Disillusioned with Cali’s sun-drenched scene, ten years ago a bunch of London mates living in the ‘Palace’ introduced a new, grimier breed of skateboarding
It's hard to really pinpoint when the Palace Wayward Boys Choir, or PWBC, began to make a name for themselves. Initially a bunch of skateboarder/creatives – including Daniel ‘Snowy’ Kinloch, James Edson, Blondey McCoy and Lucien Clarke, to name a handful – living in south London, the moniker might have been a joke to them, but the local skate community soon realised it was PWBC’s ‘no fuck’s given’ attitude that was needed. Finding kinship with a collective who were fed up with the shiny American aspirations ricocheting through the UK skate community at the time – from images of sunny California, to high-res, helicopter-shot films and the commercialisation of something once seen as an ‘outsider’s sport’.
At a rough estimate, it was ‘about ten years ago’ when a group of mates living in a house in south London would aptly dub their flat the 'Waterloo Palace’ – a word that would, by 2010, become a global entity. "We always lived in places called the ‘Palace'," says Kinloch, pointing to a grainy black and white image of a cramped lounge room. Shot sometime in the 00s, the photo is now blown up, framed and sat on the floor of London’s 71a Gallery ready to be hung with around 30 others, and what looks like hundreds of A4 printouts of images pulled from archives and disposable cameras. It’s all in honour of their 10 year retrospective, opening tonight, and coinciding with Lucien Clarke’s Quattro shoe release for SUPRA. "It was called 'The Palace' because it was a shit hole. There was like nine of us in a three bedroom place," remembers Edson. "When we moved to Waterloo it kind of got coined by Stuart (Hammond) as the Palace Wayward Boys Choir. It was like a group joke thing – we're not pretentious enough to say 'skate gang', you know?" interjects Kinloch. "It was like 'The Palace is a fucking joke!'" laughs Edson.
“British skateboarding is grimy as fuck; drinking beers, smoking weed, people fighting, graffiti, it was pretty raw” – James Edson
The UK skate scene at the time was marked by a disconnect between the reality of living in a country where it rains for approximately one-third of the year and the one they were watching via the videos coming out of America. “People were aspiring to be American, they wanted respect off America rather than doing their own thing within the UK,” explains Edson. "It just became really saturated and it got quite cheesy. All the videos were really HD and going uber production on everything. Lev (Tanju) took it back to DIY because, like, we haven't got the money to make videos like that! We were watching all these videos with like heli-shots and all this shit but British skateboarding is grimy as fuck; drinking beers, smoking weed, people fighting, graffiti, it was pretty raw." Kinloch adds, "At the end of the day, it just started taking itself too seriously and you disconnect from that. It was pretty far removed from who we were."
It was from one of those ‘shitty’ rooms in south London that Tanju and the Palace Waywards would, perhaps unintentionally, carve out a name for UK skateboarding, shifting some of that weight of influence from America and its polished, unattainable image for most kids just kicking around with a board for fun, to the reality of life skating in places like South Bank. Launching the now-infamous Palace Skateboards and amping up visibility of the PWBC team with the release of a series of lo-fi satirical news reports via grassroots website Don’t Watch That! Tanju dubbed old news segments and spliced them together with footage of the PWBC team skating.
“Maybe through Lev and all that, people kind of realised like ‘fuck it, we’re going to do it this way, we’re going to do it our own way’, and now look, America’s following England, big time, they’re chasing our shit,” laughs Edson. “How the fuck were we going to compare ourselves to California, you know? What’s the point of trying to aspire to something you’re never going to achieve. There, it was sunny everyday and we’re skating in the rain. Rugged as fuck, dirty and it’s raining – it just breeds a whole different type of skateboarding. It’s not really ever been about how good you are at skating, because a lot of the other companies that was the main thing, and they wouldn’t talk to the kid who was a bit shit but really enthusiastic. Whereas it (the PWBC) kind of changed that. Now you’ll sit down and have a beer and a joint and be like ‘what’s up?’, and the day you land your first kick-flip everyone’s just stoked. Not getting on at school? With your parents? You would go meet your friends at South Bank, it’s a family.”
From nine or so guys in a crowded house to global recognition, it’s hard to keep track of just how many people make up the PWBC today. “I don’t know, it’s pretty far-reaching. There’s tattooed ones and there’s non-tattooed ones,” jokes Kinloch, revealing the four letters etched on his ankle. “It was a joke. We’re not like some Hell’s Angels or something.” But for a collective who have helped wrangle the spotlight from the US and pave the way for the next generation of UK skateboarders – no matter how ‘good’ they are – Edson laughs, “Pretty much, we are. I like to think I am anyway.”
PWBC: A Retrospective is on at Shoreditch’s 71a Gallery from 9 – 10 September, 2015. Tanju is creating a brand new PWBC News film for the exhibition in honour of Clarke’s Supra Quattro shoe – inspired by the history of the PWBC – which will be available worldwide from 12 October, click here for more information