Feature Article

London Calling 2023

London Calling 70's UK Skateboarding Tribute
London Calling 70’s UK Skateboarding Tribute

London calling, yes I was there too and you know what they said? Well some of it was true. In fact it was probably all true, it’s just that as I didn’t take up skateboarding until I was in my fifties, I couldn’t really vouch for what happened on the emerging UK skateboarding scene in the 1970s.

Alex Turnbull DJ-ing at Pure Evil Gallery show
Alex Turnbull DJ-ing at Pure Evil Gallery show

There was never any doubt that when Steve Douglas, Bod Boyle, Don Brown and Dan Adams put out the call to the faraway towns, that all the boys and girls would come out of the cupboard. London Calling was an outstanding success, and the fact that DEVO were playing one of their last ever gigs at Hammersmith Apollo on the same weekend just seemed fitting. The event was conceived and put together as a tribute to the original pioneers of the UK skate scene which emerged in the mid/late 1970s. Held in London over the weekend of 17-20 August, it kicked off with an exhibition of photographs and video footage, much of which had not been shown in public before. The walls of the Pure Evil Gallery on Leonard Street were adorned with posters, magazine covers, skateboards and other paraphernalia associated with the emergent phenomenon. To mark the event Vans had issued a special retro edition of the red and blue shoes which many of the riders in the photographs and videos could be seen wearing at the time. I picked up a copy of the accompanying zine, a fantastic compendium of much of the exhibition material packed with words from the original riders. With Alex Turnbull playing music by The Slits, Siouxsie & the Banshees, the B52s and of course, the Clash, the gallery was packed with skaters my own age and older, stepping back in time but reveling in reunions of the present day. I wasn’t quite sure, but could have sworn that Alex managed to slip a little 23 Skidoo into the mix towards the end of the evening.

Alex and Kadir
Alex and Kadir

As a later skater I’ve met many new friends, and built enduring friendships cemented by a love for skateboarding. As a practical stranger in the room at the Pure Evil Gallery on the Thursday evening I was moved by the sheer amount of love in the room. Hugs and handshakes separate by decades and smiles that bridged the years like these people had last seen each other only yesterday. And as a skater, I felt part of it all, taken under the wings of veterans.

All the Homies from the panel
All the Homies from the panel

The following morning we all went to university. Under the guiding arm of Iain Borden, professor of architecture and urban culture at UCL, himself a skater and co-conspirator in the London Calling politburo, we were directed to a lecture hall in the cruciform building on Gower Street. Here in the reception area I detected an underlying yorkshire accent poking through a Californian twang. Curious, I introduced myself and met Andy Lomas, originally from Leeds and now living in
Arizona, via California.

Andy Lomas sporting a Lakewood Skatepark t-shirt
Andy Lomas sporting a Lakewood Skateboard World t-shirt

Keen to hear tales of my home town and some early Leeds skate history I asked him when he first started skating. After picking up his first board in 1976, he soon got a job at Truckstop in the Merrion Centre, where he began to meet other skateboarders from around the west Yorkshire area, leading to an emerging northern skateboarding scene that would lay challenge to its southern counterpart, LSD – London Skates Dominate and claim Leeds Skates Dominate!

Moving through to the lecture hall, I met Andy’s friends and fellow northern skaters Stefan Harkon, and the Burdell siblings Sheenagh and Darren. Our conversation continued as the lecture hall filled up. With Freddie Laker offering one way flights to the US for less than a hundred pounds (roughly the equivalent of £700 today) aboard his ‘Skytrain’, Andy, like a number of other UK skaters managed to squirrel the money for a trip to California in 1978. Andy didn’t come back. Darren told me he was less fortunate, after returning to England for a short family visit, his attempt to get back into the States was refused when immigration officers found a letter from his American girlfriend confirming that the (illegal) job had been kept open and everyone at work was looking forward to his return. He was put on the next flight home.

London Calling - Panel 1
London Calling – Panel 1

Having never actually heard of these skateboard pioneers and legends, owing to my delayed entry into the skateboarding world and consequently skating with people some twenty, even thirty years younger than myself, it’s tales like these that re-affirm my enthusiasm for skateboarding. That pioneering, ‘hell let’s just go for it attitude’ can be found at the heart of skateboard culture.

London Calling - Panel 2
London Calling – Panel 2

The lecture hall filled to capacity and over the next three hours two panels of pioneers including Jeremy Henderson, John Sablosky, Ben Liddell, Kadir Guirey, Marc Sinclair, Alex Turnbull, Simon Napper, Sheenagh Burdell, James Cassimus and Tony Alva, all took their place on the forum at the front of the hall. The session was joined via Zoom by Mark Baker and Steve Olson from Mark’s home in Bali. What was clear from the conversations was that the UK skaters were obviously inspired by their American counterparts, but lacking the parks and facilities across the Atlantic they learned to skate in their own environment, the undercroft at Southbank on the Thames, on derelict land at Meanwhile Gardens and on emerging new skateparks, Skate City and Harrow. “Our environment shaped our style,” Andy Lomas whispered in my ear as I sat next to him. Equally the Americans, especially those that visited back in the day, were stoked on the UK scene. Tony Alva claimed that
in 1978 skating the UK spots and bowls around the country, all a far cry from the quality of American facilities that he was used to, gave him the foundation to dominate in France. After skating England, he said, all the other stuff he encountered in Europe seemed easier. He also said that the food was so terrible that even that toughened him up.

Darren Burdell
Darren Burdell

Glancing around the filled room I took joy, marveling at peoples’ faces, filled with smiles and respect for the panel of original skaters sat at the front of this lecture hall. To be honest, I’d been a little trepidatious about coming to this gig. None of my much younger contemporaries on the Leeds scene had shown any interest, and why should they? Separated by so many decades. But for me, a lot closer in age to those radicals, it was different and I can explain it like this; if my discovery of skateboarding could be compared with the equivalent of discovering the Clash for the first time, then my time at London Calling was akin to discovering the Beatles, the Stones and the Small Faces, those pioneers that in turn inspired Jones and Strummer et al.

Devo - London UK 2023
Devo – Hammersmith Apollo Theatre, London UK 2023

Most of the old crew met at Southbank for a session the following day, then again at the DEVO concert in the evening. I managed to say a final cheerio to Andy Lomas and threw a nod in Tony Alva’s direction as we were ushered through the VIP doors into the venue and up to the green room, “you coming in?” asked Andy, no I said, “I’m Not Down” and went off to enjoy the gig from the cheap seats. London Calling hit the top of the dial, and after all this, there were plenty of smiles, especially at the meet-up on Sunday down at Crystal Palace, but by then I was riding home in my Pink Cadillac.

Mike Sinclairs 60th birthday cake

Just wow, what a 4 days that many will never forget. For the lucky ones who attended some or all of the festivities of London calling, What was your favorite?

I know that’s very hard to pick one as there were so many, but to me as a skateboarder first was giving this cake by my lifelong friend Bod Boyle @bod.boyle to the legend that is Marc Sinclair.

Bod 80/90’s London vert legend giving the 70’s London vert legend a great tribute in words and then this cake with the amazing image shot in Nov 79, it was just incredible and to be right there 🤯 this event was about the 80’s skaters saying thanks to the 70’s for inspiring us all.

Special thanks to my wife @francesdouglas for this great idea and @scienceversuslife for ordering it.

Marc and Jeremy interview shot by @cassimusfoto was a center stone of the exhibit, the zine and forum and to have all 3 there incredible.

Marc gave me a a personal gift of that fakie ollie session, I will cherish for life. What a gentleman❤️❤️ #thankyouskateboarding

– Steve Douglas

Josh and TA
Josh Sutton and TA
– Josh is a skateboarding inspired book publisher in the UK and his collection can be found here:
London Calling website with other information
Pure Evil Gallery exhibit is up until Sept 10th (There are still Zines, event T’s, and limited LSD Vans still available, and soon hand signed Jeremy and Marc Cassimus prints)

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