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Just Drifting - A Video by Chris Emery

Just shy of 17 miles northwest of Birmingham lies Wolverhampton, the beating heart of the Black Country. Despite its close proximity to the colossal industrial centrepiece of the Midlands, Wolverhampton has never had an issue with holding its own when it comes to skateboarding proactivity - just look at the contributions over the years of Rich ‘Benny’ Hughes, Dan ‘Jagger’ Ball and Nick Sharratt, or the skateboarding that has taken place on the enshrined bricks of the city’s Civic Centre.

Over recent times though, if you’re familiar with the skateboarding emanating from Wolverhampton, it’s a safe bet that that’s due to the tireless efforts of one prolific Wulfrunian - Chris Emery. The driving force of Wolftown Skateboards, Chris possesses a whole array of interchangeable hats, though they all see him unrelentingly charge towards the same goal: to push Wolverhampton skateboarding forwards. Be it through releasing product and videos for Wolftown, working on volumes of his ongoing independent The Black Country video project, publishing zines, putting on grassroots ‘in the streets’ events, arranging premieres, exhibitions, running Wolverhampton based social media accounts, liaising with photographers to keep the city in the public eye… I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea. Chris is, without a shadow of a doubt, the mild mannered lynchpin of the Wolverhampton scene.

Which brings us nicely to his latest video offering, Just Drifting. Though this project isn’t strictly a Wolftown or The Black Country release, having been produced singlehandedly by Chris, I’d wager that it does just about fall under the broad Wolftown umbrella. Saying that, the only Wulfrunian mooted to have a full part is Henry Fox, with one-time Wolverhampton resident Ben Broyd also claiming a section, alongside Sutton Coldfield stowaway James Woodley, who’s managed to get together his first full part since Unabomber’s Headcleaner, which was released a literal lifetime ago (on VHS, to further hammer home the point), back in 2001. Is 23 years between sections the longest hiatus ever? It certainly makes Guy Mariano’s notorious 11 year stopgap between Mouse (1996) and Fully Flared (2007) seem like a swift afternoon snooze by comparison.

Having heard many of the ‘who did what’ stories from the Just Drifting missions, and having seen a few glimpses of tricks that have gone down thanks to photographers tagging along for the odd session here and there, when it came to releasing the video, we couldn’t have torn Chris’ VX brandishing arm off faster. So if you want to witness the assembled fruits of this industrious crews’ self-funded labours, alongside an extensive photo gallery and an interview with Mr Emery himself, then clear your schedule, and prepare to scroll below now and immerse yourself in a whole load of Wolverhampton anchored visual radness.

If you live and skate in any of the provincial areas of the country, then taking pride in and cultivating your own local scene has long since been a mandatory requirement, and few could argue that Chris, with his many Wulfrunian endeavours, is leading by Black Country example.

As the popular Molineux Stadium match day chant goes: “Hi ho Wolverhampton!”

Ben frontside blunts whilst Chris captures. Photo: Reece Leung for Vague Skate Mag.

Chris Emery interviewed by Ryan Gray

So, Just Drifting has been three years in the making; give us the backstory please. Was it the intention all along to create a video that was independent of Wolftown Skateboards and The Black Country, or did the project naturally take shape over time?

I knew it was always going to be an independent video. I’ve wanted to make a completely independent video for a few years now, I was just waiting for the most suitable time before I approached the right skaters. It kind of happened naturally though, as the three of them were always around on missions here and there, but after a quick chat with each of them, I knew I had a very unique and exciting project on my hands.

Ben is an elusive character, normally hiding deep somewhere in the depths of Shropshire. I asked him in 2021 if he wanted to join the gang on a trip to South Wales whilst I was filming for my fourth full-length video, The Wolf With A Thousand Faces. We stacked some clips of course, but I didn’t use Broyd’s Welsh footage in any of my projects at the time. Firstly, he’s on Blast and I didn’t want to show disrespect to (Matt) Bromley by using footage of him in a Wolftown video. Secondly, I knew there was a different purpose to this footage, but couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was then. Back in Shropshire, the footage started stacking very quickly, and I knew with the right patience and direction, I could film Ben’s first 'street only' part. It was soon after that Wales trip when I asked Ben if he wanted to film a part together.

Henry and Woodley are quite the opposite to Ben. They’re like the chuckle brothers. Always together, always helping each other out. Where you’ll find one, you’ll find the other. 

I’ve been filming Henry for over 10 years, and this is our fourth full part together, whilst releasing short videos and clips together in between. We’ve never really had a break in filming, apart from when we’ve both been injured. So it was quite a natural progression from filming his closing part in The Black Country: Volume 5 to Just Drifting.

At first, James is a right intimidating individual, but when you get to know him, you quickly realise he’s just a big soft bear. I plucked up the courage to ask if he wanted to film a clip whilst on a Wolverhampton rooftop for The Black Country: Volume 5 in 2021. Once we got that first clip, I instantly became both his full-time filmer and part-time therapist.

How early on was it decided that the video was literally only going to feature three skaters (plus one cameo)?

Right from the off, I always wanted Just Drifting to be a three part video. I think it can add more flavour than a two-parter, and certainly more than a solo part, but the modern day audience has such a short attention span and may have gotten bored with a four part video.

I approached Ben, Henry and James for a reason - they all have unique styles, a different bag of tricks and a high drive to film. And to top it off, they’re bloody good blokes.

Gimme shelter! Henry Fox, multistorey 5050 with a wallride twist. Photo: Rob Whiston.

Did focusing on only a handful of skaters cause any drama with any of your usual crew? And how come Jono ‘Cappadonna’ Coote slipped passed the Woodley-Broyd-Fox filter?

Not that I’m aware of (laughs). I filmed, edited and released both a full-length (The Wolf With a Thousand Faces) and The Black Country: Volume 6 whilst filming for Just Drifting, and I’ve been filming The Black Country: Volume 7 towards the end of the Just Drifting project.

I’m so glad Jono got in on the video! He’s the best dude with a wicked style. He was on a few sessions with us during the three years. I wanted guest tricks in the other two sections, but I guess they didn’t work out…

James Woodley - frontside 5-0 in Perry Barr. Photo: Chris Johnson.

Pick one trick, line, or piece of footage from each of the three parts that you are particularly stoked on, and tell us why.

James Woodley. Let’s talk about James' ender, the frontside 5-0 on a Tame Valley Canal bridge in Perry Barr. That’s history in itself right there. I drive past it every day on the way to work, and it’s one of those spots you look at and dream about on the way to your 9-to-5, but then never actually skate. Well, I get a text from James early one morning and it’s a photo of the exact same bridge spot I’ve been dreaming about. Fuck, it’s on! So, a few days later I take my VX to work with me and meet him at the bridge. We decide to quickly get a frontside 5-0, and then move up into Birmingham centre to film some more stuff. Oh how wrong we were! We get up on top of the bridge and there’s a fucking 10 degree camber, it’s made from centirues old stone with potholes in it, the Birmingham rush hour traffic is coming at us, the tarmac landing is chopped up and pebbly, and to top it off, there’s a 30-foot drop on the other side. We both agree to go into the centre, get a Nandos and assess our plan of attack. 

After four different occasions of trying to get the 5-0, we end up being back there on a windy Sunday morning with CJ, Henry, Ant and Ben, about a month before deadline day. He landed it on the third occasion but didn’t roll away. It was at least a three hour session and I think his leg muscles were shot. Anyway, back to the last session, we had set up the metal sign for the landing, CJ got his angle with Woodley’s step ladders, I had figured out my filming line through the uneven surface, and Woodley got fired up. Two hours pass, he lands on it but doesn’t roll it at least three times. I can see he’s getting tired so I try and hype him back up again. Woodley asks me to hit him and shout at him to hype him up. Those that know me know I haven’t got the heart to hit anyone, but still, I’m not exactly a shouter either. Five minutes have passed and he still hasn’t landed it. So, I decided to start shouting at him. Then he shouts back. I can see he’s fired up, so we shout at each other for a good few minutes (laughs). A new lease of life appears, and lo and behold, he lands the 5-0, and rolls away like it was nothing. CJ gets the photo and I’m happy with the footage. Shout out to Henry for spotting on every session.

Henry Fox. Let’s talk about his ender too. So, it’s deadline weekend, we go up to Leeds for (Joe) Winters' video premiere, and Henry, Woodley and I meet Ant, George, Greg and Jono at Horsforth. A few of the other Leeds crew are out too. Solid crew. On the first day, we try and hit a few spots up with no luck getting any footage at all. We either get the boot, or the guys aren’t feeling the session and we move on. Henry tries to get the switch backside tailslide, but it just doesn’t work for one reason or another. He locks into it but you can tell he’s never fully feeling it. So we go to the prem and stay over at Jono’s with Greg and his crew, discussing sharing spots, Japanese skate videos and modern day British skateboarding. We hit the hay and try again the next day.

We wake up and Jono and Alyce cook us some brekkie. We warm up at Hyde and get rained off after 30 minutes. Fuck, it’s not looking good on deadline day. We get some coffee and food from Chichini’s and luckily it dries up. Greg and his crew skate some kerbs, and we head over to the L-Ledge for one last shot. There’s way more traffic this day, so James is standing in the road stopping buses and whatnot. Henry figures the line out and lands it but doesn’t roll away two or three times within half an hour. Completely different from the day before. He must’ve woken up on the right side of the bed (laughs). Jono turns up after his kerb fix and the crew hype Henry up. Within 15 minutes he bolts the fuck out of it, with the steeziest roll away from a switch back tail you will ever see. I don’t know what was in that cup of tea that Jono made us that morning, but it worked for Henry. SSBSTS captured. Stoked.

Ben Broyd. In Shropshire, at a failed pump track. We may as well keep the trend going and talk about his ender as well. I think it’s summer 2022 and Ben tells me about a crusty bowl he wants to film at. I had my doubts as he tried to persuade me to film at skateparks throughout the project, but I stood my ground and shook some sense into him (laughs). He hadn’t let me down throughout the project though, so I trusted him, and he took me to the spot. It’s like a crusty three-foot 70’s bowl with a one foot ‘extension’. It’s an unreal looking spot, unique, and would look banging on VX. It gets my approval at first sight. Ben instantly starts doing tricks on the extension and we quickly film like four tricks. I’m thinking about using one or two of them for his part. We pack up and start walking off through the actual pump track on top of the hill, and Ben mentions how sick it would be if someone was able to ollie from this earthy pump track into the crusty bowl. The gap’s at least 16-foot long and 10-foot high. I kind of laugh it off and carry on walking back to the car…

Twelve months pass and I keep reminding Ben he needs an ender for his part. He stays quiet for a bit, but a few weeks later I get a message asking if I want to go back to the crusty bowl with him. Hell yeah. Raj and I head down there and meet him after work one day. We get there about 6pm, and Ben is already deep inside the bowl with his broom, clearing the path of dirt as if he were going to ollie from the track into the bowl. I like the look of this. Before we can even begin filming, it starts raining. So we head to the nearest coffee shop and discuss Natas, rainbow rails and the local skate scene. We organise to go back the next week.

Raj and I arrive a week later and meet Ben there. He’s in the bowl again, surrounded by about six local kids (laughs). This time round, there’s a huge fuck off puddle in the middle of the bowl. I’m talking 10-foot in diameter. Ben’s there trying to find the plug with a broom and clean it of any dross. While Ben does that, I walk for about 10 minutes trying to find a street bucket. Two streets away, I finally find a washing basket on a driveway which I borrow for a few hours (laughs). I arrive back to the spot and we start scooping the water out from the puddle and chuck it out of the bowl onto the grass, proper ‘to-me-to-you style’. After about one hour of scooping and sweeping, we finally have a skateable bowl. Ben warms up and quickly starts attempting the biggest ollie down the gap, feeling out the spot. I set up both the VXs, I film fish and Raj films long. Ben tries it for two hours and is getting closer and closer. The sun is close to setting, we’re running out of juice on the batteries and Ben’s getting tired. I tell Ben he has to commit to one in the next three gos as the settings on the VX will be fucked due to the sun going down. I don’t know what was running through that man’s mind, but he managed to commit to one, and he fucking bolted it. We check the footage back watching the sunset, and it’s banging. We’re all buzzing our tits off. Voila, a moment I will remember forever.

Alternative Perry Barr frontside 5-0 from James and Chris. Photo: CJ.

There’s a lot of new or unseen terrain featured in Just Drifting, something that was noted by pretty much everyone at the premiere on Saturday. How are you coming across these new spots? Having been on the case with Wolftown and The Black Country for so long, I thought you would have exhausted the West Midlands, but evidently not!

I have so many more spots which I haven’t filmed at yet. Those can wait for one of my next videos. I guess The Black Country is so vast with its combination of industrial history and neglected buildings, which results in beautiful crust to skate. We have a community that wants to carry on filming at new spots, so we are all always on the hunt for that fresh spot, whether it’s myself or the skater. 

Seems as Woodley’s last section was on Unabomber’s 2001 video Headcleaner, did you feel much pressure producing his first full part in 23 years?

Of course. Every clip I filmed, each clip I edited, song selection, you name it - I understood the importance of this section to all parties involved. It was an absolute privilege for me which I thrived on, but understandably it was a thoroughly massive moment for James, especially after everything he’s been through. There really is nothing quite like James’ life story up to this point. I’ve told him he’s got to write a book one day…

James front smiths whilst avoiding grazing his knees on a Stockport wall. Photo: Raj Sami.

What were the pros and cons of producing each of the three parts?

From a filmer’s perspective, filming Ben was a joy, simply because he lands so much in one session (laughs). The negative of this is he was out way less, and I still somehow had 11 and a half minutes of raw footage to filter through…

Henry’s like my blood brother; we’ve known each other since maybe 2006. This is by far our best video we have worked on together, which has been quite a wholesome moment for me. Working with someone who’s both a Slim Shady and Hjalte Halberg lookalike has got to be the pro here. There’s not been many cons about this guy, other than I’ll leave a message to the filmer of his next part - don’t share a bed with him, especially if it’s head-toe-head!

James thriving on his first video part in so long was really nice to see. He’s like a young teenage skater, skating the best local spot for the first time. Having his hunger on each session was refreshing. The only downside is I had to work closely with a bloody Brummie for the first time.

Now that Just Drifting is done and almost ready for release, what’s next on the cards for Chris Emery? I’m assuming you’ll be having no days off between projects?

Bang on (laughs). I currently have a few video projects on. I’m working on the next The Black Country volume, a new VX project, and I’ve just bought a new camera for the third…

Any final words, parting sentiments or advice for the readers, before I hand you over to Ben, James and Henry for further interrogation?

When can we expect you to release Just Drifting 2, Rye?

Birmingham prep. Photo: CJ.

Chris Emery - interviewed by the cast of Just Drifting.

James: Do you feel that your brain will be fried forever now, after working on this project?

Not at all. It’s been an absolute pleasure working with you on this project, James. Even with all the phone calls…

Henry: How many times a day does Woodley message you, or try to call you?

There’s been instances where I’ve received over 10 phone calls a day. On average, we’re probably talking three to four phone calls a day, just off James alone. That’s separate to social media platforms and texts. The conversation normally consists of discussing when we’re going to quit our jobs, and asking when the dawgs are going to meet up to skate next.

James: As you know, I try to call you multiple times throughout the day, just to see if you are OK, but you never answer. Why is that?

After the second call where we have discussed that evening’s plan over and over again, I don’t answer as I’m normally channeling my inner zen in a Buddhist monk fashion, knowing the next call is coming in 45 minutes…

Downhill Brummy crook from The Fantastic Mr Fox. Photo: CJ.

Ben: I’d like to request an explanation of ‘the executive whip’ please.

The executive whip is a community vehicle, transporting the likes of yourselves and up to six other reprobates around the country on skating missions. Hosting up to 14 cup holders, you know the executive whip can hold enough Karak Chai to boost the revs.

James: Did you feel guilty about the window getting smashed at Lighthouse? When it happened, you didn’t seem to care too much.

Not really, that was your wrong doing (laughs). But seriously, I’m just here for the good footage.

Henry: Tell us the story about the French caretaker lady. Do you regret pissing her off?

There was yourself, James, Jake Laffoley, Luke Elks and I. We visited Jake on a filming mission to Paris in summer 2023. Half way through the trip, we visit a spot in Gallieni. I saw a photo of the spot beforehand and it looked like a chill area but would make some great footage with the surrounding architecture. We got there and it was ghetto as fuck! Anyway, James and Jake get some footage and you were trying this gnarly line where you straight wallride down a five set with a backdrop of about a story, no nollie out, followed by a frontside feeble down a handrail. You’re getting super close and I think it rains, so we leave the spot and go and get some food. We couldn’t leave it there, so on the last day we decide to head back to Gallieni just for you to get this line. You warm up and try the line, I’ve just set my camera up, and about one minute into the session I hear this screaming French voice. I look round and there’s this lady aggressively saying something to us in French. Turns out she’s the landlady of the block of flats next to us. I ask her to tone down and she’s having none of it, must have been the Wolves accent or something. She wasn’t moving for shit. After about 10 minutes of shouting, someone eventually comes to translate and she’s saying there’s a family with a baby trying to sleep where Henry is wallriding. Then we’re all like, “oh shit, of course we’ll leave now, no worries”. It’s 11am at this point so I’m guessing the dude works night shift or whatever. 

As we leave, we turn round and the dude who was trying to sleep comes out the block of flats and it’s a fucking crackhead. Luke makes a joke and he doesn’t like it. So he pulls out a knife and starts running at us, shouting in French. Holy fuck! We don’t know the area at all, so we just pick up our belongings and run to the Metro station we came from. We’re sweating buckets at this point (laughs). We get to the station and there’s this big ass queue to buy tickets, so we have to hop the ticket barrier. Close call…

James takes his Brummy trained 360 flip for a Parisian outing. Photo: Jeff Sudmeier.

Ben: Tell us about being intimidated out of Aston by a gang of teenagers who were convinced we were undercover cops.

Oh shit. If I remember correctly, we started the day skating these cobble banks and a bank-to-wall with Josh in Birmingham centre. We were on our bikes, so once you (very quickly) land the trick at the bank spot, Josh heads home and we cycled north along the canals to the M6/A38 Spaghetti Junction and then southwest down to near Aston and Handsworth, with a pit stop at Ideal Skate Shop for good measure.

We arrive at the spot - some new cobble-surfaced boobs spot I found recently - immediately feeling intimated by young locals in balaclavas. Alex D comes and meets us for security measures. We locked our bikes like 10 metres away from where I was filming, and six teenagers started eyeing them up hard. They were cycling up to the bikes, stopping next to them, at least three times every few minutes. I wasn’t having any of it, so I approached them and asked what they were doing looking at the bikes. They started talking shit and cycled off. Anyway, 5 minutes later, six of them return stating there’s been a chat with the community down the bottom of the road and they came to a group agreement Ben, Alex and I are undercover cops. Keep it in mind, Bens got a ripped Volcom jacket on and I’ve got my baggy jeans on with a VX in hand (laughs). They’re not budging and end up swiftly asking dodgier and dodgier questions. They ask for our IDs and Instagram handles. We know we have to leave soon before anything fucked up happens, so we film Ben’s warm up trick real quick and we get the fuck out to there. We cycle back to Birmingham centre, discuss whether to buy custard donuts or jam doughnuts, and then cycle back to Wolves. I think it was a 14 hour day in total. Worth it for the custard doughnuts though…

Henry: Why do you always want to go to Mr Egg after a good day of filming?

I could say the same to you with Pho, and Jimmy with Nandos (laughs). Mr. Egg is only 20 yards away from the new spot we opened up in Chinatown, which comes in handy after a three hour filming mission.

Ben, straight ollie into 'the big one' at Wolverhampton Civic. Photo: Ash Wilson.

Ben: Give us your top five curry houses in Wolves please, with an explanation behind each of them.

Jivans (RIP) - A family run curry house with the biggest naan bread you’ll never see. 

Purbani (RIP) - Potentially the first curry house I went to with the boys. 

Desi Yew Tree - British pub turned Indian kitchen just outside the town centre. 9/10 meat sizzler on the menu.

The Summerhouse - British pub with Nepalese kitchen. Great to wind down after a 9-5. With added karaoke singing so you can enjoy retired, old codgers singing 80s pop music.

Builders Arms - British pub turned Indian kitchen, great for another sizzler whilst watching the footy with the boys.

Ben: How much support has your cat Ponyo provided across the making of the video? And how many Studio Ghibli references should we expect when watching?

Don’t be deceived by the stupid looks and sleepy afternoons, Ponyo is the mastermind behind the direction of the video. Unfortunately there are no Studio Ghibli references in this video. Maybe that’s the theme for the next one…

Ben - top layback form on the bricks of Wolftown. Photo: Rob Whiston.

The cast of Just Drifting - interviewed by Chris Emery

Chris: We’ve filmed four sections together now. Are you not fed up of me yet?

Henry: Nah, never! I love dolphins, and the fact you look like one makes me want to see you more (laughs). You’ve always been up for filming the ideas I’ve got, and we've always had the same vision of what could look good at a spot. If anything, you should be fed up with me asking, “do you want to film this?” and then giving up because of my knee pain.

Chris: Is there a specific reason behind your obsession with eating gummy bears after each session?

Henry: I fucking love gummy sweets, especially the Mini Trolli pizzas or burgers (laughs). I think my obsession has just become a way of celebrating after getting a clip, or cheering myself up if I didn’t get the clip. I can even look at a shop and sense if Bossman’s got the good selection before going in (laughs). And of course I gotta share them with all the homies!

The Just Drifting premiere at Centrala Space, Birmingham. Part One.

Chris: What’s been your diet throughout the filming of Just Drifting? I have an endless list of skaters requesting the Benjamin Button effect you seem to have. I’m talking a daily detailed food list.

James: Well firstly I wake up, roll a ciggie and drink four strong coffees; that will keep me fired up till 10:45. Then I’ll have a bacon and sausage bap from Greggs, complimented with a carmel custard doughnut and more coffee, then as long as Laura isn’t too pissed off with me, she may have cooked some kind of banging dinner when I get home from work. That’s it basically, and that’s why I feel like shit all of the time. I think Laura’s dinner is the only thing keeping me alive right now. As for Benjamin Button, I know you’re talking shite (laughs).

Chris: What has been your drive to film since coming back from your hiatus?

James: I like having something to work on. I think of my mates getting gnarly and that gets me stoked. I just rate anyone that goes out filming because it’s really not easy, especially in the U.K.! I admire the work filmers and photographers put in; they play a big role in helping people get shit done. I don’t know, man; it’s a tough question!

The Just Drifting premiere at Centrala Space, Birmingham. Part Two.

Photos: Angela Grabowska.

Chris: Is it every Sunday your hang out at Sundorne skatepark in a suit?

Ben: Of course... Well, maybe not always at Sundorne, but I definitely always put on my Sunday best as a sign of respect.

Chris: We’ve ventured out through the dark depths of the West Midlands and East Shropshire when on filming missions on our push bikes, whether it’s the arse end of Handsworth or the canals of Wednesbury. What have been your most memorable filming missions out on our bikes, and why?

Ben: We certainly have missioned through the depths of the West Midlands, which can be beautiful one moment and bleak the next. The most memorable mission was probably a spot in Aston that you'd sent me a picture of. There were these super crusty cobbled lumps which looked like they'd provide a lot of fun with the right setup. After cycling an hour to get to them, we arrived and started sweeping up the glass and dirt out of the cobbles, which took a little while. We met Alex Darknell there, who'd driven and was keen for the mission, but probably not for the crust (laughs). The three of us swept, and then once it was relatively hazard free, I started trying to figure out how to roll at it whilst Alex and Chris stood to the side and oversaw. The spot was at the end of a terraced street and the obnoxious noise of skateboarding attracted the attention of some youths, one of whom was probably in his early teens, and approached us asking us what we were doing. He wasn't convinced by our story of innocent fun/artistic expression, and accused us all of being undercover cops. We were warned that “feds weren't welcome round here”, and it was made clear to us that we needed to realise that we were “in Aston, man”, and apparently that holds some weight. We were later joined by his friends, some of whom chose to cover their faces with hoods and scarves, and there were more accusations and warnings thrown around. It was a little tense. My memory blacked out from how we managed to de-escalate the situation, but we ended up getting a quick clip and then cycled off into the distance. We stopped for a donut break along the canal around Smethwick and saw a kingfisher whizz by. All in all, a pretty good day.

Just Drifting - by Chris Emery.

Additional filming: Joe Marks, James Denning, Anthony Ackers, Raj Sami and Josh Knott.


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