Interview: Ben Part – Sideburn

Posted on March 3, 2016 in Art, Design, Music, People, Wheels — Share this via


Here are Wheels on Toast we’re huge magazine fans, always have been, always will be. That feeling of getting a new magazine, smelling the print, straining the spine open for the first time, its just rad. I’ve always had to buy a lot of different mags to cover all my interests and Sideburn has always been the one that caters for ‘motorised stuff on two wheels’ category. It was Sideburns covers that originally hooked me and I still get excited to see what direction the latest issue will take and I’ve never been disappointed. Ben Parts been at the helm of Sideburns creative tiller since the start of the magazine. Personally I don’t think its hyperbolic to suggest the stylistic footprint he’s put on it is as distinctive as anything David Carson or Neville Brody did at their titles (just with less money maybe), but thats only my two pence worth. Anyway I put a shout out to Ben who took a few minutes to tell us about Sideburn, his inspiration, his bikes, and of course his trademark bins (they’re spectacles for those of you who don’t speak cockney).

Spoiler alert: When I was halfway through reading these questions from Ben he dropped the bomb that he’s departing the good ship Sideburn! So its fitting timing to celebrate all that he’s bought to the mag, whilst looking forward to future projects and for Sideburn to continue being as rad as ever.

Whats your background, did you study design/photography or work in the industry before Sideburn?

No design background. At Liverpool School of Art, did a degree in sculpture which morphed into installations (which needed photography for documentation and so set the compass for the next phase). Then a Masters in photography at the Royal College of Art in London. I’ve worked in darkrooms, film processing labs and as a commercial & editorial photographer but never previously within the magazine or graphics world. Working on a building site in Germany probably not relevant either.

Any personal creative heroes and influences?

Having seen just two photos from The Bike Riders series from Danny Lyon on a calendar in my Dads office as a kid, that probably sowed the seed. Many years later had the honour of a personal crit’ with him at the RCA. I suppose he is my classical base and an obvious influence on the black & white series I shot on the Mean Fuckers. More colourful and graphic influences are pulled from wider fields of fashion and music. From the bright colours of William Eggleston, the typography of David Carson, the mundane humour of English photographer Peter Fraser, the drama of Spaniard Txema Yeste. Now the internet has exploded the college library sphere, it’s impossible to cite one sole source. Instagram puts the compass in a daily spin.
Photo: Ben Part

What magazines did you grow up reading and any you’d recommend today?

The Face (RIP) & iD were my Koran as a youth. Intersection, when it launched, was a very welcome breath of fresh air for automotive magazines, but dissatisfied with motorcycle magazines I rarely bought any. Sometimes Back Street Heroes as its sadly all there was available in the UK covering choppers – which was my first love. DiCE set a new template. Without what Matt & Dean started, there would be no Sideburn.

Did you and Gary have a master plan for Sideburn, how’d it come together?

None. Prior to ever having met, we’d simultaneously taken mental note of each others work (mine for Davida helmets & DiCE, his in Performance Bikes). Then Gary emailed me out of the blue & suggested we work together. I was living in Amsterdam at the time & organised a week-long road trip around Holland visiting various bike movers and groovers which we put together for an extended feature in PB. We got on really well, & he told me he wanted to start a dirt track /street tracker magazine. He had already thought of the name Hot Shoe (the metal plate shoe that flat trackers wear on their left foot) but Google searches primarily throw up the camera flash mount of the same word, so that wasn’t going to work. I came up with a list of alternatives.SIDEBURN was the obvious winner. Gary asked me to design a logo, then two days later, to be creative director.
So no market research. We just went headfirst into it. We weren’t sure if there would be enough content or interest to keep it going. I was still working as a freelance commercial photographer, so it didn’t need to make me money to start with. We didn’t pay our selves for the first couple of issues. I was OK with Photoshop but knew nothing about InDesign when I started, so I had to get Kar Lee (the then designer of Performance Bikes to make the final PDFs). It was a vertical learning curve, but very exciting. Finally after eight years the knowledge and mechanisms are all bedded in place.

Photo: Ben Part

My personal favourite cover is the Dave Arnold issue 15, the colours and angles are amazing, which are your favourites?

Thanks. it was a lot of fun to shoot. All the ingredients came together in magical serendipity. And even more amazing when you know its Wigan & not SoCal. In terms of pushing the envelope of what regular motorbike magazines look like I was pleased with issue #7, Tim White’s shot of Bryan Smith where most of the subject is on the back cover. If Sideburn had been published by a conglomerate publishing house, we would definitely not been allowed to get away with that obscurity. Being fully independent meant minimal money but more creative freedom.
#13 the black & white technical line drawing by Mick Ofield of the big-tube Wood Norton, was a minimal but bold change – Gary & I only had sporadic arm wrestles disagreements – the black text on this one being one of them, but I won my corner in the end!
#19 Lenny Shuurmans speedway jellyfish illustration still makes me chuckle.

Illustration: Mick Ofield

You must be really proud of DirtQuake, and you’ve recently had it ‘on ice’, whats next for the event?

Yes 4 in the UK 2 in the USA. 1 in Italy. We’ve done a feature on beach racing at blustering Mablethorpe, so Quick Sand (or such like) would be an obvious choice. There is quite a lot of indoor racing in the States, some of which is done on polished concrete where you wear carpet hot shoes instead of metal. Carpet Burn, even just so as to use the name, is pretty irresistible – & we wouldn’t have to worry about the insecurities of the British weather.

Other than Sideburn are you a gun for hire for other art direction and photograph? What other projects have you worked on?

In recent years Sideburn increasingly took over my life, allowing me no time to sling for anybody else.
Gary has recently decided he wants to take sole command of Sideburn and asked me to leave. The next issue will be designed by somebody else. I’m very excited to be free to shoot from the hip once again.
Photos: Sam Christmas/ Fly

Having ridden motocross bikes as a kid and BMXing and skating all my life, I got into motorcycles again from knowing Max Schaaf as a skater. Do you see parallels between these cultures?

A lot of Sideburn fans have come to us through those same channels. Surprisingly when we have spoken to Speedway people – who should be cousins if not brothers to us, they have often not ‘got’ Sideburn. I think thats because Sideburn is not just about a serious motorcycle sport but a more street aware & influenced fool hardy fun attitude.

You seem a very sartorially considered chap, what are some of your favourite garms?

Ha! I used to make a lot more effort. I need to delve back into the Mr Benn dressing up box.
Me, Gary, Dave Skooterfarm Arnold, & sub editor Mick Phillips all went suited & booted to Verrona for the big January Expo a few years ago (before the Distinguised Gents Ride re-popularised tweed) for which I scored an amazing fitted Dunn & Co coat from a charity shop in Cowbridge, Glamorgan, paired with some plus-fours from a Mole Valley farm shop, and some white Trickers brogue boots, but my most precious item would be my Ruby x Elykishimoto flash pattern silk scarf.

Video: Carl Pollard

Any spectacle wearing style icons?

I had tried to track down any info on my current frames, old Rodenstock Wallis, but came up blank. Then weeks later, on an unrelated Google search, randomly came up with a Russian postage stamp of the infamous Cambridge 6 KGB/MI5 double-agent Kim Philby, wearing the exact same model. I consequently managed to find the photo that the stamp illustration was based on.

What was your first motorcycle?

A Honda C90 Cub. I wanted a 90S Vespa but my step-dad vetoed the purchase. I loved it, & would happily ride from my home in Wiltshire up to Liverpool, via Hereford & into Wales, for college.

Which bike (or vehicle) do you wish you’d never sold?

None, they all had their time. After I sold the C90 to my younger brother, I bought a Honda CM250T for £100 which I rode to Spain & up to Scotland to visit my girlfriend (breaking down cluelessly on the M5 on my first ride). It was a Harley-Fuckin-Davidson to me, even if in reality it was only a Superdream in modest disguise. I sold it for £250 with no regrets. I haven’t managed to sell any of the remaining three since – although the Sideburn project Honda FT500 (with Death Spray Custom paint job as featured in the Ride II book) is now for sale if you are interested?! £4000. I rode it in the Pyrenees during wheels & Waves, its a great half-pint bike but my shed is bursting.
Photos: Paul Bryant / Dale Lomas

Your Guzzi is pretty famous in its own right and I saw its back on the road this year, whats the story behind it?

I used to catch fleeting glimpses & the rumble of transverse-V waddle, from a California going around Sefton Park in Liverpool & I set my heart on one, but didn’t have any money, & as the internet was still yet to be invented, it wasn’t like you could easily find out any information about desirable bikes or their whys & wherefores. When I moved to London & started working as a chef I had to walk past a Le Mans everyday parked up in a bike bay. Its strange fugglyness grew on me & the shape of my love-interest changed. Then seeing Rob Carr’s caff’d one was the clincher. I moved to France and still didn’t have enough for a Lemon but realised that the less desirable T-series were essentially the same. I ended up buying the most ugly/cheap of them all, SP1000 for 14000 Francs & then just spent money on modifying it when I could. We’ve been together for 25 years, she’s a keeper.

A quick top 5 current, or all time fav songs?

Ageispolis by Aphex Twin (reach for the lasers in your head)
Eutow by Autechre (great road soundtrack)
Pyramid by Fourtet – Atoms for Peace remix (current play-it-to-death fave)
Uncertain Smile by The The (log standing fave)
Fish Fish Fish by Mr Scruff (when life is getting too serious)

Can you do us a one minute sketch of anything that springs to mind?

Here’s a sketch of my beloved Moulton

Visit Ben’s Instagram here and Sideburns website here

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