This interview was originally published last year in the fourth issue of Red Steps, but seeing as Strangeways 4 has made it’s way online, it made sense to whack this chat about the video up on the internet too. Interview and photos by Sam.
From the crippling spine-ache caused by over-stuffed Lowepro bags, to the countless solitary evenings sat in front of a computer screen mulling over colour correction, song choice and whether or not you should re-film that 180 with the mildly dodgy roll-out – filming a fully-fledged riding video is no trip to Cleveland.
And yet, time after time — like a moth to a 20 watt, shoe-mounted video light — the man known on the electoral register as Andrew Clarke finds himself making another video.
With his sixth audio-visual masterpiece finally polished off (and his seventh already under way), here’s an interview with him about filming and riding… and filming riding.
I suppose the main thing I wanted to talk about in this interview was Strangeways Volume 4. It seems like you’ve been making it for a while, but I might be wrong. When did the last one come out?
It’s been unintentionally three years to the month. The first clip that I filmed for it was Sandy doing a gap to smith on the date of the last prem which was May 2016, and the last clip was Wozzy carving a tunnel in May 2019. It’s quite a long time but I was in no rush to finish it until I felt it was done.
In this day and age making an hour-long video over three years might be seen as pretty outlandish. Do you think most things are made too quickly now?
I’m probably an anomaly in this fast paced world but what else can you do? These things take a bit of time. Single clips don’t really have much context. I like it to be a collection of footage together — it just seems to work better. All parts of the jigsaw look much better when put together.
It’ll all come round again; people do still make videos, which is sick. I personally prefer to watch something with a bit of clout rather than a single zany GIF-style clip.
The new video features a fairly wide spread of people, and as well as the usual suspects from up here there’s decent chunks from people outside of the North West of England. Was this an intentional thing to make a wider, more ‘all-encompassing’ thing, or was that just how things ended up happening?
It’s just how it happened; I went on quite a few trips with various people, and a few people came to stay at my house and that resulted in people having a part in it. Dan Price pretty much knocked out a section in a three day stay and Jake Frost came over from Boston and did the same.
It’s a pretty mint thing when I think about it. I can’t imagine many people having somewhere to stay in a different city if they’re not involved in this kind of activity.
Outside of the riding clips and stuff, are there any particular things you wanted to do with this video? I remember you saying you wanted to make it a bit more uplifting than the usual street riding video.
I had the idea to make it a little less dark maybe. A bit more suburban in a way, just to lighten it up a bit.
Are there any specific clips you’d like to give the readers of this fine magazine a bit of a backstory to?
The end credits song was performed by a man walking through a Stockport housing estate with an acoustic guitar. Wozzy, you and myself were riding a bank to wall in the dead of winter when this gentleman appeared and started playing ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis chord perfect. He didn’t need to be cajoled or anything, he just performed it for us while Wozzy rode and then he walked off giving the peace sign.
This whole scenario had quite a profound effect on me. People think I’m being sarcastic when I tell them things like this but I really do buzz off these types of encounters. I wonder if he knows what he did? I was totally awestruck by it. I remember saying that people travel the world to see great wonders like Machu Picchu and Blackpool Tower but top things happen on your doorstep.
It was better than any Las Vegas show – and it didn’t cost us a penny. You, Wozzy and C took a trip to Austin last year. What was it like over there? Did you ever get the urge to make some cut-off shorts and start listening to Redneck Manifesto?
It was a pretty relaxed place — lots of tattoos, twiddly moustaches, cowboy boots and chubby hipsters in clothes too tight for them. No sound of the Redneck Manifestations but I can imagine they echo in the walls of those whisky-soaked Death Proof style bars. We chilled in Scerbo’s yard and played with the dogs a lot.
We took a trip to Galveston too which was like an American version of Morecambe — almost like a holiday whilst being on holiday. I liked how it was probably the same as it was in the 70s, with diners, men on massive motorbikes with Hulk Hogan style bandannas on, motels and shrimp. It reminded me of the start of Midnight Cowboy when Jon Voight is leaving Texas to go to New York.
We’ve talked about this a bit before, but I know that, like me, you were mad into ‘American things’ in the 90s. Bart Simpson… Terminator… Sunny Delight… all that stuff. How does the real America shape up with this radical, in-your-face vision?
I was knee deep in late 80s and early 90s American culture from as early as I can remember. Seeing that stuff on TV was a welcome break from football, drab weather and the flat-roofed prefabs at school. I have always loved it, first it was Ghostbusters with all its slime and gunge and Peter Venkman with his wise-ass remarks. Then came Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and that big city thing blew my mind — pizza, Michelangelo, steaming grids, honking cars, graff, hip hop — it all poured into my skull. I always wanted to be in the scene in the first TMNT film where the young foot soldier recruits are smoking cigars and skating the mini ramp.
Thinking about it now that’s probably my main influence even today. Robocop in old Detroit showed me that it’s not all pizza and fun but also the underbelly of corporate thugs. It taught me a lot; my mum let me watch all that New Bad Future stuff from an early age; Terminator, Predator, Total Recall etc. So when I finally went it wasn’t too dissimilar to how I thought it’d be. Because of my exposure to heavy doses of film, TV and hip hop I knew it wasn’t the Disney world people thought it was, I knew about all the other stuff.
I suppose riding fits in with that American thing. Was that the reason it grabbed you at first?
Riding grabbed my attention first by just seeing kids riding around at the time. Tricks weren’t really something I saw at first — it was the look of the bikes that I liked. I just used to see kids a bit older than me getting about on sick looking chrome BMXs doing wheelies and skids. It was all the naughty kids that had them, that was alluring and I wanted to be involved in that. It was more of a scally thing if I’m honest. That was probably around 92.
The American BMX influence came a bit later around 94 when I saw people actually riding a mini ramp at this roller rink my mum used to go to. That’s when my brain got snagged to where it is now. It opened up another world, an alternative to the norm. Stuff started to make sense, it was/is a different thing to spend your time doing. Without getting too deep it is what I subconsciously craved — I’ve only ever got more obsessed with it as time has gone on.
What made you want to start filming stuff?
I started by acquiring a Hi8 video camera off my dad. Just to film what happened, not to make a video or anything. I try and keep that aspect where you film stuff because its happening and not just for a video. I like the innocence of riding, and filming it is part of it. Looking back it doesn’t feel like I started filming, it was just a natural way to capture what was happening.
It was only after a while I thought I could make a video out of the footage, it wasn’t the primary motivation. I had no idea that you could even edit it yourself — I didn’t put two and two together that these videos I was watching were actually made by the same people in them. It took me and Gaz ages to figure out how to edit things.
Were there many people filming stuff around Manchester and Stockport back then?
A guy called Ross Milne was making videos back then — he has an extensive back catalogue of riding videos that go back way before I rode. I was always pestering him about videos and cameras and stuff. He leant me a video camera for a while before I got one which was nice of him.
He made some really good videos, in particular Extremely Unextreme with a section of Danny Woodier that blew my mind, and an older vid called A Tense Nervous Headache which has an unbelievable section featuring the casual moves of Splodge (Paul Rogers) from Marple. Its pretty sick because Ross and Splodge still ride and Splodge owns a skateshop too. I like how deep the roots run.
Going back to the new video, how crucial are embellishments, and the ‘illusion of the video’? Is it important to dress this stuff up a bit? A lot of videos make riding look pretty depressing – even though it’s a pretty amazing act and should look mint.
I’m not really sure if it’s even an embellishment, it’s just trying to portray the riding as best you can. It’s such a sick thing to be doing and should be shown as that.
I think you can make something look better and do it justice by the angle you choose to film it from. I have seen some tricks filmed so bad it’s almost upsetting. You can jazz up the simplest of moves a bit with a few techniques. Some of the things I have learnt are; get nice and close with the fish eye, fill that frame. Note entry and exit points of the rider. No unnecessary movements. Press record. Cheer.
How important is it to have other stuff beyond just riding in there?
For me I add snippets of Super 8 to just add an extra bit of flavour. I sort of use it to stitch things together, smooth out the harsh digital look and give the eyes a break and let the riding breathe.
Do you think the human brain can overload on riding clips?
Yeah, I think especially nowadays with the constant information updates certain people can’t concentrate on one thing for over five minutes, so it’s a bit stupid making a video that is nearly an hour long like I just did.
Unlike some wildcards who like to edit videos in a matter of days, you let things stew for a while. What’s your general process for editing a section?
I find it crazy that people edit at the end — I edit stuff as I go so it’s not so overwhelming. For editing a section I usually do it at night with a couple of cool Heinekens, I get a small selection of the person’s footage together and work to the chosen track. Finding a track or beat can be quite difficult initially but once it’s decided I try and merge the footage into the song.
It might sound a little weird but I try and make it so the music and riding blend together and aren’t separate. Work to the rhythm of the song if possible, quick cuts for quick beats and use crescendos or arcs in the track for certain clips. I just watch the footage and see what would work well in certain places then fill the gaps, if that makes sense.
You don’t mind filming more simple moves (which is presumably how I managed to scrape together a few clips). Do you think people can be blinded by progression a bit? I might be wrong, but it sort of feels like with skating they clocked on fairly early that a fast, long grind or a decent pop will always look good – whereas with riding there’s a constant need to one-up (often with wacky results).
I just film what people do when we’re out and they happen do relativity simple manoeuvres. I’d film all the wacky stuff if it was going on in front of me — it might not make it in a video but I’d still film it to have. People seem to get hard tricks confused with progression — just because something is difficult to do doesn’t necessarily make it good. That being said, most people do the best move in their arsenal at a spot if possible. I wish I could do truckdrivers on banks — I can’t so I don’t.
I think progression of technique is good, maybe doing it faster, combined in a line or grinding a bit longer. It all depends — like I said before it’s pretty subjective — people can and should do whatever they want. If someone told me I should ride a certain way I would do the opposite.
As for the skating thing, I think there is a lot of both — wacky and good. In the late 90s and early 2000s there was that city style skating going on, heavy on lines and style, and at roughly the same time there was that big-rail-hammer-time-Cali progression stuff. I think it exists in riding too just on a smaller scale.
Since finishing Strangeways 4 you’ve moved on to filming with a HD camera. What brought upon this technology shift-up?
I’ve been carrying that VX on my spine for a decade and needed a break. It was starting to glitch a lot and started to get on my nerves wondering if it was going to record or not. I am a fan of what Sean Lomax and James Cruikshank are doing, having the classic vignette and 4:3 ratio, but in HD.
I went to Boston and saw that Lino was filming similar to that and I looked into getting a camera after that. Not having to spend hours hunched over capturing tapes was very appealing too.
Do you think people are too hung up on things like format? Are they missing the point a bit?
Yeah a bit. I understand why people are into it, but having a VX and a Century lens or a high tech drone and Red Cam doesn’t mean it’s going to be a good video. I’ve seen plenty of crap riding and skating vids filmed on those cameras — a good vid is a good vid, it doesn’t matter if it was filmed on a calculator or 35mm film.
Nails in the Coffin and Stereo’s A Visual Sound looked like they were filmed by my dad on his Hi-8, but they’re amazing. They evoke a feeling – it’s all to do with feeling.
How would you describe this ‘feeling’? What is it that makes certain videos stick in your head, whilst others are instantly forgotten? How does one capture this elusive vibe?
This feeling is when certain images create an emotion that you respond to, either good or bad, you can’t help what your ears and eyes like. It’s pretty subjective I suppose, but you know it when you feel it. I think certain videos capture it because they’re made with a bit of soul — a bit of love almost.
A lot of videos seem to miss that. How come all modern ‘company’ or ‘team’ videos are so terrible? These are the people with money to make a video and travel to various exotic, visually appealing locations, and they still manage to make useless videos that no one will remember.
Throwing money at stuff doesn’t necessarily make something good. If you hand pick a team from across the globe who barely know each other and get some guy to film them do tricks for a wage, it kind of takes the joy out of the whole process. Again it comes down to feeling, company or not.
There’s been some cracking ‘concept’ videos over the last few years. Have you ever thought about making a space-themed video? Or maybe something with cowboys? Or perhaps both? As far as I know, no one has ridden to the song ‘Space Cowboy’ by Jamiroquai yet.
I had the idea of green screening Leo in a space suit floating around in a ‘lost in space’ skit for his intro for the new video but BSD pipped me to the post. What are people thinking with that sort of thing?
I love daft stuff, probably my favourite thing to do is laugh, but seeing riders try and act in videos is pretty horrifying.
As someone who still rides and films and all that relatively regularly, do you think it’s weird how people just stop riding? Or how some people stop filming as soon as they’ve finished a video? Do you ever fancy selling the camera gear and getting into Harley Davidson motorcycles or fell running?
I don’t know how you can just turn it off. Maybe I’m nuts but I can’t really imagine life without it, it’s how I see a lot of my friends and provides the much needed escape from work and general drudgery that can creep in.
Sat in traffic on a big motorbike having to adhere to the Highway Code wouldn’t settle my rebellious streak and running is rubbish. I’d sooner walk up the hill with some sandwiches and a flask and enjoy the view and a sit down rather than legging it around.
Even since the last video there’s been a lot of new spots appear (as well as a fair few which have been demolished). How bothered are you about documenting the spots? Is a clip sometimes more to show the spot than the trick?
A bit of both really — you need both. It’d be pretty rubbish watching a video of spots with no one riding them.
I reckon I’d still end up watching it. Has Manchester changed much since you starting riding there?
Yeah, new stuff is always cropping up to ride which keeps it fresh. Plenty of the old stuff is still around too which I’m surprised hasn’t been capped yet. There is plenty to keep you entertained during a mid-week ride/sit-around.
I’d ride anything as long as people are out, a bit of imagination and enthusiasm to bring the sesh is all that’s needed. There are the same old busybodies and jobsworths knocking around as always, and they’ve upgraded to Segways and wrist guards in some areas for added ridicule.
Final question to take things away from video chat… I’ve noticed there’s a few things out there you’ve got quite a strong distaste too. What don’t you like about the theatre? And what’s wrong with Mary Poppins?
The theatre dislike came from having to go to pantomimes as a kid at Christmas. Actors breaking into song and overacting everything. It’s all a bit smug. There’s no subtlety like in films. Maybe I’m just uncouth, but it just seems like people bellowing lines out in front of flimsy Wendy house sets.
Mary Poppins is just too goody-goody-two-shoes. I’d been subjected to all kinds of visual aggression before it even came on my radar. I’d bypassed all that Disney stuff thanks to my older brother polluting my mind and making me watch all the good stuff like Rocky, First Blood and Army of Darkness. We would go to people’s houses as eight year old gobshites fresh from watching Robocop and see all these Disney videos stacked up and we’d take the piss out of them like a grubby pair of ratbags. I learnt from the best.