Paul Silvester’s part from the first Viewfinder video is now up on the Civic Video Library.
Enduringly nicknamed, “Man”, Silvester’s Viewfinder section is one of the earliest Leeds-centric parts from a video which received national attention. Filmed in 1997 by Ben Powell (and produced alongside others) Viewfinder was released in 1998 – the same year as Neil Chester’s Hating Life which contains a short but heavy Leeds section from Man’s fellow, powerful Yorkshireman, Scott Palmer.
Two notable Leeds spots take precedent in Silvester’s Viewfinder part; the first being him christening the no longer existent “Man Bank” in Leeds University (shot by Wig Worland for the first ever Sidewalk ‘Haunts’ feature, as seen above) which he later kickflipped into for Unabomber Skateboards’ Unapromo video.
The second spot – a timely one – sees Silvester weave together both the Henry Moore Insitute and Leeds Art Gallery‘s 9-stair in one line, a route which seemingly went untouched until Dale Starkie’s recent efforts in WELCOME 2: HELL.
We’ve also digitised Silvester’s ‘Haunts’ interview from Sidewalk Magazine #13 (January/February 1997) which contains photos of footage seen in his Viewfinder part. In addition, we spoke to Ben Powell about the backstory to Viewfinder, his relationship with Silvester across filming for the video (which overlapped with debut of ‘Haunts’ in Sidewalk), and the Leeds skate scene around Henry Moore Institute and the Art Gallery of the late ’90s.
Civic Stories with Ben Powell on Paul Silvester, ‘Viewfinder’, and Sidewalk Magazine’s ‘Haunts’
“He was, like, ‘Man’ – this monosyllabic maniac.”
“Viewfinder came out in ’98. Previous to that: me, Frank Stevens, Ben Rodriguez, Mark Channer and some other people had been involved with making Playing Fields which was inspired by Eastern Exposure 3, basically. At that point, there was a dearth of British footage altogether. It was the beginning of PANIC and Blueprint, I think Playing Fields came out around the same time as the first PANIC video, A Mixed Media. Prior to that, there had been Deathbox’s Spirit of the Blitz which came out in ’91 and a few scene videos here and there. Video cameras weren’t really affordable, video editing software didn’t really exist like it exists now; it was fucking expensive, basically, if you wanted to make a video.
Playing Fields had gone down really well. It wasn’t directed by sponsors or brands, it was just footage of people around the country who were going off. I’d started working at Sidewalk, I was travelling around filming; John Cattle – the main dude who edited Viewfinder had inherited some money and bought a bunch of cameras and a computer with editing software; Alan Glass, was already making videos of his own; [there was] a guy called Tom Moore from Bath, who’s now a really good painter. The momentum was there from making Playing Fields.”
“You’ve got to remember, there was no internet, no way of getting footage to anybody other than putting it on a VHS tape and you weren’t doing that with two minutes of footage. You had to have some cohesive idea. It was an excuse to get some footage out from all parts of the country so people could watch it. Back then, two years might go by without there being a British skate video. It was never intended to be 411 because that would be a claim beyond all claims, it was just a repository for all the footage we could get together. And people wanted to buy stuff. And Jethro Haynes, who has gone on to be a really renowned artist and production guy – he’s done stuff for Palace – he did the cover art for the VHS tapes. Obviously there are no music rights. It was kinda renegade, that’s what making videos at that point was like but there wasn’t really anyone making them. Historical context is the reason why it existed, because nothing like that existed.”
“The first time I ever met Silvester would have been at the precursor to Rehab Skate Park. Before the big indoor skate park which people associate with that name, there was a smaller one in the room behind it. It was owned by a professional rugby player who played for Wakefield Trinity, who was into rollerblading, and it was called “Simon’s Psycho Warehouse”. Paul used to come down with – I presume – his Huddersfield crew. So you’d have [Lee] Rozzee; the Gregory brothers and their crew from Bradford; myself, my brother, James Kitchen, Jaime Firth – rest in peace, and a bunch of other Wakefield people; then all the Leeds lot: Rob Burn, Chris Barrass, Snoz [Mark Snowball].
I remember seeing Paul doing really difficult stuff. Like, “Whoa, this dude is nuts,” but he didn’t speak to anybody, really. He just came, skated and didn’t speak. That’s where the name [“Man”] comes from. As far as I understand, they’d be like: “There’s a spot here. He’s the man for the job,” so that’s where “Man” came from. Also because he just didn’t speak. So he was, like, Man – this monosyllabic maniac.
This would have been the Air Skate Shop era, it was in the Corn Exchange. Dan Joyce – of Dirty Sanchez fame, was a student in Leeds and he worked in the shop. I think he had a video camera so there was a bit of hype around the stuff Silvester was doing.”
“The idea of ‘Haunts’ was that you gave people a chance to represent their skating in the environment they honed it in, the environment they “haunted”, literally.”
“When he moved to Leeds around the time I’m talking, he literally lived in cupboard in a house that was called The Punx Residence which was where Snoz, Chris Barrass and Rob Burn lived; sort of my era of street skaters. There were good skaters in Leeds prior. Badass [Chris Barrass] was sick, Snoz was really good, but Paul was doing shit nobody in the country was doing, sort of.
I’d done stuff with Sidewalk before just because I was stoked on getting my name in a skate mag. I hadn’t assumed it would go anywhere. I was working in Rollersnakes and doing a Master’s degree then I got offered a job [by] Issue #13 as “Deputy Editor”, or whatever the title was, so I needed to come up with some new feature ideas. It annoyed me at the time, possible through being from the North, that it felt as though in order to get sponsored or any kind of recognition, you had to leave where you came from and go to London. In a similar kind of way in how if you wanted a career as a pro skater you had to leave Britain and go to America.
The idea of ‘Haunts’ was that you gave people a chance to represent their skating in the environment they honed it in, the environment they “haunted”, literally. Their space. And it was actually created deliberately for Paul because he was example of somebody who was getting overlooked.”
“I remember one time – I think it’s the day he films the line at Henry Moore – he was like: “I can’t come out filming because I haven’t got any shoes.”
“What do you mean?”
“I literally haven’t got any shoes. I haven’t got any money.”
So I gave him a pair of Pete Hellcar’s pink Adidas that Pete had given to me. That’s what pissed me off. He was doing all this mad shit and he literally couldn’t skate because he couldn’t afford stuff.
Looking at [the interview] now, it might have just been [shot over] one weekend. The portrait and backside nollie flip then the 360 nollie down the stairs in Wakey and switch 5050 and kickflip over the hip at Rehab might have even been the same day. We might have gone out first to get stuff in Leeds, and it started pissing it down, so he did that backside nollie heelflip then we went to Wakey. There was an indoor carpark in Wakefield so it was like the only dry spot plus [Rehab] was there. He did that 360 nollie down the stairs outside what was Lightwaves Centre and that spot’s disgusting. Its downhill, there’s a rumble strip at the top and bottom. I think he’s the only person to ever do a trick there. Then we went to Rehab, he switch 5050’d that massive hubba – which was unthinkable for the time, then did a chest high kickflip over the hip.
“He landed every trick, every go to the point where I’m pissing myself laughing behind the camera because he does, like, twenty different switch ledge tricks in a row.”
“The switch back nosegrind: that [ledge] used to be at the top end of the university. If you go past Millennium Square, there was a little plaza spot with loads of concrete benches. That was kind of Leeds’ sick ledge spot because you could move those benches around. I found the tape the other day and he landed every trick, every go to the point where I’m pissing myself laughing behind the camera because he does, like, twenty different switch ledge tricks in a row. Crazy shit for that period. Other people were doing that; [Paul] Shier was doing that, [Rob] Selley was doing it but the consistency Paul had with that kind of skating was bonkers.
“The ollie into “The Man Bank”, I didn’t film that but the photo is from a different time and I was there when he did it for the photo. I guess my camera must have run out of battery. I think he’d done that a bunch of different times. Anyone who went to that spot – and subsequently people did some crazy stuff into it – it wasn’t a spot until he ollied into it. Then kickflipped into it which is his last trick in Unapromo. That thing was awful. Really steep, really high, cracks in the run up, cracks in the run out and he’d do it like it was nothing, basically.
It’s worth me saying quickly that people shit themselves when that ‘Haunts’ came out. And everyone from Leeds was like, “Well, it’s not that good, is it?”
“What do you mean?”
“He did it in two days. Why didn’t you give him a month? He could’ve filled the entire magazine.”
And he could have. He was that good. It was shocking to do that much groundbreaking shit… in the rain. I’m pretty sure it was in the winter was as well. Skating in the rain went on to be a bit of a Silvester meme.”
“For a long time you couldn’t go anywhere, like “big box” spots in Leeds, because Man had already killed it.”
“Paul did switch boardslide 270 out [on L-Ledge] in the rain for his Sidewalk interview a year or two after this. For a long time you couldn’t go anywhere, like “big box” spots in Leeds, because Man had already killed it. Then it went that Mike [Wright] and Joe [Lynskey] had killed it. I’ve said this before in another interview: they basically had to demolish Playhouse to give everyone a chance to catch up with what other people had done.
“Parkinson’s 10, I’d seen him do [the rail] before when we’d been out skating and I didn’t have a camera. I think I bought the camera I’m filming all this stuff with off Richard Benny Hughes from Birmingham, I guess it wouldn’t have even been Hi-8 but, like, an 8mm camera I bought for £150. We went skating and I said, like, “Oh you should do that ollie out to boardslide that you did the other day.”
Then he proceeded to land face first into the grit bin and then just get back up and do it. Subsequently, Foz [James Foster] and a bunch of other people did shit on that but there was nobody else – I don’t want to say in the country – but there was nobody else north of Birmingham who was going to go anywhere near that.”
“A bit of ethnographic background: the black ledge that he crooks – which now everyone skates as a ride on grind on the other side – when [HMI] got built, that glass wall wasn’t there so that got skated as a drop to do fliptricks off. I think I fucked off for a bit, didn’t go to Leeds for six months and I came back and they’d put that wall there which changed that spot into what it is now.
“He did the crook, then he does a lipslide on the wall and on the bus in the background there’s a Men In Black ad. I always liked that. I think he’d already done some ollie up, duck down, jump down the stairs line. But this is definitely the first documentation of someone skating the area like that, as far as I know. That was, like, “the plaza spot”. You were getting kicked out of the uni even back at this point but you never really got kicked out of Henry Moore. They were always kind of alright with it. I guess they put that glass wall there to stop people jumping out and crashing into people walking past but, beyond that, they didn’t really give a toss about people skating there.
“The main thing I remember about it is it just didn’t take him very long. It’s one of those things were it seems obvious now that you’d do that but you need somebody to do it first otherwise it’s not obvious. Paul, 100% gets the credit for unlocking that as an idea. If you think about it, that line is probably 25 years old now. That’s still a pretty hefty line.”
“Rob Burn doesn’t get enough credit. Rob comes in after Silvester. I didn’t film any of this, somebody gave me a VHS tape and I think it might be Dan Joyce filming it, someone who lived at the Punx house, or who evidently knew how to use a camera better than me.
“Rob Burn, I don’t think he skates anymore but he’s still about, still keeps up to date, but him and Man where the two dudes pushing the level in Leeds. Man was the “gnarly” dude and Rob was super tech, everything was mad clean, he had good outfits that matched his shoes. He was on PANIC for a minute, he had a couple of tricks in A Mixed Media then, couldn’t be bothered being sponsored and still skated a bit.
“Between the time when I filmed the line of Silvester where he does the backside 180 down the stairs, and the Rob footage which was filmed first, they fenced off the war memorial because when we first skated that spot, you could skate the memorial as a manual pad. But yeah, Rob Burn was amazing – anyone who saw him skate will tell you. I saw him switch frontside heelflip a dustbin off of the tiniest little driveway and do it, like, Koston-level smooth beyond smooth. Shout out Rob Burn.”
“[The ground] was never particularly smooth but the reason people skated those ledges is because you used to get kicked out of the cement benches [see switch nosegrind photo above] which is why every bit of footage is at night because it’s the only time you could get away with skating there. The Henry Moore area got skated before Playhouse got built so that was the nearest thing to a “plaza” spot, even though nobody was conceptualising it as a plaza in their head. Snoz is in the background of that Rob Burn clip so it showed the different generations hanging out there. Seeing people still skate it now…
“Particularly because so much of Leeds has changed in a similar way to Manchester – as it’s been developed so much – so many of the spots I grew up skating have gone. The fact that the area around the Art Gallery and Millennium Square is still cherished by the skate scene and as a media hotspot is sick, I think. People didn’t just rock up last week and think, “Yeah, it would be sick to do a line where you duck under that.” Somebody had to pioneer that.
“Like I said, that [‘Haunts’] article was my, “I’ve got this job, I need to culturally justify getting paid to do something.” So I’m going to try create a feature that switches the focus and you can have an eight-page interview and you don’t have to be sponsored because Man wasn’t at the time. He just happened to be as good as anyone else [who was] and I thought that was unfair.
“It sounds silly being so militant about it now because I’m 50, I’ve got a kid and don’t work in skating anymore but there seemed so much injustice to that. It seemed like a good opportunity to try and redress it. Plus, watching this, it reminds me of spending every day skating outside of Henry Moore or skating the Uni Banks before my knees and ankles were knackered.”
Related: Paul Silvester — ‘Haunts’ Interview from Sidewalk Magazine #13, Paul Silvester — In Motion (Sidewalk Magazine, 2003), Paul Silvester — Day In The City 2 (2002), Josh Hallett on Welcome Skate Store’s ‘Paul,’, Paul Silvester Interview (via the Welcome Skate Store blog)