Stories / Interviews
DRAX INTERVIEW from 1993.
"Hit everything from here to Coney" Swan ordered Rembrandt as the warriors set off on their tri-borough adventure from the Bronx to deepest Brooklyn. It was 1980 and I had just experienced for the first time what I now refer to as writing. You see, Rembrandt, the in-house artist for The Warriors, had just been given the task of marking, with his spraycan, all available surfaces on the journey home and, although I didn't yet know it, the course of my life had changed.
After this, I began to notice the significance of names I saw on London's streets. Names like Rolo, In-vader, Nutty, Wilko 2, Edbutt; slogans like -George Davis is innocent and words like -A.F.C., T.H.F.C., Skins, Mods, The Firm. With regard to the words and abbreviations, I knew their meaning and general significance, but what puzzled me was the names and who was doing the writing. Who on earth were Wilko 2 and Rolo? I was indeed confused and curious and stayed so til mid '84 when I saw Henry Chalfont's Style Wars. It was like brail for the blind or signing for the deaf. At last I understood! Likemost, at first I viewed all this in awe, as maybe a youngster or fan would watch professional soccer or boxing, never thinking for a second I could do that, I could be that. By late '85 I had begun to notice London versions of the Style Wars cast. Names like Crash 151, Shades, Romulus, Kosh, Able 2, Deco, Amaze 2, Robbo, Poet, Craze, Dev 666, Amoria. Crews like NWA, Rebels, NLA and the Art Masters. I then realised all I had to do was go out there and do this.
So in early '86, I started writing. The name I chose was the one I've still got : Drax. I stole it from the James Bond film -Moon raker. He was a character that wanted to take over the world. Initially, I only scribbled my tag on paper or occasionally street posters, bus stops and other seemingly popularspots around my neighbourhood. Often, I would place my tag annoyingly close to that of another artist and await some form of acknowledgement. But it never came. Then I did my first piece with a friend, a writer called Dutch. It said - X-Men. The next day it was crossed out and had toy written all over it. At last I was being noticed!! As the year dragged on, however, I received no further acknowledgement. Disheartened and feeling irrelevant, my enthusiasm faded. Maybe this pale imitation of what Style Wars personified for me was like the film seemed to be a select few individuals who all knew each other. Maybe it was a closed circle or maybe respect just had to be earned.I wrote on.
The first writer I ever met was Kid 48. I met him by chance while tagging near my house. He told me he was down with a crew called The London Giants and that I should check out The London Graff spots at Westbourne Park. Having asked me if I'd heard of the Chrome Angelz, Tuf Arts, Prime, Sned, Grace, Kast, Jap 302 and others, he went on his way. I've never seen him since. I'd never heard of any of the people he'd mentioned but it did encourage me to go and check out the Westbourne Park sites. On getting there, I was amazed to see a kaleidoscope of names and colour exploding out from under the westway: Skam, Rio, Sex, Time, Insane, Rich, Rage, Hate, Cane, Nonstop more names that I could take in on this one visit. I sat for a while and watched the grey monsters of the Metropolitan line glide by. I envisaged my name on their sides. The trains passed into the distance but the image stayed with me, firmly imprinted on my mind. As I left, two kids asked me if I wrote and, if so, had I heard of them? They told me that they were already bombing the trains at Hammersmith and other depots. Names like Rize, Pain, Judge, Rush and Ran. I was finally beginning to realize the extent to which the London scene was already thriving and complex. At Westbourne I had seen names from my area like Noize and Robbo. People were travelling (I had never written beyond 200 yards from my house) and here were the same names ten boroughs apart. On my way home, I watched the trains for the tags of the two I had just met and, to my surprise, soon saw them. They wrote Ice 3 and Demo.
By now, London had caught on to the New York-inspired aerosol art scene and I realised it had been going since 1982. London's first writers, however, were criss-crossing the capital creating their own identities.Some seemed to be travelling more than others: Kosh, Crash 151, Prime, Haze and Rev to name a few. In '85 the first London trains were painted (in my knowledge) by The Trailblazers (later to become the Chrome Angelz) who painted Rickmansworth at roughly the same time as Kosh was hitting Cockfosters. Still, it was some time before trains became the real focal point of London. Now the walls of Westbourne Park, Farringdon's three corners and the boards at Covent Garden reigned supreme. Here too, every Saturday the writers would meet to compare photos and paint, often with Mode 2, Pride, Zaki, Snake or Scribla hard at work on the boards. The crowd of assorted tourists, shoppers and passers-by watched on as the breakers broke, rappers rapped and the artists painted. This was London, but a bit of New York's flavour and spontaneity had been transported to the West End. In general, the masses were entertained. Strangers sheepishly viewing books and photos unnerved them and gave the impression that maybe this was a private affair. It was! But thousands longed to be part of it. Blacks, whites, all classes, people from allover greater London and beyond.
Photo from Skire
Steadily it grew By '86 a thriving scene encompassing hundreds of crews had sprung up. Fresh pieces were seen weekly on the tube system. Names like Ink 27, Set 3, Deal, Foam, Tilt, Sirius, Glory, Noize 207, Urge, Sham 69, Mag, Caos, Fued, Fuel, Mac 1 and Hang 71 were already beginning to emprint themselves on people's minds and lodge themselves in the London writers' mental book of fame. In previous years, London's artwork had taken on a very soft or flowery appearance. The pieces being done wouldn't have been uncomfortable under headings like 'pretty'. Styles were dusty with unclean outlines and psychodelic fill-ins. The works of TCA, Grace, Enigma, Creative Arts and Snake were typical. I think it was a combination of the use of Buntlack paints and the attitude at this time in London (free 'n' easy). This type of painting became popular throughout Europe, especially in Paris, Holland and Scandinavia. To call it pretty or flowery is not meant with discredit, merely to show the contrast between what was happening in London and the brasher, starker, more abrupt styles of New York. Interestingly, early visitors to Europe from the States showed some amount of London ,or maybe just Buntlack, influence in their later works. Whereas, as trains came to the fore here, many adopted much more traditional NYC type styles, demonstrating the international exchange of ideas and styles between writers. Silver block letters and complicated wildstyles flowed steadily out of Hammersmith, Barking, triangle sidings, Moorgate, Arnos Grove, Acton, Morden and countless other depots and sidings.
By 87, the British Transport Police had formed a full time Graffiti Squad. They were based at Baker Street and occasionally Stockwell. Names like Williams, Kelly and Nixon are still remembered. Throughout early '86 I viewed most of this in awe and not having met any cohorts (Dutch had long disappeared), I still considered myself an outsider. Then in the summer, I met Choci, an ex-punk, who had just returned from six months in New York. While there, Mare 139, Kel 1 st and others had indoctrinated him with a B-boy mentality. He'd begun to write and had even 'bombed' trains. With this new associate, I regularly met writers: The London Doze, Robbo, Car 138, R27, Sham 59, Stage, Pic, Echo 89, Merc 2, Fume, Idee, Reez plus more, all met through Choci-Roc. You see, with his psychedelic and tag-covered clothing, ski goggles, two baseball caps, New York mannerisms and spontaneous outbursts of up-rocking or body-popping, he acted like a magnet to most writers. They crossed roads and got off buses to check out the nutter in the pink bermuda shorts. In autumn that year, we put together TDK (Tone Def Krew): myself, Choci, Robbo, Doze, Snap and Ree 2. Within two months, we had claimed North London's streets and every bus route we lived on. By the year's end, we were known throughout the capital. But then, as Christmas dawned, it all fell apart. Robbo and Doze started We Rock Hard (WRH), Snap was painting a lot with Seize (who he later grassed on when they got raided and caught in Farringdon sidings). The rest of us basically went our own ways. Choci and I did our first London trains in November '86 at Cockfosters' yard. We sneaked in, 'bombed' two cars and ran out. Now I too was a writer.
As '87 dawned, the meetings at Covent Garden had been almost totally taken over by the pseudo-train-spotters. Most of the rappers and breakers had moved around the corner to The Piazza or had been relegated to the status of buskers or on-lookers. Only the ever growing hundred plus group of writers now regularly attended the meetings. The goings-on would have rivalled many of today's TV soaps: fights, scandal, info and gossip. Saturdays were indeed a day not to be missed. The flow of photographs were endless. Many gathered to go mass-racking. But most just soaked up the atmosphere and that atmosphere, despite its influences and catalysts, was a truly London one. Writers from allover England and even the continent attended and looked on as London staked its claim as the world's premier art spot, outside of New York. Too many names to mention, but, by now, the London scene was a very large one. Furra, another writer, and myself were in a crew called Bad Nooze along with Seize, Punk and Juvenile which was slowly falling apart. So we both formed WD (World Domination). Early members were Crash 151, Ceep 108, Juve, Skip, Arian and Jesto and Reas from New York. Things were looking good, not only for us, but across the city. The meetings at Covent Garden were huge, there was a strong networking of info and, though strained at times, there was a fair sense of unity. Then, as quickly as London had got its fame and as quickly as the writers and their colours had lightened the cityscape, the darkness descended. Things turned from insular to elitist, as the self-proclaimed hierarchy tried to exclude would-be participators. Robbing became the new craze, mostly born out of a desire to impress rather than necessity. The crews turned on each other. The self-destruct button was pushed. The Covent Garden meet-ups rapidly depleted as would-be victims stayed away and those attending kept their distance or attended in force. Those 'pretty/flowery' days had been replaced with something much greyer, rougher and apathetic. The artwork too was changing. By '88, the London scene, though a hazardous one, was still thriving. More trains than ever were being done. Westbourne Park, West Ham, Farringdon and Tufnell Park Halls of Fame were being re-coated weekly, but now the viewing was strictly for the involved. The door was being shut on the outsiders and stories of robbings (termed 'steamings' by the press) made sure many stayed away. Sadly, graffiti crews were among the first to engage in robbing en-masse - fast becoming the new folklore of this once-united and positive movement.
Many from beyond considered London to be dead. Yet myself, Chane,Grand, Stop, Funbox, Envy, Kez, Macs, Cop, Cade, Excel 502, Ganja, Check and others were entangled in a war with the Graff Squad, headed by a Mr. Chard. Each week, I was either in Loughton, Farringdon, Barking, Moorgate, High Barnet or Neasden bombing and, to a lesser extent, piecing with writers like Robbo, Doze, Pic, Prime, Fuel, Drop One, Furra, Jinx, Skip, Beejay or Sham 59. One morning, myself, Prime, Pic and Sham had just finished hitting a spot when I remembered overhearing at Covent Garden that a large group were going to hit the East London line yard at New Cross. Prime left but the rest of us headed across town to deepest South East London. But we were too late. Just as we entered the station at Whitechapel, a train covered in new pieces rolled out. We waited anxiously as the next arrived. It too was pieced. Rio had done a top to bottom, Sure Shots with a window-down, Enterprises a whole car, Cazbee a Coca Cola stlye lettering piece of his name, cast two quick panels and a Kaster wildstyle, Foam One half a car, No Limtz crew a indow-down whole car, Coma and a Birmingham writer had also panelled. On my way home, I saw a Prime piece running on the Circle Line - so that's what he'd been up to while we'd chipped off to New Cross. And that night, I was doing Farringdon. London certainly wasn't dead.
Throughout '87/'88, I was very active and, though partially worried, was proud to hear that the police were asking about me. Daily I rode the train lines, catching insides, hitting stations and taking the occasional photograph. These were the days of full addiction where I ate, slept and lived for writing. My clothes were an assortment of barb wire rips ink, stains, track grease marks and of course paint spatters. My shoes generally bore resemblance to an artist's easel and I couldn't remember the last time my fingernails didn't have paint or ink under them. Amazingly, it never occurred to me how conspicuous I looked, practically knee deep in paint and ink. I never got stopped by the police. Steadily, I plunged further into a sea of aerosol illusion. My reality was something I wanted to replace due to boredom or whatever, a common symptom of the writer's world. For in this world, you need no real friends, and only your pens or paint can let you down. In this world, success is there, daily within your grasp, not the carrot-on-a-stick in your seemingly intangible future. It's a cocooned existance where you play by your own rules and they nearly always let you win. I played then by my rules and won. But that's what they all say. Harrow on-the Hill, Moorgate, Edgware Road and Tufnell Park were possibly the major station benches of the late '80s. Many criss crossed the system regularly, refueling on information or gossip at these spots (check out the Kast piece on the Big Met. ). Some met or regrouped to go racking. The would-be robbers hid themselves behind the facade of 'What-do-you-write?' conversationalists.
By late '89, my crew consisted of a broad selection of writers from across the capital and, as a group, we were tight. Our meeting point was The Wimpy (now Burger King) at King's Cross where we regularly compared home-made pens, customized nozzles with a couple of dozen empty toilet rolls and a plank of balsa wood. We would have passed easily as The Blue Peter Here's-one-1 made-earlier Appreciation Society but, alas, we didn't fool the manager and were often thrown out. As Christmas '89 drew nearer, I wanted to do something really big. Robbo and I were to meet Elk and Steam late Christmas Eve. The latter two couldn't come at the last minute, but by then it was 2am and Robbo didn't want to leave the club we were in. I had the apint (lots of silvers and blacks), the gloves and the yard was within walking distance. But only Robbo knew the way in.3am came. In desperation, I thought of a way to get him motivated: I'm gonna do a whole train without you. That was it. Within minutes, we were walking into Moorgate Station. There was only one train in the second lay-up on the circle Line tracks. If we wanted all the passers-by to see our work, it would have to be window-down as we had no ladders. We did a six car whole train. It read Merry Christmas to WD, Prime, Seize, Kosh, Doze, Furra, Cast, Crash, Pic, Giants, Rio 2, Pest, T. A., Tilt, Newave, Ink 27, The Big Met Posse, WRH, Skip, CD, from Robbo and Drax. This was London's first whole train and it sat at Moorgate for two whole days. It was our finest hour...and the last time they ever left trains there over Christmas. It got TV and newspaper exposure. I remember passing through on another train on Boxing Day. There were 40 or so on-lookers, mostly writers and a film crew, on the platform next to the train. It now strikes me as strangely ironic that, after 4 years of questing for 'fame and recognition', when it finally was mine for the taking, I chose to stay seated, smile to myself and ride on. The thought also crossed my mind for the first time that undercover police may be present. Anonymous fame, I think, is the true goal of the writer. Most who seek personal respect for their artistic abilities or writing achievements tend to fade away when they all too-often discover aquaintances cannot transfer respect they had for a name to an individual. I've always felt that the element of self-imposed anonymity served to protect the true persona of the writer and gave him somthing to hide behind: - I am no longer Bert Smith. I am King One. In retrospect, I often wish I'd never met any writers and remained totally anonymous, maintaining not only an element of mystique but also protecting my identity for legal reasons. Still, between '86 and '90 I met hundreds. Some I've long forgotten; some are still among my closest friends. Alas, I felt it was only a matter of time before one of them conveniently placed my real name, telephone number and tag next to each other in their phone book and wait to get arrested. Througout '89, the amount of house raids was rising. Intelligence sources among the BTP Graff Squad had greatly improved and very active.
Part of the Drax & Robbo Xmas 1989 wholetrain at Moorgate. This photo, taken by a journalist, was on the TV News and in a few national papers.
1990 started slowly. Many were under police scrutiny or paying off fines. There were,however, writers like Elk, Cherish, Tera, Shoom, Era, Rozer, Shun and Abel poised and ready to seize their opportunity. Knock-knock it was now May 1990 10am. I stuck my head out of my window and was greeted by three men who I now know to be Misters Cattle, Knight and Benyon. They asked me to come down. 'No. Tell me who you are.' 'Want a chat with you. Come down.' 'No. Who are you? I'm not coming down unless you tell me who you are.''Just come down. We don't want your neighbours knowing your business, do we?' That last sentence had a dangerously unfamiliar ring to it. 'Hold on a minute' and I pulled my head in . As I did so, I caught sight of the top of a white van across the road, partially hidden by a truck. It had a light on top, a blue light.'
Drax WD, the Last Rider of
the Purple Sage.
Story from Insane
My love affair with London Underground began in the summer of 1978, I was nearly 9 years old. My brother was barely six months and I’d just been granted a new found freedom, but what to do with it ? That’s when (along with
two school friends) I discovered the tube - It was warm, it was free, you could
smoke on it and more importantly you could go fucking anywhere. I visited such exotic places as Woodside Park, Stonebridge Park and Theydon Bois and by the time I was 13 there was not a station on that map that hadn’t been to at least twice.
It’s 1984 and Jason "Saga" Moore (with whom I went to school) suggested I come and stay at Joe's house in Hammersmith, as his parents where away and in the middle of the night he was going to paint a wall in the car park of Stamford Brook station. 2am arrives and I’m there holding the outline and shining a torch and Saga’s just started painting when there’s a tap on our shoulders and we turn to find the police. Parents are called out to collect us and a warning is given, and from that point I’m hooked.
And for the record, the gentleman at Chiswick Police Station very kindly returned Saga’s paint to him. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that was the last time they ever made that mistake.
The next step in my fledgling career, along with getting my hands on a pentel was to acquire a nom du guerre. I went through quite a few in those first few months until I finally settled on Insane. I’d like to tell you there was some amazing story about how that came about but unfortunately there isn’t , its also one I’m not likely to forget as I’ve got it tattooed across my stomach.
Now in those early days the only names I’d really seen where AD, Crash 151,
Non Stop Artists, Sham 59, Chase, Skam and Demo and for me, these guys were legends. But who were they and how did you meet them and other writers ? Myself and Time (who also went to my school) started to travel the tube leaving behind our mark while also following behind Saga who was not only a natural at piecing but also seemed to know where to paint (Worlds end, Latimer road and Westbourne park to name but a few places) and where to hang out (Covent Garden and the five-a-side pitches under the Westway).
It was under the Westway that I met Ice 3, Rio 2, Ganja (there was a fourth but his name evades me) and it was these guys that showed me the ropes and took me to the lay up at Gloucester road. I was now riding the little met with them, while also hanging out on my home line, the Bakerloo. They then introduced me to Skam and Demo, finally I’d met two of the first "big" names I’d ever seen, now I felt like I belonged. Back at school another tag started to appear in the corridors, and boy was it a biggie, I had to find out who it was and make friends, because they didn’t/don’t get much bigger than Prime
of the legendary Hell Raisers. It was also about this time that I’d gotten to know Non Stop Artists (State of art, Fade 2 and Cane 1) whom I’d discovered lived round the corner.
Covent Garden writers meet up - photos from Insane
For me personally it was great time, I’d finally found something which I enjoyed. I was never the most prolific bomber or the best artist, but I’d met
like minded people who dressed the same, listened to the same music and
shared the same interests, I felt a part of something. It was also during this period that I met Rich & Rage whom Saga and I joined together with to form NLZ (No Limitz). I don’t want to keep name dropping but these a few more important people that I’ve got to mention to complete the picture before I move on. Along with Prime came the intro’s to a lot of south west London writers such as Crime, Dust, Hang 71, Lazy Lady, Sham 59, Dev, Looze 7 and last but by no means least the legend that is Crash 151, who to this day I’m friends with and my mum knows him as that nice boy called XXXXXXX. Saga added people like Hate, Cazbee, Fuel, Vogue and Shazer. Rich and Rage added Cak 1, Foam & Rush. The big met lot I never really got to know, although I’d run into Cast, Kis42, Set3, Tilt and Coma and knew one or two of their faces to nod to. Which left me with the North London luminaries, these were big names that I looked up to, little did I realise how big and how much I’d look up to them - Choci, Drax, Robbo and PIC.
This little world just kept expanding, Covent Garden was must on a Saturday afternoon, which then left the other 6 days of the week to go painting, but to do that you needed paint and as honest as I am I’d be fucked if I was gonna pay for it. This is where elasticated cuff and waisted jackets came into their own, and after learning how to rack and spending the whole day doing it a man had to eat didn’t he ? So if the paint was free, then the food and drink might as well be too, but why stop there, Pumas and Kangols and Burlington socks didn’t come cheap either. Cazal took it to the next level, he turned up one evening with a Roland 505 which he’d liberated from the west end. Now as the seasons rolled by, acquiring paint became harder and harder as the shops wised up and everyone started to protect their spots. You found yourself moving further a field, I remember a trip to Cambridge (I think) with Non Stop, after we got a tip off that there was a place stocking Krylon. The shop had about 50 cans of it, we cleared the lot along with as much paint as we could find in the city, I think the total haul filled three or four holdalls about the size of which you’d take for a months holiday !
I suppose you could say that ego creeps into it some where along the line, in fact I know you can, cos I loved seeing my name on these lumbering tin cans as they rumbled up and down their various tracks and the buzz you got as someone mentioned your name or pointed you out at Covent was fantastic. It didn’t matter if it was to flatter you or threaten you, as Oscar Wilde said "There’s only one thing worse than being talked about, and that’s not being talked about".
Now this meant more frequent trips to the yards, first port of call being Queens Park as it was only round the corner, and then further a field to places like Arnos Grove – I recall a nasty case of frostbite on my finger after a winter trip there with Cane 1. There’s a couple of stories that stick in my mind, the first being a trip to Barking, which was in the middle of nowhere for a West London boy, or for a South London boy for that matter. So half way thru’
our little re-decoration project we spot someone running down the line towards us, suddenly there’s a shout as a helmet is spotted under his arm, and that was the cue for us to make a run for it. The only way out was across
the tracks and over a fence into a housing estate. Cane and I were the first over when suddenly Cane turns back and starts laughing, I look round and there’s Skam hanging upside down caught by the cuff of his jeans. The next thing you hear is a rip and he falls on his head, jumps up and continues his
escape. As the sirens started to blare and the night was lit up with blue flashing lights half of us dumped our paint on various garage roofs in the estate and to this day I think they’re still up there rusting cos after two trips
back, we never managed to find them. It was not long after this that I was coming home one night, and decided to bomb Maida Vale with my new Torch and pack of stickers.Little did I know that they’d just installed a hidden camera and that the old bill were upstairs checking the feed. The next thing I know I see a helmet pop his head round one of the entrances and then disappear, so I binned my stuff and made a run for it, but as you well know Puma States with fat laces are not built for speed. I’ll give Harrow Road nick their due; I was in and out in less than two hours with a court date. The night before my date at Marylebone Magistrates we took a little trip to Golders Green, Drax tagged along although he wasn’t going to paint (Now that shows true dedication, not that you needed to be told that about him). He was tasked with taking some pics, and about half way through the train we were doing starts to pull out and we were all screaming at Drax to make it a Kodak moment. Did he manage it? No he fucking didn’t, he was too busy doubled up laughing, which he continued to do for most of the way home.
When did I stop writing, I think it was early in the nineties, why did I stop writing? There are numerous reasons, people where getting very territorial -
And in no particular date order, I had been chased off plots in Harrow, Woolwich and I think I’m still marked for death in East Ham after I tagged a little too close to some one’s piece. There were cases of people being robbed left right and centre, people grassing each other up and horror stories of people going to prison. I’d also got more into drink, drugs and women which as you all know are the devils work. So now I’d started to think was it worth it ? And to answer that question, yes it fucking was. It was one of the best periods of my life and maybe I cut it a little too short. I still find myself absent mindedly tracing my name on the windows of the tube doors.
I recently went to Saga’s funeral and as I’m standing there contemplating the loss of friend who’d got me into this in the first place I was handed a photo copy of a picture of a saga piece on a Bakerloo line train. I’ve looked round and standing a little way off are : Cazbee, Drax, Rage, PIC, Elk (who I’ve only met recently is a great bloke along with a being a great writer), Prime, Cane 1, Vogue and Demo and a few others who at this precise moment I cant recall (apologies chaps). Someone asked Saga’s mum if we could write in the back of the condolence book, she agreed, a marker was produced and it got bombed to fuck. I went from being 38 to 18 in a split second, who said graf was dead. Thanks to all those who came before and inspired me to ride the Tube and also to all those who allowed to join in and become a small part of history and here’s to those who came after me, keep up the good work.
PS - If I’ve not mentioned anyone please forgive me, I’m a 38 year old dad who’s losing his nozzles.
26th May 2008
http://www.sagatattoo.com/ - Saga R.I.P.
Story from Jano of the Criminal Damage CD crew.
I'd never really been one to stray off my own chosen train line. I chose the Metropolitan Line as my home and spent most of my time on it. The Central Line was probably the nearest train line to where I lived, but it didn't have any kind of graffiti 'scene' on it , so I didn't really wander too far from the Mets and Circle in the 'train-graff' department. Yes, the first proper train-yard bombing mission I went on , was to West Ruislip Depot on the Central Line in 1986, but this was because it was only a mile or so walk from Nice 1's house.
I had been into Uxbridge Yard on the Met before, it was one Sunday in early 1984 with a school mate of mine called 'Nozzo' (He was never, ever, a graffiti writer by the way.). While there, I sprayed 'Hip Hop Don't Stop' kinda stuff on one of the trains in metallic pea-green Dupli-Color car paint. But, because of the porous surface of the train panels, and because I was using possibly the worlds thinnest paint, in the world's worst color , the writing almost disappeared 'sponge-like' into the panel as soon as it was applied. The thing was, Nozzo and me had no intention of doing graffiti on anything that afternoon, that's not why we were in the yard. I'd bought the paint for a bicycle frame I wanted to re-spray and we were only in the yard to get a better look at the factory buildings that were due to be demolished. The said buildings were on what is now the Sainsbury's supermarket and large car park , next to the subway yard.
A schoolmate of mine had an uncle working on the site and he had told us they were demolishing the old factory , he reckoned they might be blowing some of the bigger structures up with dynamite. I was only about 14 at the time and I had to get a look at that shit ! Most of the roads near the site were cordoned off by the pigs, but it was a Sunday and it was 1984 , so Uxbridge was a fucking ghost-town anyway. So to get a better look, we slipped through the cordon and up to a school field that's was just up the road from the yard, we then jumped over it's back fence and onto the railway embankment that overlooks both the factory buildings and train sidings. This was all done with our BMX bikes in tow. We used them as a climbing aid to stand on and vault over the back fence. We now had front-row seats.
We waited for hours and fuck-all happened. Bored with the waiting around, I knocked the lid off the spray-paint tin and walked down the slope to where trains were sat in a row, I then started to do doodlin', like I do do, on a train surface. I only wrote a couple of cliché 'Electro' type things like 'Rok Box Burns' or 'Turbo' along with the brand-name of my BMX at the time 'Kuwahara', 'Redline' or whatever. The writing came out all pissy-weak so I stopped. I then calmly went and sat back down on the embankment waiting for some buildings to blow up or fall down or something. They didn't. Then, a while later, from in between the second and third trains, an LT train driver appeared and gestured for us to come over. I thought he might have seen me vandalizing earlier. Me and Nozzo got ready to do a runner, but the driver started shouted over at us in surprisingly chummy way.
"Alright lads ? You come in to get a better look at the blow-down? ".
Me and Nozzo nervously nodded in unison.
"Nah mate, it ain't 'appening today boys, fuckin' weather or summink...'Ere are you Ted's boy's ? He said youse might come down." he continued.
We 'lying-cuntingly', nodded back.
"Oh ,we'll be orf then." I replied in a similar 'cockerny' cheeky-chappy way, guessing the driver's mate Ted and his sons would have probably spoken in a similar 'council-tenant/van driver/pikey' accent.
"You wanna nand with them bikes back over the fence lads?" he offered.
"No, Mister we'll be OK." said Nozzo.
"Say 'allo to ...is it..Juney ? For us ?" said the driver as he waved us off. We nodded again. ..Prick.
So I wouldn't really class that Sunday afternoon in Uxbridge Yard as my first proper train-graff moment. I was in a yard, yes. I painted on a train, yes, but that's not why I was in there. There was defiantly no malice of forethought involved. We were in there for a good couple of hours before I had a bit of a 'doodle', and this was only out of boredom. I probably only painted for about a minute before I sat back down next to my bike and carried on watching the demolition site. Like I said the paint I had on me was for another purpose anyway I didn't wanna waste it. I know I should be making the most of a story like that. Saying stuff like,"The first time me bomb train was back in early 1984, with long forgotten, old school legend 'Nozzo', we bombed Uxbridge Yard on a Sunday, in broad daylight! We even had a fight with a driver that come out of his hut!", but fucking-hell, that's not what happened and there was shit that happened to me later on in my graff career that meant I'd never have to exaggerate too much about anything again in my life. A lot of what happened to me over the next couple of years meant I'd have a stack of kudos-giving tales, right by my hip-pocket.
Mal by Jano
Before my first proper yard trip to West Ruislip with Huz and Nice 1 in '86 and after the my soirée in Uxbridge yard in '84, I had bush-bombed the pull-in, pull-out lay-up at Northolt several times. When westbound trains terminated at Northolt, they would empty of passengers, pull out of the station and then pull into the lay-up track that's situated a couple of hundred metres up the track. It was/is situated in between the two running tracks. The train would sit on the lay-up track for about 15-20 minutes, tucked out of the way till it was time for it to journey back eastwards. After 15/20 minutes the train would then roll back onto the running track and head back to Northolt’s eastbound platform, ready to go back to Hainault or wherever. The lay-up was over-looked by an embankment on both sides . The general idea was to watch the train pull in from the trackside bushes, and when the driver made his way back through the train to the opposite end, you'd jump down from the bushes on the embankment, cross the running track and paint the train quickly before it pulled out again. This was even more risky in '85-'86 because the Central Line trains still had a 'monkey'(guard) in the back carriage operating the doors. The monkey and the driver would 'swap ends' at the Northolt 'pull-in-pull-out', so you would have to have good timing and patience to say the least. Sometimes the driver and his guard would stop and have a natter amongst themselves in the middle cars for about 5 minutes before swapping ends, that meant you could only paint the back 3 cars, quickly. If they just went straight to opposing ends you could paint the middle four carriages for a bit longer. You could never really paint the carriages that were the first three cars nearest the station platform as you could be seen by waiting passengers. There was/is a similar set-up at Amersham on the Met Line, but you didn't have the extra hassle of a guard on board, just the driver. When I was on the run from the British Transport Police in 1987 (They had a warrant for my arrest for about 3 months over the 'G' incident), I hid out in Amersham and started regular hits at the lay-up. I couldn't get to the proper yards , as it was too risky for me to travel inwards on the Met. So I was stuck in the countryside, picking my feet in Poughkeepsie.
I once looked down whilst perched on the embankment overlooking the lay-up at Amersham, and saw a driver sitting, with a porno-mag, in the back carriage, having a real 'toe-pointing' WANK, chucking his muck all over pictures of Stephanie Bews's spread-open spam butterfly. Disgusting. I mean, imagine if he 'monked' all over that seat and the next person to sit down was some tart in a micro-skirt and no panties. It explains how Banksy was born, but it's still fucking nasty. No wonder the Tube network smells like an Albanian prison in July. It's covered in pikey driver's come. And they have the cheek to say 'Keep your feet off the seats'.
So, I'd spend the lion’s share of my time on the Met, only really venturing off to other lines to steal paint and stuff, never really travelling to other areas on different train-lines specifically to do graffiti there. I was usually on the rob, but I would 'get up' because I'd usually tag everywhere I went robbing. On the odd occasion I did go on a purposeful 'graffiti blitz' in another area or train line, I did it properly, and I took the rotten piss. Nothing like the 'All-Cityness' of the likes of Chane+Grand, Rate+Event, Robbo+Doze etc, but pretty fucking up nonetheless.
On the 4th Dec 1986 Earl, Taran and myself spent all the daytime hours painting a memorial piece for a friend of Earl's, Andrew, a schoolmate of his that was killed by a hit and run driver a week or so earlier. So we painted a massive 9ft high mural at Poplar Grove 'hall of fame' reading; 'Memories' as a tribute to the poor guy. We never did finish that piece properly because of the bad winter light. It got dark at about 4:30pm and we'd also run out of black paint, so we finished up for the day and started to head back. When we got to Wembley Park station, Earl called it quits for the day and he jumped on the Baker St. bound train , making his way back to his house in White City. Me and Taran caught the train back to Harrow Met and then made our way to the McDonald's. McDonald's was where the 'Harrow Writers Bench' used to temporarily de-camp to during the winter months. This was because the usual station hang-out got too fucking cold come nightfall in the winter months.
But, as per usual when we got to McShit's all the writers were outside freezing their nuts off(or cunt lips) , because someone got fresh with one of the McWorkers or fucked off the manager by doing something cuntish. When this happened, we could only go in and sit down when we bought something to eat, not just a cup of coffee between ten of us as was the usual scam. You could never be properly banned from Harrow McDonald's for too long back then though, no matter what you did. Staff there were hired and fired on such a regular basis, so you'd never see the same McIdiot for more than a week at a time and any of the McDicks that did stay on longer term, were what were folks refer to now as 'special people'. People seem to forget the invaluable service McDonald's restaurants provide. It supplies shit food for the nation's un-educated pikey scum and it gives employment to the most useless cunts in UK society. So don't knock it.
Anyway I think everyone was standing outside on the basis of something Sir Beau had said or done, judging by the way he was pressing his cold, bare, pulled-apart ass cheeks against McDonald's window and repeatedly pointing at it, inviting all those inside the restaurant to "KISS MY BROW-EYE!"
Harrow 'bench' was more packed than usual that winter evening. As well as the usual local writers, hangers on and local freaks, there were visitors from North London. Choci ,Robbo, Doze, Drax and a couple of writers from NLA were there as well. Choci was either just down from Cambridge, or had just come back from staying in New York. Anyway, he had quite an impressive photo album with him. A great big fat foto album bound in tatty brown leatherette, featuring lots of never seen (by us anyway), recent-ish, NY subway graffiti pics. He also had a couple of pics of a recent 'Spitting-Image' style caricature that was painted of Ronald Reagan in his buildings' stairwell.
I'd never met Choci, Drax or Doze before. I'd met Robbo with Set 3 on a couple of occasions, when I was writing 'Inkz'. Robbo had come on our line to bomb several times before, with the likes of Car 138 and Amoria and his trademark 'tidal wave' 'R' throw-up, was sometimes a feature on the outside of our trains.
When I was arrested in Oct 1987 after being on the run for three months, the BTP who questioned me (Eddie Thxxxson and Steve Cxxxle), pulled out a photograph during my interview. It was a writer's photograph taken in what looked like a Northern Line train yard. It featured in the centre of the foto, the front of a parked train.
Out of the driver's cab of which, were hanging Robbo and Doze and others, brandishing baseball bats.
"Right Jano, who's THIS ? We think we know who they are, but we want YOU, to tell us !" said 'Fat' Eddie. You could see that Thxxxson and Cxxxle were fucking fuming, very serious. I looked down at the photograph on the table and saw Robbo and Doze giving it the large and I started to fucking piss myself laughing. I could see how angry the two cops were at the 'fuck-youness' of the photo and it fucking slaughtered me. The look on the pigs faces, indignancy personified. It was like the most serious thing in the world to the BTP. They couldn't handle that type of arrogance displayed in the photo. It was like they were really intimidated by it and it pissed them off big time. I had the impression that some BTP coppers had been given a good hiding somewhere along the line. What line it was I don't know, but Steve and Eddie were looking angry, frustrated and fucking stupid right at that moment.
My arrest and interview had been quite a sombre affair till the comedy photo was bought out. I couldn't take the interview seriously after that, after seeing them quite obviously rattled by the deeds of fellow graffiti writers. They wanted this kind of lawlessness nipped in the bud. After I eventually stopped laughing they repeated the question. I then answered them.
"Are they train drivers or something ? They look like big blokes in their 30s. Did they batter some graffiti kids or something ? I've never seen 'em before."
"So, why were you laughing ?" said Cxxxle, leaning over the desk in an aggressive way, like a sort of 'Happy Shopper' version of the bad cop, in a good cop/bad cop style interview.
"I thought it might be you and Thxxxson, acting like 'The Sweeny' for a laugh or something." I sarcastically replied, trying to keep a straight face.
That line of questioning about Robbo came to an abrupt end there, as they realised it made them look like a right couple of vulnerable cunts. If you try and intimidate someone and they turn round and laugh in your face, you lose any kind of authority over the situation ( Especially if they point at you as they laugh, as I did) . Never show weakness to a pack animal, even if it's cornered and on it's own. So for the rest of the interview, I fucked them right up their asses, figuratively speaking. Just being the worst kind of horrible, cocky, cheeky little cunt imaginable. Back to my normal self then.
Choci was dressed kinda oddly for a graffiti writer that December night in 1986. On his head was an acrylic Union-Jack bobble hat, which was a weird thing for a mid-'80s graffiti writer, as the British flag was then synonymous with far right political groups like the NF. Choci had on a navy blue Abercrombie (Crombie)long overcoat as well. Now writers have never really been one for long overcoats, ever. It was always puffer jackets, leather goose, ski-jackets or coats with a fur-trimmed hood with us. Crombie coats were also the chosen 'Sunday best' type coat for your discerning NAZI-SKINHEAD. The 'right-wing bully' look wasn't a writer's normal clothing style choice .This made Choci stick out a bit, that and his height. It was like everyone associated with Robbo back then, seemed to be at least 6' 3" tall. Drax, Doze, Choci, PIC and Robbo were like 'The Guild of Big Fellas' ,using various different names for themselves like TDK etc.
After about an hour standing outside McD's all the writers started to make there way up towards Harrow Met. By now there was quit a mob, Cast, Seize, Coma, Reme, Realm, Slam, Choci, Drax, Doze, Sir Beau, Acine, Sirius, Kis 42, Mak, Earl, Robbo, Reez, Car 138, Risk, Huz, Rule, Huggy Bear, Cazal (Breeze), Dsire, Raze(Not the real, 'Rase') and myself were amongst them. We made our way to the Baker St. bound train platform at the Met. As we stood mob-handed on the platform waiting for our train, Choci started 'down-rock' breakin' on the platform edge, while singing his own rendition of Spyder D's, 'Brooklyn's in da house' . A tall bloke in a Crombie coat, British-flag bobble hat and mittens, breakin' on a train platform, in the middle of winter, while singing discordantly to himself, was quite odd behaviour, even by 'Mad Met' standards.
Most of the mob, but not all, boarded the Baker St. train when it arrived. The train was quite full with revellers as there was some concert or something on at Wembley, Aha or some other shit, 1980s stalwarts.
On the train we were all fucking about and being generally rowdy as usual. Drax was sticking white adhesive 'Blick' labels on the grey seat-backs by the door wells. They had his 'Drax' tag written on them , in what looked like a chisel-tipped, flouro pink hi-lighter pen. Drax was wearing a grey tweed 'baker boy' cap with a mass of red locks stuffed up inside it, looking like undercover security for a Simply Red gig.
Choci then walked from where we were all standing by the doors, to a packed set of seats by the windows. He then politely asked the man sitting on the seat nearest the window if he could move his head forward for just a second. The man politely leant forward as asked. Choci then proceeded to tag the window with a big, fat 'Choci' using a Uni-Wide marker pen (One of the first I'd seen in the UK). After he finished, Choci thanked the man and went back to where he was standing, over by the doors with us. The guy sitting in the window seat and the other passengers on the packed train didn't really notice what had happened, because it was executed with such brazenness and politeness. I stood there quite impressed. First time I'd seen something like that.
When the Met train we were on arrived at Baker St, Dsire and Raze headed off to the Bakerloo Line to get the train home to Wealdstone (Acine, Beau,Cre8 and Sirius had already got off at Wembley Park, thinking Choci was a bit too hot to hang around with for too long.). Me, Kis 42 and Mak caught the Circle Line up to King's Cross with Robbo, Doze and the rest of the visiting North London writers. At King's Cross, Robbo and his band of 'giants' headed of to the northbound platforms of the Piccadilly Line and me, Kis 42 and Mak headed to the southbound platforms of the Northern Line. Our initial plan was to get off the train at every stop between King's Cross and Elephant and Castle, quickly tag, then jump back onto the train before the doors closed. Then once we got to Elephant , we'd tag the fuck out of the station, then catch the train back to King's Cross. Basically, cocking our legs all over another area, in a provocative way. A kind of 'Fuck you' to the Southside
Elephant and Castle station on the Northern and Bakerloo Lines was fucked back then(Probably still is, the area is far worse now). It was fucking filthy, in a typically grubby, South London way. It had a spiral stair-case exit that was painted in flaking, baby-shit green. This stairwell was covered in tags and throw-ups, from ticket-box to platform. Elephant and Castle was a writers' bench for a lot of the South London writers like 'CB'S' for a while. It also had a pretty easy to do lay-up in the tunnel. So, we tagged up all over the station while we were there. I had on me a blue 15mm Pental marker, a bottle or blue Pental Ink (Rare as fuck, and excellently excellent. Found it in a stationary shop in Sao Pedro do Sul, when I visiting my relatives back home whilst avoiding a court case back in the UK.) and a small Pilot chisel tip, that I had converted into a fat, round stud-marker . Kis 42 had a Dulux paint tester pot converted into a 40mm maker. Mak had a black Edding 850, 18mm marker pen.
We all decided it was a bit too early to go home so we thought we'd to go all the way down to Morden, doing the same as we did on the way to Elephant & Castle, tagging all the way. We would then travel back from Morden via the Charring Cross branch and tag all the stations that we'd missed when we travelled via the Bank branch. So we set to the task at hand and worked our way, all the way down and all the way up the Southside of the Northern Line, hitting every station as we went. A couple of times we didn't get back onto the train in time and had to sit and wait for another one. At one of the stops we were seen tagging in the station, so we had to run out of the station and make our way to the next one on foot, but things generally went without a hitch. We must have done quite a lot as my Pilot stud marker's nib was frayed to fuck and dry, it had to be binned. The fucking greasy filth that's on nearly every surface of that 'sewer-pipe' they call the Northern Line, didn't help the longevity of the pen either.
But at some point on our journey home, we had attracted some unwanted attention ,someone seemed to be following us from a distance. I noticed him sometime between King's Cross and Baker St, after we'd finished the carpet-bombing of the Northern Line. It was man in a brown leather jacket, 'Dennis Waterman' hair and blinding white 'Gola' type trainers. Obviously a British Transport Policeman (BTP). When our Circle Line train pulled into Baker St, the three of us were ready by the doors, waiting for them to open. As they did, we jumped out and bolted up the stairs and over to the where the Big Met platforms are located. There were three westbound Met trains waiting at the Baker St platforms, ready to head back to Harrow. These were the last trains of the night, so we'd have to get one of them back or we'd be stuck in Town. One was heading for Uxbridge, one was for Watford and one for Amersham. They all stopped at Harrow, so any of them would be fine. But, were we still being followed ? We decided to check. We all boarded the Uxbridge train on the front carriage. I stood by the door and looked slyly round the corner and surprise sur-fucking-prise, 'Minder' was getting into the back car of the Uxbridge train. I signalled to Kis and Mak and we snuck out and jumped into the front car of the Watford train. I looked out of the door of the stationary Watford-bound Met and caught the same copper trying to sneak onto the back car of our train. He was definitely following us. Kis 42 then pointed out that he'd probably not actually seen us doing anything, he was just following, waiting for us to do something. As long as we ballsed our pens out of the way, didn't tag and cleaned any ink off our hands and clothes, the copper couldn't do a thing. The train doors closed and we started to set off on the last leg of our journey. Kis cracked open a little bottle of 'Stain-Devil', a spot removing solvent like Carbona that he always carried for emergencies like this. We started to clean our hands and clothing with it, which thinking back was a really fucking stupid idea. The solvent fumes filled up the carriage with strong, marker-pen, pear-drop type fumes. We were all sat in the front car and the smell was drifting through the vents into the driver's cab. The train suddenly braked and ground to a halt at Neasden Station. Big Mets NEVER stop at Neasden.
The doors stayed shut and the driver got out and started pointing at me and Kis through the window, but not Mak though. Then up the platform swaggered the Cop who had been following us earlier, standing there with his arms crossed glowering at us from the platform, giving me and Kis a 'You're nicked' smug grin, while next to him the driver was blustering on about graffiti and fumes. The silly old shit-cunt thought the fumes from the 'Stain Devil' were ink fumes. It seemed like we were gonna be arrested for graffiti when it was the only time in about 16 hours we hadn't actually been writing on stuff. Ironic? The driver got back in his cab and the cop got in there with him. The train then started to roll off towards Wembley Park at a snails pace. This wasn't good.
We could hear the cop in the drivers cab, we heard him radio ahead to Wembley Park, telling fellow BTP officers to meet the train, telling them what carriage we were in and giving descriptions of me and Kis. I guess they thought Mak wasn't a graffiti writer because he was Chinese and looked like a junior doctor. Me, Mak and Kis thought, fuck this for a laugh, so we started to walk through the carriages towards the back carriages of the train, as far away as we could get from our last pin-pointed position. We were looking for a car with more passengers in it, we could lose ourselves amongst a crowd as the doors opened, we thought. The train was going slow to make sure we didn't throw any incriminating evidence out before we got to Wembley. So, I hid my Pental inside my shoe, underneath my foot. I don't know why I hid it there, fucking stupid idea. The pen WAS a bit too juiced-up to put next to my cock, I didn't really fancy a bright blue wang and my girlfriend loved the taste of cock, but hated the taste of Pental ink.
By now I was sweating like a rapist, and the torturously slow speed of the train was jangling my nerves to fuckree. I was waiting by the door in the forth car from the front, waiting to jump out and leg it as soon as the doors opened at Wembley . Kis and Mak were another car up from me, standing in separate door-ways. We were properly split up and spread out 'Scooby Doo style' for maximum get-awayness. The train eventually pulled into Wembley and after what seemed like days the doors finally opened. I saw Kis jump out of the train from his car and run at full-speed like a greased rat towards the station exit, closely followed by a uniformed copper. Kis was making good ground and knocking people out of his way as he went, while his pursuer was crashing and stumbling into the folks that Kis had left in his wake. I saw Mak just sidle off into the crowd and disappear like opium smoke up a whore's pipe. I started to walk at speed towards the station exit, thinking all the heat was on the Kismeister .
I noticed a man come up close to my right side. A man with a light-blue, bry-nylon shirt was walking stride for stride with me. Then the man's left arm reached round my back and he put his hand tightly (Almost gaily)on my left shoulder.
"Come with me!" he said, as he proceeded to march me up the platform. I put my head down in shameful compliance and didn't even turn round to see his face; I just let him lead me up the platform by the shoulder. He had me bang to rights.
Had he fuck! My submissive behaviour was just a ploy. When his grip on my shoulder got a little less tight, I elbowed the prick in the chest with my right arm and made a break for it. He fell back as I took off up the platform and ran up the stairs, ten steps at a time towards the exit. I jumped over the turnstiles and ran out into the road, just missing being hit by a car. Still running at full speed, I turned round to see how far ahead I was, and who it was that thought they'd pinched Dr. .Jano.
It was P.C. Fxx, he was the cunt that had nicked Coma , and he was running out of the station entrance, only about 20ft behind me. He ran out into the road after me and 'BANG!' he ran straight into the side of a fast moving van and was knocked about 20ft up the road . He was all fucked-up at the side of the road. Bringing up his rear was the BTP officer who was following us on our train, but he had to stop to help out his fallen comrade in a way that looked a bit over dramatic and homo-erotic. Ha ha, FUCKERS! I carried on running diagonally left across the road from the station and quickly turned right into Chalk Hill Rd , only to come face to face with the copper that had been chasing after Kis at the station. But he was standing in the middle of the road with his head down, his helmet on the floor and his hands on his knees, trying to breath, having what looked like a mild coronary. I just carried on running towards him, then straight past him. Even if he did catch his breath he wasn't gonna follow me and Kis into the infamous Chakhill Estate; the Dantean, criminal Petri dish that passed for local authority housing. Well, not unless he wanted to become an unwitting member of a Keith Blakelock re-enactment society. I made my way into the flats and got the lift up to an upper-floor walkway that had a view of the station area. I could see the three cops re-group. Fxxx was dusting himself down and was standing at the top of Chalkhill Rd with the pig from the train holding him up and the uniformed copper was huffing and puffing his way back towards them, looking like Roger Bannister after he'd run the four minute mile. They looked a right fucking mess. I just watched from on high, grinning to myself from the safety of my system-built, concrete citadel.’ That one's for Tilt & Coma', I said under my breath.
I then started to notice a really sharp pain coming from my right foot. Shit, I had hid my Pental under my foot. I slipped off the black suede, red-striped Puma Brooklyn high-top from my right foot and pulled out the 12cm aluminium stem of the marker. It was squashed flat and there was a puddle of ink in the bottom of the inside of the shoe. I then turned my foot over so I could see the sole. The bottom off my sock was soaked through with ink and blood.
When I had made a run for it, I had trod down hard onto the pen hidden in the bottom of my shoe, squashing it flat. The hard plastic lid and nib housing of the pen had shattered and the pressure had pushed shards of plastic up into the sole of my foot. I had to sit for most of the night on the communal benches inside the hallways of the Chakhill flats, picking bits of hard plastic out of my feet. I had to use the sock off of my left foot as a bandage. I passed out from either pain or exuastion at about 3:30am. I was woken up the next morning about 10 am buy a drug dealer's Rottweiler licking my face. I sat up and went to put my right shoe back on. I could only just squeeze it on to my foot. My foot was swollen to fuck, and walking on it was painful and uncomfortable. It felt like there was half an orange taped to my foot, filled with needles. I didn't get any kind of infection though. I put that down to the antiseptic qualities of the alcohol in the marker ink.
I had a lot of bad luck that night, but it was one of my most productive, destructive bombing runs outside the confines of the Mets and Circle. I remember it everytime I see the blue 'tattoo' lines I still have on the sole of my right foot. I suppose that's why folks say I live in the past. But at least I was there, bitch !
Interview with Coma - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3430353.stm
'Why I was a teenage tagger'
Richard Sen is now a DJ and musician
With motion-detecting cameras being brought as the latest weapon in the fight against graffiti on trains, BBC News Online's Finlo Rohrer speaks to a former teenage tagger.
Richard Sen is now a successful DJ, playing in clubs such as London's Fabric, but in the 1980s he was a "tagger", leaving his name logo all over London's public transport system.
"I started off doing my 'Coma' tag on the Metropolitan Line. I was from Wembley and that was my line.
"We would spend every day tagging the inside of the trains. The more people who see that tag the more you are getting 'up', you are getting your tag across the whole city.
It was a phase you went through, just a way to get noticed, to rebel and get attention
Former graffiti artist
"We would spend all day in a train yard. We were one of the first people to do a whole car top to bottom. We did a whole train once, about 20 of us.
"It was pretty reckless, walking down train lines in the middle of the night. Graffiti is a really organised thing, it is a full-time thing, you got up and that was your life."
He said increased security meant the graffiti that covered trains today was far more basic.
"It was easier then. Now they have got cameras, they have got fences and dogs, and probably guards in yards. They just didn't expect it then. Now because of all the security it would be a lot harder.
"They haven't got enough time to do anything good."
The 35-year-old - who now runs record label Mixed Blood - said in his teenage years he had needed a way to express himself.
"It was a phase you went through. It was just a way to get noticed, to rebel and get attention.
"The people who did it were special people, really obsessive, a bit mad, all eccentric.
Any stretch of graffiti can be the work of dozens of competing people
"It wasn't blacks, whites or Asians in particular, it was all different backgrounds, middle class and working class kids."
After brushes with the law during tagging missions, Sen eventually found himself imprisoned.
"The first time I went to a detention centre, to Hollesley Bay, for a two-month sentence. I had been arrested first for doing a wall and got a two-year conditional discharge.
"Then me and a friend were arrested in Stanmore [the end of the Jubilee Line] in the yard.
"They sent us both down. It didn't stop me, it made me worse. The detention centre made us more angry and more bitter about it."
In 1989 Sen had a second spell inside but he had already started to move away from graffiti.
"The next time I got done for everything under the name 'Coma', it was something like £50,000 of damage.
"It didn't matter. I had stopped by then anyway but I got six months. I was sent to Huntercombe detention centre and I was in Brixton prison for a week with IRA terrorists and drug dealers.
"I had grown out of it and started going out clubbing. Some people I know went on to make music, but one of my best friends grew up in a children's home and was obsessed with graffiti but is now doing a PhD in religious studies in Oxford."
In Sen's mind, teenage tagging and the more sophisticated graffiti that finds its way into art galleries cannot be separated.
"You've got to go through the whole doing things illegally part. I've done record artwork. Tagging is all part of it, that is how you start."
Sen has no regrets and is not repentant for any damage he did, viewing a train covered in tags as something worth seeing in its own right and ignoring those who are repelled.
"They are a bit narrow-minded, they are not looking at the whole picture. They think it always means there is other crime as well. But I don't care, I like to see a train that's covered. I've got older and I still think it should be there."
Also see - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7038509.stm
Theres a nice little bio about Coma on his myspace -
Richard Sen (Coma) was born in London in 1968 and spent his youth growing up in Wembley. Heavily influenced by the emerging Hip Hop culture of the mid 80s, he and his brother (who writes Kis 42) decided to visit relatives in New York in the summer of 1985. It was this trip that changed his life! There he witnessed the NYC subway graffiti movement at it's peak and spent his holiday watching trains and burners and also bombing the E and F line where he was staying. Inspired by his NYC experiences, the films 'Wildstyle' and 'Style Wars' and the book 'Subway Art', Richard decided to start writing (graffiti).
The first 'yard' experience was with his partner Reme who introduced him to Wembley Park sheds in the autumn of 1985, where he wrote 'Rich'. After being arrested once, Richard changed his tag to 'Coma' and quickly became one of the most prolific and famous writers on the London scene in the mid 80s. He concentrated most of his painting and bombing on the Harrow section of the Metropolitan Line (Big Met) and would regularly visit Rickmansworth and Wembley Park yards with fellow writers Tilt, Reme and Cast. They would 'rack' paint (and other things!) all day and paint all night. Among their many adventures, Coma and Tilt were the first (to their knowledge) to paint a whole car top-to-bottom, on the Jubilee Line 1986. They were also the first writers to be sent to prison for graffiti! This brought them instant fame and respect from writers all over London and it definitely was no deterrent. Angrier and more determined, Richard continued bombing the Met and became accepted on the Hammersmith and City line (Little Met). Alongside Ladbroke Grove writers, Hate, Foam, Cazbee, Cade and Skam, he explored Gloucester Rd, Moorgate and New Cross yards also.
Richard was chosen to take part in the Metal to Canvas exhibition at the Tabernacle gallery, London (1987) and also exhibited work at Riverside Studios alongside New York artist Tim Rollins (1988). Because of their notoriety, Richard and his crew The Mad Ethnics (featuring Hate, Foam, Seize and Skam) were invited to appear on part of the BBC television documentary series Open Space, 'Bad Meaning Good' shown on BBC2 in 1987. This was a definitive programme on UK Hip Hop culture and brought him nationwide attention and sealed his status as one of the pioneering UK train writers. His style developed from simple New York influenced letters to semi-wildstyle multicoloured burners and his last ever train piece was done in 1988. After being caught and charged with all the damage done as Coma, Richard was sent to prison again in 1989 and retired from illegal graffiti and decided to concentrate on his other passion - music.
Richard's work has been commissioned for use in the music industry and he has done record sleeves and club backdrops for independent labels: Heavenly, Wall of Sound and Sabres of Paradise. He was also commissioned by American Airlines for graffiti work. Richard is now an established club DJ and musician and records under the name Bronx Dogs and more recently Padded Cell, and has released 3 albums many singles and remixed many well known artists such as Jungle Brothers, Sugarhill Gang and Saint Ettienne. His DJ gigs have taken him all over the world including Australia, Brazil, South Africa, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe and has also featured in many music/lifestyle magazines such as Graphotism, The Face, Sleaze Nation, NME, Melody Maker and DJ. His music is heavily inspired by graffiti and continues to paint as much as he can.
The 'G' Incident - Jano, CD
On Saturday/Sunday 4th/5th July 1987,Rio2, Acine, Kis 42,Foam 2 and myself painted all night at the Wembley Park shed lay-ups on the Big Met. Rio 2 and Acine(Rio mostly) did a top-to-bottom burner saying 'MIGA' Kis 42 did his 'Cheeba' with the browns and the red outline, Foam did a piece saying 'Erupt' and I did a 'Jano' panel piece. As a kind of inter-line exchange us Big Met boys were invited over to the Inner-Met and Circle to paint the next week. Some of the Inner-Met and 'Grove writers(Especially Foam) used to despair of us lot over on the Big Met. We would let just about anyone into our yards, we fucked around non-stop and were a serious drink and party line. Our line went further out into the bush than theirs did, so we had a lot of bumpkin chaff from way out west of the Met. So there was a lot of crap running on our trains, but we would just take the piss out of when it ran. Set 3 used to go yard with a lot of the up and comings from the bumpkin sides like 'Peep'. People thought we should be more selective, but fuck it, the Big Met was the greatest graffiti line this country has ever had. So, on Wednesday the 8th July 1987 me, Kis 42,Sir Beau, and Rite 1 were duly invited to 'G' by Foam for an all-nighter. Grove writers used to get pretty arsey if you had been to 'G' without permission or knowledge, especially Foam. So like I said, it was a bit of an exchange trip(I was living in Hammersmith in 1987,so at least I lived on the line).
Earlier that day I was out racking paint for that night. We were racking from that Buntlack shop down the bottom of King's Rd and that Homestyles plot round the corner from American Classics. I was out racking with Pink DSM, Nice 1,Huz and Louise(Tilt's girl, he was inside for graf at the time). I mentioned to Pink that I was goin' to 'G' that night. As seeing as Pink had been through most of them Grove writers like a dose of salts she new the yard inside out.(She reckoned she had been fucked in a driver's cab of a Circle Line parked in Gloucesters by ****).Anyways we got separated from Nice 1,Huz and Lou and Pink took us down to 'G' and showed me all the ways in possible. Then she showed me how to get into the yard, Boom Boom!
Later that evening at the bench at Harrow Met all the guys going to paint 'G' met up. It hadn't been five minutes before Sir Beau was winding Foam up with stupid fucking questions. Foam said it was bad luck to talk about 'Graff' before a yard mission. So it wasn't long before Beau got a slap. Rite 1, Kis 42, Foam, Beau and me headed off to pick up some stashed paint in Westbourne Park, we then headed to the 7/11 in Westbourne Grove and we stole a bunch of the graffiti fuel that is the drink Nurishment. We headed through N.Ken down to S.Ken and sat opposite the Cromwell Rd. entrance to the yard. On the wall opposite the bus stop where we sat at was a Glory DVA throw up, you know the one with the G made into a grimacing face .Sir Beau pointed at it and Foam punched him and told him not to mention graffiti again. Foam was very superstitious for a 15 year old. The only superstition I had was not painting on a Wed/Thurs all-nighter. Set3 said this was because back then LT used to switch shifts then ,so there was people in the yards at unexpected times and Set 3 should know. This was a Wed/Thursday all-nighter.
At about 1am we crossed the road and headed for the fire exit entrance. We were just vaulting over the railings of the town house to get access to the back of the door, when we were spotted by a cop car. We scarpered off. I thought we were gonna call it quits then, but no. Beau then noticed something that had been written on a wall near the yard, "Gloucesters is HOT!" is what ENVY had written. Beau said, "See I told you, it's an omen". This earned him a punch in the gut from Foam. Change of plan. We were going in via the mews. So we crawled on our bellies across some bod's garden over a wall, through the sub station and down the cutting to the ledge over looking the yard from the two-train side. Foam made Beau shimmy along the edge to scout the yard. It was fine so we all went in. Up on that filthy fucking ledge where all the dust and grease is I noticed quite a few bags of full paint stashed and made a note to have them away later. We got down to ground level, walked to the back of the train, up the stairs and unlocked the Yale key door from the inside in case we needed a quick getaway. We then started to paint. Foam was doin' a Foam piece, next to him was Kis 42 doin' a 'DUKES' piece(Ebony Dukes),me and Rite 1 were doing a 'MENACES' t-2-b(Unseen Menaces, USM) and Beau was up on the ledge keeping look-out. Beau called us, someone was there. We all scurried up to the ledge and looked out over the yard. We could see a coupla track divvies over on the three train side of the yard, just by the clock on the worker's building. I said, "I think they've seen us ya know!". I could swear they looked up at us. Foam said, "Don't be so digi, them cats saw shit!" After the track workers left via the exit stairs on the other side, we got back to work. We were painting the first lay-up on the two train side. This was easier for t-2-bs because you could use the pipes on the wall for high bits because the train was only about 3 ft from the side wall. So I had one foot on the wall, one on the train, one hand on the roof of the train and painting with my other hand. Rite 1 was right next to me, Foam and Kis were to my right on the next car along.
Then all of a sudden it all went mental. Kis and Foam were shouting and as I looked down towards them I saw the sky-blue shirt of a British Transport Police officer running down the small gap between the wall and the train. I jumped down from the pipe and crashed into Kis. Foam ran passed us, I fell to the ground, Kis jumped onto the pipes to climb out and up only to be knocked back down by Rite 1's flailing legs. I got back up and the copper was about 2ft behind me. I was running now and the pig was grabbing for my hood but kept missing, like Lee in Wild Style. Foam was about 20ft in front of me by now running up the track. I just was out of the coppers reach and gaining speed by the time I got to the front of the train. Then, POW! A cop jumped out in front of me from the front of the train. Sneaky fuckers, one had gone between the first and second trains and met us at the front, just missing Foam and crashing into me. So there was me in a full-on stand up fight with a fat sweaty copper(PC R** G**en of Baker St BTP).He tried to wrestle me and I belted him in the face (He subsequently had a week sick leave, yes boss!) as I did this I fell forwards onto the track(where the two lay-up tracks converge to the running track).My left foot hit the live and my stomach on the earth line. I the proceeded to judder, fizz and burn. Suddenly from nowhere Foam pulled me up by my hoody, "Eh guy, what you dying for?”, he shouted, like I was messing around and enjoying myself. I got to my feet as ordered and with some sort of god given super power I ran at full pelt into the District line tunnel towards High Street Ken with Foam. The two shell shocked coppers were getting to their feet and shouting, ”They’re in there!" up the tunnel. I thought we were gonna be met by more 'filth' in the tunnel. By now my hair was stuck on end and my shirt was on fire and my foot and knees were burnt and I had a great big wound across my stomach. I was in quite a fucking state, but felt quite alive. I kept collapsing onto the floor in the tunnel and Foam kept dragging me up and telling me to hurry up and stop dawdling. It was now about 6am in the morning and me and Foam came running out of the tunnel mouth towards HSK station. People were on the platform to get the first train and instead of a District they got a black kid covered in dirt and grease and a Portuguese/Irish white kid with his hair stood up, his legs giving way and belly on fire. Must have been a site! Just before the platform at High St Kensington, on the left hand side is a tall wall covered in ivy which is the perimeter of a large hotel. Me and Foam climbed this like a regular coupla Spidermen. We then we headed off to the abandoned cellar of a burned out Georgian town house nearby and stayed hidden till the sirens relented. This place was the regular hide-out when 'G' got raided judging by the Foam and Fuel tags in it. On the floor of this cellar was an old rusty 70s floral patterned saucepan with no handle and filled with dirty water and slugs. I used this 'delch' to wash myself down and put myself out. Things had died down and I made my way back to Hammersmith alone, looking like I'd been to an all-night party in a coal mine. I got to my bed after dressing my injuries and slept for 3 days straight. I'd still say it was one of my favourite yards though. I’d go again if I could ,even if it did very nearly fucking kill me.
CD Crew gets on TV
There was me, that is JANO, KIS 42, and RITE 1, all CD CREW members. It was about 1 in the morning and we were sitting in SKAN 147's living room. SKAN 147 was only 18, but he had his own house in Alperton for reasons that ain't your fucking business. SKAN was one of the 147's also, a large Wembley/Harlesden graffiti crew famed for local bus bombin' and hits in, on and around the Bakerloo/Northern Line in NW London. Local folklore has it, that the 147's leader used to lay in wait in shop doorways all over the boro of Brent, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting coppers, bludgeoning them, then stealing their metal lapel numbers from their uniforms. Rumour has it heattacked 7 policemen before he had a number 1,a number 4 and a number 7. These were then emblazoned on his Kangol cap as trophies. Yeah! SKAN himself couldn't afford to be as reckless. He had too much at stake. We sat there having the obligatory ,pre-yard doodlin' session at his place. KIS 42's older brother COMA along with FOAM 2 and HATE were doing narration for the graffiti segment for the upcoming TIM WESTWOOD/ BBC seminal Hip Hop documentary ,'BAD MEANING GOOD'. COMA told KIS the BBC were going to be filming trains being cleaned of graffiti on the Friday morning at Neasden as part of a segment for this documentary . At that time in 1987 London Transport was pursuing a vigorous 'If the trains are heavily vandalised, take them out of service and clean 'em' policy. Wasn’t working though. We fucking ruled the Metropolitan Line in 1987. So hearing this news from COMA, we all decided the best thing to do, would be to go out on the Thursday night, bomb the fuck out of any yard on the MET. The train would then be taken to Neasden to be cleaned and our graff would be filmed and featured in the TV program. SIMPLE. So, about 1:10am at SKAN's we smoked a ceremonial blunt had a likkle rum and headed out to Wembley yard on the MET line. Wembley yard was a five train, three walled shed siding, just next to Wembley Park station. To get in you had to walk thru a pub car park, over a fence, up an embankment, across the tracks. You then shimmied along the side wall of the shed next to the running track and in thru the front. Once in the building, you made your way right to the back. There was a slight curve in the rear portion of the track, so if you were paintin' any of the last three cars of an eight car train, you couldn't be seen from the front, or from the station. Once down the back of the yard you opened the rear emergency exit door. Me, KIS 42, SKAN 147 and RITE 1 were now in and at the back of the yard. I decided to get started straight away and chose the second car from the back on the second train, in the space between the first and second trains. There is a space of about 5ft between the trains. I knocked the plastic lid off a tin of Hammerite white on the now shoulder height door ledge. I started doing the first outline of a 'Wanted poster' style lettered panel piece with the white paint. When I paint I usually switch off from the outside world and only stop when I want a joint or some booze, but there was a right fucking commotion coming from that lot at the back of the trains. I thought they were probably arguing over who's gonna piece where kinda shit. So I stopped, and walk back towards the rear driver's cabs. The back door of the yard was now wide open and thru it I could see a trail of dust following a disappearing SKAN 147 at high speed up the track towards Preston Rd. At the rear of the yard next to the back buffers stood RITE, KIS and now with them a train driver. RITE 1 was telling the driver that he and KIS were tired and homeless and just looking for somewhere to sleep. Just as the driver was saying "Sorry lads, you can't sleep here" I burst out from between the first and second trains, shaking a paint can shouting "What's all the fucking noise? I'm tryna........oh". The driver looked round at me, looked back at KIS and RITE and then said, "Fuck off you black cunts". I may have Mediterranean blood, but if I was any whiter I'd be milk. We filed out the back door of the yard, stretching, yawning and rubbing our eyes. I have no fucking idea why we carried on with the' tired hobos' pretence. Well, seeing as the guy knew exactly what we were up to. We stepped out into the pissing down rain of the wee hours of the night, sans SKAN. "Well, we gotta do somewhere tonite though ,I ain't givin up now, even if it is fuckin' pissing down", I said. KIS suggested Neasden Yard. It was only just up the track and we could cut thru Chalk Hill. I used to love Chalkhill Estate in the mid 1980s. It was loads of 8 storey, high density tower blocks snaking their way up, over, and down the other side of the hill, all connected by walkways every couple of floors. The Police were not allowed in without permission. It was basically a Peoples Republic, which suited me. I've been chased by the police several times in the Wembley Park area. I always ran for the safety of Chalk Hill. Cops just wouldn't follow you in there. KIS, RITE and me then entered the Estate and walked the half mile to Barnhill Rd along the walkways of the tower blocks, not at ground level. Then over the fence, thru the school, across the brook and down to Chesham St, Neasden. Once there ,we moved along to house number **, we sneaked into the back garden of the house, onto the garden shed roof then over the back fence into far side of NEASDEN YARD. The rain was now even worse. I was never too keen on the yard at Neasden. Too fucking big for my likes. There was only one really safe way in as well. All the other ways in were too open, too visible or just too fucking hot. Only suited to quick bombing runs or complete fucking maniacs like YESEYE or RATE & EVENT. Plus Neasden was a main depot for three separate subway lines, it was an engineering works, a base for track workers and drivers and it was floodlit like a stadium at night. The safe to paint bit of the yard where we were, only housed shit trains. Scrap trains, old rusty works trains and Jubilee Line trains. The good subway trains were far deeper into yard, the Metropolitans, the Hammersmith+Cities / Circles. That's where all the workers were as well. So most of the MET trains were painted elsewhere, smaller lay-ups and sidings further west .No-one ever went to Neasden to do the Hammersmith/Circles exclusively, coz they were stabled next to the drivers rec-room and just too hot. Triangle Sidings(Gloucesters or 'G') underground yard, Parson's Green or Upney were far easier yards for Circle Lines. RITE, KIS and myself set to work about 6 tracks in on a 1972 stock red door Jubilee line train. Next to us on the same track was a two car METROPOLITAN Chesham Shuttle.(Didn't bother with a bumpkin train).We started to paint. But it was pissing down, lightnin' the fucking lot. When the paint went to panel it just spread with the rain water and ran. It just wasn't taking to the surface. At one point the side of the train was like a grey sheet of water, rippling with the strong wind. It was like piecing on the surface of a pond. We all decided to stay and stick it out. Stop for a while, see if the weather got any better. It did ,but it was still wet. KIS 42 painted a straight letter piece about half a car high, about half a car long. It said, "CHEEBA KIS". RITE 1 painted a "RITE1" panel piece in blues with red flourishes and a white outline. JANO painted a top to bottom "JANO" white filling with d.blue outline/shadow with red stars/bubbles. SKAN 147 went home early.
Cheeba kis by Kis 42
Rite by Rite 1.
Jano by Jano.
We finished up, took fotos (which only half of which came out coz of the rain ruined the film),packed our bags and sneaked back out the way we came in. Soaked to the bone, steam rising off the three of us as we walked through the early morning ghetto sun. Tired and aching but fucking fulfilled. The trains we painted that night were shown in August 1987 when the documentary was first aired on TV. So it was all worth while. They also showed other trains having graffiti cleaned off them at Neasden and guess what? They were JANO tags and thro-ups I had done at Rickmansworth the previous month. So I guess I didn't even have to bother going on that wet & windy night. Fuckin glad I did though.
JANO, CRIMINAL DAMAGE
Back to the history lesson.
USM, Unseen Menace, was a largish crew that used to run on the Met between '87/'88, a kind of off-shoot of the 147's. The 147's were a massive old crew started around the Harlesden area by Chico and Raven, round about the time of Christ's birth, mainly known for bus bombing and general badness in all it's shapes and forms. I would list all the 147 members, but I ain't got enough room on my hard drive. USM were like the train bombing and piecing branch of the 147's. It was a sort of rival to Hit 'n' Run, Set 3's all-star bombing crew. With the likes of Fly ,Cak and Buf doing trackside and train pieces and Stage, Rite 1, Mas and List bombing the outsides AND killing the insides, USM had some serious shit to offer up at the table of Met. They were pretty much up all over the NW quadrant of London. They created a whole bunch of havoc wherever they went.
I remember going out robbing with Stage and Rite 1 once. Stage walked into the Peter Dominic Wines in Uxbridge and robbed a bottle of Martini Bianco. He walked outside of the shop, and on the shop's doorstep, cracked open the bottle and downed it in one. The rest of the day he was a fucking nightmare. They had to stop the trains at Harrow because Stage was standing on the westbound track at Northwick Park shouting abuse at station staff and fighting with himself. Later on, after we had managed to get him off the tracks he punched through a train window and cut his hand to fuck. We got chased by the pigs about five times that day in several locations in the Metro land area. This was typical behaviour for Stage, it wasn't a one off, he WAS mental. Cak was a nice calm fella who could piece pretty damn nice, and everybody knows about 'Big Chico', Fly and Buf were like a double act, they could piece well and got up loads too, they were in Set 3's Hit 'n' Run till they formed USM with the others.
Set 3 used to say USM was a shit name, because the name implied their work was 'Unseen'. I think this was sour grapes on his part. It was obvious they meant it to mean, "We got in, we got the job done, and we got out without detection, an unseen menace, something to fear." Mas were a funny guy. His tag stood out because his 'S' on his tag was like a backward number 2, quite original. He was the sort of fella who would argue with you just for the sake it. He and Rite 1 were a real couple of piss-takers. They mostly ragged on each other and were, fucking hilarious to watch as they tore pieces off each other. Rite 1 would get ribbed for being dark, skinny and 7ft tall, 5ft of which were his legs. He looked like a jet black flamingo in red suede Adidas. Mas would get it for having goofy teeth and a bit of a lisp. List was a quiet kind of guy; he just got on with the job at hand, nice fella. Three of the USM guys lived over near Lisson Grove; so on the train back home at night they would pull the emergency brake on the Met train as it went passed the disused train station at Lords between Finchley Rd and Baker St. They'd climb down to the tracks from between the carriages and walk the couple of yards to the housing estate where they lived just near the tunnel mouth. This saved about 20 minutes. Not for the other train passengers though.
Hit 'n' Run, as mentioned before was a crew in the same vein as USM, but it was older, with more crew members. The founder and principal member was the legendary Set 3, one of London's first all city Kings. He was as near as you could get to someone like Seen in the UK. Set 3 must have done more trains in the '85-'88 period than anyone else I know, excluding maybe Yeseye. Some of the more snobby elements on the graff scene criticized his simple styles, but he was a hardcore train writer, he wasn't in the Chrome Angelz.
Set 3 was the first graffiti ‘King’ I ever met. He was a nice bloke, he wasn't up himself and he would pretty much go yards with anyone. This rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way.
Set 3 and Cast were from the same neighbourhood in Pinner and started out together and the pair of them were as blind as each other. I think that was one of the reasons those two were so comfortable in the train yards, was they couldn't see a fucking thing, they wouldn't see danger, so they wouldn't be scared. Cast was technically better and would use fancy paint like Buntlack and Sparva, whereas Set 3 was a 'Hammerite colours' and 'chrome Spectra' kind of guy. Set 3 was also the first writer I knew who had been to New York and painted, but to some folks he was a bit 'white'. But Steve didn't answer to anybody, he didn't give a fuck about what anyone thought. I know for a fact that if there wasn't a graff scene in the UK back then, or any other writers about, he would have still been doing it on his own. Half the time he went to the trains he went by himself anyway. He never walked around with photos of his shit either, he didn't have to, there was always Hit 'n' Run stuff running, not just on the Big Met, all over the city. Set 3 had throw-ups on nearly every decent trackside wall on every line on the tube network. He didn't have to brag or boast the, graff spoke for its' self. I have a lot of time for Set 3. Him and his contribution to graff in this country are criminally overlooked, just as all-city bombing duo Chane and Grand are.
I remember in 1987 at Covent Garden, Mode 2 from TCA came up to Set 3 and asked if he was '4 Fun ' (One of Steve's old names). He reckoned Set 3 had gone over that 'one', shitty train piece Mode had done on the Met at Rickmansworth in 1985. The fact was Set 3 had gone over the top of the stain of the buffed-off piece with a 4 Fun throw up. Big fucking deal. Mode was then standing up to Steve with about half a dozen big black guys from South London standing behind him. He then punched Set 3 in the face. Right pussies punch at that. I know for a fact that if Mode 2 hadn't had his mates with him Set 3 would have wiped the fucking floor with him. Ever since that day I've had no respect at all for Mode 2. Mode may be a good muralist, who set the bar for the early UK graff scene, but he's never gonna be a King of anything like Set 3 was.
Hit 'n' Run was another one of those crews with a whole bunch of different writers from all over the place in it. Even Kis 42 (who didn't even like Set 3)was in it at one point, so was I, Buf, Fly ,Cre8 (the real one), Huz, Elf, Deino, Risk, Rule, Sar, Tilt, Rite 1 just about everyone who was anyone on our line was in Hit 'n' Run at some point or another, a constantly changing line up. H'n'R would later splinter into several factions including USM and Upmost Kings. This I think was probably because some smart-ass kept changing "Hit 'n' Run” into "sHit 'n' Runs". Writers, being a proud bunch, didn’t really want the 'shit and runs' critique under their tag. The most worthy members from H'n'R were taken under the wing of the Criminal Damage organization after the split. CD didn't soak up all the left-overs, as CD had a stricter vetting program for membership than Set 3 had (He was a bit too nice really.).
Upmost Kings was Set 3's next all-star venture. This was an excellent, but short lived crew of hardcore train writers who could master-piece, as well as get up. I was in it for a time, that was after Set 3 noticed I was getting up on trains, as well as being a technically accomplished artist, along with the likes of Fume 53 from Tottenham. When I painted the JANO top-to-bottom that was featured in the 'Bad Meaning Good' documentary, I was in Upmost as well as CD, but I drifted away full time to the more hardcore CD later.
Going to the yards with Set 3 was good, but it was never really a barrel of laughs. Steve was very methodical in his approach to painting trains. It was too much like hard work. His inability to see police when they were more than 10ft away was a bit fucking disconcerting n'all. Set 3 and Cast were worse look-outs than David Blunkett and Stevie Wonder, and that's coming from personal experience.
Here's one thing most people don't know. How Set 3 got his name. When he was writing 4 Fun in early '86, Steve was arrested by ‘P.C.Chard of the Yard' at Edgware Rd station whilst tagging. He was bailed to return pending reports. So he had a good month or so stewing, waiting to see whether matters would be taken further. The cops said they were gonna throw the whole cunting book at him. He reported back to the police station a month later and to his relief and disbelief, received just a caution. Later that day he travelled down to the abandoned warehouses in Queensbury to check out any new pieces on the walls inside. Amongst all the tags and pieces on the walls, he noticed half way up a wall, in 'sap green' Buntlack paint, a single letter throw-up 'S' and next to this in the same colour, the tag "Set 3". Now Set 3 was one of a series of tags that Fume 53 'Little Mark' was flirting with around early 1986, but he didn't really carry on with it. Well, Steve looked up and saw the words 'Set 3' and thought this was a good omen, as after all that fretting over the last few weeks, not knowing whether he was gonna be charged, he was eventually 'Set Free'. So he took the name 'Set 3'as a defiant symbol of personal liberty.
As well as straight-up train bombing crews on the Met, there were groups of wall writers that would meet up around the Met. There were crews like TEV, The Enamel Vandals who painted many pieces in places like the Northwick Park bridge hall of fame, the Queensbury warehouses and Poplar Gr., as well as occasionally getting to the yards. All the writers were competent or better. Members included 2 Much, Hyde, Seize (Billy Buntlack, not AndySeize). TEV was the only large all-white London crew I can recall from that era on the Met. They were sworn enemies of Dsire and Kis even before Dsire and Kis had met each other. There was a line drawn in the sand sometime in late 1985, the boys from TEV and a few other white writers were on one side and everybody else was on the other. After Kis, Dsire, Tilt and Mak battled and beat, AND beat up Seize TEV at the Poplar Grove battle in July 1986, we never heard from TEV again. Only Hyde, the only reasonable chap amongst them kept going into 1987. That July day in 1986 was the day the 'Daves' (White, English, and cockney, slightly racist, football mad, sovereign-ring wearing cunts), stopped having any kind of say in graffiti. You know the type, probably self-employed plumbers now or driving black cabs, they'll read The Sun and are always moaning about asylum seekers. The type that want you to think they're a bit of a dodgy cockney geezer because one of their relatives say they knew 'The Twins'
CCA, Cold Crush Art, was a crew of one when I joined it in 1986. It was basically 'Earl' on his own up until then. Earl was from the White City Estate in Shepherds Bush, a frighteningly shabby 1930s local authority housing estate. It was a place so dirty and grim, that you'd think it was in South London or Hackney. Geographically it was hemmed in by the Westway in the north and QPR’s football ground in the south. The estate buildings were made up of dozens of 6 and 8 storey walk-up red brick blocks. It's name, White City was an ironic name for the place to say the least. It's had a make over since 1986 and doesn't smell as much of shit and piss as it did back then, but now it has crack-heads galore. If you work for the BBC in White City and have been mugged on the way to the station, it was probably by someone from the Estate. That'll teach ya for talking loudly on the station platform about working on Top Of The Pops.(Remember me, Bigmouth? Thanks for the laptop, I got £400 for it, MUG)
We'd spend about 3 nights a week at Earl’s apartment doing outlines and developing letter styles. Me and Earl would piece together at Poplar Grove (The Met Line writers' hall of fame), Hammersmith (Sundance) and around the Harrow area at places like Belmont Circle. CCA was a master-piece crew, just burners, real artistic shit, not any bombing and trains. Taran joined in November '86. This arrival meant the crew had three very different writers, with different styles. Earl was very neat, with very futuristic letters and effects. Taran had very complicated computer-circuit looking wildstyles, wickedly unreadable to most people. I handled the characters and the vibrant coloured shit side of things. After a while CCA became CCK, Cold Crush Kings, a bit of a big-headed, bombastic name, but hey, who said graffiti writers were modest. Then after a while CCK was dropped in favour of HKA, High Klars Art. A stupid name, stupid spelling. I hated the name HKA, it made us sound like an escort service. I was also getting fed up with the crew MO as we never did trains or bombed hard. It was all a bit too 'high art' for me. I was also in another wall-piecing crew at that time with Dsire and Raze, KAL ,the Killers At Large. It wasn't the real, late, great 'Rase' (Gary Baxter, RIP), but some parrot-faced little cunt from Stanmore who followed Dsire around like a puppy. When I used to piece with Earl and Taran at that time, I'd put KAL up on the piece along with HKA as well. This wound Taran up. He said, "You can't be in two crews at the same time. You have to choose." So I choose neither. I left HKA and haven't really spoken to Taran since. When I left KAL for CD, me and Dsire fell-out for about six months. But it was the best graffiti decision I ever made was leaving HKA. No disrespect to Earl and Taran, but they were going off in a different, more poncey direction. I didn't want to do technically innovative, arty-farty pieces that took about ten hours to paint, once every six weeks, with paint I'd paid for. Fuck that. I wanted to paint my name everywhere, everyday, bigger and better than everybody else if possible, with as much inconvenience to others as possible. I wanted to hang around, get high and fuck around non-stop. I didn't want to be some precious, sponsored, Chrome Angel type writer who basked in the limelight and swaggered around like Chris Eubank. I wanted to skulk in the shadows, pouncing on innocent passers-by, metaphorically.
CD, Criminal Damage, was born of the ashes of several early Met Line crews from 1986. Organized Crime was one such crew. It was a master’s crew from Harrow and Wembley. Originally an earlier piecing crew called *Z'86 (Stars of 1986), it featured in it's line up; Dsire, Tilt, Mean (Kis 42) and Mak. It was all the best original writers from the Met, everyone a master. Dsire, the 'King of Style'. Kis 42, the hardcore hit-man, Tilt, the maddest of the mad and Mak, the crazy chinaman with the kung fu shapes (Watching Mak paint was fucking delightful , he moved his spray can and arm around when painting like he was doin' tai-chi, visual fucking poetry.) Add into this mix, the crew of Sirius, Sir Beau, Acine, the Wembley Park killers, add also former members of Hit 'n' Run and you have the chemistry of something dangerous. As CD grew and grew over the next couple of months, things started to change on the Met. The whole scene went from being a handful of small, separate, squabbling factions into something a lot more organized and sinister. Ground rules were now starting to get laid down, this is when the writers started to get a the upper hand over the filth and the powers that be.
On the Met, for most of '87/'88 you were either a CD member, or you were down with CD and it's affiliated crews. God help any writer who came to the Met that weren't know by any of the Harrow/Wembley bench regulars, especially if they were from bumpkin areas. They'd go home in just their under-pants, via Northwick Park Hospital after being beaten and robbed.
By mid-1987 there were over 30 members of CD itself, plus another couple of hundred affiliates from the likes of the 147's, USM, DBL.(Down By Law) and regulars from the Harrow Bench. Criminal Damage now had members from all over the city in it’s' ranks and they started guest-piecing with other writers from all over London, going on an all-city rampage. CD is still known as THE all-time Met crew.
Criminal Damage has survived almost completely intact in its original form and members still meet and paint together on a regular basis. Criminal Damage is now what people euphemistically refer to as a 'Sports and Social Club', and there is a strict limit on new membership, which is selected only by a handful of high-ranking members. Any votes on membership entrances have to be a unanimous decision and only a senior member is able to put forward a prospective candidate for nomination. Prospective members can only be brought in from the ranks of previous affiliates and friends, unless in exceptional circumstances. If they didn't know you back in the day, you won't be getting in. That's the general rule of thumb.
CD's strangle-hold on Metropolitan Line graffiti started to wane towards the end of '88. CD had two full years at the top and let us be honest about it, they were the pinnacle years, the halcyon days of the UK train graffiti scene. Nothing has come close to it since, but it had to end sooner or later.
The first school of Met writers, the '83-'87 alumni, were now approaching their twenties and because of the intrinsically criminal nature of graffiti, were nearly all getting sucked into more serious criminal ventures like distributing drugs and robbery with violence. A whole bunch of writers were rounded up and imprisoned. This is where they learnt the proper criminal ropes. Most old school Met and Grove writers have done time inside, or are involved in some sort of criminal activity to this day.
But mid-way through 1988, a new generation of writers started to come to the forefront, filling the spaces left by the now retiring, or imprisoned older generation. Some of these young Turks were just as hardcore, if not a little more, a little rough around the edges. They had that same youthful energy and arrogance that we'd had three years earlier and it was their time now.
TU, the Untouchables became the next dominant crew on the Met, a natural successor to CD, a crew with the same kind of general philosophy about graffiti as CD. They became the new standard-bearers for the Met, but you'll have talk to them about it, it ain't my place. Ask Figz, he'll tell ya.
Another story from Jano CD, this time about the court case that ended the careers of many of the early Big Met kings. Thanks to old skooler Big Met writer Mover for posting this on a thread on 12Oz.
By the middle months of 1987 I had taken my position mid way up the graffiti hierarchy and was duly pissing on those below from the parapets of my own self worth, like the cunt I was.
I'd spent the last couple of years trying to affirm a semi-respected position amongst the graffiti writers on the Metropolitan Line, through hard work and artwork, but I'd made mine a hard route up though. It took a while for the other writers on the line to get what I was about see. I had a tendency to joke and fuck around non-stop, so for while wasn't taken really taken seriously, not until I started to get my name up on the trains with people like Set 3. My wall pieces and mural work were always contemporary, competent and clean, but anyone can do this with enough time and practice. Trains took more commitment and mettle and I showed I had it, but I still carried on with that trademark fucking around of mine though.
A lot of technically good, trailblazing artists from the 85-87 period , fell to the wayside when graffiti in London became more about the whole train painting scene, with writers only doing wall pieces to showcase their new styles, technique and new original work. It's not that graff became less about art, it just it became more about trains and being the best within set time scales and parameters that you have when it's a train graffiti environment. You could be a brilliant artist with spray-paint, but if you didn't paint the trains and the tracksides you were just all mouth, a cunt. You had to be social cat, involved and amongst it, out in the jungle as it were. In other words, exactly the opposite of how the graffiti scene is today.
Now it's all, Internet 'talk about more than do' writers, bumpkins, talentless wankers with stencils that can't paint free-hand and cowardly pussy-holes with stickers. Seriously, take a look how shit a lot graffiti magazines have become, it's all ads for shit graphic design companies run by prick ex-writers cashing-in and selling-out. The only graff you see in mags nowadays, is that shit stuff we get on trains now, that 'Euro' style crap that looks like colour 'bubble' throw-ups, the kind of rubbish graff that would've got you laughed off the line in 1986. (The only good writers from continental Europe, do US style 'proper graff'. Though every writer I've met from Europe has been a right fucking dork. It's an English language thing ya see. It's fucking hilarious when continental writers write something they think is thought provoking, political or 'street' next to their pieces in English. It's always something woefully out of date, misinformed, corny, or really poofy sounding. Aaahh bless 'em! They try their best. When I think of European writers I can't help thinking of MC Mika G and 'Holiday Rap' for some reason. Backward baseball caps, mullets and big sneaker tongues sticking out, please.)
I haven't really seen any real hardcore proper train-graff with any kind of integrity to it since the heydays of Fume, Teach, Zomby and them cats in the 1990s. They were probably the last bunch to do anything worth talking about on the trains, at least they had proper letters and knew how to paint. They also had the right attitude to graff.
The only other graff you get in magazines is at the other extreme, that sort of photographic looking stuff that looks like it should've been air-brushed on the gas tank of a custom motorcycle, or painted by an artistic carni on the outside of a fun fair ride. Not exactly graff, not exactly airbrush, crap. If you want something to look like a photograph, take a fucking picture. What you've done is you've confused stuff painted with an airbrush, with art. It's got about as much class and artistic integrity as horse brasses. Graff is essentially more abstract than that.
The best new graffiti is 'trad' graff that has organically evolved over the last 20 years or so, from the old NYC parameters. There has been a natural development in perspective, with more outstanding 3D effect letters, without the loss of the traditional graffiti letter structure traits, a progression from it's original form, without losing the original root or vibe. You need to have a good repertoire of 2D letter styles first before you can do 3D perspective well, and it's usually only old writers that have this.
I've seen a whole bunch of new 3D graff, that is spot on with perspective and light, where it actually looks like there's something leant against the wall, but the letters are crap, like a bunch of awkward shaped blocks, rather than the flowing shapes you should have. There are no kinks, curves and flourished serifs on most of the new 3D letter styles, they just don't cut it.
The best graff today is usually done by writers from either NYC, London or Brasil (and yes, the odd fella from Nottingham as well) by guys in their 30s and 40s that were involved in their own local graffiti scenes at their inception . Real old war-horses you could say. When I say BEST graffiti, I mean 'Graffiti' graffiti, not Euro crap, stencils, stickers, graphic art, airbrushing done with spray-paint and anything ever done in Brighton. In other words not 'Graphotism' graffiti, the REAL stuff.
So, by mid '87 I was one of the regular faces at Harrow Met, out and about on the line, stealing and painting everyday, leading as near as you can to a full time graffiti life as is possible. Then, in May '87 it got even more intense for me.
My 'outlaw' biker Dad had, suddenly and without warning, fucked off and started a new life in East Anglia, after an armed robbery he was involved in went tits-up. He just left one morning, robbed a gas station, crashed the getaway car, went on the run and never came back home. My poor Mum went mad and went off to search for him, followed closely by the Police 'Flying-Squad'. My kid brother then went and stayed with my aunt in Portugal, after the family house we had all shared till then, was compulsory purchased by the local authority to make way for a new dual carriageway, then boarded up. All that shit in less than three weeks !
I was sixteen, temporarily homeless, penniless and I had no fucking idea where my parents or my next meal were. So, as a lot of others do in similar circumstances, I found a surrogate family, mine was the Metropolitan Line. I buried my head deep into my graffiti, like some kind of bad, ostrich metaphor and tried to block out the reality of my shattered family life. To tell you the truth though, my family had kinda been getting in the way of my graff life anyway, and being homeless for a while didn't bother me that much either. Now I could spend nights burgling shops for paint instead of all that shoplifting crap. I could now get bigger hauls of better paint without having to tip toe round the house, trying not to wake my parents. I could do as I liked now, I was on the loose in London. I was like a kid locked in a candy shop, but a diabetic kid locked in a candy shop, with Fred West.
I also knew enough places on the Underground system, hidden away, where I could bed down for the night, all nice and snug. So the homeless bit didn't bother me. The signal cabin at the then disused train depot in Highgate Woods, in the Piccadilly Line trains at S.Harrow yard, at the back of Old Oak Common depot in the old wagons and various disused stations in central London. I've stayed in all of these places without a hitch, nice and toasty. It's always puzzled me that the Jock and Northern tramps that seem to make up the majority of crumb-bearded bums in London, choose to sleep in piss ridden doorways rather than somewhere nice and warm as I chose. Then again I've never drunk Brasso, or been in the Armed Services.
I eventually got an emergency flat in Hammersmith after about six weeks living as a 'deluxe edition', hobo, which I ended up only using for emergencies. I had no income or ready-cash, but I never went without. I could pretty much steal everything that I needed day to day. I wouldn't call myself a master shoplifter or anything, but necessity made me a better thief and it became easier to me, both physically and morally. Plus, I was a thieving bastard anyway.
After a while when the gravity of my home and family situation finally kicked-in, I started to believe that, with all the shit that'd happened to me, the world owed me a cunting living. I was gonna go on a sort of semi-restrained rampage to get my own back. Basically, I had a 'fuck-you' death wish during that time. I went to the train yards almost every night, whether I was painting or not. The nights that I didn't go to the trains I was breaking into shops like 'W***s' in Chiswick or '** Graphics' in Farringdon for Buntlack paint, or I was pulling designer clothing through the letter boxes of West End boutiques with an extended litter-grabber claw. I didn't have a penny In my pocket, but I had about £1000 worth of clothes on and I looked slick. I wasn't Public Enemy No.1, but I was a one man petty-crimewave in Puma Clyde's. I mean, every single thing I did from when I got up in the afternoon, to when I went to sleep in the morning was against the law, even the way I had sex with girls back then was illegal in the UK until recently.
I wouldn't blame my family break-up 100% for my anti-authority lawlessness during that period, I had it instilled from an early age, it was maybe even genetic. My Mother was a left-wing radical in the 60s & 70s, who felled a copper at the Anti-Vietnam War riot, in Grosvenor Sq. in '68 and my father was a giant outlaw biker. My Dad once ran over a copper in his van while I was sitting in the passenger seat. (During the Southall riots in April 1979, The Police had cordoned off our street and wouldn't let anyone in. There was a copper standing at the top of St.Joseph's Drive with his palm held out, forbidding my father entrance to our street. My Dad backed up, and then ran the cunt over. He then parked up, and we got out and went inside our house . ) My father had 'Fuck The World' tattooed on one arm and "All or Nothing" and "'1%'er " on the other. That's the type of fella he was, a non-conformist, hairy giant, with hands like bunches of pink bananas.
Once, when my dad was out walking his Doberman in a field in Cambridgeshire , the farmer whose field it was, shot and killed my Dad's dog for alleged 'sheep worrying'. But, it was basically a country type being territorial and cuntish for the sake of it. My dad went back on a later date and burned the farmhouse down, with the farmer in it. If you've seen Raising Arizona, I think you'll know exactly the type of fella my dad was.
Yep, nobody told my Mum & Dad what to do and it kinda rubbed off on me a bit too. Being brought up in an Asian ghetto area like Southall, didn't help with a respect for authority figures like the police either. The only time you saw the lawmen in Southall, was when they were beating on the wrong guy (R.I.P. Blair Peach), and the only time I saw the English, was when they were stirring up racial hatred. Southall used to be a predominantly Irish/Welsh town before the Indians arrived here to work in the late 1940s. The Celts had turned up in the mid 19th century with Izzy B, to do all the back-breaking work on the railways, canals and brickfields in the area, so it makes me laugh when people say 'Pakis' took Southall from the English. Bollocks mate, there were never English here and we don't fucking want any either. Fucking snakes, they smell of chips and fizz-bombs.
So, add my anti-authoritarian up-bringing to my world-class arrogance, mix in some fury and self-pity from the shattered family situation, and simmer in the head for a couple of weeks.
Yep, what was baked up was a 'complete fucking cunt' pie, with icing on the top. That is what I became, until at least April in 1989. I have no excuses and no apologies for my behaviour at the time, so fuck you. But now, as a typical middle-aged hypocrite, if I see similar behaviour displayed in youth today, I go mad. I've lost count of the amount of hooded. loitering, cheeky little cunts I've wanted to stab recently. When I was their age my neighbourhood was the whole of the fucking Metropolitan Line, not just the corner near my house. I was in different areas every day, doing a multitude of stuff with different people, not standing on the same fucking corner everyday, with the sort of squalid human specimens that make people want to lobby parliament for a UK eugenics and sterilisation program. Kill kill kill kill, kill the poor ! (Biafra,1980)
In mid-July 1987 whilst passing through the Met in Harrow I received a piece of gossip from one of the local writers. Rumour had it, a freelance film director wanted to make a documentary about graffiti on the Metropolitan Line ( a la Style Wars). Apparently the graffiti writer Ache, had met this director guy somewhere, the guy had asked Ache whether he could meet some graffiti writers, see 'em in action. Ache said he could organise this. Ache wasn't really a train writer, but he was from the Harrow area and quite well known, he was once in HC(HardCore) with Realm from Chalkhill Estate and little Deino from the Rayner's Lane. Ache was one of those writers that fell to the wayside a bit when graff started getting 'hardcore', which was quite ironic considering he was in HC. Bringing this director guy to meet us was Ache's way of getting back in with us lot .
So one balmy July night, Ache turned up at Harrow Met at about 8pm with this 'director' fella in tow.
The guy's name was A****w G****n, he had directed a few animated shorts and he was also creator of 'D**k S****er' a stop-frame animation short shown on the N****rk 7 TV show. He was a prick, one of those culture-vulture, exploitative 'lets get down with the kids' type media pansies.
When a sufficiently large number of writers turned up on the platform, we boarded a Baker St. bound train with G****n. On that train that night were; Me, G****n, Huz, Nice1, Ryt 1 USM, Reme, Coma, Ache, Dizi, Diode, Tore, and King Tilt. Only Reme and Coma were from the same crew (Divine Lordz, DLZ) ,the rest of us were just various 'Harrow Bench' regulars who happened to be about that night.
G****n started taking photos and he was goading us into tagging inside the train for some 'action shots', we didn't need too much persuasion though. He then started to interview us. I noticed a Mic pinned to the bottom of his jacket , one of the other guys grabbed him and frisked him. He had a wire running from the Mic to a Walkman. I told him in no uncertain terms that I didn't want to be on tape, he reassured me, he said that he'd tell us when he was recording. I then started telling the tale of my recent electrocution at Triangle Sidings 'G' (q.v.) in all it's gory detail, including the bit about me knocking BTP officer R*y 'Fat Sweaty Pig' G***n in the chops. Nearly all the guys told G****n a self-incriminating graffiti tale or two during those several little journeys that we made up and down the line with G****n.
We all alighted the train at Preston Rd. Tilt pulled out a can of Rubber Duck spray-paint from his jacket (or 'Stop That Fucking Leak' as Tilt liked to call it), Tilt then sprayed a big silver dot on the Preston Rd 'Bullseye' for no particular reason. Then about three seconds later the station manager came running out of his office shouting, so we all had to Scapa Flow out of the station exit. We pretty much went our separate ways after that. I went back to the Met with my old mucker Huz, fuck knows where that cunt G****n and the others went.
During the next couple of days, things started getting weird. First, Tilt and Nice 1 got arrested (Not an unusual occurrence that), then it was Dizi and Diode. A couple of days later Huz, Ryt 1 and Coma were arrested.
Huz rang me up after he got bail. Huz said that G****n had taken the film from his camera into Super Snaps in Harrow. When the shop workers developed the photos saw graffiti writers tagging the inside of a train carriages, they promptly phoned the BTP. ( I had assumed 'G****n would have developed the film himself, as he reckoned he was such a fucking bigshot.) All the people in the photos were now being rounded up by the 'Happy Shopper Coppers' the BTP. Huz told me to go and hide out in the sticks for a while, as they were looking for me in and around Harrow. I later found out off one of my insiders at LT that there were photographs of all the 'Harrow 8', stuck to the inside of all the ticket collector's booths on the Met. If any of us were seen by LT staff, the BTP were informed straight away. Proper Richard Kimble times they was.
G****n was arrested at his home, R****** Crt. Harrow. The Police searched his flat and found an audio tape that was recorded on that night with us. The tape had all of us confessing our crimes, and revealing graffiti's secretist secrets. It was gold dust to the BTP, they'd always assumed that most of the train graff was done at Neasden Depot till then, not Rickmansworth and Wembley as it was 95% of the time. So all that "I'll let you know if I tape you." from G****n was a fucking lie. Even today, if I was to see that G****n in the street I'd have to cut the cunt open and rub dog shit in the wound just on principal. (When my dad heard about all this, he came down from his hideout in Cambridgeshire and paid Mr. G****n a little 'visit' with his friend Bucky.)
A week after G****n took that train ride with us, nearly all the writers he had photographed had been rounded up. The only people who hadn't been nicked were Reme, Tore and myself. Reme and Tore were never caught . I went and hid out in Amersham. I had been out there thieving with Huz a couple of times, I knew a few friendly faces up there.
Amersham was a sleepy commuter town in Buckinghamshire, at the arse end of the Met Line, all stockbrokers and TV weatherman types. As I was a known writer from London end of the Big Met, I was treated like a Lord in Amersham. Writers from Amersham were usually robbed and beaten when they ventured down to Harrow for being rich ,white and socially awkward, so they felt honoured having a visiting dignitary like me out there. Everybody wanted to be my friend and I was quite happy to oblige. It meant they now knew someone from the 'Bench' in Harrow, this would give them a name to drop out while on the Met. If they got any grief from London writers while out and about for being bumpkin, they could say that they were down with me, or that they were helping me hide out from the Police and this would cut 'em some slack. I am personally responsible for the 'bringing in' of the Amersham Boys to the Met, this was for all the help people like Tac, Stunny G, Hesa and Fudit and others gave me when I was out there. They became honorary urbanites. Saying that, they still had some pretty odd fucking tag names.
When I was on the lamb, out in Amersham, I'd give the rich kids outlines and lessons in spray-can control and styles, in exchange for bed and board. I showed them how to dress like proper writers and how to carry themselves when in an urban environment, so as not to be constantly robbed. I also had to train them how to speak properly. Up until I arrived, they said 'BOIK' instead of 'BIKE', proper farmer accents that'd get 'em stabbed-up in the city. If you go to Amersham now, they all speak like Ali G, and that's all my fault. I was like Professor Henry Higgins in reverse;
"Da trainz in Spain, are mainly canezed wiv paint !"
During the three months I was on the run, I stayed at 26 different peoples houses in the Amersham area. Some of the newer writers coming up on the 'city' end of the Met, thought I was from actually from Amersham. I had to put them straight, I liked Amersham and that, but................well, you know.
Amersham was a shoplifters paradise, unless you were black. Black people were arrested if they got off the train in Amersham back then. But for me, it was like all the shops were mine. I also got an unbelievable amount of cunt when I was out there. You see, when you live in a shitty ghetto area, all the good-looking local girls want fellas with money and cars, they don't want a local 'hood rat' with no prospects, they want to get up and get out. The only girls that would go out with you, were ginger or FUGLY. Whereas good looking, middle-class country girls love a bit of rough. Country girls are fucking filthy whores, especially the horsey ones, their cunts were used to getting a good pounding from all the riding out on hacks, absolute filth I kid you not. I'm sure a few of 'em were more than a bit friendly with their nags. Sluts, big flattened arses.
The Police had quite a job tracking me down, as seeing as nobody has ever known what my real name is. I've known Huz CD/H'n'R since we were little kids, we go way back , and way before graff days, and he only knows my nickname. The only thing I'll say about the name on my birth-certificate, is it has 'JANO' in it somewhere. For some reason, when I received all my Tax info and NI credentials when I was 16, they came with my school nickname on them. I guess the government got all my details from my school. The teachers couldn't pronounce my name at school (It's one of those lispy and schh-shy foreign ones), so I had them call me by a similar sounding nickname. This then obviously got into the government computer system and onto my Tax, NI and stuff. I have two legitimate passports with two different names on them, work that one out. it's legal and very handy.
The guy who was top-dog writer in Amersham before I turned up, had his nose put right out of joint.
The other writers from Amersham stopped taking shit off him, now that I was around. They soon realised what a fucking no-mark bully toy he was, and they turned on him. He reacted by saying something very disrespectful about my good friend Kis 42. I got hold of him later, in the park in Amersham and fucking battered him for that, and to my surprise all the other Amersham writers joined in as well. We beat him half to death. Jesus these boys had some pent up frustration in 'em, they were jumping on him and everything for fucks sake. He left town. We all cheered. He called the Police and told them where I was. CUNT.
Amersham writer TAC
One Sunday evening in Oct '87, I was coming out of the Met in Amersham after travelling from Tac's house in Little Chalfont. I'd only travel on the end part of the Met Line, as I knew the BTP was after me in the city. Me and Stun were walking out of the station entrance when I noticed BTP officers E***e Th****on and S***e C****e sitting in an unmarked cop car, outside on the forecourt. They looked at me, looked at the photograph they had, looked back at me. They both went to open their car doors to get out. I just started running like a fucking gazelle, up the road toward the swimming pool and recreation ground complex. The cops abandoned the idea of chasing me on foot almost straight away, as E***e was a right fat cunt and S***e ran like a bitch. S***e'd chased me before on foot at Wembley and he knew he weren't gonna catch me. They slammed shut the doors of their red Astra GTE and took off up the road after me, driving at break-neck speeds. I was now tearing up the road at a fair rate of knots myself, I could here tyre squealing, engine revving and all manner of Starsky and Hutchness coming from S***e's maniac driving behind me. Fuck me, you'd think I'd stolen the Crown Jewels, or revealed the real truth about Freemasonry or something, a real Jack Baur incident. I ran up the road and into the park to get off the street, out of the way, only for T*****on and C****e to come smashing through the park gates in their car and across the grass, skid-arseing about all over the place like joyriders on coke. What the fuck was wrong with these pricks ? Oh yeah, I'd punched a couple of their comrades recently, but it's still no reason to fucking murder me is it ? I ran as fast as loosely laced Pumas would permit . I ran towards the North exit of the park, where there was a network of alleys that lead to a cul-de-sac. Those crazy fuckers were still on my tail though. I exited the park, ran across the road and towards the alleys. I looked round just in time to see S***e and E***e's car come flying out of the park exit, landing and skidding sideways into the main road. All four fucking wheels were off the ground. Fucking hell, did S***e watch Bullit the night before or summat, he was driving like a fucking Scotsman. I'd slowed a bit when I hit the alleys, but T+C were now driving over and into the alley. I hit top gear again, running forwards and looking backwards over my shoulder. Then I got a peace of that devil's luck that I'm known for. Halfway down the alley there was a 1 metre high concrete bollard . I was now running down a narrow alley with a car that just about fits in it chasing after me. The car was only about 30 ft behind me, I thought I was gonna die. I was running in the middle of the alley, so I guess I was blocking S***e and E***e's view of the bollard. When I got to the bollard I star-jumped over it, like a freak jumping off a caravan roof. I then heard the loudest tyre screech ever, as S***e realised he was about to hit a 3ft concrete bollard and slammed on his anchors. I turned round to see billows of bluish smoke, I could smell the acrid stench of burnt rubber and fucked engine wafting up the passageway. I carried on running at top speed up the alley, and when I got to the top and looked back to see the defeated cops call it a day. I mooned them, then made my way the 3 miles down the hill to Stunny G's flat in White Hill, Chesham. I had to leave the Amersham area for a while after that, it became far too hot. I'd nearly shit all over m'self that night.
Round about the time of that chase, my Mum came back down to London after her fruitless search for my Dad and settled back in Horrible Hayes. I'd lost my flat in Hammersmith as I never paid penny one of the rent, and besides I was never there, so Mum invited me to stay at her place.
Then at 6am in the morning on **th Oct 1987 I was woken up in my bed by the Police shaking me about, I say Police, it was the BTP, so not really 'proper' Police. My Mum had answered the door to the cops thinking it was the Flying Squad with some news about Dad. She wouldn't have let them in if she knew they were for me. So, my room was turned over and I was bundled into a blue Astra car and taken to South Harrow Police station. Oh yeah, guess who it was that arrested me then. Yep, T+C. I guess that red car of theirs was fucked then.
"We always get our man", they squawked at me in unison in the car.
I was thinking. BFD, they arrested a child for vandalism, ooh crime of the century. You'd think they were Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso the way they were gloating about it. Well, you take glory where you can when you're in the BTP. Little battles, little battles, it's all about the little battles isn't it ?
We arrived at South Harrow Police station and I was lead in through the back.(That's not a gay custody euphemism by the way.)I was taken up to the duty officer. "We're here to interview and charge this young man. "E***e told the duty officer.
"I'm technically a child,actually.", I chirped in, like some poncey, duffel-coated student.
"Look, you just can't keep turning up here with prisoners and expect to process them using our facilities, why don't you fuck off to back to Baker St. and do it in your own stupid little station there ?" said the real Policeman sitting at his desk.
"Hang on a minute ! It says here he was arrested in Hayes, you can't bring him here, what's your game you idiots.", he added.
"Look there's nine of these kids up on a joint enterprise charge. He's gotta be charged within the jurisdiction of Harrow Magistrates Court, so they can go on trial together." said T****on.
"Nah mate, that ain't legal is it ? I'm gonna have to see the chief about this one." with that, the desk sergeant went off to find The Chief Inspector.
I was now stood at the desk, pissing myself laughing . The local Metropolitan Police officers from the station were whistling the 'Laurel and Hardy' theme tune everytime they walked past, T*****on and C****e. T+C seemed to get angered by this. The desk sergeant then came back into the room.
"Right you can use Interview Room 2, hurry up, then fuck off. Next time you ring first, GOT THAT ? Don't just turn up here, this is a REAL Police station!" ,snarled the sarg.
The sergeant then looked over at me and smiled," Do you wanna cuppa tea mate?" he asked. He didn't ask T+C though. I accepted his offer, and I shot T+C the kind of smug grin that, when you see it on other people, it makes you want to stab them.
I admitted all my crimes straight away, seeing as I had willingly grassed myself up on G****n's fucking tape. The two cops played the tape back to me. There I was, sounding like a right cunt, bragging and incriminating myself like an idiot, slagging off the BTP. I wanted to slice that sneaky cunt G****n right up, fucking schneid, this is all his fault.
When the local authority boarded up our old family house in Hayes, I'd written 'Jano lived here 85-87' and done a 'JO' throw-up next to it, the Police had a photo of that as well. What a twat.
T+C tried to get me to inform on Kis 42, Foam and Ryt 1, saying that they knew they were there that night at Triangle Sidings. They actually called Foam and Kis 42 by their full, real names. It seemed that someone had been telling tales out school. The BTP had a bit too much info about people who weren't present, but were mentioned in the tapes. These were people that were only referred to by their tag name in the tapes. I told them all the graff on the train that night at Triangle Sidings was done by me and me alone. I told them I had put the other guys names up on the train as a dedication. They didn't believe me, but what could they do. I coughed, and they increased their clear-up rate, that's how it works. I'd never grass on my friends and crewmates, I'm JANO CD, not XXXX NT.
So, I was charged with about a million counts of criminal damage and bailed to appear at Harrow Magistrate Court in December '87 with the others. I also had some bail conditions attached to me, the same ones as my co-defendants, the 'Harrow 8', had. We were not allowed to travel on any railway system in the British Isles, including narrow gauge, trams, monorails and trolley buses. I wasn't even sure if we were allowed to go on fucking roller coasters or do railslides on skateboards. Tilt ignored this and was caught riding on the Met. He was sent to prison to await his trail on remand. Tilt's dad then put up a £3000 bond to get him out of jail.
Tilt was caught painting on trains in Edgware train yard a week later and sent back to the clink. His dad lost all the bond money he posted to get him out. Tilt WAS brilliant, Tilt IS brilliant, and Tilt will ALWAYS be brilliant. He was addicted to graffiti, he couldn't help himself, it was a medical condition with him, you ask anyone from back then, he was possessed .
My bail conditions were starting to really fuck up my social life. It's not that I didn't travel on the Tube, it's that I couldn't really travel on my beloved Met. I'd got really comfortable living the high-life in Amersham, with its friendly backward folk, hot and cold running cunt and opportunities for theft. You try getting from Hayes to Amersham without using the Met Line, you can't. I left Hayes soon after my arrest to share a house with the Lipscombe brothers, on the 'Tin Town' Estate in Northolt. I'd decided to move out of my Mum's and start a new life two miles away under my true birth name, thus avoiding the upcoming court case. The person who was arrested and charged by the BTP for my crimes, only existed on paper because of a bureaucratic error. I have two sets of NI and Tax numbers, dual nationality, and two identities, a get out of jail free card if you like. But I was told to go through with my court case. I was advised the graff charge wasn't worth dropping one of my identities for. It was always best to have two just in case I ever had to leave the country. I thought I might as well, it'll be a laugh, all us lot in the dock together. If it did look like they were gonna send me down, I could just disappear anyway. So, I was told to have one 'hot' ID to use for crime and day to day shit, one I could be hap-hazard with, and another, my real one when it 's time to fuck-off in the middle of the night.
I had already missed two court appearances in the 'Harrow 8' case as I was arrested in late October, all the other guys were arrested in late July early Aug 1987. I turned up to Harrow Magistrates for the first time on my own and went into waiting area by the courtrooms. It was 10am in the morning and everyone was there apart from Tilt. Coma, Huz, Nice 1, Ryt 1, Diode, and Dizi were all loafing on the bench seating with various lawyers hovering about whispering to them. Across the corridor was stood G****n, he was accused of coercing and encouraging us to commit criminal damage etc.
There was a lot of press attention because of G****'s involvement in all this. You'd think it was all about him. The BTP were trying to make an example of us, the graffiti artists, and G****n and his shyster lawyer were hijacking it, using the whole thing as a business oppertunity, acting like a poor martyr suffering for his art blah, blah, blah.
Then, in with two Policeman walked Ache, the man who brought G****n to the Met in the first place.
So, it was Ache who told the BTP everything about everybody, it was in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Hang on a minute, HE bought G****n down to Met. The guy that Ache bought to the Met with him, incites us to commit crime, then Ache turns round and turns super-grass on the others. That is not the done thing is it ?. That's why he had to be separated from us in the court building. That's why he is still in hiding till this day. He is a d**d man if anyone sees him. Ache is probably the most notorious informer in UK graff history.
Our names were now being called one by one by the court officials. Tilt still hadn't arrived, a warrant was now being drawn up in the clerk's office for Tilt's arrest. Fuck me, Tilt was only released from prison so he could attend court. Just then, Tilt came swanning into the building drinking a can of Tenant's Super. Wehhh heehh hey !! He was singing. Well, I could see this was gonna be a fun, I was glad I'd decided to bite the bullet and join the proceedings. We were all ushered into the court room and all squeezed into one tiny dock and told to sit down, we did. We started piss-balling about straight away. Huz was farting, I was giggling and Ryt 1 was trying to get his massive 7ft frame comfy and was fidgeting about . Poor little Diode just looked bemused, Dizi was still stoned from the night before and falling asleep at the back, Coma was sat behaving himself and Tilt and Nice 1 were giving each other dead-legs and pulling mong faces at each other. G****n was shivering in the corner of the dock, shitting his pants. I was occasionally looking over and giving G****n a ,'You're fucking dead, you!' look.
We had to attend a further four committal hearings at Harrow Magistrates Court , going over boring little legal technicalities, before it was obviously sent up the road to Crown Court. I didn't even bother with a brief for the first couple of hearings at Magistrates . I was sent to the cells during one of those proceedings for fucking around in the dock. Me and Huz had playing-cards and we were having a deliberately audible game of snap, while G****n's shyster lawyer was doing one of his over the top, Atticus Finch speeches. I was charged with contempt and thrown in the cells. G****n's lawyer got a BAFTA.
By the time of my last committal hearing, I had managed to get myself a hotshot N.Y. based lawyer. He was a senior partner in the law firm I had hired to represent me. He was based at their N.Y. office, he took on my case for free when he heard about from the London office, and he came over especially for it. He looked like John DeLorean and he was shit hot, he got mine and all the other guys bail conditions dropped. He pulled out a load of files and statute books and started to eloquently argue that not being permitted to travel by rail, infringed my/our civil liberties. He went to town, it was like a show !
He outclassed the LRT and BTP lawyers . They were shysters, he was Johnny Cochran. Simple as dat.
The night the bail restrictions were lifted, all the co-defendants (excluding G****n'), went out and celebrated by going to the trains and bombing the fuck out of 'em. It was now April 1988.
We were all bailed to appear at Acton Crown Court in Feb 1989 for the main event. We had about a year to stew before the court case, in some kind of graff limbo. We had to be very careful if we wanted to graff. If we got caught we'd end up awaiting trail on remand like Tilt. He'd got caught in the yards yet again and was back in the Scrubs. I just mainly bombed the pull-in, pull-out lay-up in Amersham.
My N.Y. lawyer went back to the US, so my good friend and lawyer D**a R****son, set out to find me a decent barrister for the big trail. Of course, he got me the best.
I have a female barrister, I won't name her, but she is a devious minx and she doesn't miss a trick.
Crown Court was not a barrel of laughs at all, even with all my mates in the dock with me. It all took fucking ages, there was nine people to get through. Dizi, Diode and that G****n prick opted for a jury trail, so we had to sit through all that shit before it got to us guys that were caught 'bang to rights'.
My barrister got a whole bunch of my charges dismissed. The BTP said the 'M****ces' top to bottom I'd done with Ryt 1 at 'G' cost £2500 to clean off, they produced a receipt from LRT cleaning services to prove this. My barrister then pointed out, that if it cost £2500 to clean how come she had ridden the train to court and it hadn't been cleaned ? LRT's lawyers got flustered by this, they started shuffling through papers and running in and out of the courtroom to make phone calls. LRT were arguing that I should have a custodial sentence, because they said I'd caused over £25,000 worth of damage, to their property. The thing was, they had falsified figures and they'd been caught out . All the costs relating to the cleaning of trains and walls, were now in dispute. The most they could do me for, is what I'd admitted to on tape. The case was adjourned again for two months to await reports . The case was being covered by London TV stations and the national press. Most of the press coverage was about that cocksucker G****n, though. The press said that we were the most notorious graffiti gang in London. That was bollocks. Like I said, it was just a mix of writers who happened to be around that night. There were a couple of people present that night I wouldn't piss on if they were on fire. If G****n had come on another night, he might have 10 completely different writers there. So, 'Gang' was a bit sensational really
G****n was acquitted of what ever the little nobody was charged with, and he gave some sissy, teary-eyed speech to the press, like the case was about him. Rather then HIM being in our case .Silly little cunt. He was just the conduit to get to us.
He went on to do very well out of MY court case. It got him work. I'll get my pound of flesh out of him yet, don't you worry.
Little Diode also got acquitted. He WAS completely innocent. He WAS there on that night, but he didn't tag and he didn't say anything on tape, nothing. He was just in the background of the photographs. He was just one of those nice, keep 'em self to 'em self black kids that used to hang with the Met scene. When they raided Diode's house, all they found was ONE spraycan nozzle. So on the basis of a photograph and a nozzle, a poor 14 year old had to endure a two year court case. Shameful. ACAB
The rest of us were sentenced on Cheltenham Gold Cup day 1989 at Willesden Crown Court.
Tilt , received a 2 year sentence. One year of that was suspended, and he'd already spent over a year on remand, so he only had to serve one more week for the Queen.(I don't know if they still do that.)
Coma, was given 6 months, for train graff. (But he was mostly being punished for being Tilt's writing partner.)
Nice 1, got four months (Again mostly for being Tilt's friend.)
Huz, got four months. Ditto (This was made doubly bad for Huz, as he was/is a Bookie and it was 'Gold Cup' day, one of his busiest most lucrative days.)
Jano (Me), got 200hrs Community service and a £1000 fine.(Would've got jail if I'd had any other barrister than my own.)
Ryt ,1 got 100hrs community service and a £500 fine.(Would've got the same as me if I'd told the BTP he was with me at 'G' and Neasden.)
Dizi, got a conditional discharge and a £60 fine. (He was another poor fella who just got caught up in the case for just being there on that night, like Diode. He was a father of two, he didn't really need all the hassle. Dizi was one of those fellas that were so fertile that, if he had a wet-dream in the night, he'd wake up next to a fully-formed baby in the morning, girls got pregnant if they sat next to him on the bus.)
That court case was Britain's first media reported graffiti show trail, with excessive and disproportionate sentencing. It wasn't that case in Sheffield 6 years or so later with Fista , it was us, the original graffiti martyrs. Nobody was rallying around , trying to get Coma out of prison.
A couple of months later, the same Judge that presided over our case ,(He**y Pa**er) set free a child rapist. This man had raped a 6 year old girl in a party dress. The Judge said that the girl's skirt was short and therefore she was asking for it. This was the same man that sent Coma to prison for 6 months for writing his name on the outside of a train. Perhaps it was because Coma wasn't a Freemason. Who knows ?
I, having been tried and successfully convicted of being the graffiti vandal 'JANO', can safely say that JANO is MY name and MY name to use only, anyone else that uses it in the UK is a fraud. I've paid for this name in blood and I was there, right at the start in the thick of it, building a good reputation. I've always been a pretty good writer and I still paint now, better than ever before. I've been doing this shit for too long and gone through too much shit for this name to have people mistake me for some fucking talentless prick xxxx xx.
JANO CD. Still here & a cunt. Still the original.
Mode 2 interview
Mode 2 is one of the backbones of the development of the graffiti scene in the UK. From day one he’s been a champion and innovator of an underground scene which spans over two decades. His trademark characters are instantly recognisable on walls around the world as well as the front cover of the first real world, graffiti document, Spraycan Art.
We caught up with him to chat innovation, imitation and old-skool information.
As a man who’s been around and involved for as long as the UK hip hop scene has been going, can you give us a quick rundown of how you became involved in the scene and what you were doing beforehand (interests, skills etc.)
“I couldn't say I've been involved with the UK Hip Hop scene from its beginning; late '83 was when I first saw guys dancing in Covent Garden, and it's certainly May/June '84 that I really got into it. There was nothing much else going on as exciting then, so that was the only real attraction, plus it brought me to meet loads of people from all over London. If you had seen the "Buffalo Gals" video, or "Hey! You! The Rock Steady Crew", you were aware there was something going on out there, and it was only just a matter of time until you fell into it.
Before that, I had gone from being a reader of 2000 A.D., to then collecting Heavy Metal and Epic comics, getting into fantasy and sci-fi role-playing games, painting lead figures for pocket money and, of course, drawing all the time; my subject matter changing with whatever else was going on in with my other occupations”.
You were part of the Covent Garden scene back in the mid 80’s, can you describe the atmosphere at that time - why was Covent garden so central to the scene and who else was around writing / rapping / beatboxing at that time?
“Covent Garden, because of its central location, made it possible for people from every close and far-flung corner to make it there. Many of us just hung out, watching the dancers hustling the busking spots, people on a back & forth to nick a thing or two from the shops, and selling them on. Sidewalk was the popping crew that ruled then, but the Mighty Zulu Rockers were also in effect. There were a bunch of other crews around also, but unfortunately my memory is temporarily letting me down here. Zeus and Kosh were already known to us as writers, but I guess Westwood's show on LWR was a spot from which we knew of other stuff going on. We already knew of 3D in Bristol then, after hooking up with Scribla, we met up with Zaki Dee and his crew the Trail Blazers. Rapping-wise we had stuff like Dizzy Heights, the City Limits Crew, or Junior G and the Capital Boys... Beatboxing murderers of the time were Sipho and Yankee”
What was the first graffiti you ever saw - where was it and who was it by?
“I don't know who it was by, but it was the title sequence of an american sit-com called "Welcome Back Kotter", in which a train pulled across the Bronx on elevated tracks. I have no idea who it was, but I didn't think that it was teenagers doing this stuff, because of the scale and the highly evolved graphic look of it all... I found that out later with Dondi doing the outlines in the "Buffalo Gals" video though, and THAT's what got me...”
What was your first piece - where was it? Did you do it alone?
“I don't know whether or not it was a couple of banners that I was helping Scribla to paint for the Alternative Arts Street Entertainers Festival of '84 in Covent Garden, OR the "Shock-Shack" piece I did by myself along the hoardings of the Royal Opera House... We used raw canvas for the banners and found out, the hard way, how not to use spray paint on a porous surface. As for "Shock-Shack", the piss take I was getting was, "Yeah, nuff arrows on that!", plus doing your first outlines in permanent markers is not advised...”
How did the Chrome Angelz come to form? Do you still keep in touch?
“I met Scribla in Covent Garden and we got together to draw and paint, then we met Zaki, Eskimo, and Zerox by Covent Garden tube one day. Pride, who we painted next to at this jam in Jubilee Gardens on the South Bank, was someone who we courted for a good few months to get him into the crew. There was an unspoken and instinctive initiative of then to bring together other people that we could actually draw and have ideas. We were already older than most I guess, and quite developed on each one's individual character, so there were no fears of one biting the other; it was about sharing inspiration... making one's own personal interpretation of what the other was doing...
I'm still in touch with Pride, Zaki, Danny sometimes, and Bando via emails. It's been hard trying to get hold of Scribla though...”
Who and what has influenced you over the years - from when you began to your more evolved character work through to your more recent, illustrative drawings/paintings?
“That would merit too long an answer, as I'm influenced by all that's around me, like some kind of incorrigible voyeur... I was into 2000AD back in the days, from which I guess Mike McMahon was the guy that influenced me the most. Some people also said that I had an influence from Tanino Liberatore (Ranxerox) at a certain time. Classically I like a lot of the Italian Renaissance stuff, but I also like Egon Schiele. My style's just a mish-mash of what I see and the painters or illustrators that have inspired me, along with observing what's going on around me...”
Characters have always been an important part of your graffiti, and have evolved stylistically into your current Life work how come you decided to go down this route?
“Even though I only went as far as A-level in art, I have always had an obsession for some kind of anatomical correctness to the human body, more precisely the female one. It's perhaps less blatant when people look at the public work, but my sketchbooks are more full of pencil drawings than marker pieces... So what may have been seen of mine recently is still some kind of logical progression from in what I've always been doing; but there's still so much room for improvement, even though perfection will never be attained, as we're always dissatisfied with what we do, and think that we could do better”.
Your graffiti style is pretty instantly recognisable, how would you describe it?
“Again, it's the sum of what I've lived through, chosen to look at graphically or listen to as far as music goes... No-one is born in exactly the same position as me, from the same culture, or with the same upbringing. You must choose to be yourself, and push your own interpretation forwards, because that's what only you have, and no-one else could ever be exactly that, however much they're inspired or just plain bite...
I am aware of the changing times and so on, but somehow maintain my particular outlook on life and the world around me, while at the same time allowing those factors to bring some change in...”
You constantly have a camera in your hand and you seem to take more ‘fly on the wall’ style shots that anybody I know. Do you see this as an art in itself or is this a tool for your painting?
“I had a camera since '84 from my brother; a rudimentary little Agfa 110. From the Canon Sure Shot in '85, I just always had a camera somewhere, as I just liked to document what was going on around me, keeping a visual diary of my life and that of those I came into contact with, whether in private, on the street, or in the clubs... I don't consider myself a photographer though; I just take snaps. Some may prove useful at some point by helping to visualize a scene from a particular angle and so on, but drawing from photos is very difficult, in the sense that the photo has already reduced the subject matter from 3D to 2D. I prefer to visualize my subject in my head, where I am forced to think in 3D and not two, twisting and pivoting what I'm drawing under many angles inside my head, just so as to better understand its shape as a whole, as opposed to the 2Dness of a photo”.
Graffiti is the one element of the initial hip hop scene that never sold out and never went away, why do you think that is?
“I actually think that it DID sell out at some point, through the lack of long term vision exercised by some who've been milking the "graffiti commissions" circuit. People are biting whatever they need from the innovators, just so they can get work, often pushing bullshit products. It's a very tricky balancing act on that tightrope where you can so easily fall off; either out of fashion to the clientele you rely on for work, or else being dubbed a sell-out by your peers...”.
“I think the presence of illegally done graffiti, which has never gone away from the scene, and on which the scene itself relies, is what truly keeps it alive. It's the environment in which you make all the rules, as opposed to the clients or the market. There's total freedom there and, for those who're not just adrenalin-addicts, it's the perfect stage from which to improvise and evolve”.
Which writers do you think are taking the scene forward at this moment?
“I can only really talk of those I know myself, whether it be my friend Delta, or Twist and Amaze, Reas, Doze Green (perhaps not a writer of the same generation, but still DEFINITELY evolving), but then there's also someone like that french dude, O'Clock, or else someone like Teach, who's doing stuff I really like at the moment. There are many names that I forget, of course, but hey... there is still a fair amount of people actually doing interesting images out there, and we haven't even touched the non classic writing element of what's out there today...”.
What do you see as the future of graffiti - How do you see the internet effecting the future of graffiti?
“Internet will give many the shortcut to nowhere, unless they also understand what it used to be like to go looking for a piece, or wait on a platform somewhere for a train to pull in. It has taken some of the initiative away from the street, in that many people have their web sites and webzines and so on. I used to have "graffiti-mags", but I don't even look at them anymore, as it was just a free-for-all for a while, where anyone with a bit of money to spare could do one... And with the web it just blew up to larger proportions, and I sometimes get the impression that they've erected a wall of mirrors around the culture that only sends back a reflection of those within, and breaking out of this with new ideas is less easy than it used to be, and when you do make a breach through that wall with new ideas, you tend to just get trodden on by all those behind you. We just do not value innovation anymore, as people tend to get a bit blasé about it all”.
Over the years B-boy/hip hop fashion has evolved but retained much of its original attitudes and even brands, are there any big fashion items that were definitely a wrong turn along the way? (I seem to remember a piece in Covent Garden with a High-tek Teck character)
It was Scribla who did that Hi-Tec boot, as it was what HE was wearing at the time, but there was so little to go by in those days, that most of us improvised and customized as far as clothing went. You didn't have all these brands that have turned it into some kind of uniform these days, helped along by stylists on rap videos and so on... Some people might diss Hammer for his trousers back in the days, but even before that, round Covent Garden, people were getting dissed on the left right and centre if they came out in what was thought of as being just plain wrong. Heads actually had incredible imagination when it came to trying to look good”.