An Interview with James Newrick

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Jim Newrick is one of life’s great thinkers.

Not only has he cracked the enigma-like codes of numerous bike-based manoeuvres once thought impossible, but he’s applied much mind-matter to the often slap-dash past-time of video-making, elevating the humble riding vid into the something you wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen watching.

He’s also dead tall and owns quite a few jackets.

Here’s an interview with him about his early days riding dirt jumps in Sunderland, loud kettles and the pitfalls of robotics…

Photos by Wozz, interview by Sam.

First question… it’s well known that you have a large collection of jackets. Which is your favourite?

I think you might be the only person who knows that actually. At the moment my favourite is a brown cardigan/jacket crossover with a bit of corduroy chucked in the mix. Sounds horrendous but it’s pretty understated and practical.

Sounds classy. Do you think clothing matters in riding clips? What are your thoughts on people who are obviously technically skilled bicycle riders, but wear daft clothes?

It doesn’t bother me now. Young people are trying to fit in or find themselves. It can be cruel when you are young and don’t fit in — it can be cruel as an adult.

I was originally attracted to riding for its punk ideologies. Having the freedom to express yourself is important. I couldn’t wait to escape the tracksuit uniform and football obsession of the North East. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it just did not gel or sit right with me.

Discovering the freedom of a riding scene and culture in the North East at a young age felt liberating but I would have still have been laughed at by my new accepting peers if I had come out riding in a bowler hat and flares. We were all still adhering to a uniform. It just stood for something else.

Riding culture can be a bit contradictory in that sense. Every scene has a uniform. Riding comes across as more broad and accepting these days as far as clothing goes but it’s still very categorised and cliquey. It’s funny that you can almost immediately identify what discipline of riding someone is into by what clothing they wear. The clothing often has no practical benefit to the discipline either, it just operates as an identity, down to the most niche groups or cliques. Validation from peers or validation from a healthy lifestyle choice. Everyone is trying to fit in or look for validation of some kind aren’t they?

I am guilty of the odd rant at 90s revival stuff. Some skate companies have it easy regurgitating that old aesthetic. They should probably be trying harder.

Saying that, when I was younger, I thought that the older alternative people wearing 60s attire and listening to Stereolab were cool. That intrigued me.

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180 Turndown – Sunderland – 2001

How do you separate nostalgia from reinterpretation? I suppose Stereolab were influenced by a lot of older stuff, but they sounded new.

Everyone likes a bit of nostalgia. It’s nothing more than a fuzzy, half-baked trip down memory lane. 

If thought about and done well, reinterpretation can be progressive. Where you take what influences you is what is important. A lot of 90s revival in skate fashion and the likes just feels like flash in the pan nostalgia — a direct copy or a crap cover.

Do you think that punk ideology you mentioned still exists in riding? Or anywhere else, for that matter?

Maybe within some circles. I would have to ask a young person who had just discovered riding for the first time. I could be way off the mark, but it looks to me like kids now might be more interested in the physical aspect of riding over having an involvement in a culture or ideology that might still surround it.

There’s actually something very pure about that though — an obsession with just the physicality of riding without any other outside influences. I wonder how it would have felt in my day without T1 zines and FBM videos influencing our thinking and behaviour? Things were different then. Discovering that sub-culture and ideology then felt like you were part of a very special niche of like-minded people — a much needed escape.

Riding is now accepted and cool, and escapism comes in many forms these days. We are spoilt for choice.

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Triple Decker Double Peg – Newcastle – 2005

Going back a bit now, what got you into riding? Was there a ‘decisive moment’ that set you off?

I was in the local park and a couple of older local lads were riding BMXs. They were synchronising bunny-hops into a grass bank. One of them kicked his back wheel out mid-hop and everything around me slowed down.

I’d never seen anything like it before — the harmony between body and bicycle — the control and complete lack of — it left me speechless. They let me have a go on their bikes and something clicked. Trying not to sound too dramatic, but it was a profound moment that changed the course of my life.

Do you remember the first BMX you owned?

Yes — a hand sprayed gold Ammaco frame that I found on a patch of grass in a council estate on my way back from the park on that same day. It was meant to be.

Who were the top boys around Sunderland back then?

Pre-NSF there were two legends in Sunderland — Pricey and Dids. No one ever saw Dids ride but the stories were impressive. We would see Pricey ride once in a blue moon.

On one occasion his girlfriend dropped him off in her car at our dusty effort at some trails underneath Food Giant pedestrian bridge. He didn’t stay for long, he always had something better to do or somewhere else to be. He 360’d all three jumps in one run wearing a very smart pair of Puma Suedes and some stonewashed Levis.

I remember sheepishly asking him if he could do turndowns to which he replied, “I don’t know, but I’ll give it a go.” He did one first go. I didn’t see him again for another year after that.

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Smith Grind – New York – 2013

Haha unreal. What sort of stuff were you into riding back then?

We rode the same red brick wall in an Esso garage forecourt every night of the week. We also had a set of trails next to a motorway and in the corner of a farmer’s field. We only rode street and trails for a long time. There were no skateparks. I’d try and copy the riding I’d see in videos like On the Down Low, old Seventies videos or S&M Inferno.

What was it like in the North East in the 90s?

Getting the train into Newcastle was great. Newcastle was an escape from suburban Sunderland. It was big and felt dangerous, a great mix of post industry and mid-century architecture that made for good, adventurous street riding. It’s nothing like that now. More greasy spoons than modern breakfast cafes back then.

Where did the NSF start life?

The concept came to life in a pub called Liberties in Sunderland. We had all planned to travel down to Liverpool for a jam and decided that we needed a crew name. We were heavily inspired by ECD at the time.

I made the first run of t-shirts at college. They had the Punisher skull printed on the front. I remember the college technician being really enthusiastic about the idea and helping me on his lunch hour. He was a nice guy.

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Storm Door Blast – New York – 2013

Who made the first NSF video? How many copies were made?

Chris Souter and myself. He did most of the technical work and got it duplicated. I think he might have had 1000 copies made. They’re probably all floating around Sunderland charity shops or stashed away in Dchum’s attic. We gave a copy to Butcher — he was sat underneath a flat bank with Dan Price at Bike 99 rolling a joint. Mission accomplished.

When did you, for want of a better term, ‘get good’? Do you remember the first handrail you did?

I remember hopping over a handrail for the first time at Newcastle University when I was about 17. Riding away felt like I had unlocked a higher level of riding.

The first handrail I double-pegged had five kinks. I’m pretty sure I came off on the third. It was in a tight alleyway and my head and shoulder took the impact against a wall. It took ages to muster up the courage to try it. Just getting onto it once and not missing my back peg felt like I had done enough.

Am I right in saying you once did a kinked handrail with a rucksack on?

Yes, it was in the Marley Potts estate in Sunderland. Not the sort of place you would leave a rucksack lying around. I don’t remember the rucksack or what was inside. Maybe some kneepads and a copy of Ride magazine?

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Wallride – New York – 2013

How come you used to live under some stairs? Have you got any stories you’d like to share from the Buff House?

The thought of having a proper job for any of us was scary, and probably still is. We all liked the idea of a beatnik lifestyle, living on the edge of society. Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London got handed around a lot.

Most of us came from good families and had decent backgrounds, as did Orwell actually. I think we all wanted to taste another side of life. There’s nothing romantic or poetic about a middle-class lad living in a cupboard on the dole. It opened my mind and taught me a few valuable things though.

What was the story about Dave Osato and the kettle?

To cut a long story short, Joe Cox and myself ended up in a rock club on the outskirts of Derby with Will Jackson, Dave Osato and a few others. We hadn’t arranged anywhere to sleep that night — a classic move of the time by Joe and myself. Will said it would be okay to stay on their Travel Lodge floor that night.

The conversation was minimal between Dave and us in the club. It was clear that he didn’t know what to think of us or the situation. To try and break the ice back at the travel lodge I offered everyone a cup of tea. I filled the kettle, put it on boil and then passed out along with everyone else.

I remember being woken up by the repetition of the kettle reaching boiling point over and over again. At one stage during the night I remember waking up and looking over towards Dave’s bed. He was writhing around restlessly. Too drunk to get up and figure out how to make it stop, the kettle boiled itself dry.

The next morning Joe and I made a break for it early. I spotted Dave on the Backyard course later that day. His hood was up and tied tight around his face. He looked disgruntled and wasn’t riding.

I caught his eye with a friendly nod and he gave me the coldest stair and frown. It cut right through me.

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Double Peg Grind – Barcelona – 2011 

Moving on from you inadvertently sabotaging Osato’s Backyard run, were you the first human to do an icepick to hard 180? When was the last time you did one of those?

Who knows? Maybe the first documented on camera. I can only do them out of pole jams now. It’s a difficult manoeuvre.

Were progressive new moves ever really an intention, or just something that happened?

Probably something that just naturally happened. Back then riding sessions went on for hours and were positively charged with enthusiasm and energy.

New moves would just happen and a lot of the time they were probably reinterpretations of old ones to be fair.

What was an average day during the filming of NSF3? Were you working at the time?

I was working at a bike shop in Newcastle and living in an old brothel converted into a student flat with five other people. The interior walls and ceilings were decorated with pointy asbestos artex. I would sometimes wake up with blood on my hand from whacking my knuckles against it in my sleep.

James Cox lived in a storage cupboard in the living room for a bit. We had good parties there but it wasn’t a great time for me. The landlord hated us and once threatened to break my friend’s legs.

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Flatbank Tuck – Gran Canaria – 2017

Sounds delightful. You have a pretty unique riding style that reminds me a bit of retired French Formula 1 driver Jean Alesi. What influenced your riding growing up?

Yep, obviously Jean Alesi’s driving style was a big influence growing up. Mike Griffin, the Gonz, Dan Price and Thomas Calliard were very influential. Mostly riders that appeared and rode like they could take it or leave it or had other interests or something better to do.

As someone who has been riding for a fair while now, how has it changed?

It has changed dramatically in many different ways and now seems to be back in a similar place to when I first started riding. It’s much more accepted now and not quite as tight knit and cliquey. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing.

What riding stuff are you into these days?

Nico Badet is good to watch, I’ve always been a fan of French riders. David Grant is great to watch. I love Clarky and Lino Gonzales’s riding. Both project the perfect combination of theory, technique and expression.

At the other end of the spectrum Team SAF are interesting. They aren’t the most graceful but how they conduct and represent their street riding is pure and can’t be replicated.

Your last video, Hit the North Part 2 was a real masterpiece. Have you got any insider tales about the making of this film you’d like to share?

Thank you. I couldn’t possibly take full credit though. It was a collaborative effort from everyone involved. I am also inspired by my friends and the creative areas they are involved in.

There’s a short clip of an Irish man named Gav. He is wearing a flat cap and is shining his phone torch into my camera lens. Every Christmas Eve he dresses as an elf and rides a flaming unicycle drunk outside of the bar he manages. The bar is a stone’s throw from that scene.

There is also a Hi-8 shot of my mate Rob sitting down on the more industrial part of Newcastle quayside. He is smoking and then something grabs his attention and he turns his head to one side. That night Rob was convinced that he had seen the spectre of a turn of the century stevedore dragging some heavy rope behind him.

One of those stories is true and one is false.

Very intriguing. What’s your editing set up like? Do you ever blaze da herb to get in the zone?

I use a small laptop and a pair of headphones. My method of editing has changed recently. Years ago I’d obsess over the editing process, constantly meddling with good ideas every other night. That process would often render a perfectly good idea obsolete.

It can be a vicious circle. Now I try not to look at anything until a few weeks before a self-imposed deadline. I don’t beat myself up as much, and I get more interesting and natural results that way.

I don’t need drugs to get in the zone. A walk around the city, a conversation with a friend or some Phillip Glass on in the background does it for me.

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New York – 2013

You’ve featured people like Jimmy Nail, Kevin Keegan and Paul Gasgoigne in your videos over the years. As someone who puts a lot of thought into things,  is there any reason for this beyond the nods to the North East?

Archetypal figures of the North East are interesting. Their inclusion could be passed off as the addition of a cop-out nostalgia, or obvious character building within editing. When put into context though, hopefully it can be seen as the opposite.

Paul Gascoigne’s inclusion was more to do with the pitfalls of nostalgia. A great deal of the region’s character was lost with the fall of industry. Coming from such a definitive industrial background I feel like now we are a bit lost and hanging in a kind of limbo. Constantly being recognised for, and resorting back to, these old archetypes for character and sense of place.

A young Paul Gascoigne at the height of his fame sits in front of a studio audience on Wogan, the weight of the region resting on his shoulders. He looks forward with a foreboding stair then glares into space almost like he’s seen into the future — the deterioration of himself and his birth place. The Super 8 footage of old Gateshead and Newcastle surrounding that three second clip add context to this.

Hanging on to stereotypes and archetypes to define place I think is reductive, but what can a region do when it has been stripped of its defining character? If there is ever a third part to Hit the North then I hope there won’t have to be the inclusion of a definitive Northeast stereotype or archetypal character. Not taking anything away from those talented people but it’s about time the baton was passed on. To who or more importantly what, remains to be seen.   

The lyrics attached to that part of the edit also play a part in its meaning — “Why can’t we all just walk away?” They also touch upon the addictive and sometimes debilitating nature of riding.

Do you sometimes wish you could walk away from riding? Why do you think some riders, such as the aforementioned Pricey and Dids, can easily detach themselves from riding, whilst with others, it latches in deeper?

I guess some people don’t completely give themselves up to it at the start. Maybe the true addiction only comes from total immersion into every aspect of it. Without that full mental and physical involvement I suppose one can easily detach and drift out of it into something else.

This year I’ve drifted away from the physical side of riding. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just naturally happened. I think my body needed a break from it.

I am still very much attached in a spiritual sense. I don’t think I could ever fully walk away. I wouldn’t want to — it has been and still is everything to me.

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Carve – New York – 2013

You’re quite into speculative fiction. Do you think humans should think more about their future sometimes?

It’s worth paying attention to what direction it is heading and who will benefit from it. Think about what kind of future you want your kids to grow up in. It feels like we are living in a Paul Verhoeven film at the moment.

What are your thoughts on robots and artificial intelligence?

It was both exciting and unnerving to see the Boston Dynamics footage recently. Robots performing tasks and manoeuvres free from the usual clump of wires restricting movement.

In the long run it might make us pay more attention to the importance of our human individuality — the positive values in variation, flaws and irregularity. I think that could be a good thing.

Self-service tills are sweeping the nation and less manual labour jobs are needed. Are we heading for a large wave of unemployment?

George Orwell in Road to Wigan Pier said the mechanised world would bring about mass unemployment, but could also free up everyone to be able to work creatively. If everyone had a creative job it would do wonders in helping to advance the human race.

In theory this sounds great. In actuality we are all living under a government that would probably never offer creative jobs to displaced factory or office workers.

What do you think the North East will be like in 50 years? How could these old, traditionally industrial towns, be turned around?

Who knows? It will take a radical shift in power for any real change to happen in the North. Triple cooked chips, real ale and call centres will only take us so far.

Very true. I think I’ve pecked your head enough now. Any words of wisdom you’d like to end this interview with?

We’re so trendy we can’t even escape ourselves.

Interview taken from Red Steps issue 3.

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