Mike Manzoori Interview

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Former pro-skateboarder turned acclaimed cinematographer, Mike Manzoori talks to Ben Powell about his time as a sponsored skater before taking up the filmmaking mantle, including his 1994 video Sound and Vision.

 

Filmmaker and former professional skateboarder, Mike Manzoori in America, photographed by Leo Sharp.

Interview by Ben Powell. Portrait by Leo Sharp. Photography by Leo Sharp and Wig Worland.

 

Mr. Mike Manzoori is a national treasure.

If you ride a skateboard in this country, and don’t already know who he is, direct yourself towards the nearest Internet-enabled device and Google him. Watch some of his video parts, peep some of the many amazing photos of him, and – if you’re that way inclined – have a look at the ‘Mike Manzoori’ tag on the SkateVideoSite to see just a few of the many videos he’s been involved in behind the camera.

This interview revolves around a much neglected gem of British skateboarding video history. Far too many won’t have seen it before, simply because it was released on VHS in 1994 and had a physical run of only forty copies. However, thanks to the positive side of the Pandora’s Box that is the Internet (a perfect pairing with skateboarding nostalgia) we’re now able to offer any of you who have an interest in U.K. skate history the chance to watch Sound & Vision video in full.

The quality isn’t perfect (as you’d expect for a rip of a 25-year-old VHS tape) but it’s watchable. Containing the likes of Tom Penny, Simon Evans, Rob Selley, Mark Channer, Geoff Rowley, Dan ‘Jagger’ Ball and other luminaries of the British scene, skating everywhere from Southbank to underground car parks in Birmingham.

This is your culture, don’t be afraid to delve into the deep.

 

Mike Manzoori 360 flips at Stockwell Skatepark, photographed by Wig Worland

Mike Manzoori – 360 flip at Stockwell Skatepark sometime in the ’90s. ph: Wig Worland

 

Is this your first ever WhatsApp experience, Mike?

Yep. I’ve just entered “the future”.

I’m honoured.

You’re the third person this week that has asked me if I have WhatsApp and then reacted with incredulity when I’ve said “no” [laughs]. So I’ve finally caved, it was about bloody time.

Considering where this interview is running, it makes sense to start off by asking about your own connection to Slam City. Are you ancient enough to remember it opening?

It was kind of always there as far as I remember. I don’t recall it officially opening at least, OG Slam to me is the Talbot Road version, underneath Rough Trade Records. It was a den of stickers and madness back then.

It probably did open around the time I was first starting to explore London. But I was too young and stupid to notice anything at that point. My wife, Sharon ran the Covent Garden shop for seven or eight years, later down the line. So, yeah, I do have a long connection to Slam.

It was really the only ‘proper’ skateboard shop in town, aside from ‘Buddies’ out by my house which people might remember seeing adverts in R.a.D. and whatnot for. M-Zone too, obviously, which started out in Croydon. Around the time Jason Lunn asked me to ride for M-Zone, they re-located to Carnaby Street which meant they became rivals of Slam. They were both shops in central London, both distributed a few brands too: M-Zone did Stussy and Slam distro’d a few bits.

It’s funny really because with me riding for M-Zone, I’d get cold stares going into Slam at first [laughs]

 

“Back then you just took the camera out, filmed what happened and then, when you had enough footage, you’d “made a video”

 

Really?

Nobody was really mean, as such, more like, “Oh, you’re one of the M-Zone guys aren’t you?” I had no idea though, I was just looking for people to go skating with. It’s funny looking back at it now.

Curtis McCann rode for M-Zone too, right?

Exactly, they put out all those crazy adverts with the monster graphic. All those really colourful ’80s layouts that Dave, who worked there, used to do. People who are old enough will definitely remember M-Zone ads, they were hard to miss.

What have you been up to of late?

Same old, really. Filming a lot of skate stuff, as well as working with a few agencies doing some commercial non-skate work. Mainly working in skating, but with some other projects going on at the same time. Trying to keep busy.

The reason we’re speaking is a video you made back in 1994. That is when Sound & Vision was released, right?

I was trying to work that out before you called actually. Your memory is definitely better than mine and [that time] fits with me first going out to that States. So, yeah – 1994. Around the time, I got on ATM, which is another weird situation that we won’t go into now…

If it came out in 1994, I’m guessing that means you were filming in ’93 too which makes this piece of ephemera exactly 25 years old.

I don’t know if we were filming the year before though. I’m pretty sure everything in Sound & Vision was filmed over a few months. It wasn’t like the situation with skate videos these days. Back then you just took the camera out, filmed what happened and then, when you had enough footage, you’d “made a video”.

 

Mike Manzoori at Stockwell Skatepark, 1994. ph: Wig Worland

Stockwell again. Mike Manzoori floats one the year Sound & Vision was released to the world. ph: Wig Worland (scan: Science Vs Life)

 

It’s maybe not the first independent U.K. video, as I think Jamie Turnbull’s Wide-Eyed World came out in ’93. But as far as a U.K.-wide video available in skate shops across the country, Sound & Vision is one of the earliest.

You’re probably right. 

The back-story to Sound & Vision: I was going to college in Amersham at the time. Mat Fowler was in the year above and Mark Channer was in my year. We already knew each other through skating. When it came to Mat’s end of year project for his Graphic Design course, he decided to create a fictional skate brand. He invented ‘Jello Skateboards’, designed all the boards, shirts, stickers and submitted that as his project.

At the same time, Mark Channer was on a Media Studies course and had access to an editing suite. Which, at the time, were out of bounds to all but professional videographers. I had a camcorder Santa Cruz sent to film for a project that never ended up happening. Collectively, we decided we’d make a video for Mat’s fictional company which ended up becoming the ‘Bubble Gum Weekend’ video. That came around ’92 and had parts from all three of us, plus bits of Simon Evans, Tom Penny, Phraeza Hamilton and various other U.K. heads.

We literally filmed that in a weekend, edited it in a day and made a handful of copies. Somehow we ended up taking a copy to Harrow Skate Shop, at the skatepark. Ray and Gary, who went on to run New Deal Distribution, said: “Make some copies and we’ll sell it.” They took a few of that video and sold a few to a couple of skate shops. God knows how many. Probably, like, ten.

 

The friends section from Bubblegum Weekend by Mike Manzoori, Mark Channer and Mark Fowler (1992)

 

I bought it on VHS from Rollersnakes…

That’s one of the ten accounted for then [laughs]. After making that, I kind of caught the bug. I borrowed a camera from Matt Anderson, one from Andy Humphries and started filming every time I was out skating.

I was going out with a girl who lived in Birmingham so I’d be up there quite often, skating with Jagger [Dan Ball], Benny and all those guys. That’s why there’s a fair bit of Birmingham footage in Sound & Vision. I probably filmed for about six months or so which, compared to the video before, seemed like forever.

It was funny, the guy who ran the editing suite at Amersham College didn’t have any students of his own, who had any interest in using the gear. I came from a totally different class and barged the editing equipment. He was so stoked I was actually interested, he gave me free reign to use all the equipment, whenever I wanted.

A tape-to-tape system?

Yeah, but definitely more sophisticated than our previous “get two VCRs and press pause at the same time” method. With the college’s suite, you could at least cue and line up cuts but it was still a linear system. Once you’d made an edit, you couldn’t really go back and change it as it would crunch the tape up.

 

Mike Manzoori backside ollies shot by Leo Sharp.

Backside ollie. ph: Leo Sharp

 

Sound & Vision was your first solo filming/editing project then?

Yes, there was so much drama involved in though. One of the cameras I’d borrowed, from Andy Humphries, I was trying to follow film Matt Anderson at Kennington… I messed up rolling in after him and fell straight to flat, camera first. I pretty much punched the ground with the camera and smashed it to pieces. Thankfully, my mum got creative with some receipt paperwork and we were able to claim on our house insurance. There would’ve been no way I could afford to buy a new one to replace it. I was not popular that week, let me tell you [laughs]. 

“What the hell are you doing, dropping expensive camcorders that don’t even belong to you, Mike!” 

Camera drama follows me around.

Didn’t you get robbed and lose a camera too?

That was a little bit later on. 411 had sent a camera for me to use because they’d seen the other videos I’d made. 

I took it to Birmingham, the underground carpark ledges, that appear in Sound & Vision. I was filming with Jagger and these gypsy kids appeared and started checking us out. We thought nothing of it, really, and were sat there post-filming, loading the camera back into the dad-style shoulder bag it came in. I look up and this kid is in my face, waving this massive blade, screaming, “Give me the fucking camera!” 

I took off running, ate shit, camera falls out of the bag and he jumps on me again with this huge knife in his hand, demanding the camera. I said something along the lines of, “I’m pissing myself!” because I actually was. I was so scared I’d wet myself [laughs]. This threw him a bit and he jumped off me. Somehow, I managed to find enough composure to remember the tape in the camera was labeled ‘Mike’s Tape’. I used that any time anybody filmed me. I go, “You can have the camera just give me the tape back.”

He’s stood next to me with a knife in hand, I’m lying on the floor in a pool of my own piss and this would-be robber is shouting, “How do I get the fucking tape out?” Eventually it was too much for him and he freaked out, whipped me a couple of times with the handle of this machete-looking thing and took off with the camera and tape. To be honest, I was more gutted about losing all the footage than the camera. Well, that and wetting myself. Happily, Steve Douglas and everyone at 411 was cool about it when I explained what had happened. 

Ironically, six months later, another camera I’d been given by 411 got stolen in Europe.

 

 

In a similar sketchy situation?

Nah, a lot less sketchy. More of the classic camera bag mistake. 

I had my camera bag and I wanted to skate some manny pad in Montpelier after a contest. I set my camera down next to Jaya Bonderov and Chris Senn. I ask them to keep an eye on it and go skate for ten minutes. No surprise that when I come back and ask, “Where’s my camera?” I was met with blank faces and “What camera?” I’d just spent four days with Ricky Oyola in Holland, Germany and I’d got all this sick footage. All that was gone, I was so bummed to lose that.

Two lessons here, Mike. Pissing your pants can be an effective self-defense strategy and never rely on anyone but yourself to look after a camera bag.

Yep. Both lessons well and truly learned. Douglas and everyone at 411 were so nice about it as well. 

“Erm, yeah… I’ve lost another camera, sorry.”

Anyway, back to Sound & Vision

There’s some pretty crazy footage of a very young Tom Penny and a very tiny Andy Scott in the St Albans section. Was any of that them necessarily trying or just an average session?

All that St Albans footage was “normal”. Those guys would be there and they’d be killing it. That was Tom and Andy, before they went to America and became “the dudes” over there. But they were absolutely “the dudes” as far as U.K. skateboarding went by that point. It was obvious they were the two people to point the camera at any time they turned up at St Albans. Not that there was any planning or pre-discussion going on. They turned up, went off, I filmed it. Simple.

 

Mike Manzoori ollies from one jump ramp to another at The Pioneer Skatepark, St Albans in 1994.

Mike Manzoori at The Pioneer Skatepark, St Albans in 1994. ph: Leo Sharp for RaD Magazine.

 

I also enjoy that the St Albans footage on Sound & Vision is fairly easy to date even without knowing. Simply because the layout at that point included a 10 feet long yellow gas pipe. Not something you’re likely to stumble across in many 2018 indoor skateparks…

That thing was so hard to skate though. Rodney Clarke used to destroy it, locking into nosebluntslides that went on forever. Maybe it’s time the yellow gas pipe had a renaissance?

There are so many faces on this 25-year-old British video who are still around these days. There’s a fair bit of Simon Evans too, one of the most fondly-remembered U.K. skaters of the late ’80s/early ’90’s who disappeared out of skateboarding not long afterwards. Even the footage in Sound & Vision is ahead of what most people were doing in ’93 and ’94.

That was the thing with Simon, he genuinely was lightyears ahead of everyone around him. He’d just got on Experience Skateboards, his pro board with the GAP rip-off graphic had just come out which very probably influenced a whole host of other rip-off logo graphics that came afterwards. 

Simon was on fire around 1994, probably around the time that he was starting to maybe realise there were other things outside of skating he was interested in. He was always a thinker, that’s part of why his 1992 R.a.D. interview is so memorable, precisely because he talked about so many things other than skateboarding in it. 

He was already starting to “leave us” in terms of focusing his energy outside of just skateboarding by the time I was filming him for the video we’re talking about.

You skated with him a lot though, right?

I did. He’d been doing fairly groundbreaking stuff on his board long before developing the style and look everybody remembers him for. The OG Simon Evans was shredded: his clothes looked like teabags, his shorts had holes all over, he looked like he’d been dragged through a hedge. Just raw. Bleeding shins, a total skate rat.

He was really good on transition too which maybe a lot of people don’t know. He’s generally remembered as this super-tech street skater due to that R.a.D. interview. We’d skate the ramp at New Malden, or Uxbridge. Skating was so small at that point, everyone knew everyone, and Simon was just one the crew who was always around, ripping. 

I was stoked to film a little of him before he moved away to S.F. and faded out of skateboarding. That was my thing really, I wanted to get as many people in the video as possible.

Is that why the back of the video is a huge list of names?

Yeah. Like you said earlier, there really wasn’t much video documentation of that era of British skating. 

That leather effect box with the gold embossed lettering was really plush too, way too plush for me [laughs]. Another hook up via my stepdad and the packaging company he worked for. I wanted something similar to the old books on my mum’s bookshelf at home. I remember my stepdad going, “Oh shit! I said “a cover” not a gold, embossed, fake leather sleeve!” He bit off more than he could chew there. 

They were always a nightmare to easily get the VHS in and out of too, a bit too tight. That’s probably why yours was in good enough condition for this rip of it. If you can’t get the tape out of the sleeve for 25 years, it’ll stay in pristine condition [laughs].

 

The VHS sleeve of Mike Manzoori's 1994, British skateboarding video, 'Sound & Vision'.

The first and possibly only British skate video with a fancy leather sleeve, Mike Manzoori’s Sound & Vision.

 

There’s no Curtis McCann footage on there though, sadly.

I was thinking about that as we were talking about Simon situation because Curtis was part of that New Malden, Uxbridge, and Southbank crew as well. By the time I was filming Sound & Vision, Curtis had already stepped away from skating. Until that point, he’d be around as much as any of us. By, say 1993, he was already pretty elusive. He’d been to the States and broken his femur, I think.

Wasn’t there a story he’d broken his leg skating the stairs at Wallenberg?

I believe that’s right. That’s what I heard anyway. 

He’d gone out to the States, killed it, got third in some big contest alongside people like Coco Santiago. Everyone out there was all about him, basically. From what I remember, his eyes kind of opened up to how the skate industry worked in California and it freaked him out a bit. I guess there was something about it that turned him off so he came back to the U.K., decided to study and do his own thing instead.

Were you around during the period he was filming for Skypager? 

Yeah, that was when we’d see Curtis all the time and we’d skate together regularly. 

That was one of the reasons that I was so stoked when Jason Lunn put me on M-Zone. It meant I got to skate with him and with Curtis all the time. There was another little ramp in Chelsea, this nine foot thing we’d skate together. Curtis was so good on vert.

It’s a shame there’s no documentation of that.

That was just the time, really. So many things Curtis did were decades ahead of everyone else and nobody saw any of it unless they were there. To this day, Curtis McCann is one of the best skateboarders I’ve ever seen in my whole life. 

You were both in Powell’s Celebraty Tropical Fish in 1991. Do you remember much of that?

I remember getting on Powell and calling Frank Messman, saying, “Hey. Thanks for putting me on Powell, mate. But you should really be putting Curtis on, he’s way better than I am.”

So I kind of had a hand in that and Curtis got put into the mix there, some of which is documented in Celebraty Tropical Fish. 

Curtis used to talk about tricks, then go home and think about them in bed – maybe dream about doing them. Then come out the next day and just do them. He described the process of learning exactly like that to me. We were skating a mini ramp one day and he turned up and did a back smith, 270 one-footed ollie out. That was so shocking for the time, we’re talking probably 1990/’91.

Nobody did that kind of stuff and he’d do it regularly and he’d do it all first try. When you’d ask how, he’d reply, “I thought about it before I went to bed.” Like, “What the fuck! You’re 14! Who thinks like that?”

All that wallride nollie out stuff too, 15 years before it became “a thing”.

Oh yeah, wallride nollie to stalefish out. One time, on the Southbank bank-to-wall, I saw him do wallride nollie out, front-foot fastplant on the wall. Insane. 

Everyone else was on an, “Imagine doing this…” level, and he was actually doing it. It was all play to him. There are only a few people like that out there. Curtis had the same thing as Penny, it was all just too easy. There are a few people I’ve met in the States like that too. Kip Sumpter was another one where you’d think to yourself, “Man, if you gave the tiniest bit of a shit about taking this seriously…” 

But that’s where the magic comes from, I guess. You can’t bottle dreams.

Exactly. You just have to appreciate it for what it is and be thankful if you were there to witness any of it happening.

In Sound & Vision, Geoff Rowley ollies off the roof at Radlands and into the roll-in. That’s pretty heavy too.

Yeah. But again, that was just normal to him. Why wouldn’t he ollie off the roof of the shop into and the roll-in? It’s not like anybody else could. Pete Hellicar and Alan Rushbrooke dressed up in clown outfits at one end of the park whilst Geoff does that at the other. Classic Radlands chaos.

 

Mike Manzoori ollies over the hubba above Southbank shot by Wig Worland.

Mike Manzoori with a pioneering leap above Southbank. ph: Wig Worland

 

That’s another example of why I wanted to speak to you because that entire era, early ‘90s British skateboarding, is so sparsely documented. Yet so much amazing skateboarding was happening. Hopefully, people reading this will watch the video and enjoy for what it is, a historical document of long gone time in skate history.

I was lucky really. I was only able to film because I had the time and opportunity to float around the country more than your average kid because sponsors were hooking me up. Between the London scene, Birmingham scene and the important skateparks of the era, I was fortunate to get a chance to capture a bit of what was going on.

We ought to mention Mark Channer, really. His Sound & Vision is mind blowing.

Channer was always mind-blowing. He was really the main motivation behind me caring about filming and making videos to be honest. He was the guy I’d film the most and vice versa. He made everything look way too easy, nobody was 360 flipping and turning with it at that point.

He’d watched Jeremy Klein do that trick on the Birdhouse video. Next thing, he’s doing it perfectly over that crusty funbox at Harrow. I’m so thankful to have had Mark as my friend, to skate with so much during that period of my life. Such a solid dude. Really enthusiastic, really creative – just an inspiring person.

Who does the nollie flip to noseslide down the little hubba at Southbank?

Rob Selley. Another dude who was light years ahead of everyone else.

 

Mike Manzoori at Southbank in 1994. photo: Wig Worland

Mike Manzoori with a precursor to “the Kyle Wilson” route at Southbank, a few years before Kyle was born. ph: Wig Worland

 

Sound & Vision finishes on a Southbank section. I’m guessing at that point, you could skate the whole space?

I think so. You could do lines around the whole space, from the bit everyone skates now into the “dark side as we used to call it. 

The bank-to-wall and the lower banks that had the fences put up were still skate-able at that point. They’d tried to stop people but, as always, it just created new ways to approach it. The main focus was on the top section where the stairs, the banks and the beam were. That whole “dark side” was so piss soaked though. They’d switch the lights off to try deter people from skating, so everybody would piss there, which worked better than any skate stoppers, ironically. That side was just… Nasty and disgusting.

Nice to know some things never change. Piss corner still lives on to this day, albeit in a different corner.

Tradition is important [laughs].

Was Southbank sketchy?

Oh yeah. South London still hadn’t been gentrified in the mid ’90s. It was regular thing to have groups of rude boys coming in, robbing the skaters. You had the bit that led from the seven-stair, through the dark bit around to where the kerbs were out the back. That section was full of homeless people back then. Some were cool, some weren’t, but there was always people skating there. 

You imagined someone had your back if things went bad but, generally, you were on your own. I was always disappointed by that. But saying that, I never had any trouble at Southbank, really. Despite going there thousands of times and yet I got robbed by an actual child in Birmingham [laughs].

 

“One just says ‘Mike’s Skate Film’ and ‘Brit Awards 1990’ so I don’t think that’s Sound & Vision…”

 

How many copies of Sound & Vision did you originally make?

You’d think I’d know wouldn’t you? At a guess, maybe forty or so physical copies. Not many.

That’s one upside of the Internet, at least. It allows something like this to be broadcast way beyond its original audience, albeit 25 years later.

I mean it was kind of a “big deal” to me at the time but only because I was filming all my friends skating. Like you said, maybe it only becomes significant a long time afterwards in terms of providing a window into a period of history. If people enjoy watching Sound & Vision [now], then that’s great. I’m grateful to you for resurrecting it for anyone who might be interested. I’m looking forward to seeing it again.

Did you not have a copy?

Not a digital one, no. I can see three VHS copies from where I’m sitting now though. Well, three sleeves anyway. I’m just pulling them off the shelf… 

One just says ‘Blank’ on the tape. The other one… oh wait, that’s an original copy with the sticker! The third one just says ‘Mike’s Skate Film’ and ‘Brit Awards 1990’ so I don’t think that’s Sound & Vision. Maybe I’ve got one copy then.

My original copy has three minutes of ‘The Big Breakfast’ at the end with Paula Yates and Gabby Roslin…

Yeah, that’s on the original master tape [laughs]. The guys at Harrow offered to distribute it for me so that’s why there’s that dodgy-looking Harrow Skate Centre advert at the end. Which then goes into whatever was on the tape I was using…

Yeah, Esther Rantzen dressed as a telephone.

Is it? [laughs] What an ender. After-black hammers.

 

Sound & Vision by Mike Manzoori (1994)

 


 

With thanks to Leo Sharp and Wig Worland for contributing to this piece. Read more from both photographers in our retrospective on Milton Keynes Skateboarding History.