Charlie Birch Interview

Gap to backside lipslide. Ph: Sam Ashley

Reading this interview has really hammered home to me how glad I am to know Charlie Birch. Always loved his skating and thought he was cool, and then I got to know him when he worked (alongside Lloyd, who did this brilliant interview, HI LLOYD!) at Mwadlands, the indoor skatepark in Peckham that Palace opened in 2017. This was all way before Charlie got on Palace, but the ferocity and steez with which he ripped the park, as he rips everywhere, made his getting on seem kind of inevitable. Now Charlie is certainly hands down the gnarliest skater on the team. What is it about the famous skaters from Liverpool – Geoff Rowley, Howard Cooke, Brian Sumner (lol just Googled him and he’s a Christian pastor and travelling evangelist now lol) Jimmy Boyes – and their viewing jumping down life-threateningly big handrails as a leisure activity? I don’t know but them lot are brave. Charlie brave too. He’s also just such a nice lad: charismatic, funny, kind… Reading this interview I realise how much of that must be down to being brought up by good people: his amazing family, the amazing Mackey and the Lost Art family, his mates. I am a soggy old sentimental guy but I found a lot of the stuff in this interview really, really touching. Also lols. Safe for that Lloyd safe for that Charlie. As soon as I press send on this I’m gonna text you both to tell you I love you.

– Stuart Hammond

Interview by Lloyd Hodgson

Right Charlie! Good to see ya marra, not seen you in four months since this shit started… What you been saying?
Charlie Birch: Lockdown’s been alright to be honest, just been trying to make the best of it. I’ve been out with Austin (Bristow) and that like every day to film for this HD edit, which has been going on for like three years. All the streets in central have been empty so a lot of the time there was no security or people around so we’ve been getting less hassle. It’s been way more productive and we got to skate some spots we wouldn’t usually get to skate as much. Like the Oxford Street benches for example, you can’t usually skate them in the daytime…

Sick. Alright let’s get into this. So I know you didn’t start skating straight away… There was a bit of an evolution to get there right? Did it start from street hockey?
Ah right yeah my dad played ice hockey when he was younger so I would sometimes see him do it when I was a kid and he got me and my brothers into it. The local rink shut down so we ended up getting into playing street hockey on rollerblades on the street outside our house. Then one day we discovered Rampworx and that became our local skatepark… After a while my big brother Oliver started skating so I would be going out with him and his mates but I was on rollerblades. I remember when I’d see rollerbladers thinking ‘these guys are dick heads!’ and slowly started taking out a skateboard as well as my rollerblades when I’d go to the skatepark… So deep down skating is what I wanted to do anyway ha ha. I remember my dad taking me to New Bird, the DIY and pulling up in the car and all the locals who built it came over and were like ‘you can’t be blading here. This was made for skaters by skaters,’ so I went and got my board out of the car and knew when I would go down from then on I would have to help build or get involved.

Boardslide. Ph: Sam Ashley.

I heard that not long after starting your brother made a sponsor-me tape for you and sent it to Blueprint?
Ok so just to be clear this has nothing to do with me ha ha, I was like ten or 11 and it was like my first year skating so it isn’t my fault. Basically my brother had filmed some clips of me not long after I’d started skating and made a sponsor-me tape that he wanted to send to Paul Shier… And I think when he received it the full team was on a trip together, ha ha. So Shier got this email and must have been like to (Dave) Mackey ‘oh I just got this email off a kid from Liverpool skating’ and we knew Mackey at the time and he must have vouched for me or said something like ‘he’s a kid that comes in the shop’ so they gather around to watch my sponsor-me tape and my brother had sent them the wrong link and instead they watched a video of me rollerblading ha ha.
So I just had the Blueprint team watching my rollerblading clips instead of my sponsor-me tape ha ha. I was like ‘for fuck’s sake!’ but it wasn’t my fault you know what I mean? I blame that one on my brother.

The idea of that always cracks me up. So you have mentioned one of your brothers a bit already but there’s three of you altogether and then there’s Charlie Birch Senior your dad, what’s that dynamic like? You all seem super close.
Yeah I’m definitely thankful to have such a good relationship with my family… My mum passed away when I was ten, around the time I started skating and my dad always supported me and backed what I did. He’s the best, never stops grafting, always had to make sure we were sound you know, looking after three lads. I’m the youngest, then there’s my brother Harvey the middle brother who doesn’t skate anymore but he’s into rock climbing and played water polo for Great Britain. They ended up winning the World Cup for water polo under 21s and now he’s gone on to do mathematical physics at uni, then did a masters trying to find dark matter and now he’s doing a PhD and going to Michigan to do some more mad fucking science physics shit, which is banging you know what I mean? He’s a legend. And then there’s Oliver who’s the oldest and he’s the one who ever since I was a kid has pushed me and would film me. He was always well supportive, would drive me up and down the country for competitions, bought me food… He was a proper sick big brother! He’s been working at Lost Art for a while now and when the shop moved to above the pub he started helping Mackey a lot more, especially with the shop’s clothing and stuff…

Didn’t you and your brothers take your dad wakeboarding or something for his birthday a few weeks ago?
Yeah he just turned 60 so we got him a stand up paddleboard with the wet suit jacket and stuff. Almost fucked it though, just got him the size of the wetsuit we thought he would need and we were like ‘try it on now to see if it fits you’ and it was tight ha ha, so there we are me and my two brothers trying to pull this wetsuit over this 60-year-old fella, you know what I mean he’s got a bit of a belly and that ha ha.

Frontside feeble. Ph: Sam Ashley.

Ha ha that’s a good birthday present that though. What happened that time your dad took Harvey somewhere for the weekend and it was just you and Oliver at the house?
Oh yeah I was probably around 11 or 12 at the time and my brother and dad had gone away on some canoeing weekend and Oliver had been looking after me. One night he had two of his mates round and they were all on the drinks. Two of them went outside at one point to have a ciggy and while they were smoking these two scallie lads walked up fully ballied up on a bike that looked obviously stolen and started saying ‘alright lads? Can we just come in the house and chill?’ My brother’s mates were like ‘nah’ but they were like ‘yeah we’re gunna come in anyway…’ There wasn’t much fighting it because they had knives and stuff so they kept my brother’s mates outside and went in. Apparently one of them kept shouting ‘where’s the money, where’s the money!’ to my brother and my brother was like ‘we don’t keep any money in the house!’ So then the guy was like ‘put the Xbox in the bag!’ My brother told him that it wasn’t an Xbox, that it was a Skybox, but the guy just kept shouting ‘put the Xbox in the bag!’ and kept asking for the money… Then he rolled upstairs and came into my room. I was sleeping and he started shaking me, asking where me the money was, but I just thought it was one of my brother’s mates messing about or something so I was just like ‘what you on about’ so he went back down to my brother and said ‘if you don’t tell me where the money is now I’m going to go upstairs and stab your brother!’ So my brother again was like, ‘we don’t keep money in the house, if we did I’d show you it!’ So while all that’s going on I was trying to go back to sleep but I needed a shit… So then when I’m just sitting on the toilet half asleep this guy just barged into the bathroom fully ballied up, in trackies and that, all blacked out with a JD bag full of our shit asking for the money but I still thought it was one of my brother’s mates so I’m like, ‘ohh fuck off laa!!! I’m trying to have a shit!’ and he just went ‘oh sorry lad’ and closed the door ha ha. And I’m still completely oblivious as to what’s going on. When I’d finished taking a shit, I walked out of the bathroom and looked down from the banister and could see that the front door was open with some guy walking out of the house. He looked up and I could just see his eyes through the balaclava and it was only then I started to realise that we had some people robbing the house. They ended up getting off and sparked one of my brother’s mates on the way out. They must have just been some opportunists though, like I don’t think they really knew what they were doing… Then I went downstairs and asked my brother what had just happened and he explained that we’d just been robbed.

Frontside boardslide. Ph:Rafal Wojnowski.

Love how he changed his tune after you told him to fuck off from the toilet ha ha. He must have just been so confused…
What was the importance of having a place like Lost Art to you when you were growing up?
Man, without Lost Art and what they do for everyone the Liverpool scene would be very different… And at the end of the day, running a skate shop in general in the UK is like the hardest thing in the world, people aren’t doing that to make money, they do it out of pure love. Mackey doesn’t need to be stressing himself out with all that he does; he does it because he’s a legend and enjoys giving back to the community. And because of that Mackey influenced me with so much other stuff as a kid too… He loves East Coast hip hop and because of him when people in school would be listening to whatever chart music it was at the time, I was listening to Wu-Tang, Nas, Mobb Deep, Gang Starr and all that shit. And like Mindfield was my first video but I didn’t really know about all the UK skaters and that but he showed me all the Liverpool legends like Rowley, Jimmy Boyes, Howard Cooke… And just seeing Mackey at the skatepark always going Mach 10 definitely inspired me.
Also Lost Art was one of the first shops to stock Palace decks when Palace first started and    there’s a picture of me ollieing this five set in an alleyway like the first year I started skating. It was one of those Olly Todd statue graphic ones… Anyway at one point when I was filming my intro clip for Palace I realised I’d been skating the same spot, which is a nice full circle type of thing… I remember that board was an 8.25 and it felt like a fucking boat at the time.

Let’s jump a few years to when you moved to London: What was the motivation there and how was the transition?
Well basically ever since I was a kid I was travelling about going to competitions and when people would come to Liverpool I would meet them that way through the shop. Then when me and my brothers would come down to London to visit my auntie and uncle we would go skating and would meet up with Kev Parrot and stuff. Since I was a kid from visiting I was like ‘when I’m old enough I’m moving to London!’ Obviously I love Liverpool, it’s the best city in the world, but it’s just banging here you know what I mean? And a lot of my mates from Liverpool have moved down as well…
Then as a kid skating comps and stuff to get time off school I’d have to make sure I was doing well… That’s what was pushing me. And I was a little shit you know, but I’d keep my head down enough to get by so they’d let me go to comps when I was 14 and get mash up with all the boys ha ha. So because of that I ended up doing alright in my GCSEs, and being a little kid at that time, I was like ‘I want to be minted when I’m older’ by being an investment banker or something; so I went to uni to do finance, which also made the move to London easier too because I wouldn’t have to get a full-time job and I could still skate and live off the maintenance loan. Then two years down the line I realised it wasn’t the one… I didn’t get on with anyone in my class… I would do the work, leave, and then think to myself ‘why am I paying money for this if I’m not fully committed?’ Also around that time I started doing a bit more with skating, like getting on New Balance and stuff, which meant that I would get to go on more trips…

How did that come about?
Mackey started being the TM and obviously ever since I was a kid he’s been looking out for me and that, making sure I was good… Mackey’s one of the main reasons I’m doing any of this shit, just from the amount of energy he puts into Liverpool’s skate scene and how much he helps the kids out no matter who they are. Whether you just started skating or you’ve been around for time, he gives the same energy to everyone. That’s why ever since I was a kid I’ve just felt so accepted. So when he asked me to ride for New Balance it was obviously a no brainer; I knew for a fact I would be with good people.

Frontside smith. Ph: Rafal Wojnowski.

Yeah I hear that, seems like the right move. And then not too long after that Palace came about… How did that happen?
Yeah so basically I was on a trip in Tokyo filming with Austin and I guess he must have been talking to (Danny) Brady or someone about me getting on without me knowing and they must have been down. Obviously I’ve been chilling with those boys anyway, like I’ve known Chewy (Cannon) and stuff since I was a kid. And when I first moved to London I was chilling with Tom (Tanner) and people from the shop, I’d see Benny (Fairfax) and Lucien (Clarke) and stuff for beers in East… Then there was the Christmas dinners when I was working at Mwadlands… That’s where I got to know Lev (Tanju), Gareth (Skewis) and a few other people a bit more.

Hadn’t you already been on a trip with them when you were a kid?
Yeah when they were on the Bunny Tour up north me, my brother and Tom drove to Preston to meet them for the day… I already knew Morph (Dane Crook) from going up to London and filming so we just went out skating with those boys. I was like fourteen or fifteen.

Frontside 50-50. Ph: Rafal Wojnowski.

Nice how things kind of went full circle (again)… So now that you’re an adult (sort of) what’s it like going on these Palace trips now?
Next level banging man, it’s constant laughs with all the boys from the moment you wake up.  Detroit was my first trip and it was basically the full team. We had some crazy Airbnb that was like a mansion… Basically every night we’d get mash up, but would always make it out skating the next day. Like a responsible mash up… Although we did go to some super gnarly after-hours bar where they sold chizzle and balloons behind the bar and some crazy shootout popped off just outside…

Mellow one, ha ha. What about Shanghai? Looked like a laugh that one.
Right so basically we went over there for a two-week trip to film some clips but there was also a Palace pop up shop out there, so it wasn’t just the skate team it was the other guys from the office like Lev and Gareth and stuff. So it was more of a relaxed skate trip… They had the pop up shop open for like a week whilst we were there and on the last night Freddie Gibbs played… It was sick he was such a legend. Charlie Young even got on stage with him ha ha…
While we were there we also went to this massive black market place where they were selling everything… We were all getting these fake Rolexes and that and there was loads of Palace shit there! And because we were wearing it they were like ‘you want to buy Palace?’ ha ha.  So we went to have a look at this one stand to see what it was like and they were selling these socks in the same packaging and everything as the real Palace ones and in the triangle it said ‘C.YOUNG’ like how they have the name in the videos. So this Chinese knock off shop turned Charlie Young pro ha ha. He bought some as well.

Feeble grind. Ph: Rafal Wojnowski.

Sounds like a nice bonding trip. It’s been over a year now since Ben Raemer’s suicide and I know you have known him since you were young… I was wondering if you maybe wanted to talk about that and maybe how it’s changed things?
Yeah definitely… I’ve known Ben since I was young; it goes back to him being associated with the shop and me meeting people that way. Everyone already knows he’s the biggest legend ever, but when I was a kid and we would go skate it would always be the funniest sessions, plus he’d really get you to do stuff and push you.
Obviously that shit isn’t nice at all but what it has done is changed how everyone in the skate community has started talking about mental health. And I think that’s so important at the end of the day because I don’t care who you are, every single person has got something going on and a lot of the time the large majority of us finds it difficult to talk about. Often because in our heads we think we’d be burdening somebody else with our shit… This has just shown how important it is to talk to our friends and to be a bit more proactive about trying to be aware of what shit other people might have going on. Making sure they don’t feel alone. Lucy, Ben’s sister is an absolute legend, what they are all doing with the Ben Raemers Foundation to raise awareness about this stuff is so sick. I feel like the way we approach these conversations is important too because if you associate talking about mental health with an awkward conversation then you might not want to talk about it as much. We need to beat the stigma associated with having these conversations. People go through bad times and your mind is not always gonna be calm… Sometimes it might even be for a year or two, or three or five there’s no time limit to this but at the end of the day you just can’t ever give up. Sometimes you might feel like you’ve hit rock bottom but you can only go up from there.

Frontside lipslide. Ph: Sam Ashley.

Well said marra. And yeah I agree, it definitely feels like we’ve all been having way more of an open conversation about all this in the last year…
So what’s the plan Charlie?
What’s the plan? Hmm the plan… The plan is to take life as it fucking comes mate; you never know where you’re going to be in a few years time. I just want to keep skating and keep enjoying it while it lasts… At the end of the day this is something I’ve wanted to be doing since I was a kid and I’m doing it now and it’s banging. There’s no point in trying to plan too much all the time… Like when I did try to plan the idea was to go uni, skate and get a sick job and all this and two years down the line that’s completely changed. I feel so lucky to be able to do this and have the best people I could ever wish for around me and helping me, being there for me looking after my best interests. I don’t ever feel like I’m pressured to do anything and even when I was a kid with my brother and my dad, they were just down as long as I was having a laugh with it!

Yeah you definitely seem like you’re happy with what you doing now and where you’re at.
Yeah from quite young I was getting hooked up with free stuff, which is sick when you’re a kid, but now as I’m older and skating more it’s nice to feel a part of something rather than just getting free stuff. You know what Palace is like; it’s the boys! It’s good to feel fully included and accepted. Plus like Kyle (Wilson), Heitor (Da Silva) and Austin are all a similar age as me… It’s the best.

How did you start hanging out with Austin actually?
Just coming down to London when I was like 15/16 on my own during the school holidays…
Like around when we filmed that ‘Summer In The City’ thing. We had some fun times just running around the streets being little terrors, jamming at SB and getting waved by the river and all sorts. I got my first ever blowie at South Bank upstairs and that shit would never happen in Liverpool because I was always with the elders and they would keep an eye on me… And now I’m here!

Was it after the blowie that you knew you had to move here?

Backside 360. Ph: Reece Leung.