Pulling Teeth - The Interview
Pulling Teeth - The Interview
The inexorable rise of social media has seen it become, amongst many other things, the most ubiquitous way of consuming skateboard media. Kids from across the globe who don’t even know what print media is can tell you exactly what trick Chris Joslin landed for breakfast this morning and probably what he celebrated with for lunch afterward, a paradigm shift in our culture which could be debated endlessly with regards to pros and cons, but which would take up far too much of your time and mine to discuss here.
Undoubtedly one of the major pros to our brave new world (wide web) is the rise of what, for want of a better term, I’ll describe as the ‘curator’ account; those Instagram profiles solely dedicated to sharing snippets of print and video media from the past, previously non digitised and resigned to a future mouldering in an attic or gathering dust on old DV tapes. With many focusing on US skate media, a select few (@scienceversuslife, @bygoneblighty) have been delving into old stacks of Sidewalk, Document and R.A.D. magazines, or diligently working through tapes filmed in damp car parks and dusty warehouses from Guildford to Glasgow and from Cardiff to Colchester, in the name of reminding us of what came before on this rainswept isle. The inclusion of skateboarding in the (now almost definitely postponed) Olympics is bound to bring an influx of new blood into our world, which is rad but also means that the preservation of our rain drenched, gravel scarred roots is more important than ever; those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, which I think in skateboarding terms means that if we’re not too careful we’ll be knee deep in benihanas and D3s before you can say ‘Kasperholic’.
For those entering the world of skateboarding now, its landscape is nearly unrecognisable to that of 20 years ago, so respect is due to those delving into the murkier annals of our cultural history to ensure that those times are not forgotten. One of my personal favourite accounts of this kind is @pullingteeth20, named from the Wisdom Skate Shop video of the same name and run by Jon (@jonnyexile), one of the main driving forces behind the video coming together in the first place. Starting its life as a Youtube account dedicated to raw footage from the video, it soon shifted mediums to Instagram and widened its scope to include photos and footage from the West Yorkshire scene throughout the 1990s. I hit up Jon to get his take on nostalgia in skateboarding, the role of the skateboard ‘curator’, Yorkshire skate spot aesthetics, public nudity and skateboarding in Bradford during that period, amongst other things. We have also sprinkled the body of text below with Jon’s pick of Yorkshire skate photos from the 90s, kindly scanned in by the man himself to paint a more solid picture of what was going on during that decade in this small corner of the North (“I’m sure I’m forgetting some other classics, particularly of the South Yorkshire skaters. If anyone wants to remind me and send scans over that would be cool.”) Pour yourself a glass of Sam Smiths, sit comfortably, make sure you’re socially distanced from your loved ones and get stuck in...
Interview by Jono Coote
Chris Gregory, Leeds Whippy Banks, 1991. Photo by Wig Worland
Anyone who has skated those banks knows how difficult it is to do anything on them. It was so rad to see a 15 year old Bradford skater on the front cover of Skateboard! Magazine.
The 'Pulling Teeth' account takes its name from the classic Wisdom Skate Shop video of the same name, but footage wise delves way deeper into Yorkshire skate history. How did the idea for the project come about, and is all the footage yours or do you have multiple sources for these half forgotten gems? Similarly with the photos, are they all scanned from your library or are you getting submissions from others?
The idea for the account was influenced by @scienceversuslife (Neil) and the fact that so much 90s era material has never been digitised. A few years ago my dad found 60 tapes of the raw footage that went into the Wisdom video. Most of it was mine, but others - Paul Silvester, Paul Watmough, Phil Proctor - contributed tapes which I never returned to them (sorry!). I reckon 90% of it wasn’t ever used and I’d not even watched some since the time it was filmed. I sent them up to a guy in Glasgow to transfer onto DVD. Several tapes had degraded badly, but he managed to salvage most of them. I then encoded them into MP4 format and uploaded to YouTube unedited. I circulated the links, but such raw footage is hard work to watch and I figured that editing into one minute clips for Instagram would be more interesting. It took me a while to work out the best way to edit and transfer for uploading. With the photos, they’ve been a mix of my own random shots and scans from mags of 90s-era Yorkshire skaters. I’ve stolen a couple of these from other accounts, but always try to give credit.
And has anything been uploaded that you yourself had forgotten about, or in fact have no memory of at the time?
Yes, lots of it. I found stuff that should have been in the original video, but got missed as I’d ‘lost’ it. If a tape ran out mid-way through a session, I’d sometimes continue on the end of another tape, so the footage ended up fragmented. Even now with the MP4s, it’s a big job finding stuff. There is also a lot of footage which wasn’t deemed quite good enough for the original cut - poor filming, trick repetition, the landing wasn’t clean or whatever. Doug McLaughlan, for example, was incredibly prolific, but we couldn’t use everything in his part. Also, it’s been strange looking at the footage of Cookie, Graham ‘G’ Walton and now Jamie Firth, who have all sadly passed away. It brings home the importance of documenting the scene and the individuals who are part of the community. You never know when it might happen, we all take life for granted.
I can imagine that being a strange experience, I never knew Cookie or G but was fucking gutted to hear about Firth. Always thought he was one of the most underrated skaters in Yorkshire, watching him do frontside nosebluntslides across the length of Hyde Park miniramp is imprinted on my brain from my early student years and he was the sickest dude to sit on the grass next to the park and neck cheap wine with. Didn't he used to skate from Wakey to Leeds for the session as well?
Firth was a great guy, no ego, just really into skating for the right reasons. I heard about him skating from Leeds to Wakey after a night out, it’s about 10 miles, so I guess it’s doable... nuts though!
Yep, pure Terminator-push! With regards to the video itself, how did that come about? Who edited/filmed and how was it decided who was going to be in it? What else was going on in the Yorkshire skate scene at the time?
I guess you could say that started in March 1999 when I bought a £300 camcorder and a Jessops fish-eye lens. It was actually a low point in the Yorkshire scene as Rehab Skatepark had just closed. Also on a Bradford level it was tough as Wisdom had closed, although it later reopened in Leeds. Quite a few of the regular Bradford-based skaters (namely G, Dan Morgan, Greg Adams and Danny McCourt) had all moved away. There was a younger generation emerging, but one of them, Matthew Douglas, tragically died of an asthma attack. I remember I just felt we should have been documenting the Bradford and wider West Yorkshire scene more.
At the end of 1998, we went to the regional premiere of Birdhouse’s The End in Sheffield. This also included the premiere of a couple of local videos - Through the Eyes of the Ruby by Neil Chester for SUMO and the Sub C-Y promo by Toby Batchelor. The End was obviously groundbreaking but we were more stoked to see people we knew, like Joel Curtis, John Winter, and Scott Palmer, absolutely killing it.
I liked the idea of creating a raw Bradford scene video. There was no way I could afford a VX1000 or even a cheap DV camera (prices started at about £700), but just getting some grainy footage on a cheap camcorder was better than nothing. The original plan was full parts for Roz, Ollie Barnes, John Holmes and Doug McLaughlan. Doug was only 16 or 17, but he had an attitude and style that was unusual for the time. We could see the potential he had and definitely wanted to showcase this. Also, with Roz, he’d been killing it for years but received hardly any coverage. It felt a bit unjust really. So we just started filming everything. No schedule, no storyboard, no specific spots or tricks, it was just wherever we happened to be. People were sceptical that I’d do anything with it, but were generally up for filming. Ollie Barnes wasn’t though, every time I pointed the camera at him, he’d often just stop skating, ha ha. He then got injured, so I didn’t get enough footage of him for a full part. By the end of the summer ‘99 we’d got quite a bit of footage and the plan started to change somewhat.
This is when James ‘Schoolboy’ Ewens got involved. He had started working for Wisdom, and opened their Manchester store in the Northern Quarter. He pitched the idea of a Wisdom video to Lecky. He talked Toby Batchelor into producing it. As I remember it, it was a done deal when he told me ha ha.
We started editing at Toby’s place in Barnsley in November ‘99, but it was clear we needed much more footage. Paul Watmough provided a couple of tapes which included Roz’s opening line. Paul ‘Man’ Silvester came through with some really good stuff of himself and other Leeds skaters, although he had to hold back his best stuff for Unabomber’s Headcleaner video. Toby also had some footage of Arthur Tubb and various others to contribute. When we weren’t editing we’d be travelling to the House in Sheffield or Rampworx in Liverpool.
Around the same time Ben Powell from Sidewalk arranged to visit a couple times with Leo Sharp for a feature on the lesser-known Yorkshire places and faces. That definitely stoked the crew.
Around March 2000 the video really picked up. We received contributions from Tom Henshaw, Darren ‘Mott’ Mottershead, Frosty and Phil Proctor. I think Bingo was going to send something through, but it arrived too late.
I would drive from Bradford to Barnsley a few times a week and we’d edit clips into parts. It was a slow process. Toby had an iMac and early copy of Adobe Premiere. The rendering took hours, an overnight job. Toby would call me the next day and tell me whether it had completed or crashed. It was finally done by July 2000.
And how was the music for the video chosen? There's some classic hardcore punk in there, and watching Vince wreck himself down those stairs to the sounds of 'Message in a Bottle' is strangely hypnotic. Wasn't H meant to skate to Negative Approach in Is What It Is, but Birdo or whoever edited that video mixed things up and edited Casey Lindstrom's part to 'Can't Tell No One' instead?
It started out with the idea that we should feature British punk/post-punk bands, stuff like Buzzcocks, Gang of Four, Joy Division, but that didn’t last long. We ideally wanted each skater to choose their own music, and we didn’t want to use tracks that had been used on other skate videos. It was quite hard work as there were no websites to reference, and we couldn’t wait weeks for people to make a decision. There were a few differences of opinions, but generally they fell all into place.
With ‘Message in a Bottle’ it was because we needed a five minute track for the Tom Brown/Leeds friends part. It was on a post-punk mixtape I had and was Schooly’s idea to use it, initially as a joke I think. It was one of the first parts we completed, it was ripped onto VHS and widely viewed. Everybody seemed to like it, so we just left it in there.
I think that point about H’s part in the Consolidated video could well be right, and directly led to using Negative Approach for his part in Pulling Teeth. Both this and Poison Idea were Lecky’s suggestions. We immediately knew that track (‘Punish Me’) would work really well for Doug’s part. Doug was stoked on anything Portland.
For Roz, his initial choice was a Devo B-side but we couldn’t find it on CD. I’m not really sure where Sabbath came from, but we were all listening to classic heavy rock in the late 90s. ‘Children of the Grave’ was a bit more obscure, pretty dark but not as sludgy as some of the other Sabbath stuff. It just worked for Roz’s part, especially that rad first line.
Spot-wise, I feel like Pulling Teeth and the videos you mentioned being premiered before The End definitely captured a certain gritty aesthetic peculiar to Yorkshire skate spots - maybe it's something to do with the cobblestones, but I've always loved seeing ex-industrial Northern towns as the backdrop of skate videos. Was the post-industrial decline a chance to properly take advantage of these urban playgrounds in a way not possible in more affluent areas? What is it that you think makes these spots (T&A, the Man Bank, Beeston Banks etc) so instantly recognisable, and do you think such harsh terrain was important to shape the kind of skating that was going down at the time?
Definitely. Leeds became gentrified in the 90s, but everywhere else was pretty rundown. Industries had been ravaged by the long recessions of the early 80s and early 90s. Many places we’d skate would be sketchy and derelict. Social deprivation was, and still is, a massive issue. We rarely had any trouble, but we probably skated a bit faster and with more aggression to scare some of the crazies off. We were outlaws in the 90s though, the general public hated us.
Richard Armitage, Cross Road, 1992. Photo by Percy Dean
It’s just an ollie, but it’s 100% style. Vans, Indys, cut off chinos.... just timeless. I see this, and it makes me want to go skating.
I guess there's a lot of rose tinted nostalgia for that era, a kind of 'innocence lost' yearning for a time when skateboarding was a lot more underground and there was much less outside interest from big business...but it's also been a few years since anyone's thrown a brick at my head down the skatepark, which I'm pretty stoked on. I guess everything has pros and cons, but how do you feel about skateboarding's rise to probably the furthest it’s ever been into the limelight, with Olympic inclusion around the corner? I know that's a huge question…
Ha, yes there’s a lot of nostalgia going on, sorry I’m only helping to fuel it. I think it’s because more people from that generation are still following it, still skating or connected to the industry in their 40s. It’s rose-tinted in revelling in how underground it was, and it glosses over the negative trends of the time. Skating hasn’t changed that much, most of the same brands are still around, the boards are pretty much the same, Daewon is still doing mind-blowing stuff! In the mid-90s there wasn’t much nostalgia for the mid-70s, the Z-Boy era seemed impossibly ancient history and the 80s era was widely lamented for its lame fashions and vert dominance. Now there’s nostalgia for all of the various eras and it’s through Instagram and YouTube that this is celebrated. It couldn’t really happen back then as there simply wasn’t a mechanism for it to happen. The Olympics, which probably won’t happen this year now, is a big step. The wider public will see the athleticism and competitive elements, but they won’t see anything of the culture. The good thing is that it will undoubtedly inspire a new generation, and many of them will push it in positive directions. It could be a ‘Back to the Future’ moment.
Definitely; social media, for all its faults, has done us a favour by bringing the role of curator to the forefront of skateboard media in a way that couldn't happen as much in a magazine format with a focus on publishing what is seen as 'up to date' - nowadays, any kid starting out can find out about what came before, right from the beginning, without relying on their being an older crew in their town or stumbling across the right old videos and magazines. With (and you've already mentioned @sciencevslife here), what are some of your favourite historical skate accounts to browse through?
Absolutely. The barriers to entry are much lower for anyone wanting to document themselves and their friends now. Instagram video has really been a game changer in the past few years, but it’s been good to see some great long form videos recently. I wonder how long that will continue for though. In some ways it’s much harder for the brands to constantly produce new content to stay relevant. The demand now is insatiable. In the 90s it would be the odd 411 profile and maybe a team video every year. Alien Workshop took six years after Memory Screen to deliver Time Code, and then another three years to create Photosynthesis. Flip waited over ten years before they unleashed Sorry. As for nostalgia, there seems to be a new, old account every other day. My favourite has to be @all_hail_skateboarding which has lots of Julian Stranger, Cardiel and other powerful greats. I love new stuff though, there are too many to mention. It’s important not to just dwell on the past.
Paul Silvester, Man Bank, Leeds University, 1996. Photo by Wig Worland
Even by Yorkshire standards that bank had a horrible, uneven surface...and the car park next to it was rough as. I remember seeing the sequence and just thinking it was madness to ollie into it, suicidal. Some unbelievable stuff was later done into it, but Man was the first to even think about it.
Speaking of Cardiel, watching those old clips of Bingley Miniramp in Bradford gives off a very Jim's Ramp Jam vibe - how much of an influence was that San Francisco based Deluxe scene on Bradford skateboarding at the time? I remember an old Rozee interview in Sidewalk talking about 'Roy's Army' and the local appreciation for a certain spiderweb headed Big Brother interviewee…
There were some crazy sessions at Bingley, it was always a lot of fun. It was often like Jim’s, everyone dropping in at the same time, survival of the gnarliest, ha ha. Yeah, the Deluxe thing... well I guess that built up through the 90s, we all loved Real and Stereo. G opened Wisdom in ‘95, I think AntiHero had just started and he was immediately into the aesthetic. It really was an alternative to the likes of Girl, Chocolate, and all the World brands which were so popular at that time. It was a bit of a reaction to slow ledge tricks on skinny boards wearing oversized jeans, ha ha. Wisdom definitely championed that ’hesh’ vibe, and G (and Roz) almost certainly introduced it to a young Doug. Hardly anyone was wearing old school Vans at that point. Most kids didn’t have a clue who Andy Roy or Cards were. It probably came across as some kind of inverted snobbery, there was that whole fresh vs hesh thing, ha ha. Has much really changed in 20+ years though? That hardcore authenticity has long been the brand value to strive for.
Scott Palmer, Pig and Whistle Banks, 1998. Photo by Leo Sharp
Classic Leeds spot and a seriously boned kickflip over the awkward rail and into the tight bank, although he may well have cleared the bank. Palmer was an amazing skater, and a really cool guy as well.
I imagine there are some pretty hectic stories from those early Wisdom days, I remember Roz telling us about Dave Wynne booting shoplifters in the bollocks? What was the funniest thing you ever saw go down there?
Too many Dave stories to mention, and they all involve public nudity, ha ha. He would definitely get arrested these days. Look out for a gram post requesting stories to be shared. Dave could barely skate, but he knew all the Bradford skaters from a pub/club called Tumblers that we would frequent. He and G were unemployed, and the only way they could continue to claim dole was if they signed up to a Prince of Wales entrepreneurship scheme. They basically came up with the idea of the ‘Wisdom’ brand and that evolved into the skate shop. They were totally winging it. G bowed out in ‘97 as he’d become a father and needed more security. Lecky had a punk record sub-let, so he picked up the Wisdom partnership with Dave. They were just subsisting until they moved to Leeds. It was the right thing to do, and they were able to support some great skaters across the whole of the north.
I was going to finish up with a 'top three things witnessed at T&A banks' question here, but realised we haven’t mentioned Snoz yet - I feel like his contribution to the scene can't be underestimated and, looking at The Ripped and the pool that used to be in The Works, his creations are still way ahead of the curve in terms of wooden skatepark construction. I can imagine a fair bit of excitement trying to figure out what mental obstacles he was going to build next?
Snoz was almost like the Yorkshire ‘Animal Chin’ for much of the 90s, an enigma. You’d hear about him but not see him for months, years even. The stories seemed outlandish, like cycling all the way to Germany for the Munster comp on his mum’s bike and then cycling from Germany to Portugal. He built most of Rehab Skatepark in Wakefield of course, which was so important for the UK scene - second only to Radlands. He did quite a few parks across the north and you knew they would be rad. There was a great mini in Heysham, Lancashire which was so creative. According to Phil Proctor he just ripped up their plans and did his own thing. The owner of the park and hired joiners were livid, they didn’t realise who they were working with. A mad genius, Mad Snoz!
Snoz, T&A Banks, 1996. Photo by Wig Worland
A frontside rock n roll on the T&A Banks should always belong to Roz in my mind, ha ha. For whatever reason none of the Bradford skaters were there that day, must have been a covert shoot. Just added to the Snoz enigma!
As for my top three things on the T&A banks? That is a tough one...
3. Roz, generally ripping with style slash grinds on those bricks!
2. Neil 'Nezza' Godding doing full length boardslides, so rad.
1. A guy called Craig Oates trying McTwists (!) around 1990. It was seriously crazy that he managed to get close.
If there’s space for shout-outs, big ups to everyone following the account and commenting on the posts. Thanks to everyone who’s contributing pics.
Also, big thanks to everyone who contributed and helped edit footage for the video back in the day, James Ewens, Paul Silvester, Tom Henshaw, Roz...and especially Toby Batchelor, it wouldn’t have happened without him. And of course to Dave, Lecky and G (RIP) for making Wisdom a big part of the community back then. It’s rad to see Welcome continue the legacy. Skater Owned Shops need our support more than ever.
Carl Shipman, Rehab, 1996. Photo by Wig Worland
I think Carl was from Worksop, Derbyshire, so doesn’t quite count if we’re being strict. Wakey was his second home and he was seriously good here. This tweaked indy out of the BMX quarter was just mind blowing, it would still stand up today.