The London International Tattoo Convention '07 Pt. 1

Published: 01 October, 2007 - Featured in Skin Deep 152, November, 2007

This year saw the third edition of the London show showcasing the talents of over one hundred and fifty international tattoo artists. The buzz for this years show started almost from the time the doors shut on last year’s highly successful convention.


Last year had close to fifteen thousand tattoo fans visit the Old Truman Brewery in the Heart of Jack the Ripper country. As the sun shone down in Brick Lane the by now regular queues started to form from about nine o’ clock, which is pretty early considering that the show didn’t open until two in the afternoon. One brave and dedicated tattoo fan sat patiently outside from six o’clock in the morning hoping to get an appointment with the ever so talented Joe Cappobianco.   

Inside the Truman Building the convention was starting to take shape with the help of lots of show staff who all knew their jobs and happily got on with their tasks. If artist or trader asked for something it was instantly sorted by the willing staff - nothing was too much trouble. Each time I walked over the covered bridge that straddles Brick Lane and joins the separate parts of the Truman Building I looked out over the road and the queue grew each time, pretty much filling one half of the busy road. One of the attractions of the London show is its location, nestled in the heart of London’s East End the show is fed by a myriad of shops selling everything you can think of. If you want a curry, you are in the right place, if you want ethnic products - clothing, Sari’s etc you don’t have to look far, if you want to browse the trendy shops and people watch in Camden Lock - it’s only a short walk away. You name it the London show locale has it. Parking can be a real problem but most folk opt to let the ‘train take the strain’ and jump on the tube. Apparently next year the show will move but as yet another venue has yet to be announced.   

As the doors finally opened, the patient crowd shuffled through the turn-styles. And the long anticipated third London Tattoo convention swung into gear. Within minutes the aisles started to fill with tattoo fans and this pretty much set the scene for the rest of the day. Myself and the rest of the Skin Deep team were ready, the merchandise stand was up and ready, the two photo booths were set-up and the lights checked and it wasn’t too long before the flash lights were getting hot with use, photographing some very, very nice ink. This show above any other in the country manages to attract a huge proportion of foreign visitors and with them comes the opportunity to see many tattoos that us Brits might not have seen otherwise, so for those interested in ‘tattoo spotting’ - and there were masses this weekend - it was difficult to know where to look first.   

As well as the queue outside there was a huddle of folk clutching thousands of pounds worth of camera equipment in both still and moving picture formats. There were the many television crews and photographers from around the world all covering the show, such is the pull of the convention. If I saw someone with some nice tattoos you could guarantee that there were other camera lenses leaning over my shoulder trying to get shots of the work on show. This wasn’t that much of an issue but there is - or should be - some rules to photographing people and more importantly tattooists working. I walked passed many artists who were really concentrating on their artwork only to have their attention jolted by an intrusive flash light going off in their faces. This has to be off-putting and downright rude. It doesn’t hurt to wait until the tattooist looks up and ask them if it is okay to photograph them - surely? Also the person being tattooed might not want their photos taken and they frequently are sat or lying in a very uncomfortable and some times not so flattering pose, so please have a little consideration for these talented folk and ask before snapping them.   

I missed a good chunk of the Friday’s activities as I was scheduled to get tattooed by George Bardadim from Russia so I was sat on a table for over four hours. Apart from getting a superb piece of ink from the multitalented chap from St Petersburg, I had the chance to just sit and watch the crowds walk by. This gave me a different view on a tattoo convention. Normally I am rushing about and trying to do at least two things at once but it was really refreshing to just sit (albeit slightly uncomfortable) and look at the goings on around me. From my post I got to see the very colourful crowd going about their convention business and got to chat to many people I might normally have missed. I even managed to photograph some of them. The down side (if there is a down side to getting a stunning piece of ink) is that I missed all of the stage shows but from the cries and cheers coming from the bar/stage area the shows were a huge hit. The London Tattoo Convention doesn’t have a live music license but that didn’t deter the organisers from putting on some interesting acts ranging from exotic dancers and burlesque shows to the very colourful show of Lucky Diamond Rich. Lucky performed on all three days and his show really got the crowd going. I personally haven’t seen his performance before but I’m glad I caught it this time, he really is a true showman with his cheeky banter with the audience and his repertoire of side show/circus tricks went down a storm. All of his tricks were made to look easy but I’m certain they have been rehearsed time and time again. If you have not seen him put it on your list of things to do before you die.   

The following morning Brick Lane was its usual busy self, but with one addition - a queue that stretched for the entire length of the Truman Building and then some. This had to be the longest line of people I had seen waiting to get in to the show. Saturday was going to be a busy day.   

As the crowd streamed in from outside, the booths and aisles soon filled up and the tattoo machines burst into life. There were tattoo fans rushing to get to a certain artist as many of the tattooists were working on a ‘first come first served’ basis. I like this idea as it gives everybody an equal chance to get inked by some of the biggest names in the business, and boy, were there some big names here. With over one hundred and sixty of the world’s best tattoo artists plying their trade you couldn’t go wrong. The list of attending artists read like a who’s who of top tattooists; there was a very big contingent of American artists with the likes of Paul Booth, Aaron Bell, Joe Capobianco, Seth Woods, Bob Tyrrell amongst others and the rest of the world was well represented from artists like Horiren from Japan, Filip Lue from Switzerland, Dan Dimattia from Belgium, Smilin’ Demons from Germany and many, many more. The public was literally spoilt for choice. As I wandered the booths, I saw many a good-looking piece of ink take shape. Having sat on a hard table in a really awkward position for nearly five hours I now realise that folk who choose to get tattooed at a show are really dedicated. Okay, getting tattooed isn’t the most comfortable thing to have done to your body in the first place but it’s very rare that the person being tattooed will get the opportunity to sit in a nice comfy chair so my hat goes off to all those prepared to sit for hours for their art.   

Back outside in Brick Lane the queue had diminished and Brick Lane was its busy, bustling self and I thought oh, that must be everyone who is coming in were in. Off I shot for some food and within half an hour there was another queue with a second wave of ink fans waiting to come through the doors, surely there wasn’t any more room for them all? The Truman Building is vast and the layout for the show had been changed from previous years and I thought to a much better effect. Okay, you are going to get bottle necks of folk, especially around the booths of Paul Booth and Fillip Lue but the organisers had thought of this and gave these talented guys a large area where the crowds could gather in relatively large numbers and not clog the flow - good thinking. That’s another thing that is nice about the London Show, the organisers are not afraid to listen to the public’s opinions and act accordingly. After the first year the food and drink area had been improved no end and this year you could relax with a drink be it alcoholic or not and munch on some good, home made fare before steeling yourself to head off back into the crowds for another round of feasting your eyes on the wonders of the tattooing world.   

I was given the honour of judging the best of Friday and Saturday’s tattoos done at the convention. This was an impromptu comp but I’m sure will become a permanent fixture for future years. There weren’t too many entrants but what I saw was of the highest standard (as you would expect from the world’s best). The winner of the category was the relatively unknown artist from America Jeff Gouge. Jeff sort of rose to fame in the British public’s eye last year after scooping the second prize with an absolutely stunning tiger tattooed on a guy’s forearm. And this year he executed another masterpiece of a freehand dragon wrapping around a chaps arm. This was eight hours of pure tattooing talent at its best.   

As Saturday evening wore on the food and drink areas filled to bursting and the gentle roar of tattoo fans chatting and generally having a good time rose to a crescendo and I saw many a tattoo fan doing a bit of ‘show and tell’ with each other. I love the fact that you can walk up to a total stranger and start talking to them and ask them to take various layers of clothing off! Where else can you do that without being arrested?   

After a busy evening of sorting photographs and writing text for the show (Some of us go to the show to work, you know!), Sunday was upon us and Brick Lane slowly came to life and walking back to set up the Skin Deep stand, I saw many a tattooed person sipping coffee waiting for the doors to open. This show is slightly different in the fact that Saturday seems to be busier whereas most other shows in the UK Sunday is the day the crowds come in. This made the task of walking around a little easier and allowed time to stop and take the proceedings at a more relaxed pace. As the doors opened some of the tattooists’ booths were empty as the artists gave themselves a little time to wake up slowly or sleep off the excesses of Saturday night. But by midday the Truman Building was rocking once again with the sound of piped music (not too loud but just right), friendly chat amongst the attendees and the comforting sound of tattoo machines working. The Skin Deep photo studio was busy all weekend and we saw many wonderful pieces of ink work come through the doors and what a huge variety of tattoo styles. There seems to be a real increase in the almost painterly style of tattoos at the moment. This is something that I have been seeing more and more of on my travels and seems to have come over to Britain from America with the likes of Mike Devries, Sean Herman and Joshua Carlton is that these pioneers are all making tattoos that are eye-wateringly stunning and look as though they have been laid on with a pallet knife with huge swathes of vivid colour and no outlines. This just goes to show that tattooing is constantly evolving and turning in different directions. That’s one of the things that makes this art form so refreshing. You just never know what someone is going to come up with next. But whatever direction this takes you can be rest assured you would see it at the London Show.   

One thing that struck me this year and it isn’t indicative of just the London show is that these days you don’t seem to get the flamboyant costumes as seen in the days of the Dunstable Shows. Anyone who had the pleasure of going to the superb and much missed convention will remember the fantastic sight of people walking around in some stunning costumes showing off their tattoos. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times but convention goers now just seem to wear their street clothes, which is a bit of a shame as the costumes used to add to the extravaganza and spectacle (it also makes my job harder trying to spot good ink work).   

Towards the afternoon the registration for the tattoo competitions came to a close and it was time for the assembled judges to do their thing with the unenviable task of trying to award prizes to the best tattoos. There were four judges and they sat on stage as the entrants streamed past to show off their work. One thing that I did find strange was that the compere gave out the name of the artist prior to the judges seeing the work, which I thought might have some bearing on their decisions but I’m certain that the panel have seen so many tattoos and that they could recognise certain artists work anyway. I’m glad I only had to judge a few on the Saturday evening, as Sunday’s line-up was quite a bit bigger. Hanging around the stage I got to see most of the entrants and personally I’d have given each contestant a prize such was the standard.

But at the end of the day there were only so many trophies and most of the categories were a close run thing with only a point or two separating the winners. The organisers had kept the categories to a minimum with only five styles of work being judged. There were prizes for best tribal, backpiece, black & grey, colors and best of show.  Keeping the judging running smoothly and announcing all the entrants to the crowd was a larger than life chap by the name of Matt Mason, who did an outstanding task of keeping things moving along smoothly always with a sense of humour. My hat goes off to your sir.   

As the awards were announced and Matt whipped the crowd into an appreciative frenzy the winners came back on stage to show off their ink to the applause of the audience. While this was going on the artists were finishing up their final pieces for the weekend and packing up their wares to head back to their homes and studios. Whilst walking amongst the clearing up I saw many a tired but happy tattooist and that seemed to be whole theme of the London Tattoo convention - a celebration of all things tattoo.   

There was one chap that seemed to keep the entire event on its toes and running effortlessly. Woody is testament that man can multi task as he had about ten jobs on his hands at anyone time but he always had a smiling face and time to help stupid magazine journalists with their requests. You sir, are a star and I can’t thank you enough for your help. I’d also like to thank all the staff that helped to make the London International Tattoo Convention go off without a hitch and as such make coming to the show a pleasure, not just for us that have to work the weekend but also for the thousands of tattoo enthusiasts that attended over the weekend.

There have been many rumours floating around that this was the last year that the show will be held in Brick Lane but rest assured Skin Deep will keep you all informed as to the developments for next year’s event. I’m looking forward to the ’08 show all ready...   

This is just a small proportion of the hundreds of pictures we took over the weekend and as such there will be a second installment of the London Tattoo Convention in next month’s Skin Deep magazine issue 153. On sale 20th November.


Text: Neil Photography: Ashley, Paul, Callaby, Neil & Lindsay Smith


Skin Deep 152 1 November 2007 152