Photo: Ash Wilson. All other photography courtesy of Kev unless credited otherwise.
Skateboard scenes are microcosmic, filled with their own rich history and folklore passed down from generation to generation. Thankfully, every period produces at least one person who picks up a camera and, in the process of capturing those around them, unintentionally becomes one of the most important figures of their epoch.
For the Liverpool skate scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s that’s Kevin Banks – who grew up alongside a pint sized Geoff Rowley, the elusive Howard Cooke, Lost Art bossman David Mackey and many others. Kev’s archive extends far beyond the Mersey and plenty of individuals that have influenced skateboarding as a whole have found themselves on the other side of his lens over the years.
I’m not really sure how to introduce the other half of this interview… After making appearances in Sidewalk Magazine for the last twenty years and even being one of the first riders of 5Boro NYC, John Dalton might not need any introduction at all. He’s a good bloke, I’ll leave it at that.
As I’ve already said, every skate scene has its folklore and its figures, some of which never put down the board and remain friends for decades. John and Kev are those people and after becoming friends with them over the past couple of years, it felt remiss not to dig through Kev’s portfolio and learn about some of the stories that went with it.
John Dalton, lipslide, Streble Fountain, Liverpool, 1991. Photo: Kevin Banks
How did you two first meet?
John: Skating in town, wasn’t it? Probably at The Courts. What year would you say, Kev? ’89, ’90?
Kev: Yeah, 1990, possibly. The Courts was the meeting point. There would be a good session there for a while.
John: It was good and busy with loads of kids out. The main meeting point changed weekly. You would have The Courts one week and The Tiles the next. Fifty/sixty kids out at any one time just meeting up and skating. If it was raining we would be underneath The Courts and find a girder, a cone, anything just to skate in the wet there.
“John Newby. Ollie over the Liverpool Law Courts big gap, Liverpool. 1992/3? If you ever saw this gap or tried it you would know how awkward it was. Having to ollie over the bench didn’t help. Only a select few ever made it. Long gone now.” – Kev
Apart from yourself, Dykie [Matthew Ryan] with the East video, Vapors , Ash Wilson and Ollie Birch more recently, it seems that photographers and filmers have been quite sparse in Liverpool
Kev: You had Meanie and Kingy as well. Duffy was at college in Southport but he moved down to Cornwall. Percy [Dean, Document Magazine editor] started in ’92, was it?
John: It was mainly Meanie but he was really tied up. He used to work for Kerrang! as well as Skateboard! He would be out on a night shooting bands so it was very rare he would get into town, only for specific shoots, that sort of thing. You were just out and about, weren’t you Kev? Just shooting what was happening.
Kev: Yeah, only set up ones, whereas I was street skating everyday.
St Helens Car Park Exit Ramp Bomb, 1991. Photo: Kevin Banks
“Kev Whelan, ‘The Southport Gonz’. St Helens car park spiral, 1991. Kev was such a amazing skater. Really progressive and one of the nicest people you could ever meet. He wasn’t called ‘The Southport Gonz’ for nothing. What a spot that was too. Long gone unfortunately.” – Kev Banks
Kev, when did you become interested in photography and how did that and skateboarding come together?
Kev: I was doing a photography course when I started skating, it was pretty much a documentary course so I just started documenting the scene and didn’t really think it through. I skated so I took photos of people skating. It’s bananas now. Not a single thing happens without it being documented usually. Back in the day it was expensive, film wasn’t cheap and time-wise; if you were shooting slides there wasn’t any process to do it quickly. A three hour round trip to go somewhere in town, then you would have to come back a day later and another three hour trip to pick it up. You never knew if it was going to work out either. There are so many photographers these days and there wasn’t many of us back in the day.
Don’t take this the wrong way but I had no idea who you were until I saw Sidewalk posting a few of your photos on Instagram.
Kev: That’s fair enough, not a lot of people do, (laughs).
John: (Laughing), what you on about, he’s a fucking legend!
But when we met at Bold Steet your name clicked instantly. I actually wanted to ask you about this interview then but thought it would be weird as we had just met, (laughs). Anyway, did you pay attention to published skate photography from the beginning or did simply enjoy taking photos for the most part?
Kev: Yeah, I was into [Daniel] Sturt big time. I liked Grant Brittain as well. He was really cool, I met him in North Hampton. He spoke to me for like an hour and was a really nice fella. I got stung on the neck by a wasp while I was talking to him as well, (laughs). I’d never been stung before.
John: He’s sitting on a goldmine, honestly (laughs). You’ve seen his Instagram, the likes of the Munster stuff and all the big time skaters back then. The one that I remember was when Gonz was at Munster. I wasn’t on the trip that year but I remember seeing the photos when Kev came back. We’re looking up to all these skaters and Kev’s coming back with all these good photos shot on the course. It was pretty tight back then for getting on courses, wasn’t it?
Kev: Yeah, I just blagged my way in. I had two wristbands. I said I worked for Skateboard! and went and entered the pro street contest too as I also ‘rode for New Deal’, (laughs). It was fucking nuts when we walked in and Danny Way is on the vert ramp doing 540 varials and Gonz going over the hip. Jeremy Klein, Salman Agah, Sean Sheffey, Lance Mountain, Scott Conklin, Duane Pitre – I could go on and on and on…
On the subject of New Deal here’s John Montesi. Frontside noseslide, Oxford Road, Manchester, 1991. Photo: Kevin Banks
How frequently did you have your photographs published back then?
Kev: The first picture I had published was in RAD. I tried to work for RAD first because they did more street skating than Skateboard! They seemed more about parks and bowls, very 80s skating, and I was just interested in street really. I sent them a few pictures and it didn’t work out.
So, when I blagged my way into Munster and said I worked for Skateboard! I thought, “Fuck it, I’ll send them to Skateboard!” They had a photographer, I think it was Jeremy Clouth, they gibbed his photos and used all mine. Sorry Jeremy, (laughs). I started working for Skateboard! but then it went defunct.
What would be your usual method for getting press passes?
Kev: Just barefaced lie and tell them I worked for somebody, (laughs). Or find somebody I knew to just open a door and let me in or tell them to go steal me a pass or something.
What was the most extravagant story you came up with?
Kev: Probably the Munster one, I was adamant that I worked for Skateboard! and I even made them phone Meanie. When whoever was on the door said my name on the phone he was like “Oh… Yeah! Yeah…” Then in all the excitement I even went and entered the pro street comp just to get another wristband because it was only certain access for photographers. I was all areas, (laughs). At Eindhoven I was on the list for that but there was seven of us. I turned up and went, “Yeah these are the two writers, these are the other photographers…” and got everyone in for free basically. Just the art of the blag, isn’t it? (Laughing), you don’t try you never fucking know.
John: Those big comps weren’t policed as much as they are now. It seems to be pretty locked down now but that was a general thing; if you were going to Munster you were going to blag as much as possible. The amount of people from the UK that used to go over every year and lie their way in was unreal. We did it last time I went in ’98, no tickets or anything. We met up with Percy Dean and Kingy out there, they were doing Document at the time and they had their press passes. We spoke to them and at the time there was Whitelines snowboard magazine. One of their guys had a press pass and hadn’t turned up. Percy found out and gave us the press pass. I went in first, signed the sheet, came back out again and took somebody else in with me. I think we did that with like fifteen people, (laughs). Then we were sharing it around to go in the VIP buffet to get something to eat. All on the same press pass; fifteen people got in, fifteen people ate and fifteen people got to skate the course just from passing it around. It would never happen now.
Kev: A lot of the time if you just turned up with a camera and walked in they just assumed you were a photographer, (laughs). In Dublin, we turned up on the Friday at the depot where it was being held and just walked in, started helping build the course and ended up staying over skating all night.
Eindhoven Skate Comp, Holland, 1992
Photos by Kevin Banks.
Alex Moul. Backside ollie over the hip to backside lipslide on the rail.
“Jan Waage. Eindhoven, Holland. 1992. Germany’s finest floats an ollie over the hip with a young Andy Scott watching on from the platform. ” – Kev
Did you shoot anything of Gonz at Munster? How about other pioneering street skaters of that era?
Kev: A few pictures yeah, I got one in Skateboard! of him doing an indy that I was stoked on but I never got the bloody negative back. I’ve got one that is out of focus… It was just after Video Days  had come out as well. When I was having lunch with him he was asking about people’s perception of the video and whether we liked it or not. I had to stop him and say, “It’s the best video fucking skate video there has ever been, without question.” Then he asked about the bit at the end with the car, he seemed to be really undecided about it, especially the car crash. But I was like, “It’s perfect, absolutely perfect.” He wanted to come to Liverpool, he was going to stay at my house and I was practically shaking like, “What the fuck…” (laughs). Can you imagine that? But he was a cool guy, he’s still my favourite skater.
John: It’s funny for us. When the Gonz was first pro, in sort of the mid-80s, for us lot it was, “It’s the Gonz!” And newer generations would be like that too but back then there wasn’t a lot of street skaters. You had probably Gonz, Mike Vallely, Natas Kaupas, Tommy Guerrero… Everyone was a vert skater so for us, being street skaters, your life started out as a vert skater then went on to street. But they were the gods. Those select few street skaters were who we related to more than the vert guys. You shooting him out there was mind blowing at that time.
“The Bones Brigade, Powell Peralta at Boards, Goshen, Bury. 1989. Tommy Guerrero on the ramp. Mike McGill, Mark Sato and Cab on the most packed platform ever.”
Kev: Street skating was evolving at the time. The rules were being made up and obviously there is always new stuff going down but the progression to what modern street skating is probably happened around ’88/’89 with the stuff you started to see in the H-Street videos and odd little bits here or there. You just never knew anything was possible. People weren’t doing many kickflips and stuff like that until the lollipop boards came out.
John: There wasn’t a big style thing either. At the time you had people pushing mongo – back in the day there wasn’t a right or wrong way to push. There wasn’t a style to a trick. If you could kickflip then you could kickflip, that was it. There was no emphasis on ‘how’ – you could just do that trick. There was no emphasis on style because it was all really new. There was like a limited bag of flip tricks in the late 80s and then through all the 90s everybody reeled out these new flip tricks.
Kev: You can still remember the first time you saw somebody do a back lip on a handrail and you’re like, “How the fuck is that possible?” But give it a little bit of time and everyone’s doing it. Kinked handrails – Gonz was probably the first person I saw do one in Video Days.
Münster Monster Mastership, Germany, 1991
Photos and captions by Kevin Banks.
Rudy Johnson, frontside Stalefish.
“Mark Gonzales. Milliseconds from locking into a nosebluntslide. That Ghetto Wear and Vans combo is classic.”
“Alex Moul. I’d never seen anyone land a nose blunt slide on a handrail before this day. Mark Gonzales and Alex changed that.”
Jeff Kendall, Japan air.
“Duane Pitre. I was made up Duane was at Münster this year. I loved Alien Workshop and ‘Memory Screen’ is right up there with my favourite skate vids of all time. Great skater and responsible for getting Dinosaur Jr involved with Alien Workshop so I’ve heard. Check Duane’s music out too if you’re tastes are a bit avant grade.”
Danny Way, tailgrab.
Steve Caballero, frontside invert.
Speaking of progression, you grew up with Geoff and I know you’re all still friends. How is it seeing him go from the kid you knew to the guy he is now?
John: You could see it.
Kev: Well, I’m not surprised because he was always amazing. His attitude has been the same since day one; very focused and if he wants to do something, he does it and does it well. You used to have booms where you would think he has got to a level and all of a sudden he would jump up another and start doing the maddest things. He’s the only person I’ve actually tried to talk out of doing something.
It was at the back of Echo Buildings and Cory Christler tried this fucking huge gap, killing himself on it, and I think Geoff did it first go. I remember when he started doing handrails and just went from basic tricks to just fucking killing them in the space of a few weeks. He would just go up and up. Progression, progression, progression…
John: It was a fast progression. You could see it in him. He would always be first out and last one going home. We would get out at twelve o’clock and he had already been skating for two hours before us. It went on, next generation with Brian Sumner. Same again; always be out early, always staying out late and you could see the progression in Brian exactly the same as Geoff.
Photos and captions by Kevin Banks.
Backside lipslide, Liverpool Law Courts, 1991
“Nose bumping a shopping trolley out of Llandudno bowl. 1992. The noise the trolley made when Geoff bumped it was wonderful. We’d travel en masse from Liverpool a few times a year, to hit some 1970’s concrete and get some Welsh air. Happy days and the best of times.”
360 flip, Leigh on Sea, 1992
Frontside half cab, Lime Street Station, Liverpool, 1992/3
“Over the pyramids and cobbles, Dale Street Banks. Liverpool, England. Think it was 1992. Sunny days skating in Liverpool were the best. We’d all meet up at the law courts and take it from there. We’d hit the Dale St Banks just before lunch, then we’d all take over the Scaffolders Cafe which was just over the road for a Scaffolders Special. Two toast, baked beans, grated cheese and with fried eggs on the top. Fuel for the afternoons skate. Wish I had a photo of all of our boards parked up inside the cafe. Great memories.”
Another one at the Scaff Banks, Liverpool, 1991/92.
Too rad of a coincidence not to include this! Dalton goes frontside on the same spot as above some twenty years later on the launch day of the Vans Rowley [SOLOS]. Photo: Chris Johnson courtesy of Sidewalk Magazine.
Mackey told me that Geoff is very much the same person now as he was back then.
John: Yeah, never changed over the years. Same attitude to everything I would say. He has always had that diehard attitude but in a way of mixing with people too. He has never lost sight of where he is from or anything like that. Still comes back and chills.
Kev: He likes to keep in touch, keep his friends and his family around.
Rowley & Mackey, Newbird, Liverpool, Vans tour, 2013. Photo: Kevin Banks
What other competitions in that sort of European circuit would you go to?
Kev: The only other comp I went to in Europe was Eindhoven which was Geoff’s first comp for Deathbox/Flip. I’ve got his run on video actually. We actually had a hotel for once and it was fifteen quid; swimming pool, golf course, everything. We went to book for the next night and it was full up so we slept on the street outside the venue. There was a fucking rooster over the road that kept crowing in the morning and Newby went over to strangle it and a fucking riot van turned up just as they got into the field! They got a proper telling off from the Dutch coppers while we’re at the other side of the road fucking pissing ourselves laughing at them. It was a fucking annoying rooster like… (Laughs).
“John Newby, London. 1992. This was the weekend of the comp at Spitalfields. John is one of only a select few to have a Liverpool skate spot named after him and could hold his own with the best. That’s a young Tom Penny on his way up the stairs and Geoff’s just out of shot.”
“Tom Penny. Half nab, London. 1992. This was the moment that Tom and Geoff met and skated together for the first time. It wasn’t planned, it just happened. That’s Geoff in the background in the dark blue shirt and the rest is history.”
This one is Ash Wilson’s suggestion. Can you explain what ‘Apple Orchard’ was?
John: (Laughing), I’d forgot about that, no way…
Kev: It was me and Maca [Andy Macdonald], we decided we would start a company and we were at the Police Banks trying to think of a name. This lunatic came up and started preaching, telling us that there should be trees with fruit on, there shouldn’t be shops and everyone should just be able to pick the fruit. All this sort of stuff. Going on about apple orchards being everywhere so we were like, “Right, that’s what we’ll call the company.” When we went to Munster I got a test pressing board off this Italian dude and I ended up having lunch with Gonz as well because he asked what it was, (laughs). Invited me over to have lunch with him and Rudy (Johnson) which just blew my mind. We just used to hand screen t-shirts and were looking into getting decks. We made Geoff our first pro with a hand draw t-shirt and just wrote stuff on his deck and it just never took off really, (laughs). Actually, he got an offer from Deathbox and I think he kind of weighed up his options… I think he made a mistake personally, (laughs).
Dalton backside smiths many moons on from the Apple Orchard days. Photo: Ash Wilson
So, I suppose you’re somewhat of hometown hero too John?
John: I’m not.
Ash Wilson: He is, (laughs).
John: Maybe so, but I live about thirty miles away and always have done, (laughs). I lived in Liverpool, on and off, for about two years but have never fully lived in Liverpool. I’ve always just come and gone. I think there aren’t many scenes where you’ve still got a lot of the older guys who still coming out. When you look at Newbird, I touched on it with Sidewalk, it’s all the old guys and my generation of skaters who built Newbird. A couple of the younger lads as well but the bulk of it was the older guys and they’re still ripping. The younger guys are going down there and skating it with them. On the streets I’ll get out and skate with all the young lads dand never get viewed as ‘the older guy’. I’ve never had anybody frown at me and say, “You’re an old bastard.” Whereas I think when we were younger there was a bit of that. Generally once you hit late twenties that was it, you were an ‘older skateboarder’. Now you look at people from our era, the pros, they’re all still pro so it’s moved on.
Another more recent one as Dalton sends an awkward ollie with room to spare. Photo: Ash Wilson.
What was the deal was with you and 5Boro back in the day?
John: Jamie Clegg went over to New York and met Steve Rodriguez who had literally just started 5Boro in about ’96. He got talking to Jamie about it and Jamie was interested in bringing 5Boro over here because it was just a local New York company at the time. Steve said, “If there is anyone over there that would ride for us and fit the company, let me know.” He came back, brought a couple of boards back with him, showed me and I’ve always been into East Coast skateboarding. Everything about 5Boro just seemed right. They were in it for the right reasons, the team seemed rad and this was before the internet so I couldn’t go on and check them out, (laughs). Everything sounded good. I think he spoke with Steve and I sent a few bits over and the hook-up came about that way. It’s rad, a really good company. I used to get a newsletter posted out to me every month and that would go to all the team riders. A little black and white photocopied newsletter with a bit about what everybody was doing. Once a month I would write to let them know what I’m doing over here and that’s how it was. It was super tight. Mackey might have gone out to New York and hooked up with all those guys. I think Mackey mentioned that he’s from Liverpool and Steve snapped Mackey up while he was out there.
What happened after 5Boro? Mackey’s introduction to your ‘Made Of Stone’ interview for Sidewalk mentioned you sort of vanished from the skateboarding side of things.
John: Sort of yeah, we were on tour and my son was ready to drop. Pretty much family took over. I was still out skating, riding for 5Boro, speaking with Steve and still do. It was just priorities really. I probably wasn’t talking to them as much really. I never officially got the boot so technically I’m probably still riding for 5Boro I suppose, (laughs). But I would never ask for stuff.
Steve would send boards but because it was such a small company, it was run out of Steve’s apartment, for him to send me boards it cost like three hundred dollars and the package itself cost about fifty dollars. Steve was just on a bit of losing one there, (laughs). I just wouldn’t ask for it because I felt like a bit of a twat because it would cost that much to send them.
John Dalton, 360 flip, Cotton Exchange Steps, Manchester, early 1990s. Photo: Kev
Correct me if I’m wrong but out of the skaters that have been an important part of the Liverpool scene, there are only a few actually from Liverpool, right?
John: You’ve only got the likes of Geoff, Brian Sumner and Newby actually from Liverpool. Kev is from Waterloo, originally I was in Runcorn at the time, Mackey’s from Southport and you had lads over the water on the Wirral side of things. But everyone used to travel in to skate the city and probably do now. That’s just what it was, you had the select few from the city but everybody else seemed to come from far and wide like Howard (Cooke), he came from Liskeard way. There was a good mix of people coming in, I always thought.
Kev: Danzie’s ramp was a big catalyst for getting people together. We would all skate together but there would sort of be little pockets. When the ramp was there at Quiggins everyone got to know each other a lot better and things developed from there. I started filming at the time. That’s how I met Geoff actually, because Danzie asked a few people if they wanted to film. I turned up and it was Geoff, John, Newby, Barry and we’re still friends now.
Brian Sumner takes the plunge. Photo: Kev
The elusive Howard Cooke, Rampworx, Liverpool. Photo: Kev
Neil Danz. Photo: Kev
Coming from a time when Liverpool was thought of as somewhere to avoid by all means, how does it feel seeing skateboarders from all over be drawn here?
Kev: It’s about time, (laughs).
John: There was a lot of hype I think, it’s just how Liverpool was perceived. We weren’t nasty or horrible, we just didn’t mingle. We kept to ourselves…
Kev: When we would turn up somewhere and had been on a train or bus for four hours we would all go fucking mental and people would just stand back like, “What the fuck is going on?”
John: I guess people might have been intimidated by that.
Kev: That’s not something we were trying to do, it was just more,“Right, let’s have it.” People just have stereotypical ideas of what people from Liverpool were like.
John: A lot of it has come from Dave and Lost Art. Dave is such a likeable bloke and that is what it is. He has been out there, he talks to a lot of people within the industry and all that due to having a shop. Back in the day there was a lot of people around, the older guys from Fleapit, who kept everything tight and to themselves and mixed in different circles with different attitudes. I guess like you say, stemming from Lost Art it has definitely opened up to people coming into the city and seeing things from a different perspective.
Kev: I couldn’t think of pros, demos or people coming to Liverpool to skate before the late 90s. It wasn’t until the mid-90s that pros would actually visit and that’s probably through Geoff to be honest.
Dave Davies, Quiggins Ramp, Liverpool. Photo: Kev
What do you think makes the scene in Liverpool so unique?
John: It’s hard to answer that one, coming from the scene, as this is the norm to me.
Kev: It’s hard to look at it from that side. Everyone really respects each other. You get the shit ripped out of you but ultimately everyone has got each other’s back
Ash: It’s a more friendly place, you know what I mean? We’re friends before we’re skateboarders. Seeing other skate scenes, it seems to be more the skating first than the relationship you have with the skaters.
John: There is no ego, like you touched on earlier, and that’s one of the biggest things. It doesn’t get allowed and people wont have a big ego because people know how it is. You get the best skateboarders in the city skating with the not so good skateboarders. But there is never any, “I’m the fucking best, you’re shit.” Nobody tries to one up each other.
Kev: I was never particularly great at skating but no-one would tell me I’m shit, (laughs).
John: People went and skated a spot and that was it. Everyone has skated together and that’s it. Never a case of of ‘what you can do’ and ‘what I can do’. Everyone has always been chilled. You skate how you skate and no-one has ever been afraid of that. I’ve never really been anywhere else just to go and cruise the streets. I’m a woolyback, which is somebody from outside of the city, but no-one ever held that against me just welcomed me in like one of the family and that’s what it is. Liverpool is just one big family I think.
Kev: Though we had that many ‘Johns’ at one point, he was ‘John Runcorn’ for a bit, (laughs).
“Here you go mate, you might be able to use this pic, this isn’t one of Kev’s photos but Leeds legend Mad Snoz took this one. This is me and Kev in 1996, sat on the sands at Huntington Beach. I was living at the Flip house at the time with Geoff, Rune, Ali Boulala, Brian Sumner, Luke McKirdy and a whole host of other pros who would be passing through town. Kev was on a round the world trip. I’d not seen Kev in about two years and one day the phone rang in the house and I ended up answering it, on the other end of the phone was a scouse voice asking to speak to Geoff. I recognised the voice and realised it was Kev. Kev was up in Los Angeles so we arranged to meet up. It was mind blowing for both of us to be meeting up again on the other side of the world. Rad times.” – John
Finishing this up with John Cardiel at Monkmoor, Shrewsbury, 1992. Because who the fuck doesn’t like Cardiel? Massive thanks to Kevin for sharing these photos and taking the time to do this interview. Give him a follow on Instagram at @kevinbanks71 for even more.
Interview by Farran Golding.