Andy Kirk | Magician | Entertainer | Author

"The blog that is a fusion of magic, entertainment and writing"

4 June 2016

R.I.P The Greatest - Life and Times of Muhammad Ali: A Tribute

"The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life"  - Muhammad Ali

From Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali

Cassius Clay
When 12 year old Cassius Marcellus Clay's bike was stolen from outside the gym in Louisville, Kentucky he reported the incident to a cop who was in the gym at the time and said: "I'm going to whup whoever stole my bike". The cop advised boxing lessons first. Clay took that cops advise and within weeks he was given his first bout, won... and that was the start of a legendary career in boxing. 

Six years later, in 1960, Cassius Clay was selected to represent his country at the Olympics in Italy. At 6 foot 3 inches tall he was an imposing figure, add the fact that he possessed a powerful jab, incredible speed and foot work like no boxer before him, he was a formidable fighter. He went on to win Gold, became a national hero and then turned professional.

At the age of just twenty-two, Cassius Clay, who had won all his professional fights up until then, was given the opportunity to fight the the World Champion, Sonny Liston. Liston was the most intimidating boxer of his day, destroying Floyd Patterson in the first round on two occasions. Clay was a glib, fast talking, confident young man who enjoyed the spot light. He was good but after being knocked down by a left hook from British heavy-weight fighter, Henry Cooper, earlier that year, most people thought that it would be Liston's killer left hook that would end his hopes of becoming a World Champion.

The fight started, Clay was very much the under-dog, and as most expected, Liston was leading the way. But by the third round it was obvious that Clay was starting to take control. By the fifth round Liston was displaying a cut and swollen eye that needed treatment and he was breathing heavily. When the bell rang to signify the end of the sixth it was obvious that Liston was in trouble. When the bell sounded for the start of the seventh Liston failed to come out of his corner and Cassius Clay was declared the winner by technical knockout. Clay moved into the center of the ring, raised his arms and danced the jig that would go on to be known as the "Ali Shuffle". He'd done it, shocked the world and become the youngest ever boxer to take the World Title from a reigning world heavy weight champion. 

A rematch was quickly set up but the fight ended just as quickly after only 1 minute and 52 seconds of the first round. During the Sixties Cassius Clay was unbeatable, winning every fight and many by Knockout.

After joining the Nation of Islam in 1964, Cassius Clay changed his name first to Cassius X and then a week later became Muhammad Ali.

Three years after becoming the world champion Ali was stripped of his title for refusing to be drafted into the Armed services - it was against his religion and beliefs. It was over four years later when he won his appeal and was able to fight again.

The Comeback

Ali v Liston
Ali's return to the ring saw a triumphant win against Jerry Quarry with a knock down after 3 rounds. Next it was Oscar Bonavena. The fight was staged at Madison Square Gardens and Ali finally put Bonavena down in the 15th round. Winning this fight now made him the top contender to fight Joe Frazier, and in 1971 the fight  was quickly organised and named "Fight of the Century".  It was a tough fight, Ali was knocked down in the 15th round, finally losing on points.

Ali may have been down but he was certainly not out.

1972 saw him win six fights including a second bout against Floyd Patterson. Things were looking good but then he suffered his second defeat at the hands of Ken Norton who knocked him down and broke his jaw. Muhammad Ali was carefully considering retirement but then he was offered a re-match against Ken Norton he won on points and this lead to another shot at Joe Frazier. The rematch was staged in 1974 and Ali was triumphant - winning on points.

Rumble in the Jungle

Ali v Foreman
Now, Ali was once again top Contender for a shot at the World Heavy Title but the man to beat was George Foreman. No one really gave Ali a chance, Foreman seemed unstoppable and unlike Ali who'd lost to both Norton and Frazier, Foreman had beaten them, putting both them on the canvas in the 2nd round. On 30th October 1974 Muhammad Ali squared up to Foreman in a fight that would be remembered as the "Rumble in the Jungle". It was a epic battle that saw Ali dodge Foreman's punches, and then lean on the rope - a technique that became known as Rope-a-Dope - while Foreman threw everything he had in an attempt to knock Ali out. Ali blocked every punch, Foreman was tiring and in the 8th round Ali unloaded a flurry of punches and put Foreman on his back. Against the odds Muhammad Ali had pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sporting history and was once again World Heavy Weight Champion.

Thriller in Manila

Now Champion of the World, Ali was riding high. His next fights were against Chuck Wepner, Ron Lyle and Joe Bugner... he won every fight—Wepner knocked Ali down in the 9th round but Ali claimed he'd simply tripped over Wepner's foot.

Ali then agreed to a third bout against Joe Frazier. Fighting in temperatures in excess of 100°F it was a long and brutal battle that would become known as "The Thriller in Manila". Ali once again used the "Rope -a-dope method, leaning against the ropes and absorbing immense punishment as Frazier unloaded everything he had. At the end the 14th round both me were exhausted but Frazier with a badly swollen eye and in no condition to carry on threw in the towel. Ali was still the champion. After the fight Ali cited Frazier as "The greatest boxer of all times, next to me".

Ali continued his reign as champion but was noticeably slower, he kept winning but the decisions we far closer, some controversial. In 1978 Ali faced Leon Spinks, a much younger, leaner boxer. The fight went the distance and Ali lost to a unanimous points decision; Leon Spinks was crowned champion.

Most people thought Ali would retire, some even told him too, but he refused and eight-month later he was granted a re-match against Spinks. Then the unthinkable happened - Ali won and became the first ever boxer to win the World Title three times.

Retirement and Two Fights to Many

"I am the Greatest"
On the 27th July 1979 Muhammad Ali announced his retirement, it was, however, short lived. Ali came out of retirement and lined up to fight WBA world champion, Larry Holmes in an attempt to win an unprecedented fourth title. Despite Ali suffering from stuttering vocals and shaking hands (it was the onset of Parkinson's) he got the all-clear to fight. Ali lost, Holmes by far the superior boxer. Ali was tired and breathless and in round eleven Angelo Dundee, his trainer, threw in the towel. 

There were many calls for Ali to retire but despite all pleas Ali still fought one more time. His last fight was against Trever Berbick in the Bahamas and, as expected, he lost on a ten round decision. He announced his retirement shortly after this and never fought again.

No Stopping For Parkinson's Disease

Ali Carrying the Torch in Atlanta
In 1984 Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease but despite this still remained active, appearing on TV, receiving sports awards and raising over $46 million dollars for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson's Center in Atlanta. He starred in several motion pictures including "Freedom Road" playing Ex-slave Gideon Jackson in 1870's Virginia. "The Greatest" was an adaptation of his own biography, were he played himself. He made appearances in many of the top Television shows of the day including: "Different Strokes" and "Touched by an Angel". He recorded an album titled "I am the Greatest" and even appeared in a short lived Broadway musical, too.

In 1996 Ali was the man who lit the flame at the Atlanta Georgia Olympic Games. 1998 saw him named named Sportsman of the century by Sports Illustrated and BBC Sports Personality of the Century, and he was honored with a star on the "Hollywood Walk of Fame".

Even though ravaged by the effects of Parkinson's it didn't stop him being the Flag Bearer for the Summer Olympics in London in 2012 but due to effects of Parkinson's he was unable to raise the flag and instead stood in front of it.

He was the Greatest

Muhammad Ali became one of the most recognizable figures on the face of the planet. Over forty years after he burst on to the boxing scene he is still known and loved by millions. No boxer or sportsman has become so important to popular culture as Muhammad Ali. He wasn't just a boxer with incredible skill, fast reflexes and lightening foot-work who avenged his three main defeats form Frazier, Norton and Spinks just as a true champion should, but he was also a philanthropist, a human rights activist, a champion, an entertainer, and a leader. His life inside and outside of the ring makes him... "The Greatest".

 "Float like a butterfly, Sting like a Bee" - Muhammad Ali

5 April 2015

Frozen Princess Emily's Magical Party

Emily and Friends
It's always nice when Andy's Magic—Children's Entertainer and Magician—gets a local booking. Emily's 6th Birthday party was held at The St Ambrose Church Hall in Kidderminster which is an ideal room for a children's party. All her friends and family attended and it was great fun from start to finish.

Emily and her friends loved dancing in the bubbles to their favourite music from the Disney Animated movie, Frozen. Songs like: 'Let it Go', 'Love is an Open Door' and 'Do you want to Build a Snowman' kept them very happy indeed.

Frozen Princess Emily
After a break for food we all gathered around a fantastic Frozen themed birthday cake and sung 'Happy Birthday' and then Emily blew out all the candles—that actually spelt 'Birthday Girl'—in one go. It was soon time for Andy's Magic Show and during the break many of the children kept running over and telling me how they'd seen me loads of times before and couldn't wait to see the show again. Emily was brilliant as a Magician's assistant. To finish all the kids received a balloon animal each.

Dancing to 'Let it Go' at Andy's Magic Disco

It was lovely meeting everyone at the party in Kidderminster and special thanks to Albert and his and his family for their hospitality and booking me for this event. I hope to see you all again very soon.

4 April 2015

David Jason, Del Boy & Abbey National Adverts

Here's the second Saturday Morning Laugh-Out-Loud and features one of Britain's best loved comedy actors.

Only Fools and Horses
has become one of Britain's favorite situation comedies. Written by the late, great John Sullivan it made house hold names of many of its stars including David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst. It also produced some more of the most memorable moments in comedy history including the unforgettable: 'Batman and Robin' scene, remember the hilarious falling though the bar episode - 'Yuppy Love', and who didn't laugh at the classic moment from 'A Touch of Glass' when Granddad, Rodney and Del Boy are attempting to clean some very expensive chandeliers which ends with disastrous consequences. It's true to say that Only Fools and Horses really is comedy gold.

So we all remember David Jason in 'Fools and Horses' but who remembers him playing a very Del-Boy-like character in those Abbey National television adverts which are certainly written in  the style of John Sullivan. In both adverts David Jason is joined on screen by Patricia Brake, best known as the daughter of Fletcher in 'Porridge' and 'Going Straight'. And it wasn't only The Abbey National that jumped on the Lovable Rogue / Wheeler Dealer band wagon. Around the same time The Leeds Building Society featured George Cole, complete with an Arthur Daley trilby in their 'Leeds Liquid Gold Adverts'.

I'd certainly forgotten these little gems until I spotted them on YouTube. I believe all 'Fools and Horses' fans will love these. I don't know how many were made but here's the two I could find - enjoy them.

'Did you enjoy those little clips? You did....

...Lovley Jubbly

3 April 2015

Washington Crossing to Delaware - An Annagrammatic Poem

Washing Crossing to Delaware
Writing poetry is hard enough, sonnets are even more difficult but to try and write a sonet where every line is an anagram of the title would seem an impossible task. But that's exactly what David Shulman set about doing in 1936. Shulman, an American lexicographer and cryptographer, succeeded in completing a twelve-line rhyming poem with all twelve lines being an anagram of its title. The sonet, and it's tittle, were inspired and taken from the magical 'Washington Crossing the Delaware' painting (see photo)  by Emanuel Gottieb Luetze. It's an amazing accomplishment, a wonderful intriguing poem and both sonet and painting perfectly commemorates General George Washington's crossing of the Delaware River on those cold nights in December 25th—26th, 1776.

Washington Crossing to Delaware
A hard, howling, tossing water scene.
Strong tide was washing hero clean.
"How cold!" Weather stings as in anger.
O Silent night shows war ace danger!
The cold waters swashing on in rage.
Redcoats warn slow his hint engage.
When star general's action wish'd "Go!"
He saw his ragged continentals row.
Ah, he stands – sailor crew went going.
And so this general watches rowing.
He hastens – winter again grows cold.
A wet crew gain Hessian stronghold.
George can't lose war with's hands in;
He's astern – so go alight, crew, and win!
Andy's Magic - Children's Entertainer & Magician - Birmingham, Worcester, Dudley, Wolverhampton, Telford, Kidderminster, Stourbridge & all surrounding area's.

31 March 2015

Xanthe's Halloween Birthday Party.

Xanthe the Witch
Apparently, when Xanthe was asked what theme she wanted for her 4th birthday party she immediately replied 'Halloween'. It may sound a bit strange—a Halloween party just a few days before Easter—but it really did work. The whole of the Blakedown Parish Rooms were decorated out with Hallowen ghosts, skeletons, pumpkins, cobwebs and lights. And all the children came in their Halloween costumes. It really was a very colourful party.

Just hanging around

With the room set and all of Xanthe's friends in attendance it was time to get them dancing to songs like 'Ghostbusters' and 'Witch Doctor'. As the bulk of the children were four or younger I always break the dancing with lots of games like 'Pass the Parcel' and 'The Hokey Cokey' is always a sure winner with the younger age groups. 

Halloween Magic & Fun

A break was taken for refreshments and the kids were lead into a room that again was very skillfully decorated to the Halloween theme. At the end of the break I got all of the children singing 'Happy Birthday', Xanthe blew out the candles and then it was time for the show. Xanthe couldn't wait to get up and become a magician's assistant in the magic show, she'd seen me before at the nursery she goes to, and was very excited. To finish I made her a balloon monkey in a bananna Tree and then all the children received a balloon animal too. 

I've never done a Halloween party in March before but I have to say it was spooky and fun...

                                     ...Happy 4th Birthday Xanthe. 

29 March 2015

Dancing Diva Davina in Wolverhampton

Frozen Birthday Cake
Party Girl Davina
Davina's 7th birthday party, at the Fallings Lane Reform Church Hall in Wolverhampton,  saw quiet a few no shows, as far as guests were concerned, but even so it was still a great fun gig to be entertainer and magician at.

As I set up my sound system I soon discovered just how much the birthday girl loves her music as she very quickly started making requests for he favourate songs—'All About The Bass', 'Uptown Funk' and any One Direction song.
The Two hour package, that I was supplying for this party incorporates Andy's Magic Disco and I always feel it's important to keep a have a good selection of current chart music. I'm glad I do, on this ocassion I had all of Davina's requests. I played the songs and she and her friends went crazy dancing and singing along too. In between dancing there were loads of games, prizes and action songs. And, while all this was going on a photographer from Shaddy Media Productions was doing a great job circulating around snapping away taking, what I'm sure will turn out to be, awesome photos that will create magical memories for Devina and her family.

After a break for refreshments it was into the magic show and here again all the children joined in fantastically. Davina was delighted with her special balloon creation. To finish all the children received a balloon creation each and went home happy. One lad made me promise to go to his party—I gave a him a business card and told him to get his parents to call me and arrange it - lol.

I thought it was a lovely party and here's what Davina's Mom had to say in a comment left on Andy's Magic Facebook Page:

"Thank you so much for fantastic entertainment. The party package was great and reasonably priced. Thanks Andy." - Lorretta Dhlamini, Wolverhampton

'It's all about the base...'

It was lovely to meet Davina, her family and friends over in Wolverhampton and I look forward to seeing you again really soon. A big happy birthday to Davina from Andy's Magic

27 March 2015

The Saturday Laugh-Out-Loud with Count Arthur Strong

Count Arthur Strong & Michael
Every Saturday I intend to post a short video clip that should make you Laugh-out-Loud. Starting the weekend with a laugh sounds like a good idea to me. And the first video up comes from Steve Delaney aka Count Arthur Strong.

I stumbled across Count Arthur Strong quiet by accident whilst channel hopping trying to find something entertaining to watch—and that's not so easy to do now-a-days. After watching just one episode of this sitcom that revolves around the world of an eccentric, semi-retired musical hall performer—an old duffer who's never quiet made it but thinks he has—I was hooked. Count Arthur is prone to delusions of grandeur, has a very selective memory and suffers from massive doses of malapropism-itis. He confuses everyone he meets and causes chaos wherever he goes, although he is blissfully unaware of any of the problems and frustration he causes. 

After watching a few episodes I wanted to find out more about Arthur and where this great comedy creation had come from. I was greatly surprised to find that the Count had actually been on the radio for some 8 years or more and as I'm an avid listener of radio comedy the question I had to ask myself, and still ask, is how on earth did I manage to miss this genius of a comedy character for so long? I'm now addicted to both the TV & Radio shows—I can't get enough of that doyen of light entertainment, show business legend, raconteur and after-dinner speaker.

Series 1 was screened on BBC2 in 2013 and was just brilliant. Surely there had to be a second series? After a long wait, and plenty of withdrawal symptoms, series two finally aired in January (2015) but this time was transferred to 
BBC1 and, I'm sure everyone will agree, was even funnier than the first. I can't wait for for the next series. The show is written by Steve Delaney who plays, and created, the Count Arthur Strong character, and top sitcom writer, Graham Linehan, the man responsible for the incredibly successful comedy series Father Ted as well as other comedy hits including The I.T Crowd, Black Books and The Walshes.

If you've watched the TV show I'm sure you'll agree it's the funnest comedy to appear on the box for a long time. The first series was nominated for a BAFTA in the 'Best Situation Comedy' Category. As for the radio show, which ran for Seven series (2005—12) and two specials, received The 'Gold Sony Radio Academy Award'—The highest accolade possible in British radio comedy.

The Count Arthur Strong Tour - NOT TO BE MISSED!
Steve Delaney, the man who transforms into this wonderful comic character, is currently on a huge tour around the country—many dates now sold out—and as good as the radio and TV shows are apparently on stage is where Delaney as Count Arthur sits best and one of the funniest shows around. I've got my tickets to see Arthur in the 'Someone up there Licks Me Tour 2015'—I'll write a review when I've Seen it. 
So here's the first Laugh-out-Loud. This clip comes from one of the funniest episodes from the TV Show, 'The Day the Clocks Went Back'. Here we see Arthur heart broken and confused when the clocks go back. Then he goes for a flying lesson and gets mistaken for the flying instructor. Soon it's terror at 3000ft. It's superbly funny piece, brilliant performed. Watch out for the walk to the airplane—just hilarious. 

Hope you enjoyed that four minutes of Count Arthur Strong. Next week I'll be talking about that legendary actor ,Wedward Goodwood er, Edward Woodwind, Edward Woodbine, Edward Woodwardward. Oh sod it! The bloke who played The Equalizer.

If you're fan of Count Arthur Strong you can follow him on Twitter @Arthur_Strong and follow Graham Linehan @Glinner. There's also a great Facebook Group, too. Search Bulents Caff (Count Arthur Strong) or follow this link