“I have heard of the greatness of Liverpool but the reality far surpasses my expectation” Prince Albert
Hell, with an opening quote like that, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’d exhumed His Royal Highness to take ina a weekend on Merseyside for what has fast become the most invigorating tattoo show of the year. Not so, but his words regarding the city in the 1800s could well be applied to this incredible weekend of body art, although I’m none too sure on what he’d make of the piercing bearing his name... I digress, so let’s move swiftly on.
The majority of conventions to emerge over the past couple of years have steadily forged a more impressive show, but Liverpool has been something of an exception to this rule in that they have taken leaps (rather than steps) forward - they didn’t so much rip up the rulebook as build a wicker man, throw the book inside, douse it in petrol, and set that sucker ablaze. They’ve instigated the now-famous Tattoo Duels, introduced impartial awards for those who document the tattoo world, and generally brought a sense of fun to the convention table. As for the actual running of the show, it’s like a finely tuned machine; the staff are friendly without being overbearing, and if a request is made (no matter how grand or minute) then heaven and earth are moved to make it possible. This only adds to the relaxed nature of the Liverpool convention and no matter how busy it gets – and it does get hectic – the crew keep everything ticking over smoothly.
Tony and Hazel Nichols have never been content with a ‘regular’ compère for the Liverpool show, so following on from the late Frank Sidebottom (oh Frank, how we shall miss thee) was the elastic and comedic Chris Cross, a contortionist. If you’re going to have a compère, then it has to be a person who can hold a crowd for an entire weekend without driving the masses to contemplate murder by Sunday afternoon, and in fairness to the flexible Geordie fella, he managed this admirably. Chris wasn’t without a few bemused looks cast his way, although not for the reasons you may imagine – one American artist pointed him out to me and asked, “Dude, is that Russell Brand?”
As the home of the Tattoo Duel, this year’s instalments were as thrilling as ever, with each tattooist pitted against another with a theme to follow and a strict time limit to adhere to. What I love most about this aspect of the show is that the assembled tattoo aficionados vote in a ballot to determine a winner in each battle, adding a greater sense of participation on their behalf. The losers were consequently splattered with custard pies by the victor and the ensuing mess found its way to compère Mr. Cross on more than one occasion!
The tattooists were spread across three rooms to accommodate a larger number than the previous year. Expansions such as this can spell trouble because it’s often tricky to maintain a vibrant atmosphere throughout a show’s venue, but not so for the Liverpudlian contingent: the edifice was rocking all weekend long! Liverpool continually attracts an eclectic cross-section of the tattoo community and it’s truly the people that make a show great. Without atmosphere, you have nothing to build upon, and it’s testament to those who make the pilgrimage each year that this warm and affable vibe permeates the entire building.
Perhaps the unrivalled ambience is due in no small part to the shindigs that surround the Liverpool show (soirées take place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night) so what better way to bring people together than utilising Liverpool’s reputation as a party town and hosting get-togethers in different venues each night? This was the second year that I checked into my hotel in the early morning hours after spending the evening dancing around my suitcase with a whole host of tattooists (you know who you are!) I mean, who uses a handbag anymore? Evening gatherings bond artists and collectors and guide the weekend through a celebration of art, which is essentially what tattoo conventions are, and who doesn’t enjoy the odd libation in the company of friends old and new?
I was lucky enough to once again sit on the judging panel for many of the weekend’s tattoo competitions, and I kid you not, the level of tattoos on display skyrockets every single year. Wave after wave of sumptuous dermal decor made its way to the judges’ table (still attached to the limbs and torsos of respective owners, might I add) for my peers and I to cast a critical eye over. I know, we wax lyrical about how tattooing is perpetually evolving and blasting through the stratosphere of possibility, but it appears that the rate of this evolution is rapidly increasing. Suffice to say, selecting the winners was a tricky task and those who collected awards were deserving of their trophies!
Elsewhere in the guild hall, the Battle of the Bands competition raged in full force with a wondrous cacophony shaking the building’s foundations to their very core. Outspoken Silence scooped the accolade with a ferocious performance – keep an ear out for these guys, as they are something very special indeed – and This Is Turin came in second. It’s a pleasure to have a diverse selection of music on offer and it’s apparent that care and consideration is given to the selection of bands participating in this contest. Music aside, burlesque acts kept the momentum rolling for those seeking respite from the frantic buzz of the tattooing areas, and the ladies put on quite a show for the assembled crowd.
In closing, what makes for a great convention is often a topic of debate, so I can only proffer what I see as the essential elements of a world class tattoo show.
For me, a great tattoo convention is based in a vibrant city; boasts excellent artists (established and upcoming); has an electric atmosphere generated by enthusiastic attendees; and is driven by the organisers’ continued desire to innovate for the benefit of those who attend. So, in my humble opinion, you won’t find a better UK tattoo convention than Liverpool.
And the Winners Are...
Best Black & Grey Small - Deborah Connolly by Sister Sammy at Fallen Angel, Liverpool
Best Black & Grey Large - Stephen Crolla by Jin at Evolution Tattoo, Oxford
Best Colour Small - Jules Maguire by Billy Hay at Custom Inc., Glasgow
Best Colour Large - Damien Speight by Paul Priestley at Skinshokz, Bradford
Best Realistic - Danny by Tom Sugar at Alan’s Tattoo Studio, Moreton
Best of Day Saturday - Jade Hamilton by Miss Mindy at Studio XIII, USA
Best of Day Sunday - Marcus Maguire by Kyle Cotterman at Smart Bomb Tattoo, USA
Best of Convention - Damien Speight by Paul Priestley at Skinshokz, Bradford
Leah Moule Vz Gray Silva - "Carnival Freakshow" - Winner Leah Moule
Billy 'the Bastard' Hay Vs Mat Lapping - House of Fun" - Winner Billy Hay
Roy Priestley Vs Gary Wiedenhof - "Coulrophobia" - Winner Roy Priestley
Mark Bailey Vs Eze Nunez - "Carnival of Souls" - Winner Mark Bailey