Ben Powell speaks to Adam Mondon, touching on his involvement in various highly influential skateboard releases from Blueprint and beyond, his current endeavours to archive and preserve East Anglian skate history, and his life after working in skateboarding.
Interview by Ben Powell. Adam Mondon on a Harmony team building exercise, photo: Dave Dixon
A recurring theme running in most of the recent interviews I’ve worked on has been highlighting some of the untold stories from skateboard culture’s recent past. What began as nothing more than a chat between two friends about a recently unearthed classic U.K. skate video – Tough Guys, turned into five hours of conversation covering everything from Adam Mondon’s halcyon days working for Blueprint and filming First Broadcast, through to making cheese and ham sandwiches for Kareem Campbell and team managing The Detectorists.
So what’s the story with Tough Guys? Have you managed to locate the master copy finally?
Yeah, somehow: it’s been just one part of the whole lock down experience really which I saw as an opportunity to actually do some of the things on these lists I’ve been making in my head for the last twenty years. I thought, ‘well there’s never going to be another point in my life where I’m getting paid and have the freedom to do this so I better do it all now’.
I’d already started digitizing everything that I’ve ever filmed just before Corona virus happened; partly inspired by seeing that Milton Keynes project go down – all the old footage getting recaptured and whatnot. So yeah, that was my lockdown project I guess. Then we started the Book Club…
That’s the 01206 Book Club videos right?
Yeah, that started out as a conversation between Dave Dixon and Russ Cowling which then evolved into us all chatting on Zoom for no reason other than to preserve our sanity at the point where it was illegal to go outside. From the beginning we started recording it as we were having these Zoom chats, again as an attempt to have something less mental than the end of the world to focus on…
With a view to using it online at some point?
No, not really. It was just mates chatting about skating and East Anglian skate history at first but as we continued, the idea arose of editing these chats into something that we could share with other people. Again, this was mainly because at the time we, like everyone else in the UK, were pretty much locked in our houses. It developed from there, with us inviting other people from within the related skate scenes to join in with us.
It was great really, just to see and interact with other humans that have known each other for years and who have shared all this skate history together. Lots of these experiences hadn’t really been talked about by any of us before so that was definitely an upside to the lockdown experience.
There’s a large portion of UK skate history that hasn’t really been documented I suppose, outside of the memories of those people involved. This is something that has come up time and again in the more recent interviews that I’ve done: in the sense of it being really important to have a place to discuss this period so that the stories aren’t lost forever…
Absolutely, I agree. Not to over egg it in the sense of our experience being more significant than anyone else’s but as you say, there is a very specific period of time – late 80’s to early 90’s – which very much only exists in certain people’s memories and that motivated us to do the 01206 Book Club in the first place. From that, all this forgotten East Anglian video footage re-emerged. Carl Vance joined the Zoom chats, started talking about all this historical Ipswich skate stuff, and before we knew it we’d located the master tape of Tough Guys that had been lost for 25 years.
For the sake of context, I ought to interject here Adam, simply because the amount of people who will know a) what Tough Guys is and b) why it is significant in terms of UK skate history will be pretty small. For those of you reading, Tough Guys was an Ipswich scene video that came out in 1995 and introduced people like Frank Stephens and Ben Rodriguez (who later went on to have parts in the much feted UK independent classic Playing Fields) to the skate community at large.
When it came out it was pretty mind-blowing in so far as it contained a group of skaters who’d never had coverage in magazines but were doing things like backside kickflipping down the original Liverpool St double set. For the time of its release, the footage was shocking.
Well put Ben, to see unknown UK skaters doing things like that at a time when the best trick done down the Liverpool St double was a frontside 180 by Curtis McCann was genuinely mental. Especially back in the early 90’s when British footage was truly rare.
I’d always assumed that Frank Stephens would have a master copy somewhere, in a treasure chest buried in his mum’s garden or something
The skating on that VHS tape, (for those lucky enough to see it), was bonkers. What makes the mythos around Tough Guys even deeper is that, for whatever reason, it has never been online. Not even bits of it. Through doing the 01206 Book Club videos and discussing Tough Guys I managed to track down various people who had VHS copies of it but I’d always assumed that Frank Stephens would have a master copy somewhere, in a treasure chest buried in his mum’s garden or something…
(Laughing), you know exactly what I mean, Then randomly Ben Rodriguez said that he actually had the master tapes but because they were 25 years old they were covered in mould and mildew, (laughing). I’d previously had a similar problem and I’d bought a shit load of those little bags of silicone that you get with trainers and used them to dry my old VHS and Hi-8 tapes.
Ben drove over to my house during lockdown and gave me this huge bag of skate video history in my back garden and I used the same silicone bags to dry out all of his tapes. There was all kinds of stuff – the master tapes of Tough Guys, raw footage from the filming of Playing Fields, plus tons of promo’s they’d put together during that time that nobody had ever seen.
A huge haul of ‘lost media’ kind of?
Yeah it was great. I hadn’t seen Ben for probably ten years before this point and then there we were, in the middle of a global pandemic, exchanging mouldy VHS gold in my garden, (laughs). Very bizarre -since that point I’d made it my mission to start digitizing all this stuff and get it online after so long. It was a great excuse to catch up with Ben too after so long as well and chat about which direction our lives had gone in over the intervening years.
Can you give us a bit of background context on Tough Guys?
I can yes, mainly thanks to Carl Vance’s insanely detailed memory. It came out 25 years ago in 1995. It premiered on Saturday 15th July (laughing) at Ben Marr’s house in Ipswich. Interestingly enough, they’d made the precursor Ipswich video Kaboom only 8 months before this one and had gone straight into filming for Tough Guys. Again, looked at it historical context, it wasn’t really that common for skate scenes in the UK to be committed to filming on that level back in the 1990s…
Frank Stephens’ Ante upping backside flip closes Issue 2 of Sidewalk Surfer. Inset below – Frank ollies off a Suffolk College roof for Wig Worland
I remember getting a copy of it in the post to Rollersnakes when I worked there and us immediately making the decision to send Ben Rodriguez and Frank boards off the back of seeing their sections. I’m not over hyping the level of skating in it am I? I haven’t seen it for 20 years + either…
No I don’t think you are. Obviously there is a lot of nostalgia involved for me but it is genuinely really progressive, high level skating, even looked at from today’s perspective. Frank and Ben made the effort to send VHS copies out to different shops and to Horse and Wig as Sidewalk was just starting out. It definitely made waves even back then when the scene was tiny. If nothing else it started Rodriguez and Frank off on the whole sponsorship journey, closely followed by Carl Vance and Channon King.
People will have to decide for themselves when they watch the upload but I think it’s undeniable how much that whole Ipswich scene was on a mission at that point. Skating big rails, hitting up famous London spots, etc. It coincided with Dan Wolfe’s Eastern Exposure videos, early Toy Machine stuff, the beginnings of Sidewalk and something approaching a domestic sponsorship scene again.
Issue 2 of Sidewalk (Nov/Dec 95 – Mike Manzoori front board on the white hubba at Southbank cover) had a video grab sequence of Frank Stephens backside kickflipping Liverpool St double set. In the text below there was something about ‘look out for Frank and his mates from Ipswich in the next issue’. I’m assuming this meant that Horse and Wig had got a VHS copy of Tough Guys too.
Yeah that must’ve been the impetus for Andy and Wig coming to Ipswich and shooting the first Ipswich article – the one with Frank ollieing off the roof at the college.
I guess it must’ve made an impression on them as well. It was strange that Ipswich became this real hotspot for UK skating – it just happened. Loads of people who lived in the city were ripping and then lots of people (like me) who lived nearby or other parts of Essex would go there every weekend. For a town of its size it did have a lot of good spots.
Ipswich was blessed architecturally…
Oh yeah, especially given the period in street skating. It had loads of flat bars everywhere, good handrails, stairs and of course the undercover spot ‘Fisons’ that features really heavily in Tough Guys. I think that one spot probably played a huge part in nurturing the Ipswich scene of the time. Perfect smooth floor, under cover, lit at night and with a variety of ledges, drops and stairs.
That place is definitely partly responsible for the level of skating that was happening in Ipswich at that point. At this point there were only two indoor skateparks in the entire country and there’s Ipswich with a rainproof street spot that was lit all night. You didn’t have to ring people to see if people were going to be out skating – there would always be people at Fisons, no matter when you went.
You had the Wilshire of Ipswich too, the stairs, banks and handrails at Crown Pools…
(Laughing), exactly: that spot was literally around the corner from Frank’s house so it was pretty much his personal training ground. It was a 2-minute walk away for him, so it’s no surprise that he’s had some much coverage skating Crown Pools throughout his life. You’re right though – the spots absolutely played a huge part in drawing so many other skaters to Ipswich, myself included. That period also coincided with Matt Fowler and Joe Habgood moving to Norwich and Nik Taylor started to become well known.
Ben Rodriguez Backside 50-50 for Wig / Channon King Frontside 50-50 for Andy Horsley. Sidewalk Surfer Ipswich Expedition
Matt (Fowler) and Habgood were already known skaters at that point, both of having been on the cover of R.a.D magazine, so maybe them arriving helped to shine a spotlight on Ipswich too?
Yeah, it’d be interesting to know how they heard about Ipswich early on because both of them would travel over from Norwich to skate. Didn’t Rollersnakes start sending Habgood and Fowler boards off the back of footage that they sent to you of them skating in Norwich during this period?
Yeah, that’s right…
That again goes back to what we were talking about earlier about the rarity of cameras and footage back then. Maybe because Ipswich had a few older guys like Julien Sharp who had decent jobs and could afford cameras at a point where they were still prohibitively expensive for younger skaters. Filming was just an embedded part of the scene in Ipswich in a way that was nearly unheard of outside of London back in the early 1990s.
Frank once told me a story about how they worked out what fish eyes were by watching the shadow of [Daniel Harold] Sturt follow filming in the Life video…
(Laughing), it sounds crazy but there were no other ways to find out things like that back then. You couldn’t look it up on the Internet and there was no skate industry person to ask why ‘our footage doesn’t look like American footage’. Frank’s brother worked for British Telecom back then and for some completely bizarre reason they had a video-editing suite in their office.
I know: completely odd but they did. The exact details of why it was there escape me now but the early Ipswich skate videos, the ones that were talking about here and that launched Frank Stephens etc were editing using British Telecom equipment. In fact, on one of the earliest Ipswich videos it says ‘Big thanks to British Telecom’ in the end credits (laughing). You couldn’t make it up, could you?
People reading this will probably associate your name with filming and editing because of your involvement with Blueprint, First Broadcast, etc. Were you already filming at the point when you first moved to Ipswich in the early ’90s?
Not really. I might have filmed the odd thing for Tough Guys, or some of the older Ipswich videos, but I definitely wasn’t looking at it as me being “a filmer”.
Plus, back then, the idea of not skating and just filming wasn’t really part of our experience. The camera would be passed around and everybody would film at different points. If you could hold a camera and point it towards the skater then you were filming. Being around Ipswich whilst Tough Guys was being made is definitely my first experience of the process though. Seeing people commit time to trying to do specific tricks, seeing which tricks were used and which weren’t, being filmed myself, picking music, etc.
I found it fascinating. Retrospectively that must have been when my desire to get more involved in filming and making videos was first sparked. I got my first camera, a bloody great 8mm thing and started to get my head around actively trying to make a skate video. With me being friends with Channon King (we’d met each other in Ipswich despite living close to each other), I really learned how to use a video camera by filming him.
Channon King Backside Tailslides at Suffolk College. Photo: Andy Horsley
You grew up in Halstead where Faze 7 Distribution was based, did that mean that you had some access to the skate industry as a youngster?
Not really, I knew it was there and I had friends who lived closer to Faze than I did but that was about it. I do remember hearing a rumour that Pat Duffy was in the White Hart in Halstead having a pint. My friends and I went down there and hung around in the carpark trying to look through the windows and it turned out that Pat Duffy was in there drinking, (laughing).
This would’ve been early Plan B days I guess and Joe Burlo (owner of Faze 7 distribution) must’ve had them over. There were a bunch of other World Industries riders in the pub too but I forget which ones. We didn’t have enough courage to go into the pub and say anything to Pat Duffy, in fact I was probably too young to even go in there at that point. (Laughing). To answer your question – I knew Faze 7 was there but I had no real understanding of the fact that so much skate history/industry was happening in my little Essex town…
Somewhat ironic that you ended up working for Faze 7 some year later on…
Yeah but my awareness of what Faze 7 was developed through my friendship with Simon Burlo (Joe Burlo’s son) and staying at his house where the business was situated. Simon and I became really close friends and I ended up filming him quite often because he was a really good skater. Some years later I ended up working for his dad at Faze 7, which again in retrospect probably seems inevitable.
Isn’t it a shame that Pat Duffy and co didn’t end up visiting Ipswich at that point? Crown Pools rails and peak-era Duffy would’ve been interesting.
Yeah, I have thought that too. I guess it just wasn’t a place on the map in terms of demos and what have you. There was no skatepark back then either.
My friends and I went down there and hung around in the carpark trying to look through the windows and it turned out that Pat Duffy was in there drinking
You made a bunch of East Anglian scene videos in the 90s under the Meathead moniker – that was you and David ‘Shrew’ Underwood, right?
That’s right. This would be late 90s onwards. Those Meathead videos were my first foray into making skate videos in a semi-serious way. We all had exactly the same Hi-8 cameras with the Jessops semi fisheye adapters that everyone used to run. I’ve still got one of those in my house as it goes. The one that gave you the crazy vignette – I still think the footage from that set up looks great today. As I was digitizing the Hi-8 stuff I was expecting it to look shit but it doesn’t: the colours are really vivid, the £30 Jessops lens does the trick. Maybe it’s nostalgia, I don’t know.
This is what I love about Instagram–there’s an outlet for all this 20-year-old footage. So much of the footage I’ve rediscovered either never got used originally or ended up being wasted on some DVD extra that nobody ever watched. Anyway, back to the point – Meathead Films – I was in Halstead, Channon was in Sudbury and Shrew was in Colchester and then we had the Ipswich connection so we just started to collaborate and make videos together.
Wasn’t Shrew’s dad some kind of computer boffin, which meant you had early access to (for the time) very high spec editing software?
Yeah I can’t remember his exact job but he got us an editing set up together that we’d never have had access to otherwise. The hardware alone would’ve been massively expensive back then, not that we knew. We were blissfully unaware but because of Dave’s father’s connections in the computer programming world we went from glorified VHS-to-VHS editing, to a precursor of modern editing. We were given a room with a state-of-the-art edit suite and left to get on with it. Looking back, it was unbelievable…
At that point there were only a handful of people in UK skating who had computer editing capabilities – Faze 7, Alan Glass, John Cattle, Simon Kotowicz (who provided the equipment to edit Playing Fields) and a couple of others. People just didn’t have personal computers/editing software at that point…
I’ve got a great story about John Cattle but we’ll come back to that later. Yeah, you’re right though – we were given an amazing opportunity to experiment with editing our footage in the way that you can now, as opposed to the tape-to-tape method where once you’ve laid it out, that’s it. We were able to create timelines like you can today, render edits out, and then change it if we wanted to. This is probably 1999; I remember that because we used to watch Puzzle VHS tapes whilst we were waiting 2 hours for these 2-minute long edits to render.
At this point the only way of getting skate videos out to the wider world after making them was on VHS tapes, right?
Yeah, the Meathead videos we did were all released on VHS. Looking back now it does seem silly that we had access to this fairly futuristic editing equipment but then had to rely on the outdated VHS format to allow anyone but us to watch the vids. We distributed it all ourselves too, got the VHS delivered to Dave’s house, packaged them up and sent them out to shops and magazines, and then to people who ordered copies (of Ex Rental in particular) off the back of you reviewing it in Sidewalk.
What was the impetus behind you making the Meathead videos? There was definitely a ‘get sponsored’ element to the early Ipswich scene videos that we’ve discussed already, was there a similar motivation behind your own videos?
Not as much, not to say that Frank and co were entirely motivated by ‘getting sponsored’ – the Ipswich videos they made were as much about documenting their scene for its own sake but, due to the level of skating on Tough Guys etc they were sponsor-me tapes by default if not by design. The videos that myself and Dave were making didn’t really have that same subtext – we just wanted to show more of what was happening in our scene. What we did was off the back of Tough Guys and Playing Fields, which had come out a few years before. Similar motivation really – we knew we had really good skaters in our friendship group so it made sense to get everyone together and film more.
There was definitely a feeling of momentum around that late 90’s period where lots of people seemed to think ‘well there have hardly been any UK videos so it’s time to redress that’ simultaneously.
That’s very true. More people started to get cameras and get interested in making videos. That helped us with what we were doing because everyone was hungry to film for any decent project. It was a natural progression to start doing what we did. It just became a bit more organized and nationally facing than perhaps it would’ve otherwise.
Can you remember anything in terms of numbers of VHS tapes you sold? Of say Ex Rental?
Not exactly, but I think it was around 250 copies. Doesn’t sound that much these days but considering that this was 1999 and we’re talking about an East Anglian scene video – we were stoked. I’m sure someone told me that Playing Fields sold around a 1000 VHS copies when it came out and that was probably one of the first really high quality independent national skate videos ever made in the UK. We might have done a second run of Ex Rental too, because there was a demand for it.
Plus, as with Playing Fields and the other VHS releases of the time, on top of the number of original copies circulating, there must have been just as many dubbed copies too. This is just before the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater boom as well, so the UK skate scene was still very small at the time. We ended up getting Ex Rental in the Hoax shops around here and I think Rollersnakes and a few other shops outside Suffolk/Essex stocked them.
You mentioned Hoax – I remember those shops being quite a big deal at the time…
Oh yeah, Hoax was massively influential for the scene in my area. For those who don’t know: Hoax was owned by a guy called Lee Minter who originally had a surf/skate shop in Ipswich – there wasn’t much else in the town at that point so his shop became a bit of a focal point for the scene. He wanted to expand and things just naturally grew. He was a really nice guy who wanted to get more involved in the skate scene – a second shop opened up in Colchester, they did the Shorty’s homage shirts that people might remember. Those were massive in Essex/East Anglia at that point.
You worked there too, didn’t you?
I did yeah, that came about through just speaking to Lee who owned Hoax about getting sponsorship from him to do videos or something. From there I naturally ended up working in both of the two shops, struck up a relationship with him and made a Hoax promo video with Dave (Underwood) after we’d done Ex Rental. That then meant that myself and other people formed friendships with other skaters from across Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. Hoax was massive at that point.
Didn’t Kareem Campbell come to Hoax?
(Laughing), yep, Kareem visited on an Axion tour. The way I remember that happening was that it was during the time where I’d started filming for Blueprint. Faze 7 were distributing Axion footwear at that point and because Joe Burlo was paying my wages, he wanted me to drive the van, take them around, film and just generally look after Kareem and co.
That must’ve been a pretty mad experience.
Yep, it definitely was. I picked them up off a ferry, somewhere random like Harwich, (laughing). So British: it was Kareem, Mikey Taylor, Lee Smith, Enrique Lorenzo and a couple of others. We were staying in a Travel Lodge in Bristol, sharing a big family room, (laughing), full money-saving antics. It’s weird the memories that stick out from it.
Who would’ve thought that one day I’d be getting paid to make packed lunches for Kareem Campbell?
There was one day where we were looking to get food before a demo, the deal was that we could go anywhere and get anything they wanted. For some reason Kareem was dead set on having ham and cheese baguettes, (laughs). That led to me stopping at a service station and buying all the necessary ingredients for Kareem’s sandwiches. I’m sitting there whilst they’re all of smoking or whatever, putting these baguettes together. Who would’ve thought that one day I’d be getting paid to make packed lunches for Kareem Campbell?
Kareem had a reputation for being really nice.
Oh yeah, Kareem was lovely, they all were. It was so laidback and a proper laugh. We ended up in Ipswich for a demo, partly because of my connection to Hoax and the fact that they sold a lot of Axion and partly because it was near to Faze 7. They did a demo at the then new Ipswich skatepark, then back to the Hoax TF afterwards for a private sesh and some more ham and cheese baguettes, (laughing).
Do you still have that footage?
Weirdly I don’t know where it is. Maybe I gave it Lee (from Hoax) or to Joe for Faze 7 purposes. I don’t have it though. It was truly very surreal experience, especially looked at from today’s perspective where tours are extremely rare. I can’t imagine Kareem just turning up in Colchester these days. He was just so nice though, that’s my enduring memory of it. Well, that and cheese and ham sandwiches.
Adam on the other side of the lens. Roof gap pop shuvit back in the hoax days. Photo: Andrew Stark
After your time working for Hoax you went on to work for Blueprint – was your official job role to be one of the main filmers for the team?
I’m not sure it was ever really specified like that. In a sense I suppose I worked for Faze 7 distribution but my main responsibilities were Blueprint related, alongside Dan (Magee). In order for that role to justify itself, I did do other more general Faze 7 related things. Also because I was living near to the office I’d go in and talk with Joe about new releases, put rider packages together for Blueprint, help out with tours like the Axion one that we’ve already talked about.
The main purpose of me working there was to film Blueprint riders but there were other duties that I needed to do as well to justify the wage as filming is never a regular hours type of job as we all know.
Was the genesis of you getting the Blueprint job connected to Channon and you going to SF and filming the footage that ended up in WFTW?
Yeah that’s right. That trip predates me working for Blueprint. I was involved in making the Meathead skate videos we’ve discussed in 1998 – 99 and living in Ipswich at that point. This is where John Cattle comes into the picture as far as my future career as a filmer was concerned. He was making the Viewfinder videos at the time and was looking for people to contribute footage.
I wanted to step up my filming game and start getting involved in more nationally minded videos. In order to do that I knew that I needed to get hold of better camera equipment (i.e. the VX1 and the Century ‘Death lens’) which was out of my league budget-wise at the time. Somehow I’d heard on the grapevine that John (Cattle) had inherited some money so, in a move that seems completely insane to me now, I just rang him up and asked if I could borrow enough money to buy a VX set up.
Did you know him at this point?
No, I’d never met him. He agreed to loan me the money off the back of that phone call and an agreement that I’d give him a certain amount of the footage that I filmed for the Viewfinder videos. Completely bonkers looking back on it – what a legend! I remember him transferring me the money and going down to Tottenham Court Road and buying the camera – I was so stoked…
So you got the full golden VX1000 and Mark 1 lens rig straight away?
Oh yeah, the whole lot in one go – obviously I had no idea how to use it, but it felt incredible to hold it in my hands. I bought it because Channon King and I already had tickets to fly out to SF, paid for by the late 90s iteration of Converse, to film for what would become WFTW. Pete Turvey was working for Converse at the time and he hooked it up – paid for Channon’s and my flight…
Wait, you’d got Converse to pay for you to fly out to San Francisco to film? That was pretty unheard of at that point, surely?
Yeah, especially as I think he’d bought the ticket before I even had the camera, (laughing). ‘Right, so I’ve got the ticket to SF, all I need to do now is convince somebody I’ve never met to lend me two grand to buy the camera I’ve said I already have’: proper seat of your pants stuff. Anyway, I got the camera, met up with Dan (Magee) who showed me the basics of how to use it; the settings he used, etc. Potentially I was on my way out there to film Channon for the Blueprint video so there was a fair bit of pressure for me not to fuck it up. I was on the flight to SF for six weeks with Channon almost immediately after meeting Dan.
Six weeks! No wonder you and Channon had such a problematic ‘friendship’ at times.
(Laughing), yeah it probably played a part although we were close friends at that point. It was my first ever flight, we got hammered on the plane and then arrived to the realization that Channon hadn’t actually organised anywhere for us to stay. He’d been out the previous year to stay with Judd Hertzler and in true Channon fashion just assumed that he’d be able to stay there again without sorting anything out.
We get to the airport, Channon calls up Judd and goes, “Hi, we’re here – can we come and stay at your house?” We end up staying with him and his girlfriend for a week before he pulled the plug on that one. Judd put us onto some of his mates Reggie and Sam who were amazing and let us stay at their house for five weeks for free. It was a brilliant experience – hanging out in Berkley, skating and filming every day – just the proper SF skater’s dream really.
Channon has that sick line at the Berkley tennis court banks in WFTW – I’ve always wanted to skate that place; John Deago, Ron Allen, Natas – all the footage there is so iconic…
It’s as good as you imagine it to be. We spent a lot of time at the banks, as there were only 5 minutes away from where we were living so we’d go there every single day. Berkley was ace, just a really pleasant, mellow, easy area to be in. There were a lot of spots in that area and with Channon’s skate mindset being the way it was we ended up stumbling across some much skateable stuff that perhaps hadn’t been skated before. We did go into SF proper as well but most of the footage that ended up in his WFTW part was from Berkley.
It was a brilliant experience – hanging out in Berkley, skating and filming every day – just the proper SF skater’s dream really
Is this the 3rd and Army era of SF?
Yeah, that was still a relatively new spot then. We went there on the bus and saw Greco rock up in his full Piss Drunx outfit. He turned up, looked at what the spot was, drank a coffee, threw the dregs on the ledges and stormed off in disgust. Very odd behaviour: sort of what you’d expect seeing how he turned out I suppose. Cairo Foster was there that day as well. I poached some footage of him that ended up on a Hoax video some time later. It was great to see him in his prime, as I was a big fan of his skating. Channon and I never filmed anything at that spot but it wasn’t really his deal to film tricks at big name spots. We both just actually enjoyed skating all the famous SF spots instead.
Quite a heavy experience for your first proper filming trip…
Yeah absolutely, there was pressure to produce on both of us that had never been a part of my experience of filming before. Channon really wanted to get enough footage to have a decent section on the Blueprint video too so yeah it felt ‘proper’ in that sense.
He definitely put a huge amount of pressure on himself but the self-hatred thing has always been his fuel really. He was so particular about the type of spots he wanted to film on and how he wanted tricks to look. He had that hypercritical approach way, way back. We had plenty of arguments but it was an amazing trip – I have so many great memories of the fun we had out there.
It does really predate the ‘shoe brand filming holiday’ that subsequently became the norm in UK skate media…
Yeah we were very lucky to get the opportunity. It was just this weird confluence of factors coming together despite it seeming really unlikely. That was the point where I started to think of myself a filmer in the modern sense, in so far as people were actually spending brand money to let me point a fish eye at skateboarding. It made me focus on being the best I could be and taking the whole thing very seriously. We filmed a hell of a lot over that six-week period so it was a very quick fire lesson in using the VX1000. We had the weather, the spots and people paying for us to do it so there was no reason not to go all in.
Were you capturing the footage on a laptop each night?
No, this is long before that was the routine. We’d just watch it back on the camera. That would’ve been a total no-no only a year or so later. There was no backing anything up; the tapes were just bouncing around in my bag the whole time. If I’d been robbed we would’ve been screwed.
I was terrified of using my first proper camera in public at first, these days it doesn’t have the same impact but back then a VX1 was a hugely expensive bit of kit to have out in public and it definitely attracted unwanted attention.
I was scared of getting robbed at points in SF for sure and later on in the UK. Dan got robbed for his VX1 at knifepoint at that rail in Ladbroke Grove that everyone used to film at so we all knew it could happen. Sketchy.
Did you get the Blueprint job straight after this Berkley trip?
It feels like that yes. WFTW came out in 2000 so the turn around on the stuff I’d filmed was pretty fast. Dan checked the footage I’d got with Channon, was happy with it, and then I just carried on filming Blueprint riders. It was quite a natural process as I remember it.
At what point did it go from you being Channon’s mate who filmed him to you being the dude driving the van and filming the whole Blueprint team?
That happened really quickly and before I knew it I was always out and about with the Blueprint lads. Around the same kind of time Dan had decided that he wanted to do something else video-wise, something distinct from a Blueprint video, which ended becoming First Broadcast.
That was the first video that you made alongside Dan where you were equally as involved in, right? Rather than being someone who contributed footage.
Yeah, it was our thing. Dan was living with Chris Massey who was doing stuff with Organic – the precursor to Landscape, so Chris was in the mix from the outset of First Broadcast as well. It was intended to be a Playing Fields kind of idea, just with the high production values Dan established with Waiting For The World. The intention behind First Broadcast, from the beginning was to not have any bias about which company people rode for. It was more a showcase for “the best” of British skating as we saw it.
I can’t recall the exact timeline but during the time we started working on First Broadcast – this must be late 2000 – I became employed by Faze 7 Distribution/Blueprint full time. Joe Burlo was brought into the mix around that point too, after not being in the know about the project until then. By that point, First Broadcast was already happening so it was a case of Dan and I explaining the concept to Joe in a way that made financial sense to him. Given that Dan and I were on Faze 7’s payroll despite it not technically being a Blueprint video.
It was a really enjoyable project though, bringing all these disparate but connected skaters together, to create this showcase of all kinds of people. Unabomber riders, Organic riders, Blueprint riders and more.
It’s still rightly celebrated as probably the best independent UK skate video of all time.
That’s a nice thing to say.
It’s true. The filming, the editing, the soundtrack; wasn’t it the first UK video to have a fully cleared soundtrack as well?
Well our mission statement was that it had to be the best thing we could possibly make to represent all the people involved in it. That included the music too.
I’ve always been heavily into music so I took it upon myself to try and connect with all the U.K. artists – the whole soundtrack is UK artists – we wanted to have on there to see if we could do it legitimately.
It just fit the idea behind the project, plus at that stage you could still make the honest argument that people who watched the video would then go out and buy music from those artists involved. Skate videos have definitely made record companies a lot of money over the years.
Were you the person contacting labels and bands then?
Well Colin (Kennedy) and Rattray had some connections with a few WARP artists, which meant that I had a way in there but beyond that, I just cold called people. One of my favourite bands of the time was Mogwai so it was incredible to get them to agree to be involved – that was slightly easier though as one of the band members was a skater (Stuart Braithwaite). We wanted to clear it all and make it 100% legit, which was a steep learning curve – the whole music-licensing thing.
That must’ve been the first time that had ever been done in the UK, surely?
I would’ve thought so, nobody really cared about it beforehand as the numbers of VHS copies being made were so small and UK skate culture was totally under the mainstream radar. We could’ve probably got away with not clearing the music but Blueprint was big enough at that point for labels to have somebody financially worthy to pursue I suppose. It cost money to do it legitimately but it was worth it for the amount of copies we sold. Everything was above board, all the labels knew exactly how many copies we were going to make etc.
How many copies did you sell?
We did three runs of it so it would’ve been in the multiple thousands, all the labels were cool with that and some even let us use their music for free because they liked the video. We did a premiere in Scotland and the guys from Mogwai turned up which gave me goose bumps and anxiety that they’d think it was shit…
It must be one of the most widely bought UK videos of all time too, right?
Yeah I guess so, we’re probably talking at the very least 5000 physical VHS copies, maybe more, which for me was an unthinkable amount to sell. It was on VHS too, right on the cusp of the switch to DVD and long before everything went straight online. It relates to what we started off talking about, how so much of that skate history that only ever existed on VHS tapes ended up being lost. It’s cool that there’s a full quality version up on the Free site.
First Broadcast was made during the ‘generator and lights’ craze – that was a nightmare wasn’t it? Pretty much attracting every smackhead or shady bastard in a mile wide radius as soon as you turned those things on…
(Laughing) oh God yeah, it wasn’t ideal. Having the generator definitely resulted in a lot of footage and it was a good hype thing for the people skating, well until they realised that they’d be stuck trying the same trick till 5am until the petrol ran out or we got attacked. I did end up hating the bloody thing by the end of First Broadcast. But then on the other hand, we got to do things like light up Fairfields at 2 in the morning which obviously looked amazing, despite the omnipresent fear of getting robbed.
Dan absolutely pushed that whole thing and it caught on for a good few years after that. The negative to it was that having lights meant there was no down time – there was no excuse to stop filming, which was draining at times. Plus we had kids like Nick Jensen at the time who wanted to film 24-7, which was fine as it was their time, but it just meant that entire days would get eaten up.
You were filming in central London and what not at night – did you ever have any bad consequences due to using lights at night?
Personally no, it was something I was anxious about but nothing bad ever happened. If anything it made lurkers more interested than anything else. I think they thought we were making a TV show or something so assumed we had security guards, (laughs). Lights and noise though – not really things your average street robber wants.
Didn’t somebody pull a gun on you whilst you were filming?
Oh God yeah, here’s me saying nothing bad ever happened to me: that was on a Transworld Blueprint trip to Athens. We were skating some amazing marble spot near a car showroom outside of Athens. Some guy came out screaming at us in Greek, I tried to calm him down with the ‘one more go’ lie. Before any of us had chance to work out what was going on, he’d pulled out a gun and was waving it in my face telling us in Greek to ‘fuck off before I shoot you’. We ran for our lives basically, ran up the street and hid under cars until we felt safe enough to come out and leave the area.
Thankfully there was no generator involved in that one because had there been it would’ve been left at the spot without a second thought. I can still remember the look on Brian Ueda’s face (TWS photographer) – like his skeleton had just jumped out of his skin in pure terror, (laughing). That was a hideous experience.
First Broadcast was mainly filmed in the UK wasn’t it?
Yeah, there were a few Barcelona trips but that was standard back then. A lot of the time I’d be back in Ipswich filming Frank.
Frank Stephens – Pop shove outside the Wolsey theatre. Sidewalk issue 74 / Nov 2002. Photo: Wig Worland
We should probably talk about this really – Franklin has produced so many incredible video parts (and still is) but the FB one is pretty special. All the tricks down those horrible stairs outside the Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich. That spot is awful…
Yeah another spot that only Frank ever wanted to skate. Awful surface; a run up around a corner; massive amounts of pedestrians to deal with and then when you finally got to it, a huge set of stairs to jump down. He did a lot of crazy shit there – the frontside and backside flips down the stairs, the pop shove it that was on the cover of Sidewalk and the 50-50 on the ungrindable wall at the side of the stairs. God only knows how he made that work – Frank is a lunatic.
He did both of those tricks with minimal fuss somehow. The backside flip was on Jon Minta’s board after he snapped his own. Mental. If somebody did any of those tricks there today, 20 years later, they’d still be incredible.
It’s time we venture into “where’s the fisheye angle of Vaughan Baker’s backside nollie flip at London Bridge?” territory…
I was waiting for it: the never-ending Magee nause up [laughs].
I still follow a lot of people in skating, on Instagram, and whenever I see that Vaughan clip I just know Dan is going to twist the knife again. He can’t help himself. I usually give it about 12 hours. By then, I’ll be tagged into any post of that trick either by him, or he’s got someone else to tag me.
Knowing what he’s like, I just know he’ll have messaged anyone who’s posted that trick. “But do you know what really happened to the other angle?”
Honestly, man. Let it go. It’s twenty years ago. It is hilarious though. Over the years, I tried to avoid acknowledging it – when I was younger, I mean. Now I’m bloody 43, I’m a parent, I don’t give a shit that I fucked up the filming of a skateboard trick, two decades ago. I’ll happily own up to it.
Go on then.
Just the classic filmer fuck up. I can still picture the red button on the side of the VX now.
Loads of people were skating London Bridge, it wasn’t just Vaughan, so it was hectic. Record, stop, wait for the next person, record, stop. I pressed record but I must’ve pressed it so quickly that it went to stop record mode instead. “Reverse filming” as people used to call it. The camera needs to buffer for a couple of seconds between modes so no matter how quickly I’d realised what I’d done and pressed record again, it wouldn’t be quick enough to catch the trick. Vaughan was right at the top [of the stairs] by that point.
I just went through the motions of filming it fisheye knowing it wasn’t recording. You can see me in the long lens footage. I’m literally watching Vaughan do one of the best tricks of his life through the viewfinder whilst being fully aware of the fact that recording is not happening. To Dan’s credit, his angle was great. In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t really matter.
Perhaps it wouldn’t be as iconic a piece of footage if it had been from both angles, like most of the other hammers in First Broadcast.
True. I can see both points of view. Honestly, I think Dan’s angle looks incredible. The way it pans up the buildings to that advertising hoarding with ‘Perpetual’ on it – what a perfect way to end the video.
Then on the other hand, as Magee would no doubt be quick to point out, “Yeah, but you fucked up the fisheye angle”.
How quickly did you own up?
Oh, immediately. I couldn’t avoid it because as soon as Vaughan rode away, everyone came running up to watch the footage. It’s the worst feeling. Anyone who has spent any time filming skateboarding will know just how crushing that is. Someone is so stoked they’ve landed something then you have to burst their balloon and admit you’ve missed it. Even Magee has done it. In terms of a trick to fuck up on, that’s pretty pinnacle isn’t it? People still talk about that backside nollie flip. He couldn’t have done it any better.
Everyone came running over to me, so happy, wanting to see the fish angle. I told them that I’d missed it so everybody slowly wandered over to Magee, heads down, in silence, [laughs]. Ridiculous looking back. I apologised and it was fine.
Well, with everyone aside from Dan clearly. He will never, ever, let it lie. I look forward to many more years of being reminded of missing that one.
Vaughan Baker’s closing trick in First Broadcast, filmed by Dan Magee and not by Adam Mondon.
Am I correct in thinking that you were at least in part responsible for ‘discovering’ Chewy Cannon?
Yeah in part – not just me, Greg King (another Great Yarmouth local) filmed a lot of Chewy early on before he was sponsored too. I went on a Blueprint trip to Finland and I took a DV tape from Greg of Chewy that I took with me to show everyone. I can remember sitting in the hotel room watching it with Dan and saying how he should put him on because he had something special to him. He switch frontside boardslid the handrail at Crown Pools in Ipswich and a bunch of other great stuff. That was kind of the clincher with him joining Blueprint as I recall.
When did the Blueprint job come to an end for you? Before Lost and Found came out?
Yeah, it must’ve been during the filming of Lost and Found because I’d started up The Harmony by the time Lost and Found premiered in London. We’d been on our first Harmony trip by then so I’d stopped working for Blueprint by then. I do have some footage in Lost and Found but not that much as Ches (Neil Chester) had taken over by then. I’ve thought of a few things as we’ve been talking actually…
Well it’s interesting actually how you’ve referred to First Broadcast as being a collaborative effort between Dan and I because I’ve found over the years that it’s generally referred to as Dan’s thing. I mean, I don’t want to sound sour about it, but to a certain extent my involvement in it has been airbrushed out of skate history. Part of that is inevitable really as by default it became a Blueprint-related thing through Faze 7 distributing it and because of that people associate it solely with Dan. So thanks for giving me an opportunity to blow my own trumpet a little bit here, (as awkward as it’s making me feel).
Still to this day First Broadcast is one of the pieces of work that I’m most proud of. We really did the best possible job that we could’ve done really. To Dan’s credit, that was pretty much all him with me sitting there because Dan was undeniably a brilliant editor so it made sense to give him free reign.
Well that’s part of the reason why I wanted to do this in the first place to be honest.
I don’t want people to think I’ve spent 20 years shaking my fists at the sky and shouting ‘Bastards!’ or anything but yeah, it’s nice to get a chance to talk about it from my perspective so thank you.
It’s a very important video culturally, for a whole lot of reasons – not least because it was the first time that people like Frank had the chance to be filmed on higher quality equipment with production values on a level established by WFTW.
That was very much part of the reason we wanted to do it. Not because we thought that Unabomber videos weren’t good, because they were amazing, but we just wanted to take the opportunity to show how incredible skaters like Frank, Ali Cairns and Mark Channer were in that format and with the resources that Dan/Blueprint had established, if that makes sense? Anything that Dan has made has always been brilliant but from the inside, the experience of working alongside him was sometimes a bit…challenging (laughing). Definitely a weird dynamic at times that you just had to go along with because you knew the end result would be worth it.
Did you and Dan make money from the sales of First Broadcast, or were you just being paid wages as employees?
No, we came to an arrangement with Burlo so that we made money from the sales of the video too. I think it was three-way split on VHS sales. Like you said earlier, it probably was the best selling UK VHS skate video of all time. It was sold all over the world too through Blueprint’s distribution network. It must’ve had an effect on Blueprint product sales too I guess.
Mark Baines, Vaughan Baker, Adam Mondon, Paul Shier & Nick Jensen on the risky TWS trip to Athens
It seems odd that you’d decide to leave that job at such a high point, especially as you must have at least started working on Lost and Found, which would go on to be hailed as Blueprint’s high point…
Well me leaving was down to a few things and I’m not sure if it’s ever really been spoken about in previous interviews with Dan or whoever about that time. Basically I got to a point where I had to quit because what had been sold to me as a ‘chance of life time’ frankly didn’t really turn out that way, (laughs).
That Blueprint job (like any paid job in the ‘skate industry’ at the time) was sold as a dream come true – you know, being paid to do what you love and all that. What happened though was that I ended up stuck as a middleman between Joe Burlo and Dan who both had very different agendas so I had to try and balance that. There were two very strong personalities at work there, which was quite stressful to deal with at times.
Did you feel as though you were stuck between a rock and hard place at times?
Yeah I’d say so. I think it was an open secret about Blueprint amongst all the riders that one of the fuels of its success was the huge amount of pressure that everyone put on themselves – particularly where filming was concerned. Looking back on it from today’s perspective, some of the situations and things that were said, which were laughed off at the time, were probably a bit much really. Especially given the ages of those people being put under that pressure to perform…
Back in that era I think everyone who was filming on a ‘serious’ level (myself included) thought nothing of pushing younger skaters really hard.
Oh yeah, it was definitely a prevalent attitude throughout skate culture as a whole back then – the VX1 ruled all (laughing).
I understood the logic behind using those tactics too because it did get results in terms of footage, which in turn created careers for a lot of the people we’re referring to, but at the same time, there was a lot of stress involved. Maybe it was just that nobody really saw it as such at that point because the end goal of making great skate videos seemed to justify the means.
Do you think this is just hindsight talking though?
Maybe, but then I think of things like those SMILE interviews from the Ben Raemers Foundation, particularly the one with Nick (Jensen). He talks in that about the pressure he felt and the mental anguish he used to go through as a young kid. I saw a lot of that first hand because I was on those trips. Looking at it now, particularly from the perspective of being a parent, it’s clear that those types of behaviours, which were just dismissed by everyone back then as people ‘tweaking out’, were actually indicative of serious mental health issues.
In terms of that drive to push UK skating in a way that hadn’t really happened since Deathbox/Flip you mean?
Exactly that yes: if you think back to that era – it was a point where the videos and mags in the USA were full of the likes of Arto and Tosh Townend – young kids skating massive rails and all that. It was all new territory and the level of danger involved necessarily meant that the mental pressure (from within and without) got ramped up to unprecedented levels. I think for UK skaters of that time, particularly those in the public eye with two huge UK magazines needing content every month – there must’ve been a lot of stress and pressure for people like Nick or Brady or whoever who were in that position.
It’s similar to what I said about my job – the prevailing attitude was definitely, “this is a dream come true – don’t question it – jump down those stairs.” From today’s perspective, as a person right in the midst of that, I saw so much anxiety from all those people involved – teenagers unable to sleep because they’re obsessively thinking about getting footage, etc. Nobody had the facility to really see that for what it clearly was…
Plus culturally, there was no space to discuss the mental health implications of sponsorship back then. That’s only just starting to happen now more than a decade after the period you’re talking about.
It goes back to the stories you’d hear about Mike Ternasky I suppose from the earlier era – of skaters just walking away from careers because they couldn’t handle the pressure involved. If you think of the context of that time as well, there was an adversarial atmosphere to an extent – Sidewalk versus Document, Death versus Blueprint, etc, etc. This is why I felt that I had no option but to quit and get away from that.
Was there any particular catalyst or was it cumulative?
I do remember being in Paris on a trip, a joint Blueprint/Landscape thing. I got a call from my family to let me know that my dad was ill whilst I was out there but I just carried on filming. On returning I found out the true extent of what was going on – that he’d been diagnosed with a brain tumour. That, coupled with the pressure to produce footage and the expectation that I’d be away from home all the time, just put me in a place where I couldn’t handle it any more. My dad eventually passed away from that and I didn’t talk to anyone about any of it, which is on me obviously.
I realise now that I was really struggling with anxiety and depression but still trying to strap on this happy face and go and encourage people to jump on handrails or whatever. I ended up just pulling up to Dan’s house one day and deciding that everything just needed to stop right then because I couldn’t cope with it. I felt a sense of responsibility too because I was at that point the only person in the UK being paid solely to film skateboarding. There was a feeling of guilt that came with that position which made it hard for me to recognise that it was harming my mental health. You know like, “I have to be grateful for this even though it’s killing me because so many other people would love to be in this position.”
This is the inherent danger of allowing your hobby to become your job, isn’t it?
Totally. It’s almost an impossible thing to deal with mentally. I felt guilty for not enjoying doing something that I loved but the pressure on me to perform just made it horrible towards the end. It wasn’t worth it for me. It was a weird experience but I’m proud now that I had the strength to say enough was enough.
I’m sure that these conversations would be happening today though – if you were in a similar position now, I’m sure mental health would be a talked about issue.
Yeah I think you’re right. It’s on all of us really – it wasn’t part of the conversation back then and maybe we just didn’t have the maturity to understand the pastoral aspect of being TMs or filmers. These were kids who were celebrities in the skateboard universe – huge crowds turning up to demos etc. That’s heavy for anyone, let alone teenagers.
Within the context of Ben taking his own life, this whole subject really takes on a deeper significance doesn’t it?
Absolutely that, it’s amazing what the Ben Raemers Foundation and what Lucy (Raemers) have been doing and how it’s shone a spotlight on this aspect of skate culture. It just wasn’t a conversation that anyone was having previously. Personally the anxiety and depression that I’ve talked about ended up being a big part of my life for years. I ended up on medication and eventually had therapy, so I do understand this from a variety of perspectives.
I’m very keen to promote what the Foundation are doing and help in any way I can, which is really why I wanted to talk about this side of my own experiences. It’s not about blame; it’s about talking openly about the issue. As awful as Ben’s passing is, it really pushed the reality that a person like Ben who brought so much joy to everyone around him could be dealing with such utter sadness internally without anybody knowing. It’s tragic that it took Ben passing for people to comprehend that reality but he has left an amazing legacy in his wake.
Skateboarding as an industry does feed off youth though, which I guess has a dark side.
Yeah, and expendable youth too in a way: there’s also that aspect of it where it’s a childhood dream to get sponsored or to turn pro or whatever but for some of the people for whom that dream comes true, they end up trapped in a place that is very different from what they dreamt of. I don’t want to be too negative because fundamentally skateboarding is a beautiful thing, which enhances everyone’s lives – it’s certainly enhanced mine – but it’s healthy to acknowledge the other sides of it, particularly for those people who end up with skateboarding as their profession. I find the whole thing really interesting.
fundamentally skateboarding is a beautiful thing, which enhances everyone’s lives – it’s certainly enhanced mine – but it’s healthy to acknowledge the other sides of it, particularly for those people who end up with skateboarding as their profession
Do you regret doing the Blueprint thing at all? Given what you’ve spoken about here…
I regret some of the things that happened and some of the choices I made whereby I didn’t speak up about certain aspects of the experience. In hindsight, I definitely ought to have stood up for myself more but that’s easy to say now. Tensions did get quite high at times where a lot of the team wanted to film with me, rather than anyone else, which is funny now but caused a lot of friction at the time. In some respects that was a very positive nod towards me as a person and a filmer but it aggravated the situation further. Like I said earlier, I ended up in the middle of a lot of strife – almost like a ‘good cop/bad cop’ thing, which became quite tiring eventually.
You must have some good anecdotes from that period – share a few with us…
I remember when Smithy first got on Blueprint and everyone hated him. I’m sure Dan was trying to push him over onto Panic at first, (laughing). He was just completely silent on those early trips, like he literally did not speak to anybody at all, out of shyness I guess. It was so weird, especially knowing what he’s like – a total geezer who can’t stop taking the piss. I guess that goes back to how overwhelming it must’ve been for a kid his age to jump in the van with the Blueprint team at the height of their fame.
Another good one was when Joe (Burlo) arranged for Nick Jensen and I to go up to the BBC studios in Maidstone so that Nick could feature on this kid’s science show. As I’m sure you can imagine, Nick was overjoyed about that, (laughs). Fearne Cotton was the presenter, right at the beginning of her TV career; she must’ve been about 18 at the time I think. Anyway, we roll up and the show is investigating the ‘science of the ollie’ or something – they had a jump ramp in the studio and he was doing all these tricks off it.
At some point, we ended up in the Green Room and Fearne Cotton was there smoking a fag and swearing like a trooper. Both Nick and I were really shocked, (laughs). I guess because she was on TV and seemed really wholesome. Later on that day we ended up in the BBC canteen and ate dinner next to somebody else who worked there who decided to let slip that Neil Buchanan never did any of the art work on that show ‘Art Attack’ and that it was all filmed in reverse to make it look like he had. That was a proper disheartening ‘pissing on unicorns’ experience, (laughing). I was never too sure how that one was supposed to promote Blueprint either but you never knew with Burlo.
You must look back on the things you helped to make alongside Blueprint with a lot of pride, right?
Yeah, definitely – being able to film with the team riders who were all on top of their game and, more importantly, were just really nice people to spend time with was great. I don’t regret a second of that. I have to say though – the feeling of relief after I quit was incredible. I’d built it up in my head that if I quit this dream position that I’d be devastated and lost. What actually happened was that I got a regular job driving vans around and carried on filming on my own terms with whomever I liked and it felt brilliant. I knew then that I’d made the correct decision, (laughs).
Adam Mondon Backside 5-0’s on the Lowestoft Streets. Photo: Dave Dixon
This leads me nicely onto the next question Adam: given what you’ve just talked about, why on earth did you decide to co-found your own skateboard brand (The Harmony)? Hadn’t you had enough punishment?
(Laughing), obviously not I guess. That coincided with me being back in Ipswich, back working at Hoax, and being back filming for the love of it again with no pressure. That really all came about through Lee Minter (Hoax owner) again – just through chatting with him about how Dave Dixon (who was working in Hoax with me) and I wanted to do something together company-wise. Lee was down to back The Harmony and so we just ended up starting it between the three of us. I remember wondering if people would just laugh at us when I first started calling up potential riders…
And did they?
No, surprisingly, everyone we spoke to was really keen. Maybe my involvement with Blueprint helped there in some respect, in so far as I had a bit of a reputation of knowing what I was doing, well to some extent, (laughs). The original riders were Paul ‘Man’ Silvester, Danny Jack and Adam ’50 pence’ Howe and Danijel ‘Jugga’ Stankovic and then Eddie Belvedere, Jak Pietryga joined a little bit later.
Harmony in Berlin. Adam, Jak Pietryga, Jim Walker, Jamie Errington, Pablo Aresu, Jed Coldwell. Photo: Joe Buddle
Quite a diverse crew.
Yeah I guess so. Lee from Hoax had a people carrier so we just filled it up, added Morph into the mix and drove up to Leeds to see Silvester – that was the first tour. That one was absolute mayhem. We stayed at Silent Will and Silvester’s house and somebody gave Morph some magic mushrooms – he was still an innocent kid from Walthamstow at this point – and he basically lost his marbles (laughing) and locked himself in the toilet for hours.
I think Silvester and Will were moving out of the house the next day and hated their landlord so we all got ruined and smashed the shit out of everything in there. Skateboards through TVs, throwing fridges down the stairs, etc. Total carnage. Silent Will introduced me to wheelie bin riding on that same trip too – very educational, (laughing).
At the point when The Harmony started (mid 00s) there were so many UK brands popping up…
Oh yeah, absolutely tons – the market was beyond saturated with domestic board brands. So many people were setting up bedroom brands simply through buying 20 blanks off the Internet.
Didn’t that make it nearly impossible for a brand like yours to survive?
It made it really difficult to make any money for sure. Each brand’s share of the available market was so small but that just meant that we concentrated on doing the best we could, putting out videos properly, going on tours and trips and what have you. It definitely brought home to me the importance of physically going on tour in the UK in order to connect with people. That’s not really something that happens any more is it?
Not so much…
Inevitable really, with the rise of Instagram and all I guess. The Harmony came about right on the cusp of the switch from that traditional model of doing things, the whole ‘jump in the van’ method to the way things are today where it’s individual skaters pumping out footage, rather than team-based stuff. We just wanted to make videos really and going on tour together made it possible to do that in the UK without everything taking 5 years to produce. Plus at that point in the UK, if you as a skateboard brand weren’t out in Europe somewhere shooting photos for Sidewalk or Document then you didn’t really exist as a viable brand. Things have certainly changed a lot over the last ten to fifteen years.
How did the experience of running The Harmony match up to your time with Blueprint?
It was much more relaxed in every sense. I had more control over what we were doing and I was running the brand with one of my best mates (Dave Dixon) so we had each other’s backs.
How long was it funded by Lee Minter’s money?
For a while until he just became too busy to commit either the time or the finance to it because of all his other businesses. Amazingly, when his involvement came to an end he just gave us the company, sort of ‘well you guys have created this thing so it’s yours to do what you like with as long as you can afford the next shipment of boards’. Amazing really – what a nice thing to do. We managed to get the money together Dave and I and we carried on with it ourselves.
Neither Dave nor you were making a living from the brand though, right?
No, not at all, we were both still working in Hoax and running the Harmony on the side. We didn’t have a distributor either; Dave was doing all of that from home, plus making zines and doing all the graphics too. It was a great way to run a brand really because it meant we had direct contact with all the shops and the communities they served, rather than it being a case of some random person calling a shop and saying ‘Buy 20 of the boards’.
How long did The Harmony last for?
Seven or eight years I think, maybe longer. It’s difficult to be exact as it had a few different incarnations before one of the riders (Ali Drummond) ultimately took it over after first Dave and then I left to pursue other things. It was a great experience, something which I have no regrets about whatsoever.
It almost came full circle didn’t it? What with Vaughan Baker having his last pro board on The Harmony and joining forces with you again after you’d been at Blueprint together…
Yeah, looking back on it, that’s pretty mad. Especially given that I missed one of the greatest tricks of his career, (laughing). You’d have thought I would’ve been the last person he’d want to be involved with after that. It was so much fun doing The Harmony but everyone was still totally keen for getting things done – all the riders were eager to film and shoot photos – maybe that was a consequence of it not being stressful, who knows? We produced a lot of content – four full length videos, loads of magazine articles, lots of online content – we did well I think. I put nearly all of the stuff we made up on my YouTube channel too if people are interested.
Adam squeezes in a Monty Grind on a Pontus creation. Harmony tour to Malmö. Photo: Dave Dixon
You had a really great team over the years.
We were lucky to have the likes of Joe Gavin, Jak Pietryga and Jamie Bolland, Tony DaSilva, Tom Harrison, etc on there. All super committed to skating and making things happen and really sound human beings as well. To be fair, I’ve never met anyone as hard working as Joe Gavin – he’s like a one-man company to be honest: he can film, he can do graphics, he can lay out ads, he’ll film the most footage out of everyone. It’s almost like when you put Joe on the team you can just make yourself a cup of tea and leave him to get on with it, (laughs).
What have you been doing since then?
I decided that I wanted to do something else completely unrelated to skateboarding so I started a film degree around the time Ali (Drummond) took over running The Harmony. I was a parent by then, the skate industry was becoming even more saturated and hard to work within so I decided that it was time to walk away from it.
There’s an Instagram account for The Harmony that’s popped up recently.
Yeah that’s me doing that. Not for any other reason that just to have an excuse to put some of the hours of footage and some of the graphics and artwork and what have you that exists on my hard drives out there into the public domain. I enjoy doing it purely for fun.
How’s the real world outside of skateboarding been?
At first it was really weird, similar to how you probably felt after Sidewalk went – you know, that feeling of ‘have I actually got any transferable skills for those 20 years I spent involved in skateboarding?’ Through doing the film degree it became apparent pretty quickly that I did though, happily. Skills that I maybe didn’t even realize I’d picked up – managing people, directing, ‘producing’ in the sense of pulling all these disparate elements together to get an end result – those skills are all from my experiences in skateboarding.
What are you doing these days for a job?
I’ve done various bits of freelance work in various forms. Worked for the BBC on that show The Detectorists…
Yeah I worked on all the series of The Detectorists, which was a delight. Lots of people seem to really love that show too. Basically I had a combination of roles there – lots of logistics related stuff but also looking after the cast.
What did that involve?
Well to use a skateboard analogy, I was basically ‘team managing’ the cast, (laughing). I’d pick up Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook from the hotel every morning and take then to the set. Then I’d be running through lines with them too, (not that doing that was part of my role), because I’d worked on all three series and had got to know them all really well. So often times I’d be reading Mackenzie’s lines out and Toby would be reading back to me as Lance, his character in the show. Very surreal.
Adam and the rest of the cast and crew on the set of The Detectorists. Photo: Chris Harris
Did you have any dealings with Diana Rigg?
Yeah, I got quite friendly with her as well. I’d pick her up from her hotel and say ‘okay, we need to be on set in 15 minutes’ and she, in her eccentric way would ask me to take her to a nearby antique shop instead to look for clocks, (laughing). Obviously you can’t argue with Diana Rigg so I’d just say ‘yes’, we’d go to an antique shop, she’d buy something crazy and then we’d turn up on set late: very bizarre but great memories.
Her daughter Rachael Stirling, who plays Becky in The Detectorists, is married to Guy Garvey. He’d come down for weeks at a time whilst they were shooting the show and so I’d end up looking after him and his baby son too. I’d take his wife to set, then pick Guy Garvey up and take him and his son off to a record shop or whatever.
Not that dissimilar to some of your experiences in skating I suppose.
No, very similar. There was one particular time when we were parked up at a Shell garage somewhere and Guy Garvey goes ‘do you fancy a Cornetto?’ So we’re sitting there in the work van, eating Cornettos and trying to get his baby to sleep.
You’re an Elbow fan I assume?
Oh yeah, a big fan. He also told me at that point about The Doves (who we used in Vaughan Baker’s part in First Broadcast) getting back together a year or so before they went public about it. He was really, really nice – I enjoyed hanging out with everyone involved in The Detectorists. It was shot in Suffolk too, really close to where I live so I could go home every night – a great experience. After that I did a few other TV related jobs, including interviewing Frank Bruno…
Yeah, Frank bloody Bruno; that was surreal. That was a job for the charity MIND and the interview touched on Frank’s own mental health journey, how he’d been sectioned a few times in the recent past. He was on the mend so the interview was a piece to camera to say how MIND and helped him and to give recognition to the MP Normal Lamb who is deeply involved in mental health work. It was him who employed me to do the Bruno interview actually – just to get the word out there about how the whole process of sectioning needs to be changed and how people could get support.
So were you filming it?
I was doing everything. Frank Bruno and I ended up in this random place, just the two of us in a hotel room and I conducted and filmed the piece. He was on the mend by then but was still working through it. That was another thing that led me to reflect on my own experiences with mental health issues and made me want to get further involved in that whole area. I moved to Norwich soon after that and started working for a production company who make a lot of natural history programs and shoot a fair few commercials.
I was lucky enough to get a full-time job from them and have been working there for about two years now. I’m on the logistics side again – managing people, organising things, rather than being behind the camera. I really like it though. I’ve done a few short films on my own outside of work too, so I’ve had the opportunity to flex my creative impulses in that direction too. The last thing I’ve worked on has been this Netflix show called Tiny Creatures; that came out quite recently.
Frank Bruno and I ended up in this random place, just the two of us in a hotel room and I conducted and filmed the piece…That was another thing that led me to reflect on my own experiences with mental health issues and made me want to get further involved in that whole area
You mentioned that you’d started doing a course in counseling too, right?
Yeah, I volunteered for MIND for a while prior to that which led onto wanting to actually learn about the process and function of counseling. Having been through therapy myself, I understand its value so wanting to learn more about it was a natural choice.
You’ve been busy since walking away from skateboarding as a job…
I have yes, but then with the whole process of digitizing all the old footage, finding Tough Guys and getting that online and just enjoying archiving the footage on my Instagram, I feel as though I’ve come full circle again. I’ve reconnected with so many old friends and am really enjoying trawling through the hundreds of DV tapes. Hopefully other people will enjoy seeing it all too.
Given what we’ve discussed here it probably makes sense to end on some sort of advice for any aspiring skate industry types. Would you advise people against following a path similar to yours or not?
No, I’d say to go for it but to just bear in mind that often when you turn something that you passionately love into your job it will alter your relationship with it. That doesn’t just apply to skateboarding either; it’s a general rule of life I’d say. And to extend on that, be careful with your mental health – try to have a balance in your life, don’t take the other things like relationships and family for granted when you’re chasing after your dreams. Just don’t go into it blind and try to retain a sense of perspective, It’s only skateboarding at the end of the day…
Joe Burlo Rest In Peace. Photo: Simon Burlo
Any last words?
Finally, I would like to say a few words about Joe Burlo after the sad news of his recent passing and send much love to his family and friends.
Joe was one of those characters in skateboarding where the stories about him will live on forever. He played a huge role in making UK skateboarding what it is today, no question. He took Faze 7 and Blueprint to the next level and allowed other UK brands to do the same. Everyone upped their game in his wake! Joe was so passionate about everything he put out; whether it was a new line of boards or a bottle opener, when he started his pitch, you were hooked. But I also loved it when he called stuff out and said it was complete shit, with equal amounts of passion.
I got to see both sides (through working for him at Faze 7 and staying with Simon) of Joe through the years, his unmistakable energy was always present and couldn’t help but rub off on you.
Rest easy Joe, you will be greatly missed.
Thank you to: Jenny, Oliver, Lucy, family & friends across the world, everyone that I’ve filmed or has contributed to projects. Also the people I appreciate for helping me along the way – Pete Turvey, Joe Burlo, Lee Minter, Gary Matsell, Chris Jones, Ember Films, Sidewalk & Document mag crews, The Harmony & Blueprint lads, Note, Wes Morgan, Sam Barrett, John Cattle, Chris Massey (RIP), Liam Wells, Suri Krishnamma and of course Magee. (Dan lets have a chat over a tea/beer when this Covid situation allows, it’s been too long.)
Other interviews by Ben Powell: Mike Manzoori / Long Live Southbank / Elijah Berle / Nick Jensen / Tyshawn Jones / Jagger / Brad Johnson / Darren Pearcy / Swift Blazer