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Talking 'What You Missed' and 'Coping Mechanism' with Mat Lloyd and Tony Wood

If you pay attention to skateboarding culture in the UK, Mat Lloyd and Tony Wood are two names that will have no doubt encountered at some point over recent times. Mat has been a fixture on the skate scene for decades and hosts his very own Skateboarder And... podcast (that you should all be subscribed to), whilst Tony is a mainstay of the East London/Essex ramp skating community. And, in addition to that, they're both talented poets. We recently ran an interview with Tony where he discussed his history in both poetry and skateboarding, but as he has a new book on the shelves - Coping Mechanism, the follow up to Procrastiskate - and Mat also just released his career spanning What You Missed anthology, we thought it would be simultaneously entertaining and enlightening to turn the Skateboarder And... formula on it's head. As such, we let Tony take the lead for an hour long, poetry and skateboarding themed chat. Read on to find out how their Zoom interview unfolded, then be sure to familiarise yourself with both Tony and Mat's bodies of work; there's zero disappointment to be found on radar!

Tony: This isn’t a Skateboarder And… episode, but in the tradition of your own podcast, can you give us some background into your journey in skateboarding, please sir?

Matt: “I don’t skate! I’ve been a rollerblader forever” (laughs). Nah, I got my first skateboard when I was seven. It cost me £2 and it was a bright red, plastic, what would now be called a Penny board. This would have been 1985 or 1986. I didn’t know any other skateboarders or really what it was all about, I just knew that I wanted a skateboard.

T: So you hadn’t seen skating on Back to the Future, or Police Academy 4 or anything?

M: Not that I remember. My neighbour had a board, and he said I could buy it off him for £2, so I saved up my pocket money. I was trying to learn to acid drop on it, and I fell backwards and smashed my head off a kerb, then I sold the board back to the same kid for £1.50.

T: So you basically paid 50p for the privilege of a fractured skull?

M: Yep (laughs). My parents bought me a board out of the Empire catalogue at some point, many, many moons ago; that was called a Smokey Joe. I didn’t have a proper skateboard until I was living in Germany. My dad was stationed there by the British Army. I was about 11 years old, and I met for the first time ever, some real skateboard kids, called Gil and Ben. These kids wore baggy pants, they had tiny wheels, they read Big Brother magazine, and I was just in awe of how cool they were. I can imagine what I must’ve been like: head to toe in C&A clothes, Smokey Joe board under my arm, not a clue about skateboarding; I just knew that I loved it. They taught me about real skateboarding, took me on a couple of skate missions, and I got my first my first proper skateboard from the skatepark in Munster. I got a Hook Ups deck. From then on, I’ve been completely addicted.

Mat with a frontside crail at Haversham, for the Ramp Locals! Photo: Neil Bowen.

T: You always ask this, and I think it’s a really good question: was there a moment where you thought, “I don’t just ride a skateboard; I’m a skateboarder”?

M: I suppose I really knew I was a skateboarder when I was at school, and I’d have been 14 or 15. By then, skating was dead, and people thought I was weird because I’d have my skateboard with me. We used to play rugby at school, and they’d take us to the Isle of Man once a year to play other schools over there. It sounds really posh but it wasn’t (laughs). I took my skateboard, and seriously dude, it was weird. I rode my skateboard around the Isle of Man and all the other kids thought I was nuts.

T: There’s a symbiotic relationship in that, I think. When you talk to guys and girls on the podcast, there are an awful lot of people who would be considered ‘outsiders’. I often wonder if it’s that ‘weird’ people are attracted to skateboarding, or that you have a go at skateboarding, and it just clicks with the people that live slightly outside of normal society, and therefore the two things tee off each other; you grow up in life with a different outlook.

M: I think that when you’re younger, things matter a lot more than when you’re older, too. Back then, all of the kids that were regarded as the weird kids, they were the ones that gave less of a shit. The amount of shit that I got a school for just having a skateboard…I should’ve crumbled to the peer pressure and done whatever the mainstream thing was. I wasn’t skateboarding because it was punk, or because it was cool; I just liked skateboarding.

Tony on the verge of making initial contact with Steve Sexton's very own coping (mechanism). Photo: Colin Edwards.

T: You helped get the outdoor park in Hemel Hampstead built. How did that come about, and how involved in that were you?

M: I moved to Hemel Hampstead because my dad got a job working in London. The skate scene in Hemel was massive at the time, and legendary too. (Mark) Channer, (Ian) Gunner, a lot of the crew from Milton Keynes…everybody used to hang out in Hemel. You’d turn up in the town centre and there would be 30, 40 dudes all skateboarding. I skated there for a few years, then we realised that the town needed a skatepark. They started to skate-stop everything, security was everywhere, the police would show up, and you just couldn’t get away with skating any more in the centre, so me and my friend Paul ‘Big Paul’ McEwen decided we were going to start a campaign: The Hemel Idiots. He was the BMX dude, and I was the skateboard dude.

T: That’s good though, because through skating and BMXing, you can launch a double-pronged attack.

M: Definitely. At the time I’d somehow blagged myself a sensible job doing IT support for Epsom, which meant that when we kicked off The Hemel Idiots and started having council meetings, we launched a guerrilla marketing campaign. I’d go to work, print out 10,000 stickers on Avery labels and stick them all over town. Then when we had our first meeting with the council, I turned up in a three-piece suit, because that’s what I wore to work. The council took one look at me and Paul and thought, “these boys might be serious, they might know what they’re doing”. We got on the BBC, we changed the name immediately to Hemel Skate once we realised it was going to get picked up, we organised events, interviewed bands, built a website…I remember getting a phone call from a friend in Finland who said he was sat in a bar watching BBC World Service, and my mug came on, talking about the campaign. Me and Pete headed it up for eight years, we eventually got funding from the council, and the park got built. It’s been there for over 10 years now, it’s still getting used, and it’s had a concrete extension.

T: That’s a proper legacy, mate.

M: Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the prettiest skatepark, but in the summer it’s absolutely packed with families. It’s good to see that being passed on, and kids doing different things down there, doing graffiti, organising events, then I go down the skatepark and I’m just an old bloke with a skateboard now. I like that, though. That’s how parks should be; it’s not for me.

T: Otherwise you could end up being all Mike McGill about it. “No one snakes me at my park”.

M: Exactly. I don’t live in Hemel any more. I do go back every so often, I still like the mini ramp, but it’s pretty scary.; there’s a ‘dead zone’ in the transition.

A '2 legit' after-dark frontside smith from Mat. Photo: Dan Raybourn

T: Where are your normal haunts nowadays, and what has it been like skating during lockdown?

M: Skating during lockdown has been pretty good, because me and my other half moved to Stevenage. When it was peak lockdown, you didn’t really want to go out and see a lot of people, so I started going skating at 6:30am, to Hampson Park. I bumped into a couple of gents up there, and one of them was called Taz. Me and Taz started to meet each other at 6:30am to skate, then the crew started to build up, and now it’s pretty big. We skate Hampson, Letchworth, Dunstable bowl, and we call ourselves the Gentleman’s Club, or the Frontside Club. We’re not hugging and high-fiving, we’ve all been very careful in regards to COVID, and we’ve been going skating early in the morning to stay away from people

Lockdown has been weird for everybody, and it has sucked not been able to see family and stuff like that, but I feel kind of lucky because I’ve been able to skate a couple of times a week, and I’ve got to do lots of poetry related stuff that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.

Regnosis by Mat, taken from What You Missed.

T: It’s a good attitude to have, to be able to embrace whatever life throws at you. That’s a skater’s attitude; “this has happened, now what can we do about it?” You mentioned about poetry there, which perfectly leads me onto my next question. Where did your interest in poetry initially come from?

M: I got into poetry because I listened to hip-hop, genuinely. I was 11, 12, and super influenced by everyone around me. I was a grunge kid and really into metal, then somebody gave me an NWA Straight Outta Compton tape.

T: What an album!

M: As a kid, hearing a group saying “f*ck the police”, that was something else. In Germany, you have the PX, which is an army version of an American supermarket, and every so often, we’d go to the PX because it was full of American foods. At the checkout, there was always hip-hop cassettes, with the Parental Advisory stickers on them. I’d say, “hey Dad, can you get me this cassette?”, and I would pick up which ever one looked the coolest. I was picking up albums like BDP and KRS-One’s Edutainment, Ice-T’s OG, Ice Cube’s Kill at Will, various Public Enemy tapes. I’d be going back to school in Cumbria with these cassettes, and I started to write rhymes. I remember writing my first one called Boom, which I probably still have somewhere (laughs). I suppose they were mini raps, but at the time I wasn’t rapping them, I was just writing them and passing them around my friends. I do remember one of my friends saying, “you know what? You’re alright at this. If you can write something in a couple of minutes, this could be a thing”. An English teacher saw one of my rhymes and submitted it for a book when I was about 15 years old, and at this point, dude, I was an arsehole. I’d be smoking, getting suspended, I was definitely failing every class I was in, then I got this poem published, and I remember having to read it out in assembly.

T: Oh God (laughs).

M: It was horrific; I hated it. But at the same time, you have all of these people who are used to me being a nightmare, then this poem was about how people walk past others who are dying and poor and can somehow ignore their existence. I got published a couple more times, and then I got expelled (laughs).

Bomb from Coping Mechanism, by Tony. Artwork by Jamie Bubb

T: So how did poetry progress from there?

M: A few years later I was still writing poetry, and I went to a night where I drank a bottle of Jim Bean with a friend, and I saw for the first time in my life a performance poet. I was in my early 20s; I was blown away by it. Because I was drunk, I signed up to be on the next bill of the local open mic night, and a month later, there I was, paper in hand, shaking whilst reading my poetry in front of an audience.

As time went along I ventured out into London, and I ended up meeting a guy called Healer Selecta who ran this Raison D’etre collection of artists, then I found myself at the Jazz Café, reading poetry before Little Dragon came on, which was mind blowing for me. I bumped into this dude called Philip Levine, whom I owe so much; he got me involved with Lazy Gramophone, and the next thing I knew I was at the Macbeth, going on before Scroobius Pip, or going on before Laura Marling at an art museum. It all just kind of happened, but I never studied poetry, I didn’t really know how things should look, or how things should sound…

T: It sounds so cliché, but that’s definitely the best way to find your own voice, by being true to yourself. As soon as you start studying things, you can set parameters that really become quite stifling. It can kill the passion a little bit.

M: I agree. Everything I write is about experiences that I’ve had. I don’t write about anything I haven’t experienced, but at the same time, I do read a ton of poetry, I pick up poetry books, not to study, just to see what other people are doing. I have a love of poetry, I really do. You posted the poem Dad from your new book, Coping Mechanism recently, and you wrote next to it, “unlike most of my poetry, this one is about a real life experience”.

T: That’s why I was surprised when you told me that you only ever write about things you’ve experienced. In my first book, Procrastiskate, it’s almost exclusively about skateboarding.

M: But it’s about your experiences in skateboarding, right?

T: Yeah, whereas in Coping Mechanism, I would guess it’s about a 50/50 split between totally invented stuff that’s got nothing to do with my life, and stuff that is based on personal experiences. But Dad was directly lifted from an exact moment that had a big influence on me.

M: And you feel that as well when you read it. I struggle to write about things that I haven’t experienced, so I don’t, as a rule. When I read Procrastiskate, I could relate to everything in that, and it seems so real to me. You’ve experienced all of those things in Procrastiskate, right?

T: Yeah, pretty much.

M: That was where you threw me off when you said you didn’t write about things you’ve experienced. The way I saw it, all of your poetry was about things that you’ve experienced.

T: Well there’s one piece in Coping Mechanism about the weird stalker guy who was obsessed with a woman on the telly. I’m not a weird stalker guy who’s obsessed with a woman on the telly, and I’ve never attacked anyone, funnily enough (laughs).

M: Oh I can see what you’re doing now, Tony. “I’m not the weird stalker guy” (laughs).

T: Oh no, my secret is out. I’m a skateboarder…and a murderer (laughs). There’s another one called Consent, which is literally about consent. That was inspired by the conversations happening around Noel Clarke, and the film, A Promising Young Woman. I just thought, “I’ll have a little write and see what comes out”. I’ll pre-load this by saying that 90% of what I write, I go back and read the next day and I think it’s garbage, but Consent, the next day I thought it was alright, so I sent to the publisher to be included. Again, it’s entirely fictionalised, it’s nothing that I’ve experienced myself, but it’s from stuff that I’ve seen happen around me.

Pionner by Mat, from What You Missed.

M: I’m the same, but I find that 1% is what goes out into the ether, and gets used at gigs.

T: Let’s chat a bit about your new anthology, What You Missed. Where did the title come from?

M: Well, the whole idea behind What You Missed really is that I’ve been around for a long time, I’ve done loads of poetry for different books, magazines, videos. But What You Missed is sort of saying, “this is an amalgamation of my work. You don’t need to buy all of the zines and everything else to piece it together”. The title is a bit of a joke, like, “this is what you missed, bro”.

Blokes, by Mat. Animation for Matt Frodsham.

T: From your book, the piece called Blokes felt incredibly personal. That one had me shed a little tear or two, mate, I’m not going to lie. It is very, very poignant. Can you tell us a bit about that?

M: Blokes is a piece which I wrote 15 years ago now, maybe more, when my friend tried to die by suicide. I wanted something that was true and raw, and I suppose it was the first performance poetry piece I wrote that really made people go, “oh shit, this is serious”. The poem starts off with blokes sat around a table, all taking the piss out of each other, and it draws your audience in. I wasn’t writing it like that, that’s just how it came out. I still perform it every so often, and you really do get the audience laughing, or saying, “I can’t believe you just said that”, because they don’t know where it’s going. And then they realise as we get towards the end what I’m talking about, and the end pulls it all together.

Someone who is now a friend, a guy called Matt Frodsham, he had seen a video of this poem online and contacted me out of the blue to say, “I’m doing my dissertation at college, and I want to animate Blokes; would you be down to do it?” So I said,” yes, that would be rad”. He did it all by hand, it was a rotoscope animation so he had to film people and animate over the top of the footage. We put the animation out on Vimeo and it got Editor’s Pick, so it was on the front page, and overnight it got a 100,000 views. All of a sudden it was in all of these short film competitions around the world. There was a competition in the UK called Short Cuts, and I went to the final. I was sat in the cinema and the guy came out, he went through the sections of who won what, then he said, “the grand jury prize for the favourite short film of the festival…the winner is Blokes”. My lord…it was insane. They’d hired me to perform at the after party before anyone knew I’d won…and I was hammered (laughs). What’s great about Blokes is, there’s nothing better than performing a piece where afterwards, people want to have a conversation with you about it, they want to talk about their own experiences. Blokes is real, that was me, that was my friends, and sometimes I still well up when I get to the end of it. I love Blokes, but it is real and it is honest.

T: What You Missed is not all darkness, there are bits of it that made me properly laugh out loud. The book made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me smile. It’s just brilliant. I buy a lot of poetry anthologies anyway, and I know you a little bit so I knew I needed to get a copy of it. I think I’ve read it all the way through at least a dozen times. There’s not a weak beat in it. It’s by far the favourite anthology I’ve ever read, so I’m bigging you up for that one.

M: I really appreciate that. Skateboarding is such a weird world where it’s so big but yet so small at the same time. When you released Procrastiskate, I bought it, you came on the podcast, we had a proper chat, then you put me in touch with Carl (Mynott) at Stour Valley Publishing, and that was how What You Missed came about. What I like about Carl is, he’s connected to skateboarding, and he’s so easy to work with. He was down to let me mould it, to have the front cover shot by my friend James North, the edit being done by Matt Frodsham, to have quotes from my poet friends who I’ve met over the years, and some of those are beefy names. It’s come out perfect, and I know it sounds a bit macabre, but if I died tomorrow, that’s the perfect representation of me as a spoken word artist.

T: It feels like What You Missed is something of a pause. “That’s that bit done, that’s everything I’ve written up to there”, now you can carry on with what you want to do next.

M: It definitely is. What You Missed is really a line in the sand; I can move on and do other stuff. There’s so much history in that book, from Blokes, to No Regrets. There’s a lot of performance poetry in there that was written with a crowd in mind, but there’s also quite a lot of writing in there that isn’t performance poetry, and it’s nice to have the artwork for those poems in there as well.

A Guide to Cracks & Curbs: London by Mat. Featuring Helena Long and Sam Murgatroyd.

T: On a personal note, I’ve written quite openly on Facebook about a gambling addiction, and you’ve got the short poem, False Prophets, that is written on a Coral slip. Honest to God, if I was five years younger, I’d have that tattooed on my arm. I still might. And the fact it’s written on a betting slip, it’s so perfect; it’s like you’ve pulled that one out of my soul.

M: If you get that tattooed, I’ll send you the betting slip.

T: That would be amazing. Then the wife would find a betting slip sticking out of a book somewhere and I’ll get myself shot (laughs). You’re involved with quite a lot of projects, including one with Benjamin Zephaniah, who I adore, called SOS: Surviving Suicide. What’s the story behind that?

M: That project in particular is bananas. Just before lockdown I went to do a gig at the Albion Rooms in Margate, which is owned by the guys from The Libertines. It’s run by this amazing guy, Dean Stalham, who is this incredible poet; he was in prison when he started writing poems and plays. He came out of prison and now he’s everywhere, and really involved in the art scene. One night he sent me a message to to say, “this event is going to happen, do you want to come down and do some poetry at it?” It was a proper rowdy gig, but it was rad, and I performed Blokes. He got in touch afterwards and said he was putting a book together about mental health and suicide, and asked if I wanted to be involved. Of course I said yes. I’d gone to see Benjamin Zephaniah perform five months before, I met him afterwards, we got a picture together, and that picture was on my website. Dean saw it and he asked if he could use the photo for the book; he said he was trying to get Ben involved. I said I’d met Ben a few times over the years, but he wouldn’t have a clue who I was. He showed the photo to Ben and asked if he could use it as the front cover of the book, and Ben said yes. Genuinely, I still don’t believe it. I’ve seen pictures of the book, but I’ve not held one yet (laughs). I’m going to be alongside my childhood hero as well as an amazing collection of other poets; I’m blown away.

On top of that, I’m also working on a project with Rohum Dilley, called Open All Hours, which is a series about the importance of independent skate shops.

Never meet your heroes...unless they're Benjamin Zephaniah. Photo: Siobhan Wilson

T: I remember you mentioning that before. That’s been going for a while, hasn’t it?

M: Obviously lockdown hit, and Rohum couldn’t film. But it’s going to be a seven part documentary, and I’ve written a poem that’s going to feature across the episodes, with 30 seconds of it in each. Let’s talk about you a bit though, Tony. You had Procrastiskate come out and do really well, then your new book Coping Mechanism is about to be released. How long did your new book take to come together?

T: I reckon 80% of Coping Mechanism was already written by the time Procrastiskate came out, because a lot of the stuff in Procrastiskate was six, seven years old, when I started writing skate poetry, but there’s some stuff in Coping Mechanism that pre-dates that by a long time. It’s basically stuff I wrote in Notes on my first iPhone. I’ve never used laptops or computers, so I’ll stick a poem in Notes and if it’s good enough in Notes then I’ll submit it to Carl for the book.

I don’t know if this happens to you, but I’ll get almost manic episodes where I’ll write six or seven poems in a couple of days. When I’m in that zone, it seems to be that the ideas are a little bit better. The quality of the writing is a little bit more slapdash, a little hit and miss, but it’s meant for the first time I’ve gone back and edited stuff after it’s been written. I never used to edit stuff, ever. I’d edit things then submit them to Carl, and it got to a point where he said, “ok this is it, you can stop now”. The last poem to go into Coping Mechanism is called Mum. I sent my mum a preview of the book, and she said, “the poem called Dad is amazing, it’s had your dad in tears, I’ve been welling up too”, and I thought, “shit, I’m going to have to knock one up now called Mum now, aren’t I?” It’s actually a really nice little piece that I’m proud of; it’s really sweet, and it’s from the heart. This time around I think the book took around three months from start to finish. From submitting poems, getting the artwork in, getting photos from people…again, the book is a collaboration with other skaters.

M: It’s been an insane year, and I’m so glad that we’ve had conversations and we’ve ended up doing what we’re doing.

T: Have you got a personal favourite poem in What You Missed?

M: Probably, at this very minute, No Regrets. It was a poem that I wrote really for my mum, but it was 100 different poems in my brain and on scraps of paper, that eventually became one single piece. It really is about all the things I kind of regret, but I understand that you have to have those regrets to grow as a person. It’s one that I was performing in front of people for a few years before my mum actually heard it; she came to a night in Hemel Hampstead that my friend was putting on. To perform No Regrets in front of a good crowd who were laughing at all the right bits, with my mum there…it was rad. I love that poem.

T: Where can people get your book?

M: Right now, you can buy What You Missed (as well as Procrastiskate and Coping Mechanism) from, via Stour Valley Publishing, that’s going to be the exclusive place you can get it, with world wide shipping. And if you want to check anything else out, there’s, and you can find me on Twitter and Instagram - @matlloydpoet. Also, give Tony a follow too - @skatebard17.

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