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Taking a peek inside the secret world of Aberdeen Magical Society

For those who say Aberdeen has little warmth, colour or sparkle, they obviously have not spent a night with the Aberdeen Magical Society. 

Nicolas Moulet showing a trick involving coloured silks.
RGU lecturer, Nicolas Maulet, carried out a colourful silk magic routine for the open night. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

Sat in The Sportsman’s Club in Aberdeen next to a white rabbit in a black top hat, I was chatting to his owner, Garry Seagraves, about the danger of being bitten.

Not by the rabbit – although his nibbling sold me out later that night – but rather about the joyful and addictive nature of magic.

“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “You get bitten by it and I really can’t explain it. I’ve got a love for it.

“I love watching magic, I love performing it.”

Garry Seagraves with Basil the magical nibbling rabbit from the Aberdeen Magical Society.
Garry Seagraves with Basil the magical nibbling rabbit. All images: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.

The Garthdee-born Aberdonian got the bug pretty early on as he grew up watching his dad, magician Bill Seagraves, at shows.

After performing his first professional gig alongside his father at the Copthorne Hotel in his 20s, the next year he joined Aberdeen Magical Society in 1988.

Over 35 years later, he is now president of the club and a magician himself performing all sorts of tricks with one of his favourites being the classic sawing-in-half routine which he often does with his wife Jenny.

When asked if she also enjoys it, the 59-year-old laughed and said: “You’d have to ask her.”

Lottie Hood displaying her newfound card trick to some of the Aberdeen Magical Society members.
I got my hands dirty and tried out a new card trick.

Aberdeen Magical Society open night

Join me and photographer Kami for an open night behind the curtain with Aberdeen Magical Society which included:

  • Meeting newest club member RGU lecturer Nicolas Maulet who can sometimes be found at Vovem on Union Street entertaining diners
  • A range of displays of magic and comedy (the good and bad) and a backstabbing bunny 
  • Trying my own hand at the art of card magic 

Did you know the north-east is home to the rabbit in the hat trick?

Garry and Basil with Lottie Hood as a volunteer teaching a card trick at the Aberdeen Magical Society open night.
Garry said it was north-east magician, John Henry Anderson, who was supposed to be the first to pull a rabbit out of a hat.

Designed to reveal a little of what the society is all about, members and interested budding magicians were invited to enjoy an open night with various displays of magic and a few talks on the club’s history and what members get up to.

Anyone interested in magic can enjoy guest lecturers from global magic stars, taking part in public performances and sharing expertise with other members at regular meetings.

The only thing they need to take seriously is magic.

And the rule of not revealing how your tricks are done to those outside the society.

A member of the Aberdeen Magical Society showing a rope magic trick.
Carl Howse (right) performs a rope trick with Jeff Burns.

Founded in 1926, the group and north-east have boasted some prestigious and inventive magicians in their time.

Some of the bigger names include Walford Brodie and John Henry Anderson who was supposed to be the first magician to pull a rabbit out of the top hat and was a huge inspiration to Harry Houdini.

Much more recently, the society was the meeting place of magic duo Barry Jones and Stuart MacLeod – the latter having just released a new series called The Magic Prank Show on Netflix and even received a shoutout on the night.

But the club is not just for the professionals.

RGU law lecturer on the ‘magic of magic’

Some of the amateurs and semi-professionals prefer to pursue magic in their off-time.

For lecturer in energy law and policy at RGU, Nicolas Maulet, it tends to be practising tricks at Vovem on Union Street.

Nicola Maulet during his silk routine
When Nicola Maulet is not teaching law, he is practising magic.

“I’m fascinated to see the reactions from people,” he said smiling. “Because they’re very happy to see someone – I don’t want to call myself a magician – but someone doing magic.

“One evening recently I had a party of four and they obviously weren’t having the best time at the table.

“It was very interesting to see the moment they saw I was doing card tricks.

“They interrupted me and they said, ‘Oh, can we have a card trick?’

“By doing the trick…it completely changed, even the smile and the way they were looking at each other. They almost became children again.

“It’s the magic of magic.”

RGU lecturer Nicolas Maulet
Nicolas Maulet is a big fan of the classic magic tricks.

Growing up in France, Nicolas first fell in love with the practice while watching a silk magic routine at a ski resort in the Alps.

An experience he paid homage to on the open night with a colourful silk routine.

Cards, ropes, swords and Tic Tac boxes

He added: “Magic has always been part of what I see as a quality hobby, as a quality way of developing several skills. That’s why magic is very interesting.

“Because it works on several of your skills: communication, and capacity to also be skilful, which I wasn’t when I was younger.

“I was a clumsy kid and it helped me really refine this.

Eoin Smith with a pack of cards.
Eoin Smith from Aberdeen Magical Society taught me a card trick for the night.

“And most of all, it has reached levels, which I’d never thought it would.

“You’ve even got inventions and new tricks, which before, you would have just dreamt of seeing and now they exist because you’ve got such incredible magical minds.”

When we moved through to watch the talks and tricks, the bar was set high when a member of the society Eoin Smith promised a night of “impossible things happening in front of your very eyes.”

After a couple of brief talks about the club from Garry and secretary Dave Goulding, Garry and a few members – amateurs and magicians alike – took to the stage.

Garry trying out a card trick at the Aberdeen Magical Society open night.
Garry did a card trick with the “sword of death” and a willing volunteer.

What followed was a series of indecipherable tricks – at least for me – all presented with flair and a level of ridiculous comedy.

From card tricks complete with blindfolds and a “sword of death” to rope routines to pennies in sealed tic tac boxes, it was a vibrant and fun display of magic.

At one point, when Garry made a call for a volunteer, I was quick to keep writing my notes.

But safe to say, it did not save me…

What happened with Basil the bunny and me

After being called out, I passed my notebook to my friendly and fun-loving neighbour Bill Sangster from Peterhead and joined Garry and Basil the rabbit at the front of the room.

I was asked to pick a card, show the room and also let Basil have a quick peek without showing Garry.

Garry, Basil and Lottie up at the front of the room for a card trick.
Garry used Basil to pick out my card from the desk.

Thinking Basil and I had bonded over my earlier petting, I didn’t hesitate. However it just goes to show, never underestimate the bond between a magician and his bunny.

Garry asked me to put the card – an eight of hearts – back in the deck and give it a good shuffle.

He then offered the fanned out deck face-down to his fluffy buddy to find the card.

Awe and a slight sense of betrayal followed after Basil started rapidly chewing on a card from the middle of the deck. It was of course three-quarters of my eight of hearts.

Lottie performing a card trick for some members of Aberdeen Magical Society
I asked Bill to put two cards back in the deck for my attempt.

Trying my hand at a bit of magic

In the week leading up to the event, club member Eoin had kindly taken the time to teach me a wee card trick.

During the break, my moment arrived.

With my stomach churning and cards in hand, Eoin kindly offered to gather a small group of encouraging seasoned pros in the other room.

Feeling very much like a toddler showing a group of adults I could just about walk, I asked my new friend Bill to put two randomly selected cards back into the deck for me to find.

After gathering the deck into one pile, a couple of taps and a deep breath later, I quickly threw the deck from my right to left hand leaving behind only two cards.

Lottie Hood holding two cards and laughing.
I was clearly very delighted at not dropping the cards all over the floor.

Thankfully they were the right cards and the group were very generous in praise and applause.

This successful demonstration followed by a friendly reaction and encouragement, I can see why so many people become addicted.

The sharing of a common passion with a community that is curious and not afraid of being the butt of their own jokes is a warming experience.

For more information visit the Aberdeen Magical Society’s website or follow along on social media.

Magician and society member Eoin Smith made time before the event to teach me a magic trick and display another one of his own…