Mike Manzoori Interview

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Mike Manzoori portrait by Leo Sharp

It’s customary to start these things off by saying something along the lines of, “Such and such should need no introduction” only to then continue to give the aforementioned intro anyway, so who am I to stray from that convention?
It’s fair to say that Mr. Mike Manzoori is a national treasure.
If you ride a skateboard in this country and you don’t already know who he is, then 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 then, 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 that he’s been involved in behind the camera.

The interview below revolves around a much neglected gem of British skateboarding video history that far too many of you won’t have seen before, simply due to the fact that it was released on VHS in 1994 and had a physical run of only 40 copies. Thanks to the positive side of the Pandora’s Box that is the Internet, I’m now able to offer any of you who have an interest in UK skateboarding history the chance to watch Mike’s ‘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, and contains the likes of Tom Penny, Simon Evans, Rob Selley, Mark Channer, Geoff Rowley, Dan ‘Jagger’ Ball and many other luminaries of the British scene, skating everywhere from Southbank to underground car parks in Birmingham.
I hope you enjoy it.

(P.S. Scattered throughout this interview are links to various bits and pieces that relate to some of the people Mike talks about, a grip of photos courtesy of Leo Sharp and Wig Worland, and a couple of extra reminders of why Mike is such a ruler. This is your culture: don’t be afraid to delve into the deep.)

Interview by Ben Powell

Is this your first ever Whatsapp experience Mike?

Yep – I’ve just entered ‘the future’…

I’m honoured.

(Laughing), 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’ –so I’ve caved in finally as I figured it was about bloody time I got it.

As this is for the Slam site, it makes sense to start off by asking about your own connection to Slam City Skates – 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 Rd version, underneath Rough Trade, the record shop. It was a den of stickers and madness back then.
Thinking back, it probably did open up around the time when I was first starting to explore London but I was too young and stupid to notice anything at that point. And then obviously Sharon, my wife, ran the Covent Garden shop for 7 or 8 years later down the line, so yeah; I do have a long connection to Slam.
Back when it opened up it was really the only ‘proper’ skateboard shop in town, well, aside from that place ‘Buddies’ out by my house which people might remember seeing adverts in R.a.D and whatnot for, and M-Zone too, obviously, which started out in Croydon. Around the time that Jason Lunn asked me to ride for M-Zone, they re-located to Carnaby St, which meant they became rivals of Slam’s. They were both shops in central London, they 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, (laughing)…

Really?

Yeah, nobody was really ‘mean’ as such – just more like, “Oh, you’re one of the M-Zone guys aren’t you?” (Laughing), I had no idea though; I was just looking for people to go skating with. Shop rivalry…it’s funny looking back at it now.

Curtis McCann rode for M-Zone back then too, right?

Yeah exactly: they put out all those crazy-looking adverts with the monster graphic and all that really colourful 80’s lay out stuff 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.


Red Stockwell framed tre flip. Photo by Wig Worland

So the reason we’re speaking is a video that you made back in 1994 – that’s 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 it fits in with me first going out to that States so yeah, 1994. Around the time I got on ATM, which is another whole weird situation that we won’t go into now.

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

Shit! I don’t know if we were filming the year before though – I’m pretty sure everything that’s on Sound & Vision was filmed over a few months. It wasn’t like the situation with skate videos these days, (laughing), back then, you just took the camera out, filmed what happened and then, when you had enough footage, you’d ‘made a video’.

I think it’s one of the first independent UK skate videos ever actually – maybe not the first as I think Jamie Turnbull’s ‘Wide-Eyed World’ came out the year before in 1993 – but as far as a UK-wide skate video that was available to buy in skate shops across the country, Sound & Vision is one of the earliest.

Yeah you’re probably right. The back-story to Sound & Vision was that I was going to college in Amersham at the time, Mat Fowler was there in the year above and Mark Channer was in my year. We all knew each other through skating already and when it came to Mat Fowler doing his end of year project for his Graphic Design course, he decided to create a fictional skate brand. So he invented ‘Jello Skateboards’, designed all the boards, shirts, stickers etc and submitted that as his project.
At the same time, Mark Channer was doing 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 at the time that Santa Cruz had sent to me to film for a project that never ended up happening, so from that we collectively decided that we’d make a video for Mat’s fictional company Jello, which ended up becoming the ‘Bubble Gum Weekend’ video that came out in around 1992 I think and had parts from all three of us, plus bits of Simon Evans, Tom Penny, Phraeza Hamilton and various other UK heads.
We literally filmed that in a weekend, edited it together in a day and made a handful of copies. Somehow we ended up taking a copy to Harrow Skate Shop at the skatepark and Ray and Gary (who went on to run New Deal Distribution) said, “Make some copies and we’ll sell it.” They took a few copies of that video and sold a few to a couple of skate shops…God knows how many, probably like ten or something…

I bought it on VHS from Rollersnakes…

Well, that’s one of the ten accounted for then, (laughing). Then after making that one, I kind of caught the bug, borrowed a camera from Matt Anderson, and one from Andy Humphries and I just started filming every time I was out skating.
At the time I was going out with a girl who lived in Birmingham so I’d be up there quite often, skating with Jagger and Benny and all those guys. That’s why there’s a fair bit of Birmingham footage in Sound & Vision too. In terms of filming time for that one, I’d say I probably filmed for about 6 months or so, which compared to the video before, seemed like forever, (laughing).
It was funny too, as the guy at Amersham college who ran the editing suite didn’t have any students of his own who had any interest in using his gear. I came from a totally different class and barged the editing equipment and he was so stoked that I was actually interested in using it that he pretty much gave me free reign to use all the equipment whenever I wanted to.

A tape-to-tape system?

Yeah but definitely more sophisticated than our previous ‘get 2 VCRs and press pause at the same time’ method. With the college’s suite you could at least cue things and line up cuts but yeah, it was a linear system still – once you’d made an edit you couldn’t really go back and change it that much as it would crunch the tape up.


Backside ollie photo by Leo Sharp

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

Yes, there was so much drama involved in making it though. One of the cameras I’d borrowed, Andy Humphries’ one, I was trying to follow film Matt Anderson at Kennington but when I went to roll in after him I messed up and basically fell straight to the flat, camera first. Pretty much punched the ground with the camera as hard as possible and smashed it to pieces. Thankfully my mum got creative with some receipt paperwork and we were able to claim for that camera on our house insurance, there would’ve been no way I could’ve afforded to buy a new one to replace it. I was not popular that week let me tell you, (laughing): “What the hell are you doing dropping expensive camcorders that don’t even belong to you on the floor Mike!” Camera drama follows me around.

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

Yeah that was a little bit later on though, 411 had sent a camera out for me to use because they’d seen the other videos I’d made. I took it to Birmingham, to the underground carpark with the ledges that appears in Sound & Vision a fair bit. I was filming with Jagger and these pikey kids appeared and started checking us out. Kind of thought nothing of it really and was sat there post-filming loading the camera back into the Dad-style shoulder bag that it had come in. I look up and this kid is in my face waving this massive blade in my face 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 (laughing). This kind of threw him a bit and he jumped off me. Somehow I managed to find enough composure to remember that the tape in the camera was the one labeled ‘Mike’s tape’ that I used any time that anybody filmed footage of me. So I go, “You can have the camera – just give me the tape back!”
At this point he’s stood next to me with a knife in his 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 the tape. To be honest, I was more gutted about losing all the footage than the camera, well, that and wetting myself, (laughs). Happily Steve Douglas and everyone at 411 was cool about it when I explained what had happened but then ironically, 6 months later, another camera I’d been given by 411 got stolen from me in Europe.

In a similar sketchy situation?

Nah, a lot less sketchy than the Brum one: this was more of the classic camera bag mistake. I had my camera bag with me 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, 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 “Er, what camera?” Same situation again as I’d just spent 4 days with Ricky Oyola in Holland and Germany and I’d got all this sick footage and all that was gone man. I was so bummed to lose that stuff.

So there are two lessons there Mike – number one that pissing your pants can be an effective self-defense strategy and number two – never rely on anyone but yourself to look after a camera bag.

(Laughing). Yep – both lessons well and truly learned. Douglas and everyone at 411 were so nice about it as well. “Er yeah, I’ve lost another camera, sorry.”
Anyway, back to Sound & Vision…

Ah yeah, thanks for the reminder: there’s some pretty crazy footage of a very young Tom Penny and a very tiny Andy Scott in the St Albans section of this video. Was any of that them necessarily ‘trying’ or was it just average sessions?

All of that St Albans footage was just normal. Those guys would be there and they’d be killing it. That was Tom and Andy. This is before they went out to America and became ‘the dudes’ over there but they were absolutely ‘the dudes’ as far as UK skateboarding went by that point. It was obvious that they were the two people to point the camera at any time they turned up at St Albans, (laughing), not that there was any planning or pre-discussion going on. They turned up, went off, I filmed it. Simple.


Frontside Rock and Roll for Leo Sharp

I also enjoyed the fact that the St Albans footage on Sound & Vision would be fairly easy to date, even without knowing, simply because the layout at that point included a 10 foot long piece of 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 bloody noseblunt slides on it 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 – Wingy, Dave Allen, Scotty, Greg Nowik, Tom Penny, Wainwright, etc etc, but there is also a fair bit of footage of Simon Evans too, one of the most fondly-remembered UK skaters of the late 80’s and early 90’s who just kind of disappeared out of skateboarding not long after this came out. Do you have good Simon stories? Even the footage in Sound & Vision (some of the last UK footage ever filmed of him) is years ahead of what most people were doing in 93/94, right?

That was the thing with Simon; he genuinely was light years ahead of everyone around him at that point in time. 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 out afterwards. Simon was on fire around 1994. This was also probably around the time that he was starting to maybe realize that there were other things going on outside of skating that 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?

Yeah I did. He’d been doing fairly ground breaking stuff on his board long before he had that developed style and look that everybody remembers him for now. The OG Simon Evans was shredded; his clothes looked like teabags, his shorts had holes all over them, he looked like he’d been dragged through a hedge. Just really raw, bleeding shins, total skate rat.
He was really good on transition too, which maybe a lot of people don’t know about as 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 and always ripping. So yeah, I was stoked to get to film a little of him for the video before he moved away to SF and faded out of skateboarding. That was kind of my thing really – I just wanted to get as many people in the video as possible.

Is that why the back of the video box was just a huge list of names?

Yeah, like you said earlier – there really wasn’t much video documentation of that era of British skating, so all I really wanted to do was get footage of as many people as possible. That leather effect box with the gold embossed lettering was really plush too, way too plush for me, (laughs). That was another hook up via my step dad and the packaging company he worked for. He offered to make some covers for it and I wanted something similar to the old books in my mum’s bookshelf at home. I remember my step dad kinda 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 get the tape in and out of too, bit too tight to get the VHS out of easily. That’s probably why yours was in good enough condition to do this rip of it actually, I guess if you can’t get the tape out of the sleeve for 25 years, it’ll stay in pristine condition, (laughing).

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

No, I was just thinking about that as we were talking about the Simon situation because Curtis was part of that New Malden, Uxbridge, and Southbank crew as well, but by the time I was filming Sound & Vision, Curtis had already stepped away from skating. Up until that point he’d be around as much as any of us but by, say like 1993, he was already pretty elusive. He’d been to the States, broken his femur I think…

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

Yeah 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 just something about it that turned him off so he came back to the UK and decided to go and study and do his own thing instead.

Were you around during the period that he was filming for the Underground Element ‘Skypager’ video?

Yeah, that was when we’d see Curtis around all the time and we’d go skate together regularly. That was one of the reasons that I was so stoked when Jason Lunn put me M-Zone because it meant that I got to skate with him and with Curtis all the time. There was another little ramp in Chelsea, this little 9-foot thing that we’d skate together. Curtis was so good on vert…

It’s sad that there’s no documentation of that…

That was just the time really. There were so many things that Curtis did back then that were decades ahead of what everyone else was doing and nobody saw any of it unless they were there. To this day I’d say that Curtis McCann is one of the best skateboarders that I’ve ever seen in my whole life.

You were both on that Powell video ‘Celebraty Tropical Fish’ that came out in 1991. Do you remember much of that?

(Laughing), I remember getting on Powell and calling Frank Messman and saying, “Hey thanks for putting me on Powell mate but you should really be putting Curtis on there…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 the video you’ve mentioned. Curtis used to talk about tricks, then go home and think about them in bed, maybe dream about doing them, and 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 backside one footed ollie out – that was so shocking for the time – we’re talking probably 1990/1991. Nobody did that kind of stuff and he’d do it regularly and he’d do it all first try and 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 that became a thing.

Oh yeah, wallride nollie stalefish grab out. I saw him one time, on the Southbank bank-to-wall, do wallride nollie out, front-foot fastplant on the wall. Insane. Everyone else was still 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 kind of had the same thing as Penny; it was all just too easy. There are a few people I’ve met out here in the States like that too – Kip Sumpter he was another one – where you’d think to yourself, “man if you just gave the tiniest bit of a shit about taking this seriously…”

Yeah 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.

Geoff Rowley ollieing off the roof at Radlands into the roll in (in the Radlands section of Sound & Vision) – 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 the roll in? It’s not like anybody else could. Hellicar and Rushbrooke dressed up in clown outfits at one end of the park and Geoff doing that at the other – classic Radlands chaos.

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

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

We ought to mention Mark Channer really too – his footage on Sound & Vision is mind blowing too…

Mark was always mind-blowing. Channer 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. Nuts. He’d watched Jeremy Klein do that trick on the Birdhouse video and then the next thing – he’s doing it perfectly over that crusty fun box 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 noseslide down the little hubba at Southbank?

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

Sound & Vision finishes on a Southbank section so I’m guessing that at that point, the whole space was skateable, right?

I think so yeah. You could still do lines around the whole space, from the bit that 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 skateable at that point – they’d tried to stop people but as always it just created new ways to approach it but, the main focus was on the top section where the stairs, the banks and the beam were. That whole ‘dark side’ was just so piss soaked though because they’d switch the lights off to try and deter people from skating, so everybody would piss there, which worked better than any skate stoppers ironically, the dark side was just…nasty and disgusting.


Pioneering Southbank leap shot by Wig Worland

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

(Laughing), tradition is important.

Was Southbank sketchy at that point in time?

Oh yeah, it was still pretty sketchy as South London still hadn’t been gentrified in the mid 90’s. It was a regular thing to have big groups of rude boys coming in and robbing the skaters. Then you had the bit that led from the 7-stair through the dark bit around to where the curbs were out the back, that section was full of homeless people back then. Some of the dudes were cool, some weren’t but there was generally always people there skating so you kind of imagined that someone had your back if things went bad, but generally, you were on your own: I was always disappointed by that to be honest. But then 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, (laughing).

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

You’d think I’d know wouldn’t you? At a guess, maybe 40 or so actual physical copies: not many.

That’s one upside of the Internet at least; it allows something like this video 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, it maybe only becomes significant a long time afterwards in terms of providing a window into a period of history. If people enjoy watching it then that’s great, I’m grateful to you for resurrecting it for anyone who might be interested to see it. I haven’t downloaded the file you sent over yet but I’m looking forward to seeing it again.

Did you not have a copy of it?

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 of them just says ‘Blank’ on the tape, the other one…oh wait, that’s an original copy with the sticker! The third one, that 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, (laughing). The guys at Harrow offered to distribute it for me so that’s why there’s that pikey-looking Harrow Skate Centre advert at the end, which then just goes into whatever was on the tape I was using…

Yeah, Esther Rantzen dressed as a telephone.

(Laughing), is it? What an ender. After-black hammers.

If you have enjoyed this read then take in some footage of Mr Mike Manzoori in the Neil Chester classic Hating Life and check out this VHS Mixtape. Massive thank you to Mike Manzoori and Ben Powell for putting this together for us