In the afternoon it was time for the sad occasion of the BJC closing show...
The Gandini Juggling Project - Smashed
It was another typical Gandini piece, a huge well choreographed masterpiece with lots of interesting stuff but this show included a lot more humour than usual. On the back row we were all chuckling to ourselves throughout the whole show. There was lots of innuendo revolving around the boys trying to woo the girls, Jon Udry's manic dancing fit the bill perfectly, Owen always makes me laugh the way he hams it up. I thought the section where the girls crawled on all fours while the boys performed floor juggling moves on their backs was rather odd. The section where everyone ran a 5 ball cascade while Sean tried to distract them with a rolled up magazine - waving it in front of the eyes, poking in the stomach, even garroting the juggler was a lot of fun. Even more fun was when jugglers took turns to perform Really Hard Stuff™ while everyone else screamed "BORING!" & other jeers to put them off until they dropped. The whole show was on a constant upward gradient finishing with a chaotic china smashing finale that was immense. Pure magic.
Tents came down over the afternoon Simon & I spent the whole time constantly picking up rubbish & ferrying bin bags to the pick up point. Seriously people how hard can it be? Interestingly I found a Blackberry phone partially trodden into the mud, I believe 3 wallets were also handed into lost property. Be careful people!
By the evening we were among the last on site, just us, the Cirque Normandie & Food Groove crews & a couple of other jugglers. The bar staff who were still full of smiles told us that they would be leaving a couple of started barrels of Juggling Convention Ale that would be chucked in the morning so we should help ourselves. Result!
So we certainly did, we took up residence in the kitchen where I cooked up pretty much every bit of food I had left for Kev & Simon & we had quite the feast. We also finished off our cider, vodka & made a good dent in the leftover ale. We were joined by 2 lads from the Scottish Borders Juggling Club, John from Southend & 3 peeps from the Food Groove. We chatted about the festival & all the shows. I thought it was really nice that one of the non-jugglers from the Food Groove was able to pick up the Sean & Kati were together by the way they juggled together.
Kev received a call from Amie asking him to give one of the keys to the Cirque team, so the pair of us made the daring expedition across a pitch black campsite with the world's most ineffectual wind up torch. We tripped over & walked into every single obstacle on the field & got tangled in the plastic net fence. We finally made it to the Cirque caravans making a very drunken & giggly racket while failing to find a door to knock on. We were startled by a shadowy figure sneaking up on us out of nowhere (probably thinking we were the local yoof), but in the end he was happy to take the key.
The next morning we had to chip our way out of our icy tents. John from Southend joined us again to help finish off the remaining fencing which all had to be restacked for pickup. We spent even more hours clearing loads of rubbish. It is amazing what people will throw away, the Salvation Army were very grateful for a lot of left over food from the Food Groove & also some tents & brand new duvets that were also left behind. Next year people might want to reevaluate the mixers they buy. We must have easily poured away over 30 half started bottles of soft drinks.
I don't think I have ever been so exhausted after a festival. I had a wonderful time. Thanks again to everyone for reminding what a wonderful world the juggling community is. Congratulations to big cheese's Amie & Steve & their team of Kevin, Graham, Dave, Emily, Mini, Jane, Sam & Lorri for pulling together a superb event.