MAGIC AND MYSTERY TOUR
Malcolm Russell is a magician with a difference. He has performed on four continents, uses age old memory techniques to astounding effects and sometimes performs as his alter-ego, Parker Doodlebug – an 1870’s eccentric Victorian gentleman.
Whilst living on Orkney, Malcolm decided to complete his own Magic and Mystery Tour, traveling and performing a Magic Show on every inhabited island in Scotland. Below is an interview I conducted with Malcolm, where he answers 10 questions about his epic journey.
1. What gave you the idea of performing a magic show on all the inhabited islands of Scotland?
It was a mixture of wishful thinking and practical realities. I had moved to Orkney a couple of years earlier and was loving being able to visit the smaller isles from time to time, sometimes because I was booked to perform there. I realised that performing magic was the key to getting me to places off the beaten track and gradually my plans for a “magic tour” evolved from ‘alphabetical towns’ or ‘Highlands and Islands’ or ‘village pub tour’ into its final form – a show on every single island in Scotland that was inhabited year-round by at least one person. Plus one uninhabited island, just for fun. My own personal Scottish island tour.
2. What was the most difficult island to get to?
Without a doubt, St Kilda. I tried and failed about half a dozen times over the year. I looked into travel by fishing boat, sailing boat, dive boat, MOD helicopter, Russian icebreaker and more, but each one was a dead end. I had all but given up when, a year after the tour began, I learned of a man who had begun running day trips when the weather permitted. I took a chance, travelled out to the Outer Hebrides again and we caught a lucky break with the weather. Two days later, he stopped running for the season. It was a close call!
3. What was your favourite performance?
There wasn’t a single favorite but a number of them stand out as being fantastic either because the audience was so warm and enthusiastic or the venue was quirky, special or unusual, or simply because the island itself was so beautiful. In some cases it was because of the friends I made. Some of the ones that stand out in my mind are Fair Isle, Foula, North Ronaldsay, St Kilda, Eilean Donan castle, Skye (Portree – where I performed in every single pub in town in one night), Papa Stronsay (a show for the Catholic monks), and, well, the list rather goes on a bit.
4. Which island had the most receptive audience?
Again it’s very hard to pick a single one but I have a real soft spot for Fair Isle.
5. What was your favourite island or islands?
Every single one of the islands has its own flavour which is influenced by its landscape, its history and its people. Of course, the way I felt about an audience was influenced by the particular individuals who happened to show up that night which means that element would be different from night to night, but I also tried to spend as much time on each island as I could, exploring, meeting people and reading about the place. But I don’t want to cop out of a straight answer so I’ll say that if your question is really “Which island would you like to live on?” I’d have to say Mainland Orkney, where I lived for over 4 years. Yes, I’m biased!
6. Are there any islands that you missed that you would like to perform on?
The only one I missed was one that I learned about after I had finished the tour. In spite of my best efforts, I missed one – Dry Island, up by Gairloch, not far from Ullapool.
7. Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
No. A lot of it was done by the seat of my pants but I can’t say I learned any indispensable shortcuts that would have changed the way I did it.
8. What will be the abiding memory of your tour of the Scottish islands?
Apart from the incredible landscapes, the predictable and cliched answer is “the people”. But it’s true! I met the most wonderful, hospitable, creative, kind, industrious, intelligent and warm people and I’m still in contact with a number of them. A couple have become very close friends.
9. Do you have any other great adventures planned for the future?
Now that we’re living back in Alberta, Canada, I’d love to try to do a show in every province and territory in Canada, and in every state in the United States. Even if I don’t manage, the effort will be worth it.
10. Where can I find more information on yourself?
I’ve got my website www.malcolmrussell.net, and a fledgling blog as well – www.saferthanspying.blogspot.com (about the life and times of a working magician and his two temperamental pet rabbits).