An Evening at SIMON DRAKE’S HOUSE OF MAGIC. Saturday July 22nd 2017
Of the places we know, we will often surrender their secrets, and for those we don’t, we resist them, too often fearing an unwelcome and possibly overly adventurous soul. And yet once in a while one receives an out of the blue invitation to explore other places to which we wouldn’t normally go. For those in the know and those far beyond it, Simon Drake’s House of Magic is a dream destination, located above ground and in a properly conscious realm. That it seems like a dream once you are inside, shows the scale of its beauty and that the experience inside should be treasured, both as sublime entertainment and as a touchstone for the vanishing world Drake reclaims.
For twenty years the location has been kept by the streets that surround it. City bred, near suburban, this article holds a clue. But the place is a world away from your own while still being part of it somehow, and when you bidden, you follow a visible path from the tube. These glorious pictures show the world that awaits you; a former Victorian pub, reborn in the mid 1990’s under Drake’s hands and supervision to become a kind of portal to that former existence and age. Once through the gates, it is a small cherub that greets you. This is Drake’s adorable young daughter Alice, whose enthusiasm for what’s in store is the best self promotion on hand.
An immediate pit stop at the pop up magic shop introduces you to some of the devices you will encounter later in the evening, from talking statues and wands, to constantly evolving handkerchiefs, with the attendant card decks applauding their own ever focusing powers alongside the potential you offer, should you choose to buy and indulge.
This allows you a taste of Simon’s secrets and also connects you to the vibrancy of his world.
Then a lush garden awaits with its circuitously winding path and exhibits; a rainbow of colours resistant and free from the London heat and the rain. A conjuror whose head is revealed on a silver platter breaks through stunned silence and bids you welcome inside.
A gold and blood red bar then consumes the eager client, as staff smile and charm you, housing their own secret skills…
On the night I was there, all manner of delights met my senses from Drake’s assistant and former partner, who is quite possibly one of the most attractive women in London, clad in a vampiric red dress to innovative producer, singer and musician Max Reed and the angelically gifted vocalist, Joe Payne, both former members of cult band, The Enid, and now using the House of Magic as a gateway to their own new practices. These and the other helpers form part of a magic circle of their own, connected to Drake as they house the inherent beauties and mysteries of a new and possibly golden age of accomplishment.
The air itself, once you are within the walls, feels warm and exotic. A sense of privilege settles, as if you have stumbled upon one of those secret haunts your ghost wants. And what is your ghost? Simply, that inner need for the different. The desire in people that leads us on to discover somewhere secret and strange in themselves. But look, it is here. Everything seems to be talking; plant, stair and shadow; small, whispered words, meant for you.
No sooner inside, then the true magic happens. This time in the form of a roterie of mingling conjurors, delighting and bewildering those in attendance with their outlandish and dexterous skills, framed by hands. Rather than shake yours, they stun, as from the standard tropes of coins, cards and string, wonders ensue, both in result and execution for close up magic; the art of deception and thrill, is two arts. It is a matter of the techniques employed and thus, the many years each has taken to master, and then our own disconnect as we watch them, that small incomprehension that remakes us as children and grants our lost sense of wonder new form.
We know as we watch that there must be some explanation but when we cannot provide it, the child in us bubbles forth. Magicians catch us in that air spun, filmic vessel and in that way elevate us beyond and above the pale day.
Bid to seek my fortune under the auspices of the Whispering Chair, I did so and received a sensually voiced summation of my own character and hopes. I half feared hearing the circumstances of my eventual demise, but was pleased to receive positive encouragements that allowed me to press on towards the fracturing light of my own journey and the sensitivity placed before me allowed me, in moving, to feel a true sense of place.
The room is on two levels and the artfully designed stage and arrangements lend the Victorian features and Dickensian air a gathering sense of the arcane. The House of Magic is a bordello for your own desires, if not fantasies and the warmth and rich, alchemising colours lure you into a happily shuffling of your own sensual states and on, into a card like range of opportunities and decisions.
This pleasing near somnambulance is quickly contrasted by a ramshackle tour of the haunted cellar in which a fruitily voiced and ghost faced tour guide (who swears divine allegiance to his master, Drake) blends horror and innuendo effortlessly, assisted by the most attractive woman in London in an act which in cheekily placing the ‘unt’ in the Munsters like moments that follow, helps to arouse those of all dispositions, and pushes comic joy and exuberance into first place amidst the other shocks and sensations. In the House of Magic the brain is parboiled and the eye seduced wildly. And then the stuttering heart is rubbed slyly, by a glamorous red fingernail.
These are the rooms of delight and this is the house of seduction. Seemingly inanimate objects are breathing and as the tricks play and warp you, your world finds new reason as your thoughts in expanding, are enticed by such beauty to almost attain genitals!
As below, so above. Re-emergence from the cellar sends you up the wooden staircase to the higher floors and Drake’s sumptuous lounge, full with his immaculately chosen magic library, (studded by talking bookends) and self made diabolica, neighboured by expansive drapes, ornate mirrors and all manner of subverted Victoriana. Here you may take your ease until the aromas of dinner greet you, and you descend back into the main hall to take your place at carefully arranged tables. What other viewing experience throws a tasty and nourishing dinner in for its consumers and allows the chance for its invited audience to engage and properly know each other? This sharing of the experience is crucial and makes one feel all the more special and inclusive, part of a communal, public response to this private function which has already been full of riotous glamour and invention.
As the vegetarian and meat buffet flowed downstream towards cake and coffee, the sleight of hand artists returned with evermore magic handshakes and the sense of expectation was building as the cloud bearing showtime seemed to almost shape itself in the air. This was dry ice of course, artfully lit, but conducive to how I was feeling, drained by life and so ready to be beguiled and drawn in. I was aware as I sat that this was the exact sort of place I always hoped had existed; a special enclave inside the subsiding normality of the city, in which new sensations could be both enjoyed and invoked. I felt positively happy placed there, despite all of my other troubles, and especially at that moment, and looking around me so did the other hundred souls gathered close.
When we talk of prices these days, more often than not, its mere fashion. The being seen as important as the what it is or the where. But it is quite different here as the evening is shaped like a package; wonder, entertainment, excitement and more than a cheap thrill or two. Aside from that, thought and proper consideration surround you; a form of experiential designing, and the creation at once of a world. Whether with illusion of jokes, there is something else going on here; an alternative promise that the world, re-imagined, can and should be how we want. You can live out a dream by just looking around you. And take it at face or soul value. Now, who could challenge that, or resist?
The voice of Heathcote Williams resounds through a series of taped introductions and the majesty of his music, through spoken word still enchants. Hearing him on this night was unbelievably poignant, three weeks on from his passing and the recording reminded me of how his own magic will now be weaved by all of those who will miss him inbetween each starred day.
Like all main events there was a support act who delighted many. With his mixture of gags and song-craft, Elliot Mason was a further hors’d’ouevre for all of those hungry for this three course night to go on.
When Drake’s show began with an empiric descension, you knew at once that the master, from his uncharted realm had arrived. From his time as British TV’s magical almost Bowie style innovator, bridging the gap between David Nixon and Derren Brown, to his work as a stage director, designer and consultant for everyone from Kate Bush to Daisy Campbell, Drake is the key to all manner of cultural chains. He has befriended and met everyone worth knowing and his reputation increases with each passing year. The chance of seeing these shows is to catch such sparks of connection and his still boyish charms are undaunted, from the day he first entered our screens, unto this. Drake is showman and host, a vibrant rattlebag of the spirit. Quick with a joke and a challenge and versed in the spiel and the spool. He chooses each song and administers music. He packs every shadow with muscle and verve. He takes care. Just a few minutes on from his collegial hosting, here he is now in show mode, connecting the ages and making all of the lost importances cool. An artful dance with props and tropes then ensues, with electric mouth and dazzling assistant. Hands are sawed, sparks and fires, in fact, all manner of things lost to air. It is a magical ride that unites entertainer and shaman breeding good, old style magic passed and surpassed with true flair.
I won’t elaborate on the facts of the act as Drake’s show is his province, but what he gives us is something of both the present and past and the next. From the lures of levitation which allows us to ‘appreciate the intimate extent of the non gravity world,’ to bawdy moments of irreverence, one feels returned to a time when you could still be enchanted and where the simple mysteries still remind you of just how little you know. Of course, we are not supposed to know everything. That is what keeps us rooted as people. But I believe that we all know the darkness that magic, when it favours us, can help lift. And so this show of laughter and sparks, with its tongue in its cheek and lascivious mouth hanging open, also highlights a future when we can still be beguiled by that dark. When we can still seek escape and refuge from the fools out to shape us and where we can see the smoke’s shape through life’s plastic and glimpse the shimmer of the bewitchment of stars far beyond.
As the Simon Drake show gave way to over three hours party, the spirits held, stamped and conjured were formed from those of us there, in his court. Kings crown belief and often create their own subjects. On that night in London we were happy to be part of Drake’s realm. This part of the city means more than its nearby Bridge and close Cricket. Its tales and bright chapters house the calls and the orders from which your own evolving story begins.
Every event has its King, so here is one in ascension. The air around tastes of promise and the atmosphere crests allure. Indulge and imbibe. And then settle down with strange spirits. The wheel of fate is revolving… And so I bid you, I urge you; master the dark, dare delight.
David Erdos, 24/7/17
Photos Simon Drake