Causing A Scene – The R.A.D. Book

Hugo Carey, frontside slash, Meanwhile Gardens, London, 1978. Ph. Tim Leighton-Boyce

It’s happening… Read And Destroy the book that is. After years of archiving photos, scanning slides and looking for funding, a hardcover publication about the seminal UK skate magazine from the late ‘80s to mid-‘90s can be in your hands very soon. We spoke to Dan Adams, former R.A.D. designer and chief archivist for the project, to find out a little more.

– Will Harmon

Do you want to start by talking about the origins of Read And Destroy aka R.A.D. and how it started as a BMX mag and then transitioned into a skateboarding magazine?
Dan Adams: Yes, it’s explained in some length in the book, but really the pivotal character in all of this is Tim Leighton-Boyce. He was originally photographing skateboarding in the late 1970s. It was something that he’d fallen in love with and he wanted to record it on film. Because of the pressures of wanting to be a professional photographer, and skateboarding fading into such semi insignificance in the early ‘80s, he ended up having to shoot BMX, which he shot very well, and became very much part of that scene. He was working at a BMX magazine called BMX Action Bike, but he always wanted to be able to push skateboarding some way and his words were ‘we were trying to slip skateboarding in wherever we could.’ And in the mid-’80s there was a kind of Zeitgeist going on, skateboarding was making a resurgence. Skaters were picking up BMX bikes to lurk around on and some BMXers had gotten skateboards. So there was this strange cross pollination. At the same time, there was also a very split culture. They didn’t always get on so well, but Tim saw an opportunity when there was a change of publisher, a change of personnel, and there was a knock-on effect where he saw the chance to get more skateboarding in the magazine. And it just took off. The moment was right; right place, right time. The Zeitgeist let it happen.

And this was around 1987 when it evolved into a skateboarding magazine?
It still wasn’t fully a skateboard magazine at that point, they had a three or maybe four issue transition from BMX Action Bike to R.A.D. magazine. And it was very much at that point still what they called ‘action on alternative wheels’. They couldn’t just drop their BMX circulation and their advertisers and their fans. They needed to make this kind of mellow transition. But it became very obvious very quickly that the biggest interest for all of them was skateboarding, which was a bitter pill to swallow for a lot of the BMX enthusiasts. They got a lot of heat for it and still do actually, a lot of people felt really burned. But by the same token, there was this whole new aud- ience who were really into it all.

Ian Roxburgh cover artwork with black-and-white Xerox, type treatments and hand-drawn headlines. Issue 77, July 1989. Ph. Tim Leighton-Boyce

So R.A.D. magazine ran from 1987 to 1995, but interestingly the R.A.D. book that you’re working on now covers from before that, from the late ‘70s. Do you want to explain why that is?
Because I felt it was an important legacy. So a lot of the people that will have picked up R.A.D. magazine are probably the guys that picked up skateboards, because they’d seen Back to the Future and all that kind of thing. It’s a very specific age range. But me personally, and the people that made the magazine, Tim and other associates, we were of an earlier generation, and we had discovered skateboarding in the middle to late ‘70s. Tim had discovered it about that period, and it’s where the magazine was birthed in a way. That generation were the people that went on to make zines and went on to cut the first super-8 movies of UK skateboarding. So the first kind of media if you like, but that was a weird kind of underground zine-based media, but it was birthed from that late ‘70s scene. And I felt it was really important for the generation that maybe knew nothing about that, to just get an under-standing of it. And just to realise that there’s this legacy.

And these early photos will all be by Tim Leighton-Boyce?
Yes, he kind of was the only guy that wanted to be a professional photographer, that was really shooting consistently, and trying to document something in a concerted way. There were some very good photographers that worked at Skateboard! magazine, which finished in ‘79, and they all quit. They just saw themselves as jobbing, young photographers, and they obviously weren’t particularly in love with skateboarding, or not in love with it enough, to want to just go on and continue to document it. So they fell away, but Tim carried on.

John Farmer, backside lipslide, Oxford Road, Manchester, 1991. Ph. Tim Leighton-Boyce

I was told that actually Tim wasn’t even a skater himself.
That’s right.

And I heard that he’d have these slideshow viewing parties with the other skaters at R.A.D. of the photos he’d shot…
That’s right, well, this goes back a bit further… Actually the slideshow really is more in the ‘70s, so when he was learning I think he had a sort of built in insecurity about what he was doing, you know? Perhaps he wasn’t entirely sure of what it was he was capturing at first, but he was obviously enjoying capturing it, because he’d always been very interested in the idea of movement in space and architecture and how the human body interacts with those things. That was something that he was just into, so skateboarding encapsulated that perfectly for him. So in his process of learning how to photograph skateboarding, he would do these slideshows with some of the better skateboarders and they would go ‘oh, that’s a sick shot! That’s a lame shot.’ and get more of a sense of what was a more optimum capture or something like that. Perhaps because he wasn’t skating himself, he wasn’t as aware at that time of what that kind of decisive moment in a skateboard manoeuvre actually
is. But strangely enough, it is my theory that we as skateboarders have all learned what those decisive moments are because of the skateboard photographers. They’re the guys that have caught the peak action moment and showed us what it is actually.

I think you’re right.
One of Tim’s great strengths, and something that other photographers have said, is that they wished they’d had half his curiosity, as Tim would turn around and shoot the other shit that was going on in the background. Most guys are just focused on the tricks and action. That’s a great gift that Tim’s viewpoint has given us.

Left to right: Marc Bultitude, Simon Evans and Matt Stuart, 1991. Ph. Tim Leighton-Boyce

So at what point did you work at R.A.D. as a designer in that timeline?
I was the third designer, and really only there for about a year in the very early ‘90s.

But you were very active within the skate scene in London…
Yeah… I mean I’d known Tim since I was pretty much a kid. I guess we all knew Tim, or anybody in London at that time who was remotely engaged with skateboarding knew Tim, because he was around taking pictures. Then, at one point, he had a very short tenure involved with the English Skateboard Association, and I’d worked with him on putting together a European contest at Crystal Palace, as I ran a ramp there. And so I would say I was very much involved in the London scene at that time.

So this leads to another question… How did you kind of become the custodian of the R.A.D. archive and so personally involved with all this?
Partly because Tim trusted me with his material and partly because at the time, when
I started working on this book project, I had space to take the archive out of Tim’s storage. And I very quickly saw how wonderful it was. I was sort of reminded of just how much stuff was there and that it needed to be organised in some way. I felt that we needed to be organised in a kind of narrative way with a start, a middle and an end, and with a timeline. And just getting my head back into that time and place suddenly got me organising it.

Mark Gonzales, boneless, Latimer Road, London, 1987. Ph. Tim Leighton-Boyce

And so by doing that, did the idea of making a book arise?
The idea of the book came first, I think we’d sat down as a group, and when I say we, I mean a small group of the main photographers of the first couple of years of R.A.D. magazine along with Tim had sat down and I mean, this is insane, but this was probably 20 years ago. I think not long after Dogtown and Z-Boys came out we were like, ‘hey, how come these guys get to tell their stories?’ And we’re like, ‘we got good stories, too!’ We knew Tim had this insane archive and we knew all these other guys had shoved their stuff under the table and forgotten about it. So we were like, ‘we need to get this out.’

I see…
But you know how these projects go, you spend six months on it, and then someone has a kid and then someone goes on vacation and suddenly like 12 years have slipped by with a couple of false starts, and then I think in 2016 roughly New Balance offered to help us out with a bit of money to kickstart the project and get it going again, which was a great incentive.
Suddenly I could actually spend some time on it without having to work on other projects and that helped move it ahead.

Fordham Park, New Cross, London, 1978. Ph. Tim Leighton-Boyce

But still, 2016 was eight years ago. What other hurdles have you had in making this book?
We tried self-publishing as an initial get go (with a Kick- starter campaign in 2018) and we were kind of over ambitious… But what that did do was give us an amazing sense of the support that was out there for it and the love for it. Honestly, the feedback and the way that people stepped in on that was quite amazing for us. We knew people would be interested, but we didn’t realise they’d be so full of warmth and good feelings. It was really extraordinary…

It really validated all the time and work you had put into it…
Absolutely. But it was also a little bit of a blow (when the Kickstarter didn’t raise the intended goal) and it was kind of embarrassing to go back with your tail between your legs and try and do it again. So I’ve spent the last few years mooching around looking for publishers and talking to people and that takes time if you’re not doing it all day long every day. The Pandemic happened, you know, that was two years out of everybody’s life, but by one chance or another, we were introduced to a publisher, ACC Art Books, who were super enthusiastic from the get go, and have been amazing in terms of making this book a reality. Because it’s such a difficult thing to do with all this old analogue material…

Tony Hawk, frontside rock, Copenhagen, 1988. Ph. Tim Leighton-Boyce

Oh I’m sure.
It’s not something publishers want to invest in digitising 300 to 400 old slides. It costs a fortune to do that.

You had an amazing list of contributors and people that worked for R.A.D. Would you talk about some of these people?
I mean, we had Luke Ogden, Spike Jonze… All the UK guys, you know, Skin Phillips, Paul Sunman from Slam City, Mike John, Vernon Adams, whose nom de plume was Jay Podesta… He was photographing all over the world… David Walsh from Aus- tralia… I mean, there were a ton of international photographers: Grant Brittain would submit pic- tures, Steve Keenan… Wherever Tim could spend budget, he would, and he knew that in order to make a magazine really relevant you needed to include the Tony Hawks of this world. And also the fact that Steve (Douglas) was bringing in all this incredibly current news from the States it was often accompanied with these great pictures that Chris Ortiz had shot. He was another big contributor. So yeah, the great and the good all kind of ran through the doors at some point. I mean, we were very privileged in that sense.

So what can we expect the R.A.D. book to include?
Essentially it will be a very British perspective. So I’ve just told you about all of those legendary American photographers, but we decided at this stage, and maybe there’s another stage later on, but at this stage we wanted to celebrate the British photographers and their viewpoint of this world. So whether they were shooting in the UK, or whether they’ve gone to Copenhagen or to California to shoot, it was skateboarding through their lens; we felt that it was important to let these guys have their voice.

READ AND DESTROY Skateboarding Through a British Lens ’78 –’95 will be available in July, 2024. Pre-order your copy here

Curtis McCann, frontside melon, Meanwhile 2, London, 1991. Ph. Tim Leighton-Boyce