This is an interview with Amos Burke about Glasgow in the ’90s, handrails, Americans and the humble discipline of flatland. It was conducted over e-mail over a few months in the early portion of 2017, and was originally published in the second issue of Red Steps.
Thanks to Dan Jukes for the recent photographs and thanks to Amos for putting up with my constant mither.
Okay, might as well start with a fairly simple question… what’s been going on lately?
Yeah I’ve been riding when I can. Flatland’s been the main thing recently, although I’m slowly getting urges to have fun and start scaring myself. I also love bombing about the streets — wall-rides… bump-jumps… simple stuff feels great.
Going back a bit, when did you first start? Was there a specific thing that set you off riding?
Man, everybody got a BMX. I was already jumping stuff on other bikes anyway, then E.T. came out and dudes were getting rad all over Glasgow. It was so fresh and exciting for us kids.
Who were the main riders in Glasgow back then?
Glasgow back in the day — Andrew Burke hands down was an utter animal. He lived right near me, so I watched him tear it from day one. I wish there was more footage of him in his prime — no hand one foot fakie wallrides on flat anyone? There was a lot of riders to look up to as well though. A lot of riders rode everything — it was just BMX.
Was Andrew Burke any relation?
He was something else, we weren’t related, just uncanny brother like. We both got in a magazine saying we were brothers then everyone just thought we were. We played the game.
Isn’t Amos Burke the name of a television detective or something? Were you named after him?
Yeah, I’m a detective from the 60s. I was named after my dad and his grandad, but yeah a lot of people know about that private eye.
What was Glasgow like back then? It seemed all cities back then seemed a bit gnarlier then they are now. Did you get much hassle for riding a bike?
Glasgow was wild. I grew up in a really crazy, sketchy scheme, but I was known in my area. I had ramps in my garden. There was a quarterpipe, then an eight foot platform which was hipped into a half pipe. It’s crazy when I think about it now.
My parents were like do what you want — fuck the neighbours — we’re gonna party tonight anyway haha. But yeah to get to the city was a 20 minute bike — riding past gangs of neds was scary. I’ve seen crazy shit as I was definitely brought up in the worst areas. As soon as we got to the centre it felt safe, but it was actually a zoo and a lotta fun with crazy shit going on every day and night.
What were the main spots up there?
We pretty much rode everything. There was lots of street in Glasgow and some real good spots. Also Livingston was unreal back then — to grow up with that place was unreal. Glasgow street was amazing though — real street.
Do you remember the first rail that you did?
The Mitchell handrail in Glasgow in ‘91. I did it with Sandy and McGill around midnight. I feebled it by mistake then did it another couple of times. I ended up on the cover of a HLP video doing it. Plastic pegs too haha — nothing’s new. I also did it in the pissing rain for my bro Thomas Loison.
How come you ended up in Hastings?
I started getting in trouble… partying, stealing shit, drugs. My family life was a nightmare with drug dealers, violence, prostitution, robberies, heroin and all the crazy shit. I had no job or direction, so I moved to Leeds for a year and rode with Chris Hardy and his boys. Then Stu and Ian were like, “Come to Hastings.” I was like, “Sure,” haha. Just freestyle and freedom, roaching it on couches — so I stayed with Stu for about a year toughing it, riding hardcore on the dole.
Could people understand your accent down there?
They couldn’t understand a word. I had to slow it down, but the girls loved it so I didn’t care haha.
It took me a while to settle in a small rundown town comparing it to Glasgow. I can’t believe I stayed for even a year, but I bummed it and rode all day and night, partying hard. I met Boyley too and we hit it off. I loved this dude.
When did you meet Dan Price? Who else was riding down there at the time?
I met Dan a few times in London way back and we Scottish lot were instantly like, “It’s Vic Murphy.” Then I think on my second three month trip to Cali, I heard Dan had moved to Hastings. Whilst I was in the USA, Dan had a full spread in the UK Ride grinding a brick kinker with Boyley in the background in the lotus position. So funny.
When I got back I rode with Dan, Boyley, Dean and Ian a lot. Good winter sessions in the old Seventies spine mini set up — also riding street and filming for the annual videos. Good times for sure.
You ever try your hand at Dan’s vegan yoga health lifestyle?
Dan’s yoga I respected, but my body never wanted to move in that way. Diet wise I haven’t eaten meat in 20 plus years but I like to enjoy myself so I’ve never been too healthy haha.
Didn’t you used to live in a pub?
Yeah I lived in the pub for three years rent free and went to the States a lot in that time and always had my room and job when I got back. The best times in that pub — it was a big family. So many good memories and a real easy life there. I never take things for granted and those days where amazing.
You went to America in the 90s for a bit. How did that come about?
Man, America was unreal all the times I went — that first three months in Cali though — oh boy. I was spoilt once I got there. I saved a little money from riding for S&M and Primo and had about 300 quid for the whole trip. I roached it and ran out of money, so I winged it – selling products on the beach to European flatlanders. I was so happy. I learnt to live on nothing but instinct and the drive to live it no matter what. The best time ever.
McKinney had to look in the UK Ride mag the night before he picked me up to see what I looked like haha. I called him to see if I could stay and he said yeah — but at the time he had no idea it was for three months. We had a lot in common like flat, ramps, weed, beer and heavy tunes. We basically lived riding and partying.
You ever meet Chase Gouin? I remember reading some mad story about him travelling around with a circus in Eastern Europe or something and living in a shed.
Yeah I met him in the UK, but when I went to McKinney’s he was there too for months so I rode a lot with him at Lakewood Mall — a famous flatland fugitive spot. I was even there on the days Mark Eaton was filming him for Dorking Ten. Chase was rad to me, he even gave me some shin-guards — his famous blue jinx ones — so blessed.
Who else was out there at that time?
I spent a lotta time with Heino and McMurray in the Nowhere Fast days. Ralph Sinisi was a lotta fun — he was stoked to meet me and knew me from Livid haha. It was all crazy and good sessions and a lot of road trips.
Speaking of Livid, Ells Bells was stoked on it and contacted Stuart Dawkins asking if I could be in his videos. I was blown away. I sent him some sketchy quick footage and then after a few emails I agreed to go to Arizona. I got the ticket, landed in Arizona and waited all day at the airport — like ten hours.
Some lady came and asked what I was doing. She let me use her phone — mobiles were’t really around — so I called Ells and it turns out Ells had two emails and only checked one, so he had no idea I was coming. He sent Gonz to pick me up in a black muscle car with black windows — it was crazy.
Hahaha sounds brilliant. What were they like? Did you meet Brendan Watson?
Ells worked all night and slept all day. I rode flat a lot for a month and street with Ells and Gonzales at the weekends. Then I was like, “Ells, my flight home is tomorrow — ya wanna film stuff?” I filmed about ten clips on the way to the airport haha. I also rode a mini ramp in the desert on top of someone’s garage with Gonz and hung around smoking with Smoker Dave. I also got to see Ells and Gonz’s band play a gig, which was weird as it was all fetish torture stuff. Crazy.
Gonz was cool and really funny, he spent a lot of his day on MySpace talking shit to his fans and eating burritos. Brendan rode with us every weekend — he was pretty cool.
Where else did you go in America? Seems like you travelled about a fair bit.
In 04 I went to stay with Tunney for a month, but after one day Brian was like was like, “I’m working a lot, you should go with Dolecki to Philly for the weekend.” So I left my bags at Tunney’s and left for the weekend… or so I thought.
Once in Philly I ended up staying with Wiz and Stricker for weeks on end, and ended up at the FBM Ghetto Jam, and then in NYC with them guys getting wild, and then to the Animal Jam at the banks.
It was a trip for a whole month with my weekend backpack. I met Tunney with a day left of my trip, drunk a beer, picked up my bags and went home. I bought socks, boxers and a few t shirts and Stricker gave me some t-shirts for the month. I was supposed to film for S&M, but I got one fakie. For my next clip I fucked my ribs trying to foot-jam the infamous Philly ring man haha. I also shot a flatland photo with Dolecki which ended up full page in US Ride which is a nice memory from my trip.
My trips to Austin were something else. The first one I stayed at T1 for a couple of months — thanks to Joe for his amazing hospitality. I used to sit out at the ramp in the morning drinking coffee thinking I’m in a dream. I rode a lot of flat there as the scene is thriving. I got to be a V.I.P. at a Willie Nelson gig. I think I peed in his toilet. At South By South West festival I was the only rider to see a secret Wu Tang show.
No one knew except Joe Rich so I went solo and it was so good — early in the morning too.
The second time I stayed with Joe for a while and then at Stricker’s mum’s. We partied so hard one night we both woke up with hand tattoos with no recollection of how. Both times I was there I kind of tried to get coverage to help sponsors who paid for all my US flights, so there was the usual flapping about at the end of the good times trying to be a pro at the last minute.
Going back to Hastings now, it doesn’t exactly look like the best spot for riding. Why do you reckon it’s seen as ‘the place’ for riding in the UK? How come whenever anyone comes to England, they go to Hastings?
Backyard jams were the main reason for riders to visit Hastings, but yeah there’s not too much street compared to cities. But me, Dan and Boyley made it happen — blazing lots and watching skate vids and On the Down Low would get us out riding anywhere without a care of whether it was a good spot or not. It probably wasn’t haha.
It’s blown my mind when I think of the effect it’s had being part of the VHS days. Riders from New York grew up with all the Seventies videos and loved them. Garrett Hoogerhyde told me he watched my sections daily and even rode flatland because of me. He then drove like a maniac through the back streets of New Jersey like we were in a movie. It was white knuckle in the muscle.
As someone who’s been riding for a fair while, how do you think it’s changed? Was there a ‘golden age’?
Everyone is free to think and say what they like, but riding flatland is always gonna feel the same and always has. Things like wallrides and transition feel the same as ever too — general fun on a bike will never get old, thus keeping you young.
What’s harder… street or flatland?
Flatland is the hardest but I reckon street combos are getting there these days. My street tech is quite happy in the Animal All Day era. I focus on flat for the hard shit.
Back in the 90s flatland and street were often in the same videos. Stuff like what you were doing and the stuff in those Standard videos made flatland and street into the same thing, and a lot of people did both. Why do you think it separated off?
I think riding was less labelled back then and simpler, so you could ride anything on the same bike. Now a lot of flatlanders ride street and they all love all aspects, whereas a lot of riders diss flat due to not understanding it. I’m well into flatland these days but if I have extra time I get out cruising about riding whatever.
What do you do now? Do you work or anything? Who do you ride with?
Yeah I’m a carer for a company and I do private care work with an ADHD kid who loves skating and riding, so I get to sesh with him. My care role is very rewarding, always different and sometimes challenging.
I usually ride on my own. I always take my bike to work and sesh, even for half an hour if I can., I sometimes go to The Source with some of the Number Ten crew and bump around with Big Dan too.
Before I wind this up, my mate Gaz has got some questions. I think he ended up with one of your frames in the late 90s. He asks… Sabbath with or without platform? Any tips on making your bike look consistently ‘dope’? And on From Love to Hate you crash a sprocket stall at Radlands pretty bad. Did you ever wonder why our friend Sean just walked past and didn’t ask if you were okay?
I’d love to get that frame back. I loved the no platform lite, but the first one I got in 97 was unreal.
No tips on dope bikes haha, but Eddie Cleveland and Ian Schwartz had good looking bikes. And I never noticed the kid Sean. I instantly got a black, closed eye for the weekend. I felt like Rocky.
Haha, in a cruel twist I think Sean ended up with that frame. No idea where it is now. Okay, I think I’ve asked you pretty much everything I can think of. Anything else you’d like to add? Any wise words or thank yous?
Thanks to everyone in the USA for all the hospitality and the usual sponsors S&M, 4down, Animal and Etnies whether it was last week or the last 20 years — I’ve been lucky. I’d also like to give thanks to you for the interview and Dan Jukes for the photos.
Wise words, not really — just try and enjoy life, be humble and kind, and have goals. Peace out.