A Metal kid’s history of a DIY venue in a small U.K. city in the late ’90s.
Sk8 & Ride was an indoor skate park in Bristol, U.K. which hosted punk gigs in the back room in the late ’90s. These are my water-colored memories as an adolescent who played in bands, rode BMX, and now writes about the good old days, among other things, and buys too many band T-shirts.
There are people who were way more involved, and will have way more detailed memories then me of the gigs at Sk8 & Ride in the late ’90s. Sadly I’ve not kept many of the old flyers and it’s difficult to find stuff on the net. The era was before the internet took off and is not distant enough to be romanticized and archived. My research has also been hampered by the United Kingdom Hypnosis Convention who is now using the UKHC abbreviation. Therefore any historical inaccuracies lie squarely at their feet.
I can say for sure that Sk8 & Ride was a skate park in a big Victorian warehouse building in an industrial area round the back of the train station in Bristol. I remember there was definitely cobbled paving in the yard, which was uncomfortable to pass out on. Next door was a textile recycling business. I lost track of its later incarnations after I moved to London but apparently the old Sk8 & Ride building is now a massive dance music venue.
I also rode BMX (badly) in the ’90s, meaning that I spent more time than was healthy hanging around at Sk8 & Ride. At one point I had an interview for a job at the textile recyclers, thinking it would be cool to be able to pop in to Sk8 & Ride for a pint and a game of pool at lunch break. Probably lucky I didn’t get the job.
The gigs at Sk8 & Ride in the late ’90s were mainly bands from the U.K. DIY scene, and some from farther away. These were in the back room and the person most responsible for sorting these out was a northerner called Graham. He was nicknamed “The Scene” because although us Bristolians would support the gigs by way of turning up, getting stoned, and drinking cider, Graham would be the only one to actually organize anything (thanks for all your hard work on that, sir!). I think at this time there was a feeling that the Bristol scene had become apathetic. Bristol has a good family tree of bands: Chaos UK, Disorder, Vice Squad, and of course Maggot Slayer Overdrive. But they were from the ’80s and now it was the ’90s and Green Day had ruined everything for some reason.
I was one of the “metal kids”—hoodies, wallet chains—in a sea of spikes and patches. The punk/HC gigs that went on there were an eye-opening godsend. I was young at the time and I would turn up to gigs if I found a flyer and the bands on it were described as heavy/aggressive/intense/dark et cetera. Sometimes there weren’t descriptions so I’d turn up if one or more of the bands had names that sounded like they might be heavy. This got me exposed to underground/hardcore/DIY stuff, and there was a free U.K. zine called Fracture which I would always pick up at the gigs. Didn’t keep these either, but Fracture was a big zine that gave me a lot of context about what was going on and what the bands were about. For comparison, it was the same paper format and a similar page count to Razorcake, and likewise had a wide range of contributors. One of the main reasons given for winding up Fracture was that it had become too much of a bible, and held too much sway over the U.K. scene.
The owner of Sk8 & Ride was a BMXer called Dean. The story was that he inherited a load of money from an aunt or uncle and that’s how he managed to buy the building and kit it out with a ramp room, some pool tables, and a bar. Dean was part of a group of BMXers of the time called the Bristol Cider Riders (BCR) and Sk8 & Ride was the main base of their antics. It was pretty obvious that Rider-ing and Cider-ing were taking priority over any sustainable business model.
You came in through the bar, toilets to the left, ramp room to the right, straight on was a room with the mid-week pint pool tables, on through there to the gig room. As I remember it there were mainly breeze block walls and concrete floors throughout, with striplights, no windows. The location was fantastic with convenient access to the city centre and Temple Meads train station, a short walk from the Dings punk housing co-op, it overlooked the majestic beauty of the Feeder River. Situated in the grounds, the property came complete with a knackered caravan which housed a variety of local wildlife as well as Marlboro Pete, BMXer and live-in burger chef.
Another resident BMXer named Seb could often be found in the bar. At this time, a lot of BMXers were replacing their chains with small motorbike chains as these could take a good bashing on concrete ledges. A standard chain tool wouldn’t work on these monsters, but, if you bought Seb a pint, he would fit one to your bike for you. He would use angle grinder and a hammer, and somehow after a bit of grunting and banging, through the magic of cider it would be on your bike. Without a split link. Work that one out, bike people.
Back to that gig room. The stage was made of pallets so the height would vary depending on how many pallets were knocking about. Sometimes that would be zero, but when my band played there, I realized that if it rained, the pallets were needed to keep your cables out of the puddles. I remember at one gig the lighting consisted of a single desk lamp sitting on a speaker. The atmosphere this gave was perfect, and I’ve considered stage lighting as frivolous rock star crap ever since.
One stand out gig was Stalingrad from Bradford. The instruments were loud as fuck and the vocalist had decided that a PA was also a frivolity. He spent the set stalking through the crowd brandishing the empty mic stand aloft screaming “fuck off” and “fuck you” in the face of the audience one by one acoustically. Lyrics also a frivolity I suppose. In Ian Glasper’s book Armed with Anger, How UK Punk Survived the Nineties, Stalingrad’s guitarist Russ describes the Bristol scene:
“always a favourite place… full of crazy, mad bastards!”
All right then.
I remember seeing Assert there during their naked phase. Ebola played a blinder there, a female-fronted U.K. grindcore band (a rarity at the time, to be sure), as did Hard To Swallow, memorable for the voluminous grindcore barrage. Related act John Holmes were a band that I probably wouldn’t have heard if not for Sk8 & Ride, and their album El Suavo Louso has spent a lot of time in my player over the years. All long gone, check ’em out!
Someone also told me that Refused played there but can’t verify it. It might be confusion. Maybe someone said, “A famous hardcore band refused to play Sk8 & Ride” and someone heard, “The famous hardcore band Refused played Sk8 & Ride.”
Either way, most of the gigs were followed by the usual repeat listening of Iron Maiden’s Live after Death live double album. This was Dean’s favourite, and as he owned the place and would keep the bar open, no one would argue with it. Dean was also a generous chap when it came to booze and there were weird, painful drinking games like “free cider until someone pisses.”
There were very few problems between the skatepark crowd and the gig crowd—a few bemused looks in the corridor—but generally the punters rubbed shoulders, no problems. A BMXer called Mr. Pants (because he would walk around in just white briefs) once drunkenly decided he was a breakdancer and the pissed up punks had a whale of a time watching a tubby man in his underwear trying to spin around on his head on the bar floor. A bit weird, but this was our utopian sub-cultural melting pot for a while.
And for the record, the BMX crowd were a lot more dangerous and anarchic than the punks; far less respect for authority and the human body.
I often wonder whether Sk8 & Ride could get away with this stuff because there was less concern in that era about regulations, fire safety, underage drinking, anti-social behaviour, et cetera, or whether it was the strategic advantage of its location: river bank behind, deserted industrial estate in front.
To zoom out a bit on a tangent, twenty-five years ago in the U.K., as far as I remember it, as teenagers we could get into plenty of pubs. In the U.K. the legal drinking age is eighteen but our group could go out drinking no problem. I remember friends as young as fourteen hanging around in our favourite metal pub The Full Moon. There were no bouncers as far as I can remember, but the young ’uns weren’t about to cause too much trouble for the landlord. He had bigger problems like trying to keep the local Stokes Croft crackheads out. It wasn’t until some particular crackhead incident drew the police’s attention that they had to clamp down on the underage clientele.
Throughout the U.K., this has long since tightened up. Police have since been given powers to disperse kids hanging around in groups on the street. Added to that, most of the youth clubs in the country have been cut by the government over the last ten years. I think it will be difficult for my son to find anywhere to begin socializing with his mates out in the world in an adult environment. First world problem, but do the kids really need to hang around in parks on the swings or fuck around on Minecraft until they are eighteen?
This cosy home for the DIY punk gigs in Bristol was made possible because the owner was more interested in a party than turning a profit. Dean was running Sk8 & Ride like Tom Hanks’ flat in Big. What would you do if you were young and had a load of money? For Dean it was a ramp room and a bar, riding and drinking with his mates, and settling down at the end of the night to Live after Death. And if a load of punks rattled some dust down in the back room, that’s fine as well. Never mind capitalizing on the Tony Hawk Playstation craze that could have brought in hoards of young skateboarder punters and their parents’ cash.
I’ve lived in London for fifteen years and this may have contributed to the nostalgia warning as much as the passed time. In London there is no space, stuff is squeezed in everywhere, and everything is expensive, so people are squeezed as well. It’s always been like this and it’s always been getting worse. I think this is why I like industrial estates so much. It’s rare to find myself on a patch of land that is functional, and no one worries too much about. In London you are always close to someone who concerns themselves with what you’re doing, whether it’s a private security guard, a copper, a business owner, a resident. Everything has to look pretty and we have to be able to make money out of every square inch. You can’t get a moment’s peace to make noise, damage property, cause chaos.
Of course Sk8 & Ride got knackered in the end around the end of the ’90s, and in the shittiest, most hackneyed way you could imagine. It’s almost too naff to write down.
One day I turned up and there were the usual suspects in the bar, only they’d all got marker pen X’es on the backs of their hands. Odd. This was the last place on earth for a straight edge outbreak. “Now you have to buy food before they’ll serve you booze. Cheesy nachos are the cheapest thing on the menu, and they mark your hand so the bar know you’ve bought food.” Okay, not the end of the world, we’re just gonna be eating a lot of nachos now.
The story was that Dean split up with his girlfriend, badly, and she had decided to get her revenge by informing the council that Sk8 & Ride was running a bar without a proper license. Sure enough, lots of clipboard visits, men in suits, letters from the council. It turns out Sk8 & Ride only ever had a restaurant license, so no buying booze without nachos and no more gigs. Mind you, it didn’t end gigs entirely; the workaround was they had to be “private parties.”
On a side note; my favourite licensing getaround gimmick was at a noise gig somewhere off Bethnal Green Road, east London. You had to buy a (plastic) crystal from a table top stall. The colours of the crystals corresponded to different drinks. Then you went over to another table and exchanged your crystal for a drink. That way booze wasn’t being sold.
Eventually Dean disappeared off to America, leaving behind him a load of debt and an empty skatepark. A new owner, Arch, took over Sk8 & Ride. Nice guy also. He was determined to make it work as a business, being well aware of the previous fiasco. So, shockingly, he made people pay for things and tried to make the place family friendly (need the Tony Hawk kids). He did a good job of this and Arch would often tell us, “Put that away,” “Not round here, there’s kids around,” et cetera. Also there was a skate shop where the pool tables once were.
Sadly, Arch’s music tastes were a bit more conservative than Dean’s. No more Live after Deaths, no more punk gigs in the back room. He let my old band play in the bar once. When we started up, most of the paying punters left sharpish. Arch approached our bass player, shouted in his ear, “Can you turn it down?” Bass player shook his head and said, “No.” That was the end of it.
And that was the end of that. The hardcore gigs were sort of homeless for a while, moving around different pubs in the east part of Bristol until they could find somewhere that would put up with them on a regular basis.
One day at the new Sk8 & Ride some new pub benches turned up in the yard. They weren’t there before. We sat on them to sup our pints and started to notice that there were a load of familiar names and logos carved into the tables. We realised these were the benches from the Full Moon. We used to scratch our old band logos and such into the tables back in the day. “Er, Arch, did you nick these tables from the Full Moon?” “Yeah, we went round in the van last night and took them. They weren’t fixed down.” The new fiscally responsible Sk8 & Ride hadn’t quite cleaned up its act.
The building isn’t going anywhere because it’s Grade 2 listed, meaning the government considers it as having special architectural or historical interest. The park continued as Motion Skatepark from 2005 and gigs still happened there during this period, notably the Temples Festival. The punk flyers from this era still advertised the venue as Sk8 & Ride rather than Motion to avoid confusing the regular punters (or out of cosy affection, I’d like to think). Nowadays it still trades under the name Motion, but as a slick 4,000 capacity dance music venue. Even this is under threat due to potential noise restrictions if a planned residential development nearby goes ahead.