Post-Convention Report: Griffish Isles 2021/2 - Part 1

 That's Griffins, not Grifting – we're In Manchester, not Essex.

By Dr. Foal Duke

What ho and pip-pip, dear readers! This one's a little bit late because of various... factors that might in fact have some relevance to world events – you know: a terrible winter, the Megatron variant, the inevitable (sigh) family and friends you have to deal with at Christmas. And not to mention Vladmir Putin deciding that he'd do a Scrooge and make all of Ukraine part of his honorary family and treat them to lots of shiny army toys. In direct competition with their adopted family in NATO who could only provide Javelins.

Of course, that was nothing compared to a three day jaunt in Manchester for the third Griffish Isles, the oddly named and oddly impactful little convention that goes beyond its comfy atmosphere to have quite a nice feel of slightly larger cons like Harmonycon in Dallas, with their effective use of venue space. It's been a funny old year for them, and despite having to call off summer 2020, they were able to bounce back in Winter 2021, a first for them. So, without further ado, mind the terrible word play, and let's dive right in.

Part 1: Saturday Events (20th November 2021)

10:30 – Opening Ceremonies 

As to be expected of a convention like this, the opening was short, sweet and done to a budget. Much like an older episode of Doctor Who where set elements to be attacked with the sonic screwdriver were made of cardboard and bin liners. We were treated to long time con chair HypnoHooves and the MC Dr. Pony going over the boring, non-essential things, like where to go in case of a fire, how not to do it without trampling people, etc. One big change is that now, long time con contributer Librase is now the new chair, taking HH's place! For a first time as a con chair, she handled it very well. There was no confusion of where to go, no fire, no trampling people, etc.

So anyway, after everyone in the crowded main theatre (just capable of holding everyone without looking too crowded or too big) began to file out, someone wanted to ask a question, there was a bit of confusion as people heard 'sure, fire a-' and ended up trampling people, etc. Until the start of this last passage Librase was standing behind me with a stick. She's gone now.

11:00 – The History of MLP (Mane Theatre)

This was the first panel in the main theatre, and Bexi, the resident historian and super nerd, was hosting. The panel was pretty interesting – it's a regular at GI to have a history panel – but I found her particular take on it interesting. Specifically, she was able to tie the history of girls' toys in general into the presentation, explaining how the demand for them changed through the 1980s and how this enabled and influenced the rise of MLP from then and even to now, in its current incarnations with a more cross-gender focus. What followed this was something that, sadly, could use a few more girls...

12:00 – Transport Ponies

Ricky Gervais once said: “autograph hunters are the Epsilon Minors of society, even trainspotters look down on them.” Oh, if only he knew about bronies... Delete this or your hand goes in the drawer again, Ed.

Well, regardless of what he said, Zen and Ace definitely deserve to be looked up to. Trainspotting, while an acquired taste, is very engaging. Both of them hosted this interesting practical panel on how to best travel to meets and conventions,how to find the best price, budgeting and hazards to be aware of. Even better, they provided a pretty comprehensive run down of the transport systems and routes to take getting to cons all across Europe and the US, including cons they've been to. While indulging in their hobby and imparting knowledge about their favourite varieties of train. What more could you want or expect from two veteran staff members of the London Underground?

This kills the tourist. But is a nice walk for anyone named Artyom.

13:00 – MLP and Gothic Media

While I felt this one suffered a little for the fact it was quite a niche look at the horse show, it nevertheless had an interesting take. Dr Pony explained things in his usual clear and crisp delivery style, as he had done at previous conventions on all manner of subjects from the perception of 'girly' things in the media to the history and development of fan conventions and their relation with creators using MLP and show staff as a model. He built on this further, to explain the link between girl-focussed media, fantasy, horror and gothic horror and aesthetic. This might be an explanation for just why young girls, at least if you believe the toys, have such a goddamn fascination with the macabre and creepy (aside from that being the natural state of little girls everywhere). And the seeming prevalence of black-and-pink combos.

Punk was a big, big link that helped bridge the gap, and there were a lot of shows with a gritty down to earth feel and a slight punk aesthetic emerging in the 1980s, geared to kids (or at least youths). This understandably let to subsequent media in the 1990s and beyond taking a more punk/pop feel. Combined with its increased retro appeal and the rise of toy collectors, all these four aspects merged to help create lots of gothic-but-bubblegum flavoured media, including the slightly darker 1980s MLP cartoon. The fact that there were certain live action shows with real life cartoon characters certainly (didn't) help, including their Saturday morning TV show feel, with gunge, papier mache props, and cartoon shenanigans. Only turned up to eleven. As seen here with Dr Pony in this shot, including the ever relevant Young Ones by and starring Rik Mayall down on the bottom left of photo two. Which most accurately represents the social scene for a group of cartoon horse enthusiasts.

Dr Pony talking about all the shows the cool kids got to watch. “I might be an old fart now, but at least I got to watch kids shows with a fucking explosives budget.” – Dr Pony allegedly.

14:00 – Cosplay Contest

Speaking of real life cartoon characters... Another event in the mane theatre. You know what to expect with this. There were about a dozen costumes on display. Not much, but for this size of event (attendance ~220) it was pretty good. You can't have everything. There were some amusing performances, a couple of fursuiters and a bit of improv comedy.

[pic: cosplay shit, find on the GRIFF website]

The cosplayers themselves, thanks to @Reskell492 on Twitter

15:00 – Interview with Voice Actor Ian Hanlin

No, not Ian Hislop – although that would be unequivocally based – but Ian Hanlin, the voice of Sunburst, everyone's favourite awkward and hapless librarian dwelling wizzard (who is also a horse). He was unable to come to the convention from his native Canada due to a change in the pandemic rules at the last minute. Presumably Prime Minister Trudeau was responsible for this, hoping that the honking of angered truckers would distract the Canadian press from his transatlantic jaunt to have a pissup with Boris Johnson. In blackface. Which is a good thing because his face without boot polish is actually more horrifying.

But not to worry! Ian was able to kindly appear by video link even though it was still very very early morning in the colonies. There were plenty of questions asked, and Ian spilled the beans on his early experiences in the voice acting industry, and how he ended up coming into contact with MLP and the fanbase. Plenty of insightful questions on things you wouldn't expect to know, including how he adapted his older roles to fit his newer roles.

Bleary-eyes and yet quite alert, he bravely ran the gauntlet for any hour to deal with out weirdness and very relevant questions, including the earth shattering revelation of who he thought best pony was. Then he went back to sleep in the dark. 


16:00 – Charity Auction

This was the other big event of the day. Despite the convention's size, yet again it managed to punch well above its weight in the charity stakes. There was all manner of lots to bid on, from exclusive merch, to fanart drawn specifically for the con, and a variety of other things signed by voice actors and other show creators. There were fan creations, noted pieces of convention memorabilia, and my personal favorite: random bits of tat.

The Charity in question was Only Foals and Horses, a charity over in Accrington founded over thirty years ago to save mares in foaling from the slaughter house, which nearly closed due to the pandemic. The auction raised £3310 for them overall. You can read about them here

I notice the guidebook says “there's always a chance that someone will bring in a real unicorn”. The guide notes that you cannot guarantee there will be a unicorn for MLP fans to bid on. At this point, this reporter would like to state that he can neither confirm nor deny that a brightly coloured unicorn was a bid at this auction, or any subsequent allegations involving the unicorn and any writers that may or may not have been present, from any panel show hosted by a Mr Hislop or otherwise.

Notable bids included:

  • Lot #13, a set of coasters featuring pony art that went for £600;

  • Lot #26, a roller banner from the previous convention (2019) for £390;

  • Lot #30, a 'brick that loves you' with eyes and voicebox for £45 (i.e. random tat);

  • Lot #31, a bad OC book from the creative corner earlier, for £35 (i.e. random tat);

  • A biro (more random tat);

They raised a lot of money with that tat.

I like tat.

We have no pic of the brick, so here's a griffin brick they also sold.

The coasters that went for £600. Quite a bidding war for this lot.

The Party

Of course, many people's main attraction was the evening line-up. This was a fun evening, and in the typical style of Europe's smallest con, it was a small, cosy affair. It felt more like a regular party with people you know than a full rave, which is fine. Though comparable to Rock Nessie at Bronyscot (and with a similar feel given that this year it moved to winter) in terms of size, with about 80 - 100 people attending out of around 220, attendance was high enough to feel like something larger such as at HarmonyCon. Even though you will see the usual crowd of extroverts and drunkards, making it very fun and familiar

This is helped further partly due to the clever use of the venue's dance floro also serving as the stage, allowing the audience to get right up close with the bands, making it feel smaller (and cosier) than it was. This made the crowd feel a bit bigger.

However, this is also like a minor drawback. Unlike Rock Nessie, where the dancefloor is half the size and the other half is seating on a higher level, this is a single dancefloor. There is more capacity for a feeling of emptiness when there is lower attendance and most people are sitting. I think it makes people feel less keen on dancing as they feel like the only ones out there! Though if I'm the only one out there it's for your safety, believe me. Not many people can get charged with affray across the border. In Reykjavik.

This was the case in the early sets with Blackened Blue and Coltastrophe (a day at a con can tire you out) but the music was enjoyable, and a variety of harder rock to to more convivial pub rock, which worked to help the comfy atmosphere in spite of this. It was a nice variety and good switching between older and newer songs for both. Blackened is still going strong, and holds a crowd well. Coltastrophe (minus Lewis due to personal reasons, sadly) still work well together mixing up their acts was a great way to keep things interesting.

BassPone3 was next, with some hard hitting bass heavy numbers including remixs of Cnady by S3RL and Sara, Inside Out by the Italobrothers, Her Lonely Mystique by Sakuraboi, Doki Doki Forever by OR3O, and superheroes by Maddix. He then moved on to more melodic numbers such as his own hits - Not Comin' Home, Ethereal Midnight, Pinkie Pie Style (feat Archie) – and then his harder, more signature tracks. Lovesick (feat. Viewtifulday), Unicorn Attack!, Cybernetic, and Eternity. These last three came with a ton of references to the new generation (G5) and one couldn't help but think of the coming year ahead and the hope that we were finally getting something new.

And of course, no pub rock concert would be complete without Prince Whateverer. As he turned up with a medley of old hits and new, he helped to bring the house down. The events were slightly out of order due to technical difficulties, but nevertheless the combination of his full blast songs, which got the entire crowd moving, and the euphoric hit of BassPon3, culminated in – what else? - Solidarity.

Pretty decent evening and I thoroughly recommend you go next year when you get the chance. There was a decent array of beers on tap – not many ciders, and the hotel bar didn't do much food – but there were plenty of takeaways in reach, and the beer wasn't too pricey.

Which is good, because you can't put a price on events like these.

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