Brighton Tattoo Convention (2010)

Published: 08 August, 2010 - Featured in Skin Deep 183, March, 2010

A cornucopia of colourful creatives congregate on the coast.

Brighton caters for all artistic tastes and has quite a reputation for being extremely liberal in its views and as such supports a huge artistic community of musicians, painters, sculptors, architects and of course...tattooists.


So with such a melting pot of artistic talents amassed in one area, I’m surprised that a tattoo convention hadn’t hit the town sooner. But Woody and his crew have more than made up for the lack of convention by creating what for some (myself included) is one of the UK’s best loved tattoo conventions considering its short (3 years) life so far. 


I love Brighton, I really do. There’s just something about the genteel South Coast resort that makes me feel at home and comfortable with my surroundings. Having spent my formative years in the nearby town of Hastings, I have many fond memories of roaring along the coast road on my motorbike with a few mates to Brighton on a Sunday morning for: a) to clear the night before’s hangover and b) for a superb breakfast at a cafe down on Madeira Drive, where many other like-minded bikers were assembled to talk pistons, power and bikes. 


Breakfast out of the way and hangover abating, it was time to wander and lose myself amongst the curious and often exotic boutiques of the Laines, then a furious blast back over the South Downs to get back in time for a restorative pint or two in my local. Ah, those were the days...


This year saw the third edition of the convention held at the racecourse. Racecourses seem to lend themselves perfectly to equine activities and tattoo conventions also. They tend to have masses of space inside and out, and a plethora of rooms that can be filled with artists and traders alike and are usually situated just on the outskirts of major towns therefore, are more than accessible to all.


This year, Woody had amassed over one hundred and seventy international tattooists to cover all aspects and genres of tattooing to please even the most discerning tattoo fan.


The three floors and many rooms were full of artists, making the wander between rooms a delight to the eyes; seeing such diverse styles and in some cases, techniques. The Brighton show had previously gained a bit of a reputation for new/old school tattooists to be in abundance but this year the balance had been addressed with all styles equally represented. There were some big international names like Jose Lopez from Lowrider Tattoos, Liorcifer from Tribulation, New York, Benjamin Moss, Robert Hernandez and many others making the trip. Another added attraction was the addition of a new room opening this year to house more of the artists. This room had the added benefit of a full-sized boxing ring, which housed the hand tappers. This was a unique and novel way of showcasing the traditional tattooists. Not only did they have their usual off the ground plinth but with the added bonus of a sprung and soft platform to sit on. It also made for a great photo opportunity.


Pretty much from the moment the doors opened the large and thankful crowd (it was really cold outside!) soon filled the aisles and rooms with tattoo fans, many having travelled a good distance to get tattooed by the amassed artists. This pretty much set the scene for the weekend.


The whole racecourse seemed to just fill up and stay that way all for the duration of the show. Downstairs in the bar area soon filled to bursting. Busy but not too full as to make it uncomfortable to be in with a constant flow of folk travelling from booths to bar and back again. To make folk stay in the bar area (as if the lure of the bar wasn’t enough) the stage played host to a band called the Boners, who played – Rockabilly tunes with real gusto and passion. Now I like the fifties style of music, I really do, but surely other types of music are available to cater for all tastes as well? I didn’t make it to the after show party where you could, given your bent, enjoy more of the same genre of music, which apparently went down a treat and was a great way to let off steam after a busy and hectic weekend.


Making my way through the throng, I managed to get to see some stupendous work being done. A tattooist from the Netherlands; Thomas Kynst was working on what has become his signature style of black and grey pieces with just a hint of colour in them to accentuate certain areas and he seemed pretty busy. Sat next to him was the ginger wonder of Billy Hay from Custom Inc in Scotland, producing his own unique brand of colourful and graffiti style of work to great effect. In the other rooms the great Xed LeHead from Divine Canvas was spreading the word and demonstrating his delightful dotwork tattoos with the added floorshow of Mad Alan resplendent in a various erm, ‘subtle’ jackets, keeping the audience entertained with his madcap antics. Someone I had not seen on the convention circuit for a while was Gary Wiedenhof from Inkredible Kreations in Perth. Gary has recently had operations on both hands for carpal tunnel syndrome but it was good to see his happy and ever smiling face back producing more of his wonderful work.


Everywhere I walked, each occupant of the many tattoo booths were hard at work, producing some stunning results and being given the chance to judge some of the categories, I got to see most up close and personal.


Braving the icy blast outside, I got the chance to see a healthy array of custom cars that had turned up to give those brave enough plenty to look at whilst queuing to get in.


In another part of the racecourse there was an innovative display called the Sugar Project. This is the brainchild of a young lady called Lisa who asked eighty international tattoo artists to decorate individual skulls to showcase their creative skills. Later, each skull will be auctioned off and the money to go to the Working Hospice to hopefully aid in keeping this much needed hospice open. As I walked into the art room, I was met by one hundred and sixty (give or take a few, as some had been gouged out in true zombie style) eyes staring back at me. 


Each skull ha been lavishly decorated with no two being the same or even similar. The spectacle of these handcrafted craniums was nothing short of amazing. Lisa has worked tirelessly to get the skulls out to artists with the help of the show organisers to create a visually stunning exhibition and to ultimately help fund a worthy cause. All the skulls will be documented in a book to be published soon (details to follow in Skin Deep).


Back in the main part of the racecourse, things stayed on a very chilled out tip for the duration of the show making this edition of the Brighton Tattoo Convention bigger, better, and more bubbly that the previous years. Woody and his team of helpers yet again pulled out all the stops to provide those who made the effort to travel to the jewel in the convention crown with a real tattooing treat.


I’d like to thank al those who bent over backwards to help us out over the weekend.


Woody is already planning next year’s show with more improvements for 2011 (January 29th-30th) so watch this space for more information.




Like Mecca, Brighton is offset to the southeast and is descended upon by pilgrims once a year, when the winter months yet still hold us in their icy grip and refuse to relent. Granted, the similarities may appear to end there, but let’s explore things further and see how many parallels may be unearthed from such a paradox…although let’s just clarify that the Mecca referred to here is located in Saudi Arabia and is not found online or in many a town centre.


The things Mecca and Brighton have in common: well, first off, there’s the sheer volume of people clamouring to reach them both. Whilst Mecca is the final destination for those partaking in the Hajj, Brighton has a tattoo convention to draw pilgrims from far and wide, both tattoo artists and collectors eager to sample the delights of England’s premier south coast show. Secondly, those participating in these events are extremely passionate about their lifestyles - many people could indeed argue that tattooing and body modification is their religion, such is the devotion they show toward the pursuit of it.


So, as any good pilgrimage should start, our voyage began with the following of a cluster of stars - because it was 4am when we left - and onto the roads that lead to redemption (M6, M40, M25; not normally routes one would associate with anything other than perdition). Our journey was later accompanied by a glorious sunrise, and a beautiful scene materialised before us as the moon slowly receded to give way to a crisp winter’s morn: is there anything that can make a journey more pleasant (aside from good coffee, great company and Led Zeppelin’s back catalogue)? 


At last, after many weary hours of travel, we arrived at a temple in the form of Brighton Racecourse to be greeted by the sight of many other weary travellers in a queue of biblical proportions. Chief organiser Woody runs a tight ship and everything was in its rightful place, ready for the festivities to commence, so the awaiting throng of tattoo aficionados weren’t left in the cold for too long. The show has really bedded into this venue and a homely familiarity washes over those who’ve attended previous years. This is perhaps due in no small part to Brighton having been the first show of the year and a time where months of absence between friends are swiftly eradicated over a coffee, or even a beverage of a colder nature. 


Shrines in the form of tattooing booths were erected all around the venue to offer a selection of the crème de la crème of tattooing to visitors, and purveyors of t-shirts, jewellery and associated tattoo products were on hand, en masse, to keep pilgrims’ attention well and truly rapt. Brighton has previously borne a definite slant toward traditional and neo-traditional tattooing but has branched out noticeably this year, with exponents in black and grey, portraiture and Blackwork. To see the hand-tap artists working in a boxing ring was very much a unique experience, but it made a wonderful staged area for the guys and elevated them to make viewing easier for visitors flocking in to see tattooing in its most organic form. The racecourse’s warren-like layout makes finding one’s way around an adventure at times, but persistence is rewarded when incredible artists are discovered, tucked away on yet another floor accessed by a different set of stairs. The bar was host to competitions and music galore - no pilgrimage would be complete without musical accompaniment - although the one/four/five chord progressions of a certain genre began to grate a tad by the second day, but it didn’t detract from the vivified ambience we encountered and our spirits remained buoyed. 


Brighton and its tattoo convention of wonderment retain the effervescence that has become synonymous with the weekend, and it remains one of our favourite destinations of the year. The city, the people, the overwhelming sights and sounds of a great show in its prime…this is why we make the pilgrimage year in, year out, to support a great show run with pride and excellence in mind.



Text: Neil & Alex Photography: Neil, Alex, Ashley


Skin Deep 183 1 March 2010 183