Another interview with Addy Snowdon

Making a riding video takes patience. Making a riding video, sending it to the duplicators, then storing the resulting DVDs in a box under your bed for over a year without anyone else laying eyes on it takes a lot of patience.

Luckily, Addy Snowdon isn’t one to rush things—and whilst last-year’s lockdown malarkey could have easily sent him in search of his Youtube password to hastily upload the fruits of his labour to the information superhighway, he chose to wait things out until he could show it the old fashioned way—in a packed room, with good company and a selection of cold beverages bought from the local Tesco.

With Cast Iron Shore finally available for all to see, here’s an interview with Addy about the making of this fine video. Questions by Sam, photos by Clarky and Sam.

You finished Cast Iron Shore around the start of lockdown, but it’s only just seen the light of day. What made you want to hold out and release it now? 

The reason for waiting was so we could have a premiere for the video, and the lockdown rules put a stop to the possibility of that happening for over a year. Apart from being a good reason for people to get together, one of the reasons for being keen to put on a premiere was due to the amount of time I spent making the video.

It took four years to gather the footage and I also put a lot of time into the editing. I think I was working on the editing and DVD production for a period of about a year and a half, spending a significant number of hours on it each week over that time. So, to just release the video would’ve been a let-down to everyone involved and a wasted opportunity. Once the lockdown restrictions ended, Lost Art skate shop let us show the video in there, so thanks to them for that.  

What with all the wait, were there ever times you wanted to go back into the ol’ sequence and move things around?  

I’d finished everything and had it duplicated onto DVDs by May 2020. So at that point, it wasn’t really possible to make changes without wasting money getting them duplicated again. I’m quite glad I could draw a line under it at that point, I think I would’ve messed about with it otherwise and either not improved it much, or just used up ideas which I could use in the future. Instead I spent the time gathering footage and doing some small bits of editing for the next video. That one’s a long way off though; I find the prospect of starting to properly edit another video a bit worrying actually, because I know how much time I’ll need to dedicate to it and I don’t want to make a video that’s worse than something I’ve made before. 

What’s the relevance of the name? There’s a cast iron church over in Liverpool, isn’t there? 

There is a church with that nickname yeah, it’s mostly made of bricks really but has some decorative parts made of iron. I walk our dog, Grace, through that area occasionally. Cast Iron Shore is another old nickname for part of the waterfront on the Mersey Estuary, it got called that because of iron from ships ending up on the sand there.

Names for anything are difficult. I wanted something which was associated with the area the video was being made and I didn’t want the name to be some kind of statement or joke. I chose the name because I think it represents aspects of Liverpool’s industrial and shipping history. I must have come up with about fifty potential names, and this was the only one I didn’t think sounded stupid a week or so after the idea. I think I’ll use the name again for the next video and call it ‘episode 2’ or something.

In Manchester it feels like a lot of the old industrial stuff is slowly being erased to make way for swanky offices and apartments. Is it the same in Liverpool?  

A lot of the really old buildings have remained, but they’re being bought up and converted into apartments and things. It’s better than them being knocked down altogether, but the areas will never feel the same afterwards. From what I’ve seen so far, they’ll end up being occupied by young professionals who tear around in expensive and obnoxious vehicles, thinking they’re important. The sorts of people who never would’ve gone for a look around those industrial areas before the renovations and then have a problem with you riding in a place you’ve been going to for years, because of the money they’re paying.  

Do you think the shift to more modern surfaces affects riding much? Angle iron ledges are a dying breed. 

New materials and preventative layouts affect things but there will always be something you can do; riders are more imaginative than the designers and planners think they are. Also, the rate of change is slower in the suburbs, so as far as our generation is concerned, I think we’ll have enough to keep us going until we’re not capable any more. I think new ways of riding will develop alongside the changes though, they’ll never be able to stop riding altogether. 

Riding aside, was there anything in particular you were trying to show, or document, with the new video? 

Part of the reason I make videos is so that they can be watched at some point in the future, mainly by the people who are in them, or whoever they might want to show. If I had relatives who’d been able to make videos of what they did in the 60’s, 70’s or earlier, and if you could see the buildings, the clothes, the cars and everything else as it was then, that’d definitely be something I’d want to see. I put a lot of non-riding footage in this video, to try to document the appearance of a period in time for future reference. I’m sure that the number of videos being made now will make it less likely for a video like this to be found, but hopefully someone with enough curiosity will watch it at some point.  

There’s a lot of VHS stuff in there. Obviously different formats always look cool, but was there a more philosophical reason for the analogue footage? It certainly fits well with the older architecture. 

The use of VHS footage started when I was capturing some clips I had from around 2000 to 2003, which were filmed on a VHS-C camera that I’d held on to from that time (I used the same camera for the more recently filmed VHS footage in the video too). Some ideas for the video started from that point. 

I like the idea that the ageing of a video can be accelerated with the use of and old format. Things are starting to change a bit now, but some of the areas I got footage of hadn’t changed in decades. So the VHS footage looks like it could have been filmed at any time in the last 40 or so years. As I was saying before, I want to preserve this period for some time in the future and if the footage already looks old now, I think that’ll add to the experience if it’s watched a few years down the line. 

One other thing is, and plenty of people have done this sort of thing before, but I tried to give the appearance of the video being on a tape, which again links to the use of VHS. You’d always end up with all kinds of unrelated things on VHS tapes; different bits you’d recorded off the TV. So that’s where the old adverts and things come in. The fast forward and tracking bits were to add to that effect. I don’t want to give too much away about the methods, but I used some quite manual techniques to get those effects to look authentic, rather than using something already built into the editing software. 

I quite like the little stories that often come with clips. Sometimes even a little 2 second snippet can be the product of a bizarre chain of events. Do any clips standout in this video—and if so, would you care to enlighten our readers? 

In the old footage part there’s a couple of clips of me and a lad called Ben at the hospital wallride. After we’d been there we went down to ride around what’s now Liverpool One shopping centre. I was about 15, small for my age, and Ben was even younger. We found ourselves surrounded by about six lads who were about 19 and looked massive and dangerous to us.

They were asking us to ‘do some skills’ and for a go of our bikes. I refused because they obviously weren’t going to give it back; I knew that from past experience. Then one tried peeling my fingers off the bars but, from riding, my grip was stronger than he expected. So instead, one stood on my front pegs and another on the back and then they made me ride down this steep grass bank like that. That might seem like a funny slapstick scenario but it wasn’t at the time, not knowing what they would do next. You could expect this type of intimidation and humiliation each time you went anywhere as a BMX kid. At least I didn’t get punched in the head on that occasion, but it killed the session a bit so we just got the train home after that.  

It seems we’re past the point of people going on about whether people will continue to make long-form videos or not, and there’s been loads of good ones out lately. What current videos do you enjoy watching from the comfort of your home? 

There are the newer releases of the videos I think I mentioned last time we did an interview (Skapegoat, 90 East, Strangeways, Hit The North etc.), which all get watched regularly. As well as that, I liked the Moto Bunka Crossover DVD and the Act Like You Know stuff is good. I rely on your web scour articles quite a bit to save me having to sift through the dross, so thanks for that. I think there’s more good stuff coming out now than ever before, but due to the total quantity of new videos etc., only a small proportion of the overall media output is good. Being honest, I will only watch most new videos once unless it’s something which really stands out. That’s not because I don’t like them, it’s just because I don’t have time to watch them all again. I wish I did have the time. I still refer back to Can I Eat and watch it from start to finish on a fairly regular basis, that video really changed things. 

Change of subject, but solo riding was more prevalent early last year due to all that lockdown malarkey, which made me think of this taxing question…  If, for example, absolutely no one is out, the sun is shining and you’ve got the ticket to ride, what are you going to do? And where are you going to go? And what’s your limit—does Addy Snowdon do rails on his own? 

If the conditions are good and there’s no one else riding, I’ll get out on my own, regardless of whether there’s a lockdown. I find riding around on my own without a destination quite enjoyable, particularly in deserted industrial areas. I’ll keep the danger and difficulty levels low though, or just scope out a spot to see if anything could be done on it. Once I’m convinced it’s decent and there’s nothing in the way or anything, I’ll go back with someone else for a session. 

I can only recall doing a handrail on my own on one occasion, and that was a few years back. It was quite a bit below bar height so that aspect felt safe, although it was in a place where I reckon no one would have passed through for a few hours, which could’ve been problematic if I’d fallen. These days I wouldn’t mess with handrails solo. 

On a similar tip, what are the ingredients for a ‘great sesh’. What’s the perfect day? And do you have any examples of ‘great seshes’ from recent history? 

One of the main ingredients that contribute to a ‘great sesh’ is making sure before you begin that there’s nothing else you know you need to do for that entire day. This takes preparation in advance but will clear the mind and the focus will then only be on the session. Be sure to eat enough beforehand and throughout the day. 

Then there’s the session participants, of which there should be no more than seven. You don’t want anyone who complains about spots and there should be no one who uses a phone for anything other than arranging the meet up.  

The next ingredient is out of everyone’s control; the weather. 15 to 18 degrees Celsius, no wind or rain and not too sunny; that would be my preference. Too hot and I’ll be incapable of riding for longer than two hours, too sunny and I’ll get a head ache. 

Lastly, some spots to ride are an essential factor. About three or four spots which all participants are able to ride will usually be enough for one day. Our recent trips to Copenhagen have been some of the best times. Care free days, a positive crew, a climate my body can cope with, good spots and a seemingly accepting culture when it comes to different uses of public spaces.  

Onto more serious subjects, I’ve talked to you quite a bit about technology stuff and various sci-fi concepts. Do you think it’s dangerous that a lot of ‘riding culture’ is seemingly hosted on a handful of websites? Should people care more to preserve things? 

Preservation of videos is important to me for the reasons I mentioned before. During the lockdown I made sure I had all of my files backed up in a number of ways, so they can all be retrieved if needed, and I’d urge others to do the same. I personally won’t be putting my trust solely in those websites as a place for safe storage of my videos; I can’t even get my videos to upload to the main video hosting website because of the music copyright rules anyway. I’m aware of some videos which have now gone forever because people who run a website decided there was a reason to take them down, and they weren’t backed up. 

I can see why some people see DVDs as archaic now, and I’m not tied to this format specifically, but if you want something to last for a long time I think it’s wise to use a method of distribution which is out of the control of anything or anyone who is external to riding culture, in addition to uploading things to the internet. Changes in copyright laws or a company deciding it doesn’t want to run a website or app any more aren’t going to affect the hard copies in your home, or the files you’ve saved locally. 

Like Manchester, Liverpool has really embraced the wheelie lately—and there are a lot of gangs of noodle-haired Fido-Dido types in full walking garb busting out all manner of rear wheel mountain bike moves. What are your thoughts on the wheelie scene? And do you think if you were in your early teens in 2021, you’d be doing that instead of riding a BMX?

I think the wheelie scene is alright. I wonder how good some of those people would be at BMX riding if they got into it, probably really good. Locally there’s still a bit of a stigma around BMX though. This is something which could’ve been sorted out by now if more BMXers took some care over the way riding is presented, but anyway, that’s why mountain bikes are favoured. 

If I was younger and looking for something to do now, I think I’d soon realise that the whole wheelie thing is a bit limited and be looking for something with some more options. I’ve always liked anything where you move by rolling, so I would’ve got involved with something, and hopefully I would have seen a decent representation of BMX so I could see it was something good to get into. You can’t really beat BMX in terms of the ability to cover ground as well as having plenty to do when you get to a spot. 

It’s also worth mentioning that I used to have a hoody with Fido Dido on the back, I was young though.

You may be excused. I like how the Merseyside region still seems to have its own specific style, and isn’t just ripping off American stuff like most other places. Does that extend to riding at all? Is there a ‘scouse style’? And as someone who’s travelled a fair bit, are there any specific traits you’ve noticed that don’t exist anywhere else? 

The characteristics of the local style are largely based on what the riders don’t do. There are no needless tweaks or movements happening, riders only do what needs to be done to pull the move, and however that looks is their style. 

Most people from the Merseyside region have grown up being subject to some quite harsh criticism if they did anything out of the ordinary. This could be seen as limiting, but in riding I think it makes you think before deciding what moves you will and won’t do, so the trick selection is usually well thought out. 

As for specific local traits, I’d say there are elements of aggression and spontaneity to the style of a lot of the riders. It’s hard to represent this on video, but there are riders who have the ability to bombard an entire area from the moment they arrive, doing whatever comes into their head on a moment to moment basis. I don’t think I’ve seen this done in quite the same way anywhere else.

You’re quite a mild-mannered, punctual character but I’ve witnessed you do some fairly terrifying, albeit calculated, moves on your bike. Where do you think this comes from? Is it almost a case of letting out the madness so you can go on living a regular life? Is it important for people to have an outlet?

I think those traits actually have a lot to do with why I’m still doing those moves; people with a more chaotic existence don’t often get around to doing much, especially as they get older and need to do other things. I don’t know where the drive to do those things originally comes from, but I know it’s always been there, years before I got hooked on BMX. Originally, perhaps I just wanted to surprise people by doing something they weren’t expecting. I think the compulsion to occasionally do things which appear to be dangerous might have faded quite a bit by now if I wasn’t still riding, but I never stopped so I’ve still got that connection to my youth. 

I think having an outlet is important, it definitely helps me to stay positive and content. One decent day of riding at the weekend with a few moves landed can put me in a good mood all week, so in that way, riding does help with getting on with regular life. 

I’m not sure if I’m remembering this right, but did you tell me once you’re related to Gary Barlow? Have you ever met him? And have you ever tried writing songs to see if you also possess his knack for a catchy melody? 

I believe that he is a descendant of my five times great grandfather, but I’ve never met him or any of the other members of Take That. I did hear recently that Robbie Williams is a keen BMX fan though, so perhaps Gary is too and one day we’ll meet and shred the streets of Frodsham. I don’t think I inherited the song writing gene unfortunately, I think it’d be more likely that Gary would do handrail than it would be for me to release a hit single. 

I think I’ve run out of questions now. Have you got any wise words to add? 

Spend less time looking at things which are the product of small amounts of effort. Thanks to everyone who contributed in any way to the video. 

Cast Iron Shore is available here.

Read an old interview with Addy here.

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