Christmas Collector Countdown 2023 #22: Old So Kool book 2 – The Lost Years

OSK book
A daily post throughout December of records, CDs, books, comics or other ephemera that I’ve bought or been given recently from independent artists, labels or publishers who would welcome your support. 

#22. Old So Kool book 2 – The Lost Years

A huge second volume of 80s UK graffiti photos and interviews compiled by Paul Pilgrim and Steven O’Hara. 400+ pages sourced from photo albums and black books from back in the day and a follow up to the first volume from last year – an incredible feat in such a short space of time. I was supposed to have photos in the original but didn’t get my shit together so made up for it this time round.

The Lost Years expands upon the first volume, covering the same time frame (the 80s) with a couple of differences. There are a few standalone sections aside from the geographical locations most of the book is grouped into, namely a look at the legendary Bridlington Jam, a tribute to departed writers and a ‘where are they now’type round up of key contributors. These slightly sparser chapters work well and serve to break up the visual overload of the other sections in which as many images as possible have been fitted on every page.

That such a sprawling urban artform grew out of a few books, films, record sleeves and magazine articles is fascinating, us 80s kids were certainly inspired – Subway Art being ‘the original handbook’ for most. You can see styles evolving all over the country but with a uniformity from writers who would never even see each other’s work – let alone meet – as everyone was cribbing from the same limited sources for a while. Of course the Americans were the first inspiration – you can see the character styles of Doze Green or Gnome copied here and there but unique styles and voices were held in highest regard. Cribbing off of other UK writers was inevitable though, The Chrome Angels being the most obvious as they were the most visible initially unless you were lucky enough to be able to travel abroad. You can also see British comic characters from 2000AD and computer games cropping up to replace the Marvel superheros and Vaughn Bodé lizards and wizards, a more angular computer style here, an abstract piece there.

I remember many trying to find their own identity rather than fit in with existing styles but for the most part though it’s a name and a character, with complimentary backgrounds and tags – in every conceivable permutation. There are few huge productions as you see regularly these days, a ladder was as far as you got, no cherry-pickers here and the paint quality was sometimes dubious at best with photographic skills even more sketchy. This is my only bugbear with the book, in trying to document so much it sacrifices quality for quantity and there are pieces that I personally would have disqualified on grounds of picture quality or artistic merit.

But then the graffiti world has always had its own set of politics and guidelines and maybe it’s a good thing that Paul and Steven haven’t played gatekeepers to what was a budding sub culture, learning from itself with sometimes the most meagre of resources. They’ve compiled a vast and unique snapshot in time of an urban artform’s formative years from all over the UK, something no one’s attempted before on this scale. Coupled with the first book, The Lost Years offers a time capsule of thousands of artworks, 99% of which I’d wager no longer exist, and a peek into the imaginations of a generation of kids who decided to make the streets their own galleries. And that’s to be applauded.


The piece middle right above was the first piece of graffiti in my home town of Reigate, it appeared in two halves initially (hence the ‘Rusty again’ tag) and word spread around the town like wildfire. This was painted by Russel Mears aka Rusty Spray who is now sadly no longer with us – more about him here.
OSK inside

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *