The first industrialised city in the world, Manchester has indelibly scarred herself into the national psyche as the true capital of the north of England and has a ridiculous wealth of industrial and artistic heritage married with an ingrained sense of fighting for personal liberties that emanates way beyond this peculiar little country’s coastline. She’s forever been ahead of the game and skateboarding here is no exception.
A landscape punctuated with grand old mercantile buildings of stone and brick, juxtaposed with modern architectural monsters of glass and steel, it’s just small and tight enough to grasp a strong sense of community – people know each other and cross-pollinate ideas and collaborate and gets things done – but she’s large and cosmopolitan enough to be able to merge into the faceless, maddening crowd and lose yourself in the bright lights – especially if you’re escaping from a grimy little mill town or a self-harmingly dull English village.
The weather can be atrocious so you may need to be patient and seek out that vibe as-and-when the weather dictates. Few spots simply present themselves so you really do have to search to destroy – rooting around back streets and generally exploring every nook, cranny and corner of this magnificent city to find that sweet block, hot road gap or pole jammer you simply need to fire yourself at.
This, as any skater worth their spunk will tell you, is half of the fun so rather than try and catalogue the usual spots, I’ll give you a potted history of skateboarding in this city and a general flavour of what’s cooking presently.
I used to think it was a myth that it constantly pissed it down here but maddeningly; it’s a geological fact. Hence Manchester earning the nickname Cottonopolis as the damp conditions proved perfect for the booming cotton industry back in the mid-19th Century. Defunct remnants of this industrious time are still evident everywhere but there’s also new, urban pleasure zones and plazas to stalk and discover – both of which make for brilliant skate terrain.
People here are genuinely very friendly, and will always give you the time of day, but there is a prevailing attitude of ‘you’re a cunt until you’ve proved otherwise’ and people will see straight through any bullshit or attitude so if you just skate hard and don’t try too hard to be everybody’s new best mate you’ll be fine.
I’ve personally skated in and around Manchester for a lifetime and witnessed a multitude of characters, spots, shops and attitudes come and go over the last three decades – some lamented, others best forgotten.
When skateboarding flowered again in the mid-eighties, Manchester had arguably the largest and best-stocked skate shop in Europe: Split Skates. This was where the embryonic Manchester skate scene gestated and the place to meet on a Saturday morning. Apart from watching the latest videos, buy/shoplift hardware and perv on the incredibly fit owner’s daughter, you could also get a Mohawk haircut, your ear, nose or nipple pierced and even purchase LSD from under the counter if you knew the right people prior to hitting up the myriad of spots the city had to offer.
This was a golden era and a time when you could skate around the whole of the city without fear of security guards or CCTV. Tricks would be performed and witnessed for the first time ever outside a Santa Cruz or Vision video and many lifelong friendships were forged. On the flip side of not being filmed by the state though, you weren’t likely to be filmed by your mate as camcorders were a few grand back then so any footage from this period is as rare as rocking-horse shit.
Femi, Rick Cooper, Jabba and a handful of other skaters were the innovators during this period, tearing up Oxford Road banks, St. Anne’s and Crown Square. The man known as Animal is more than deserving of an honourable mention, looking like nothing you’d ever seen before – flying at everything and anything in his path at 200mph with his trucks hanging off and the most peculiar fashion sense and aromas ever witnessed – he was a true inspiration.
Bearing in mind that the majority of magazine coverage around this time was almost exclusively of ramp skating, it was mind blowing to see Animal on the front cover of R.A.D wallriding a monument to peace in the heart of the city.
As the day-glow, corporate sponsored days of arena-sized vert competitions gave way to the street boom of the early nineties the scene went decidedly underground. Some heads moved away, some got proper jobs and others got into hard drugs…just nobody made a documentary movie about it. This was around the time the whole Moss Side and ‘Gunchester’ thing was at its height so you were often looking over your shoulder cruising around and it could seem pretty oppressive at times.
Around this time an IRA bomb devastated the city. Without sounding crass it was arguably one of the best things to have happened to the city and her regeneration as, apart from the insurance companies, nobody got seriously hurt and the city started looking less and less like a grim shit hole in the clean-up aftermath. Workers and lurkers started to hang out in the city after 6.00pm rather than flitting to their suburban dwellings like rats abandoning a sinking ship and the centuries of grime began to be blasted from the city’s edifices.
As the scene got condensed and strung-out a cynical sensibility seemed to creep in and, not unlike Embarcadero, a liggerish, nasty and closed attitude threatened to take hold. The skating advanced so quickly around this period and Manchester skaters were certainly at the forefront – tons of style and tons attitude. However, most people from out of town would have the piss taken out of them if they didn’t look right or they did the ‘wrong’ tricks. Some spots simply became too intimidating to skate and fewer skaters came up through the ranks or visited from out of town. Obviously not everybody in Manchester was like this and skateboarding was kind of growing up and we were all growing up through it. Split closed her doors after a spate of burglaries and Crown Square was one of the first places I ever witnessed being ‘skate stopped’. Dark times.
But as one door closes, another often presents itself and Sheep Store came into being through the hard endeavour of Harry and Mancunian BMX legend Chris Hamer – continuing the convenience of being able to score drugs with your hardware. The BBC curbs and the Town Hall became the new go-to spots but back then you could count the number of skaters in the city on one hand. Skaters such as Mott, Karl, Starks, Ste Molloy and a very fresh-faced Joe Gavin kept the scene alive and kids started to get inspired again through pure, raw street skating.
As the turn of the century rolled around a new shop opened in Manchester and ever since Wisdom lifted her shutter in 2000 the atmosphere and attitude in the city changed forever. Without exception, everyone who worked, shopped or just hung out there back then sowed the seeds and contributed to shaping the current Manchester scene into the welcoming and exciting place it is to skate today. Ironically, Wisdom was opened by a couple of nut cases from Yorkshire and quickly became the new mecca for meeting up before heading out around town. This was a period when video cameras became more affordable and the city’s rippers were now getting the footage and recognition that had been so lacking in the previous decades. It was also the time when skate-stop features started to appear in earnest. Ledges were destroyed at vast expense to the taxpayer and blind bumps popped up in front of any and every set of steps. Surely this money would have been better spent on a civic skate park? This is a contentious bone between the city council and skaters that prevails to this day.
As Wisdom brought skaters from Yorkshire and Lancashire together, suddenly a lot more crews from outside of Manchester started visiting and many more deep friendships were born. House parties around this period were also legendary and a club night called Sub-Tub that had a mini ramp in the middle of the venue again cross-pollinated the world with music and skating.
The new go-to spot became the Gasworks and it seemed like so many more kids were getting in to skating again for all the right reasons.
Garry ‘Woody’ Woodward, Danny McCourt, Stu Bentley, Ben ‘Eastbourne’ Perry, Dan Reece and Keith Miller, Dez Onion and The Skulls Crew were the movers and shakers around this period. Stu’s seminal film, Leisure, surely helped cement Manchester as a top European skate city, with top European skateboarders, in the collective skate mind.
Wisdom closed around 2005 and Note Shop came to the fore. The Gasworks got bulldozed for a retail development, as Urbis became the city’s latest new spot. As sure as day follows night it’s apparent that skateboarding is cyclical but you only really grasp it when you’ve witnessed a few revolutions.
This year sees Note celebrate their 15th year in existence and the current scene in Manchester is ridiculously vibrant. Joe Gavin has been consistently banging out amazing sections and photographs over the past decade and you couldn’t hope to meet a nicer human being.
Joe, and the rest of the Note crew: Ben Grove, Tony Da Silva, Dom Henry, Nev, Dan Cintra, Ged Coldwell, Tom Day and Jim Craven have continued the legacy of Wisdom by simply being super friendly and helpful to anybody passing through the shop and going out of their way for the greater good of the scene.
Original Sheep Store owner Harry has got together with Bolton skate wizard Tez Robinson and opened Black Sheep store in the last few years too. They also are super helpful and have a ridiculous shop and rider team including Jiri Bulin, Eddie Belvedere, Rob Smith, Ollie Tyreman, Nick Stansfield, Lewis Threadgold and even a bona fide legend – Andy Scott. If you haven’t already witnessed Mark Kendrick’s ‘Shads’ film from last year then you should put it in your eye pipes as soon as possible to get a psychotropic flavour of the above heads in action.
Manchester now has so many amazing new and old crews who know how to have a good laugh on and off a skateboard and support one another. There’s no real attitude or animosity, and there’s sick crews like PUMF, and all the lads on the recent Manchester Volume One film who are out there every god damn day, killing it and creating some seriously funny new names for tricks and each another.
I love how you can nowadays see crews of young kids skating grimy, rugged back street spots around town and not know who any of them are. Here’s hoping that whoever they are, they persevere and ensure Manchester skating has a brilliantly bright future.
The city is much more of a bust now with private security, community patrol imbeciles and the actual police themselves – but there are still a few spots you can skate without getting grief and possibly the best badinage you are ever likely to hear.
If you have any nous about you then you’ll know Manchester is a party city and there are plenty of sick bars and restaurants to hit up once you’ve crended for the day. Just hit up Note or Black Sheep to see where’s hot and where’s not as it can change from month to month.
There’s excellent trams, buses and trains for getting about but don’t be surprised if they’re not as safe, punctual, clean and inexpensive as most European cities.
There’s quite a few private skate parks offering alternative terrain if it does chuck it down. Beast Ramp has an excellent vert ramp if you’re keen to get some airtime and the Pumpcage is a great little street-orientated concrete park under the Mancunian Way THAT SHOULD BE FREE. However, it’s only a couple of quid to skate now as opposed to the eye-watering £8 the money-driven, God bothering manager was trying to extract from people recently.
If you don’t wish to skate you can just vibe. Even if it’s dossing about on a crippled little ledge or a kicker, there’s always something just waiting to be plucked out the ether and magic just waiting to manifest.
Platt Fields is the best place to hang in summer. The park itself is pretty crumby but there’s a boating lake and playing fields to have a kick about or a BBQ on. There’s also a heavy stude presence so you can shout obscenities at passing girls once you’ve got toe-up.
Manchester excels at heckling and heavy punnage matters almost as much as skating so don’t be surprised if you hear chants of ‘suck him off…suck him off’ when two skaters accidentally collide. In fact, the terminology is so complex and hilarious I think it’s best if I leave you with a little glossary –
Tina Turner – 360 or any variant of.
Tits - End of a joint
Rodney Mullen – Full one, as in a full bag of coke/ beer/cig etc.
One pound dick – £1 chicken fillet burger from disreputable chicken joint
Gazra strip – The Garrat pub
Crend – Career ender or any post-skate intoxicating activity
Vanessa felts – Filter tip
Dutch rudder – Double Dutch beer or a vicarious wank.
Treseme – 360 flip
Doubs pen – double flip
Trips pen – triple flip or triple penetration
One sizzler – one toke on a joint
Das boot – getting kicked out of a spot
John peeled - Tired/fucked or leaving
Kenny Loggin -filming /getting tricks
Sage/Safety harness/Safety Inspector – Safe or trustworthy
Prem jack – When you do your best trick too early
All we do – yes
Desp – desperate
Tretch – treacherous or shit
Rogan Josh – Premium street spot
Tench – Unwelcome, awkward and/or tense situation
Wanky Pokey – heavy petting but not full penetration.
Civils – Civilian / non skaters
Peado Hut – Kiddy shelter in a public park. Occupied when the inevitable rain starts.
Stude – student