The Sunday Social with drummer Mark Richardson

Published: 05 November 2017

For this week's Sunday Social we spoke with Mark Richardson, drummer with British band Skunk Anansie, and off-road and adventure lover.

Hi Mark, what’s for breakfast at the café?

“I tend not to do breakfast, I just do coffee. ´very now and then I’ll have a big fry up, but not very often. As long as I’m in the band I’ve got to try and keep relatively fit so I tend to miss breakfast out. I think there’s a big myth that everyone has to have breakfast because it gets your metabolism going and all that but I’m not so sure. I think there’s a lot to be said for just giving your body a bit of time to digest lunch and dinner.”

Michael (Guy, MCN Sport Editor) does something similar I think – he has a specific window where he eats.

“Yeah, I think the tide’s turning on what we’ve been told we should eat for all these decades, and I think your body needs a lot of time to process the big meals you have. I know a few people that do it now – a lot of the Bike Shed staff don’t have breakfast.”

What’s your mission on a Sunday ride?

“I love ripping around London, both on a Sunday when it’s not so busy and when it is really busy. I know that sounds weird, but it presents itself as a challenge for me and I really enjoy it. I used to do a lot of enduro at clubman level and I really enjoyed it, so sometimes a meandering, relaxing ride is not what I want. I really enjoy the challenging of avoiding idiots in cars. But I also love riding to the coast, visiting the pub in Dell Quay and riding on all those amazing roads we’ve got down here in the Surrey hills. Maybe I need to do the Africa Eco Rally that I’ve been banging on about.”

That rings a bell.

“It used to be called Heroes Legend and it follows the original Paris-Dakar route. Quite often you get Dakar riders ding it just for the practice and stuff. I did once have dreams of ding the Dakar, but I don’t think I’d want to do that now, just because of the expense. People remortgage their houses to do it and that’s a bit too far for me. The Africa Eco Rally would be a good slice of it, just to get a feel what it might have been like.”

Is off-roading where you started?

“Yeah, I started on my brother-in-law’s Bultaco trials bike. He also had a two-stroke Suzuki motocross bike and I just used to borrow them. Riding those bikes and watching Barry Sheene on the TV ignited the flame. I think that’s a common story for a lot of people my age. I couldn’t afford my own bike and my dad wouldn’t help me because he thought they were too dangerous so I just used to sneak off to the moors with my brother-in-law. Then I went off and did Skunk Anansie for quite some time and I was just away all the time so there was no point having any vehicle, never mind a bike. Then when I joined Feeder I had loads of spare time because the singer did everything in that band, so I took up enduro riding again. I did a lot of days on the Yamaha off-road school and they really brought me on – I probably went up about 11 times and then I started entering local hare and hound races down here and loved it. I did that for 10 years before it tailed off again when Skunk Anansie got back together - there’s a lot to do when you’re not signed to a label! That was a really long way of saying I’d really like to get another off-road bike and start doing enduro races again.”

How long was that first break?

“I started riding when I was at school – in about 1986 I think, and then I didn’t pass my test until 1996, so quite a while. I was on the road quite a lot because I started off with a band called Little Angels, and they toured a lot. When I joined Skunk it was just non-stop until we split up in 2001 and then I got my first bike – a CB500 – because everybody told me they’re amazing and they never broke down. It seized on me on the A1, so that was bullsh*t! I still really enjoy road riding – sometimes I get back from London and think ‘bloody hell that was hairy’, but I kind of like that in a way. I’ve got a little slogan on my number plate that says ‘don’t fear dying, fear not living’, and I really live by that. What terrifies me the most is really not living my life to the full. If something happens on the bike then so be it. I just get too much of a thrill from it to give it up. I haven’t had a drink or taken any drugs for 15 years, and I need something to get off my head because life can be a bit tough and a bit dull sometimes. Bikes really do fill that gap for me, that gap of getting out of myself, you know?”

Getting a buzz?

“Yeah, getting a buzz and sort of being in the moment, I suppose. Not to get too hippy dippy but being in the moment is just so rare for me. I’m very heady and a deep thinker, apparently – that’s what my wife keeps telling me, anyway!”

It sounds like your riding career comes in stages. You have months where you’re too busy to ride at all?

“Yeah, when we tour it’s mainly through the festival season, so we might do 35-50 festivals in the summer, but we do it every other year, which is why I like to do lots of other things. I’ve just gone back to school and started a Masters in coaching in order to properly coach young musician addicts that are struggling, because there’s a reason that a lot of musicians and artistic people will struggle with addiction, and I really wanted to pass on my knowledge with that and hep others. I want to have the proper tools to do that, and the Masters I’m doing with Barefoot Coaching was the only one to offer that and that is accredited by a proper university. I also work at The Bike Shed one or two days a week depending how much time I’ve got.”

What do you do at The Bike Shed?

“I help them with events – last year I helped with The Bike Shed Shows. Mostly I just go in when they need an extra pair of hands. I love the scene there, it’s a really nice place to be and I do a lot of studying there as well – it’s just a really great place to hang out, being surrounded by likeminded people and custom bikes. You can get a decent lunch and have your haircut as well! I love it there and they’re just really great people.”

You’ve really embraced the custom scene, whereas some people seem to be a bit more cynical about it and call it the hipster scene.

“Yeah, I think that’s a quite narrow-minded view of it because what they’re actually doing is much broader than the scene. They’ve already moved into a bigger thing by customising new bikes, and I think they’re doing an amazing job advertising motorcycling to the next generation as well.”

That’s what’s needed at the minute.

“Well yeah, the Government are always trying to find ways to clamp down on us aren’t they. You only have to look at the investment cycling has got compared to motorcycling – it’s really unfair. Bikes are a brilliant way to get about, they’re cost effective and they’re better for the environment than cars. It’s a night mare getting in to Shoreditch in the van, but on the bike it’s brilliant. The scene part of it – you can buy into it or not. I do because I love the whole thing, I love the lifestyle aspect. I’ve got some friends who don’t get it, though.”

I think it’s nice to have the lifestyle aspect back in biking, because that’s something that’s been missing really for as long as I’ve been riding.

“Exactly, you get to live it in a way that people may be used to do in the fifties and sixties before it disappeared somewhat.”

I think there was a slight lifestyle aspect to it in the nineties when sportsbikes were massive but that’s different.

“Yeah, fair point. It was different but it was there. I love the fact that technology is now allowing us to wear protective clothing that looks half decent as well – that’s a big bonus to me. If I’m on the Triumph Explorer I’ll just wear wet weather gear, but if I’m on the Bonneville I don’t want to wear that stuff – I want to look the part. It might sound fickle but that’s just my choice – I absolutely love it.”

Do you find riding a bike helps you as a musician to come up with ideas?

“Yeah, definitely there’s an element of reflection that I get from riding a bike. I know I said that I’m really in the moment when I’m riding a bike, but I’m also in quite a state of deep reflection, thinking about everything that’s going on as well. That sounds like a contradiction, but it’s just this weird state that kind of happens. I don’t know if it makes any sense.”

It makes sense to me – it’s the state I seem to find myself in a lot – especially on longer rides.

“Yeah – I’ve done so many big trips and I just end up getting in a really meditative state where I’m zoned out but really focussed. It’s really weird to try and explain but hopefully some of your readers will be able to resonate with it.”

I think I’ve read somewhere that that’s the ideal state for things like riding because you’re relying just on instinct.

“Yeah, and sometimes you just want to keep going – there are days that are just absolute bliss and you never want it to stop. Those are the days that we live for as riders I think. I’m desperate for a long trip again. My wife and I did California a couple of years ago. We went from L.A to San Francisco on the coast and the back down through the mountains.”

Were you on a Harley?

“No! We did it on a Bonneville, two-up with all the luggage. It was the best – just a standard Bonneville, and we had loads of big Americans saying we’d never make it but it was an absolute dream.”

You said no to the Harley-Davidson suggestion as if you don’t like them.

“I’ve had a few – a Dyna, a Softail and a custom Sportster. The Sportster fell to bits one day. Our bass player is crazy about them – I think he’s got six or seven now. He’s a Harley and Indian nut, but I prefer something a little bit more dynamic, with a bit more performance I know the Explorer is an adventure bike but it really goes. Bikes like that are where my heart belongs really. I have the Bonneville as well because I wanted a really beautiful custom Bonneville, but they all perform beautifully. I just got sick of having a bad back and crap performance with the Harleys. I guess they’ve got better but I’ve not ridden them so I can’t comment. I was always yearning for more performance. I’d take an adventure bike over a Harley in the future I think.”

It sounds like you’ve tried most things then when it comes to bikes.

“Yeah, I’ve tried a lot. I’m a bit big for sportsbikes but I love the Fireblade as well – I only just fit! I like to go to the Haslam School once a year because there’s nothing riding like one of them flat out. Well, you think you’re going flat out and then the instructor comes past on one wheel telling you to give it some! I love the fact that there’s so much more to learn. My experience of speed, for example, is so different to a MotoGP rider. They’re getting upto 200mph and more now. I know I’m never going to be a MotoGP rider, but I love aspiring to that and maybe one day getting a bit faster. Maybe going around Donington in 1:55 instead of 1:58. I was just really chuffed when I broke the 2 minute barrier, but then it just blew my mind how fast Rossi went round there.”

Well he’s got a better bike!

“Okay, yeah we’ll say that! And better tyres!”

It’s one thing you see here at MCN – just how many levels of riders there are. 

“Exactly, there’s just levels and levels. I don’t know if it’s a calibration thing in your brain – whether you can learn to do it. Maybe it’s the same with drums, I can want to be one of those amazing, technical drummers and put in 10 hours a day of practice but I’ll never be them. My love of biking is just about wanting to improve all the time. It’s not wanting to be the best but just wanting to steadily improve – I think that makes you a safer rider.”

It’s always difficult to feel good enough, though, because you get to that stage and then you want to go a bit quicker!

“The first time I went to the Ron Haslam School I thought I was going fat and the Ron came past me on the back wheel with a pillion! Then I went on the back later. I’ve been on the back of Randy Mamola as well, but riding pillion with Ron was the most ferocious f*cking experience I think I’ve ever had. I never realised how racers treated their bikes – they just slap them around. It’s full throttle or full brake – there’s nothing in between. It’s a brilliant experience if you get chance to do it. It’s one thing wanting to learn to do wheelies or whatever but you’ve got to enjoy the process of getting there as well.”

How did you find the Hard Alpi event you did a few years ago?

“We did it twice, and I think the first time we did it – when we slept – was worse than the time when we didn’t sleep. We went round the first time and got to a cowshed 16 hours in and tried to get our heads down for an hour. It was the worst because we fell into enough of a deep sleep to want to sleep more, but not enough for it to do any good, so the second time we just rested for 15 minutes and ate loads of food – that was much better. That worked so much better that Michael Guy carried on and did the full 36 hours, whereas we just stuck to the 24 hours. The guy’s a machine when it comes to off-road riding. It was an incredibly experience. The challenge of it is riding on Alpine trails with sheer drops and little sleep. Keeping yourself together when you’re so tired is the challenge.”

Would you do it again?

“Definitely, that’s why I want to do the Africa Eco Rally. The problem with that is I need a good six months at least to prepare and a lot of money. It’s not just a case of getting a rally bike prepared – I’d have to learn how to use a road book and get bike fit again. We’ll see – I’d love to do more off-road stuff, and my wife asked why I don’t do it anymore.”

She wants you out of the house, you’re spending too much time at home!

“Yeah! She loves it, she loves coming on the back and she rides as well. She’s got a customised CG125 that has a Racefit exhaust on it which I had made for a laugh! It’s ridiculous because it’s this 1979 blacked out CG125 with drum brakes and a ridiculous Racefit exhaust! She wants to sell it and get something a bit more usable, but I don’t want the exhaust to go!”

Somebody will get a unique CG125 if you do sell it!

“Yeah, they will! It’s not the most powerful thing in the world but it get you in to town and back.”

What does the future hold on two wheels aside from the Africa Eco Rally?

“Yeah, well hopefully the rally. Lots of riding in and out of London for song writing and stuff. We’d really like to do a trip in Norway. The last trip me and my wife did was a huge trip round Scotland, which was amazing. I knew it was beautiful, but there are parts of it that look like a different planet. The west coast is some of the best scenery I think I’ve ever seen in the UK. We had our stoves and tent and it was brilliant. More trips like that would be great as well – finding the remote places you can’t in in a car. There’s not many of them left, though. This talk has really made me miss the hare and hound races as well.”