Name: Andrew Clifton-Brown (I took part of my wife’s name as I always hated the surname 'Brown') Hometown: Kent Occupation: IT/Photographer (freelance)
Let's start off with a big question, what have you been up to the last 10 years? Andy Brown: Married to my best friend (yeah I know. Sickening but It’s true though), kids, coding and just keeping busy. Photography work is starting to come in more regularly so it pays for the kit that I buy and the occasional trip and I enjoy my life and friends. The antitheses of where I thought my life would be now.
Let's move back 25 years in time which takes us back to 1984. Was BMX a big part of your life then? Andy Brown: It was everything to me at that time of my life.
One of my brothers used to beat the snot out of me regularly and it left me feeling powerless and angry and I did really badly at school as my concentration was appalling (this was before things like an ADHD diagnosis so I was just labelled a dummy which also fueled my anger). BMX was the only thing that I had any real control over and that made sense to me. I could choose where to ride, who with and where. I’d created a microcosm for myself and subsequently I felt less of a freak in this environment.
Who did you start riding with? Andy Brown: Paul Zak, and Paul Gerlach were the first serious people I rode with. They were local to me and we went to competitions together. I was quite the angry little f*ck up and so they didn't always want to ride with me. This was entirely my own fault in hindsight. I had this huge chip on my shoulder. Like the world owed me something.
Did you have anything to ride (ramps/quarters/wedge ramps)? Andy Brown: We had a few dirt jumps, and 'Blackheath dips' (a stretch of land with undulating trails). The dips were great. In its heyday it was jam packed with riders and it just felt like that was how life was supposed to be. And also a scabby race course in Charlton Park that the local council built with no obvious input from anyone that had a clue as to what they were doing. I built a rickety old quarter pipe in my mum’s back garden. It was pretty basic and we made it up as we went along. It lasted for an afternoon and then fell to pieces. I remember riding some guys quarter pipe in his back garden (Eltham?) with Jason Hassle, Paul Zak and Paul Gerlach. Turns out it was James White. I only realised this a few years ago when the face clicked.
How did you get around when you wanted to go ride with other people? Andy Brown: Trains, tubes, friend’s cars, or just rode there. You can’t travel now by tube or train like we did then. We’d just bundle all the bikes into the relevant carriage(s) and fill up the standing room with bikes. It was a lot less strict on having bikes on the tube and trains back then. The riders with cars generally got abused. Lee Reynolds was an absolute trooper. He drove everyone everywhere. He’s a tough act to beat in terms of good guys and is a fantastic rider.
Where in London was your local spot? Andy Brown: Locally it was lots of different places dependant on the weather and the season. A children's swimming pool in Charlton that was disused in winter, the promenade outside of a co-op in Kidbrooke, an NCP multi storey car park in Woolwich, etc. The first feeling of actually belonging was Southbank on a Wednesday night. That was superb. I'd finish school, which was actually in Waterloo (about half a mile from Southbank), get the train home, make some phone calls to see who was going to be there and who I could get the train up to Waterloo with, and just ride, watch and hangout. Around 9ish/10 ish it was off to get a Casey Jones Burger in Waterloo. We’d then just sit around and chew the fat.
Who was all in your riding group in the Meanwhile (II) time? Andy Brown: Greg Guillotte, Lee Reynolds , Howard (Nick Elkan), Phil Dolan, Lincon Blacksley, Gary McCallion, Aju Bubu, Sketch, Zak and Jason Webb (apologies if I have forgotten anyone!). It really was a great time. It was all about having fun and having a good laugh. As far as I remember, and I may be wrong, Greg, Lee and Howard where the architects of meanwhile II. The rest of us just tagged along. It was an absolute pleasure to be in that group at that point and I have nothing but great memories of that time and the encouragement I got from the group as I learnt to air.
You did ride a few contests but am I right when I say that it wasn't your scene? Andy Brown: I truthfully have no definitive yes or no to answer that question. The competition scene was full of people I really liked, and going to the comps was normally the only time I'd see those people, and as it was an infant sport at the time I just wanted to see more of the world that the BMX magazines let you glimpse every month. Paul Zak was really competitive and wanted to compete, so I just tagged along and tried to place. It was enjoyable until I finally realised I was the sort of rider who would go balls out, f*ck up and not place. My concentration was so bad my thoughts wandered constantly.
Was street riding more your thing? Andy Brown: It became more my thing as I progressed. Getting to vert ramps was always a pain as they were so few and far between (which I’ve read is still an issue), and my first love will always be dirt jumping but street became the surrogate of flatland for me, and something that was a lot closer to jumping than ramps. Flatland was entering the phase of all these amazing rolling tricks, etc, and while I was (and still am) amazed by them, the aggression that I normally applied to riding and flatland tricks just didn't work for me. Something blipped in translation and the amount of practise I had to do to pull the tricks off killed the enjoyment of it for me, and so street was a logical progression in retrospect. I also levered my dirt credentials for street, and found that the disciplines weren't really a great deal apart so it was no real stretch.
Do you believe the people you rode with can be credited for a lot of street moves? Andy Brown: I remember at the time watching people doing street when it started off and being really underwhelmed. It was being featured in R.A.D and the photos made it look good but it was ridiculous in the flesh. It was these silly little foot plant things adorned with a grunge aesthetic. I just felt like they wanted to be skaters and whatever it was they were trying to translate or kickstart didn’t work. It wasn’t something I was interested in. I rode with Dave Slade (who was always a little bit of an unorthodox rider) and the first time I saw him pull a fakie wall ride it got my attention. Now this was something I could get behind that clearly had its roots in BMX but was street. I think Dave got a lot of people’s attention to be honest. I think R.A.D popularised it but Dave Slade was a true proponent of street. He got street long before the rest of us did.
Was it copying street skate tricks, or did you just make up stuff on your own by experimenting? Andy Brown: Originally copying skate tricks, and then it became a natural progression to mix it up. Some of the street tricks on bikes just looked great. A handrail always looks better on a deck than a bike to me though.
What vert ramp did you enjoy riding back in the day? Andy Brown: The ramp at meanwhile. It was spongy, and hardly any real vert, but it was the ramp that I learnt to properly air on and so it has a place in my heart, and I always think of it fondly. And Lee and Greg tore it up like there was no tomorrow. I also knocked myself out on it and woke up in Paddington hospital after being unconscious for five hours. Lee and co said I turned blue at one point. I’m assuming I swallowed my tongue for a bit rather than turned into a blue meanie for a bit.
What was your favorite (concrete/asphalt) skatepark? Andy Brown: Rom. It wasn't just the skatepark. It was the whole thing. They had video games there, food, likewise minded people. The pool there used to scare my witless. The moggles where just brilliant to roll around getting the bike as flat as possible. I spent so many happy weekends there. I bet my DNA is still smeared across some patches of concrete there. I went to uplands when I was in the states and the bikers there get treated like lepers which I found really odd. I was so looking forward to going there as well.
Did you ever make it to the USA for a BMX freestyle contest? Andy Brown: No. I would have tanked anyhow. I always got nervous in comps and crashed. Doing it in the US would have been too much pressure for me. My concentration wandered as I was crossing the street back then.
RAD (or BMX Action Bike magazine) covered a lot of what you guys were doing. Was it important to have a magazine that understood what you guys were all about? Andy Brown: Yes it was important, but only in so much as "Cool, that's me or someone I know in that shot in a magazine". At the time I never thought, great, our sport is transcending its somewhat rigid, intractable beginnings.... Looking back on it however, I think it probably had a huge impact culturally on BMX, and was an extremely big step in BMX in the UK maturing.
RAD had lots of great things going for it. Tim Leighton-Boyce took some superb shots pre digital. It was slickly put together, and it did imbue credibility to BMX in the UK scene whether anybody cared or not. I never saw Nick Philips as a rider, and never thought of him as a peer. He & Tim Leigton-Boyce were part of the scene in their capacity as journalist & photographer, and the majority of us were aware of what that entailed.
Just to be clear however, RAD everyone obviously had their own agenda. They were a commercial enterprise how could they not. Nick Philips was a canny bloke. He was obviously aware of what the US mag Freestylin' was doing at the time just before they embarked on the Action Bikes name and direction change to R.A.D. Nick/and or Tim Leighton-Boyce spotted the zeitgeist that was occurring in BMX in the UK at the time. The riders were growing up and were unsatisfied with the status quo that existed in BMX at that time. The competitions were childish in their need to dress you up in factory gear, and then have someone’s mum or dad judging you for your run. You weren’t judged by your peers. Colin Kefford was largely responsible for that. He was a good man, but he was a product of his time and people don’t seem to want to make any allowances for that. I’m not flag waving for him but a bit of perspective is required to judge these things. He wanted to make it formalised, and very British. Almost like competition Ice Skating or Miss UK. Nick and TLB obviously knew the general feeling of discontent amongst riders with regards to the competition scene, and unintentional or not, they ghetto'izeded BMX for a while. Whether or not it was a cynical marketing move to increase readership and sales of Nick’s clothing, or an impassioned push to break the cycle I'll never know. Pushed to make a choice, I'd have to say it sits somewhere quite nicely between both camps. Nick and TLB where both very personable people, so my comments above are not aimed at them personally. Only in their professional capacity.
Who got too much coverage? Andy Brown: There was always a strange selection of individuals that got coverage but that was to do with other aspects and standings in BMX and to name them is a little unfair as it wasn’t their fault. Who did not get enough? Andy Brown: Graham Marfleet. Simply an incredible rider across all disciplines. And Greg Guillote. Possibly the rider with the most potential I have ever seen. We never really saw eye to eye, and it was mostly my fault, but it doesn’t detract from what an incredible rider I always knew he was.
Do you still have a BMX bike? Andy Brown: No. I have two very badly herniated discs though. I’m one step off having to have them fused together. I don’t have any desire to go back to riding BMX again. Sure I miss the feeling of air, but some things are just done. You’ve achieved everything you wanted to and you’re at peace with it. I certainly wouldn't go back because I liked the whole BMX lifestyle. BMX as a lifestyle choice is a pretty strange concept. I just wanted to ride. BMX was a bit of a death sentence when I started. It was not cool in any shape or fashion. I did consider riding for Jon Chickens doing downhill, but I still can’t muster up the enthusiasm for it.
If you look back at it, was it good times, or a waste of time? Andy Brown: Great times. It was the people you rode with that helped define the memories. The people I most liked to ride with where Jason Hassle, Dave Slade, Lee Reynolds, John Dye, Colin Platts, Aju Bubu, John Povah, Wayne Rider, Michael Cameron, Andrew Reardon, Larry Bull and Dave Beveridge.
Last words? Andy Brown: I’ve seen disparaging comments about the old guys that still ride for fun. To have passion for anything is a blessing. It’s easy to be negative and knock people for what they love just because it doesn't fit into your view of the world.
I met so many wonderful people through BMX that it would be impossible to thank them all here, but they made a difference to my life and I thank them for that.
Darren Whitfield. Thanks mate. I owe you for making me look at the past in a different light.