Tattoo Jam 2008

Published: 01 August, 2008 - Featured in Skin Deep 163, August, 2008

“Llandudno? That’s a random choice for a convention isn’t it?” It’s a question that I’ve heard more times than memory will permit me to divulge, but many of those making such inquiries had never been to Llandudno - it’s a glorious setting!


A gently curved bay framed by steep hills and a body of shimmering blue sea is complemented by the majestic Victorian architecture stretching out around the promenade, the splashes of colour reminiscent of continental seaside resorts. Our home for the weekend, Venue Cymru, is an architectural delight with its vast expanse of windows allowing light to permeate the building and illuminate the entire front as it overlooks the sea.

The word on the grapevine was that a considerable buzz had been building around Tattoo Jam since its announcement last year, with collectors and artists alike clamouring to see what we’d come up with. Skin Deep has covered shows from around the globe over the past fourteen years and should know a thing or two about the work that goes into organising such an event, but the labour that’s hidden from the public is astounding and I doff my cap to anybody who’s involved in the many wonderful conventions that take place. You guys work tremendously hard and now that we’ve had a taste, the empathy is here for you in boundless volume!

Tattoo Jam kicked off with ARTIST friDAY and introduced a fresh concept for UK conventions with the entire day dedicated to tattoo artists (the clue was in the title) and we arranged for a number of seminars to take place, including Portraiture with Milosch, Lasering and Cover-up work with Woody and Pneumatic Tattoo Machines with Max MacAndrews. These seminars were very well received – Bob Tyrrell’s Black and Grey talk drew in a few hundred people alone, and the laidback approach of having a day to themselves appeared to put the artists in a great frame of mind for the busy weekend ahead. It was fantastic to see artists being able to get tattooed and the general consensus was that the concept of an artists-only day is a good one.

Friday evening was capped by the Tattoo Masters’ Ball with performances from Vince Ray and Isolation (fronted by Alzone’s Alan Hale) and was finished up with by the Tattoo Master awards and a charity auction in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust. We had artwork from Katriona Godward, Rachael Huntington and Sean Parry, a signed guitar from US rockers Good Charlotte and a stack of tattooing goodies, amongst many other items. Thanks to everyone that bid on these and helped to raise funds for a very worthy cause!

Saturday morning was nerve-wracking, truth be told, as we pondered on how many people would show. Any fears that had been harboured were well and truly allayed when, at 11.30am, we opened the doors early due to the size of the queue! Brilliant sunshine had flooded the coast that morning and it brought the tattoo brigade out in droves to Llandudno. The layout of the venue permitted us quite a bit of freedom to experiment with various room setups and in turn gave visitors the opportunity to wander about and really explore the building. The aim was to spread artists about between the two larger rooms and mix up the styles a little, rather than trying to concentrate everything in one place.

Simon from Bad Luck Clothing/Burning Card Magic was on hand to dazzle punters with his deft card tricks and sleight of hand (mostly involving combustible materials in some way or other) and these exploits culminated in a fire breathing show from atop the Monster energy drink truck. He’s a tremendously talented guy and can sell you a damn fine t-shirt whilst simultaneously wowing you with magic. Just don’t play poker with him…

A selection of traditional tattooists – Brent McCown, Monkey Tattoo’s Jeremy and Peter from Lard-Yao Tattoo - performed their beautiful handiwork with a stunning vista of the sea on the first floor, just across from the myriad of traders and artists that were situated nearby. This is one of the most peaceful tattooing environments you’re likely to encounter at a convention, as the room is devoid of noise aside from the tapping. Japanese craftsman Horimyo was situated near the main entrance where his peaceful tebori technique drew a crowd whom were enthused by his ancient and spiritual method of tattooing. It feels such a privilege to be able to observe a tattoo coming to life using this technique, and each customer looked completely at ease during their session.

We were blessed with an embarrassment of riches when it came to the tattoo artists plying their trade in Llandudno, with international players like Dan DiMattia, Tony Ciavarro, George Bardadim and Patrick Huttlinger alongside our British contingent including Jason Butcher, Woody, Myth and Leah Moule. Practically every style or genre that you can imagine was catered for and there were some truly amazing tattoos created over the course of Tattoo Jam. We had entertainment galore too, with a selection of unsigned bands courtesy of Kerrang! Radio in addition to the burlesque and fashion shows that took place. The bands were fantastic on the whole and played some great music, although next year we’ll probably open up the envelope in regard to genres and integrate more variety.

The competitions were a hard-fought event too, and I don’t envy the roles of Brim, Sly and Alex (it’s a different Alex, I’m not talking in the third person!) as their positions as judges must have been hellishly testing. It transpired that Bez from Triplesix Studios stormed the prize giving, taking no less than four awards including the coveted ‘Best Of Convention’. We knew he was something a bit special when we featured him in Issue 154 and he’s more than proven us right. I’d also had a sneak preview of this winning piece in its infancy and knew instantly that it would blitz the awards. Congratulations to all of the winners for the level of artistry that they have displayed in creating their winning pieces, and of course to the wearer for owning such a fine tattoo!

After the dust had settled on the Sunday evening, I sat and watched the sun drifting down behind the Great Orme as I replayed the weekend’s events in my head. There are a couple of tweaks to be made to next year’s arrangements (although I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do about the seagulls) and we’ve got a number of tricks up our proverbial sleeves, so we’ll guarantee you that Skin Deep’s Tattoo Jam 2009 will be bigger and better again. Thanks to everyone who came to the show, the artists, traders and punters, as the atmosphere that they generated was vibrant, welcoming and downright awesome! The endless planning and countless hours that went into the organisation of Tattoo Jam were worth every ounce of effort, and as Hannibal used to say to the rest of the A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”


The first ever Tattoo Jam hosted by Skin Deep is now over and for those that didn’t know it was on the first weekend in August at the Venue Cymru in Llandudno in North Wales. This is quite a difficult write up for me to do as having worked for Skin Deep (albeit in a freelance capacity) since the very first issue, I feel partly responsible although I personally had nothing to do with the organisation or running of the show - the credit for that has to go to Neil and his team who have worked their little socks off over the past year to bring it all together whilst at the same time running the magazine.

The Venue is in my opinion a cracking place for a show; it’s large but not in the same way as say the NEC, it’s not just one big open area, it’s a mixture of large and smaller areas, the largest of which was home to about two thirds of the working artists. This was on the ground floor with the other artists being in another area on the second floor along with the majority of the trade stalls and the artists trade area up on the second floor.

Over the duration of the weekend listening to comments made by the visitors to the show, the only things that kept cropping up was how quiet Llandudno was; they were not used to being outnumbered by the blue rinse brigade and disability scooters! Llandudno is an area on the North Wales coast where a lot of people retire to and it’s a fairly sleepy town where not a lot happens so they’ll probably be talking about all the colourful people for months to come. The other things that were mentioned were lack of signage to show people what was upstairs and that there was too much heavy music coming from the Kerrang stage, but I know these will be rectified for next year.

There was so much going on over the weekend that there’s no way I’m going be able to mention everything so I’ll give you some of the highlights starting with the Friday.

The Friday was artist and vender day, so the show wasn’t open to the general public. This was to give artists and vendors a chance to go to one or more of the various free seminars that were being hosted, have work done, catch up with friends old and new and generally ease themselves into the weekend. In the evening there was a party, which had a themed fancy dress of “AT THE SEASIDE” for those who wanted to with prizes for the best male and female costumes. There was also a charity auction in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust with some really cool items up for auction. Entertainment was provided by Vince Ray and Alan Hale from Alzone Tattoos’ band Isolation. There was also the Tattoo Masters’ Ball, which gave awards to some of the people who have done a lot for the industry in the eyes of Skin Deep in the past year. Also for the braver amongst us there was a karaoke. Anyway I think I can say that a good night was had by all and the sight of Darren Stares and friends dressed as Hula girls complete with grass skirts and shell bras walking down the seafront in the early hours of the morning was something I won’t forget in a hurry.

Saturday morning saw us at the venue at about 10am and although the doors were supposed to open at 12 noon they were actually opened early because of the queue forming outside. It wasn’t long before the familiar sound of tattoo machines were buzzing away and collectors were getting themselves another piece of great artwork from one of the one hundred and forty six outstanding artists working the show. At this point I think it’s only right to mention that the guys and gals from Tattoo UK spent the whole weekend working for free (yep, for free). They were doing free tattoos for the whole weekend and the only limit was that pieces should only take about an hour so as to make it fair. Some tattooists complained that these guys and girls were cheapening the tattoo industry but on many occasions I saw one or two of the Tattoo UK guys come over and put money that had been forced upon them by their customers into the charity buckets so they weren’t strictly tattooing for nothing but for charity, so good on you all.

One thing I did notice over the weekend was the number of artists that are now using pneumatic machines and speaking to those who have changed over most said that they wouldn’t go back to coil machines. I’ve also spoken to artists who are dead against them, so an interesting time lies ahead I think. With trying to photograph some of the work being done and taking people up to the studio it was a busy day and by the end of it my feet were on fire - God knows how many miles I walked over the course of the weekend.

The competitions were being split over the two days with some categories on the Saturday and some on the Sunday and at about 4pm on the Saturday judging started with Best of Day being judged at about 7pm. All day long there were fashion and burlesque shows being performed on one of the stages and I was too busy to get any photographs of any of them! I eventually managed to catch a couple on the Sunday afternoon. The Saturday was a long day and I eventually finished at about 10pm when we went and had a well deserved drink before heading back to the hotel for a nightcap at the hotel bar and crashing out.

On Sunday morning I was feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep and I was ready for another busy day and I wasn’t disappointed. I was in the studio for most of the day but also trying to keep an eye on some really good work that was being done to grab once it was finished and before it was wrapped up. There was a lot of good work being done and I only stopped when I had to come down to photograph the presentations at the end of the evening - I was still trying to hunt people down at the end of the day when the security personnel were asking people to leave and the stands were being taken down, eventually I had to give up and pack away. Once all done we went for a well-deserved meal in town and then back to the hotel.

I know that I’ve been covering shows now for over 16 years and to pull off a big show isn’t easy; I mean Dunstable was an institution yet it still fell along the way and in more recent years Mantra tried but it didn’t succeed. I think for a first show Tattoo Jam was a blinding success and I hope in the coming years it will go from strength to strength. Well done Neil and all concerned.


Rolling into Llandudno, on the North Wales coast on a rather damp Thursday evening, the excitement in our little Fiesta was palpable to say the least! What is it about a new convention that makes it all that much more exciting? I had a feeling that this was going to be one hell of a weekend…and thank God, I wasn’t disappointed!

Spread over two floors (three if you’re a tattooist) Tattoo Jam had the potential to blow other conventions and shows out of the water. Venue Cymru was an ideal location, as it offered space, light and room, not just for the tattooists but for the spectators too. There seemed to be a sense of exploration with the way the show was set out, with artists and clothing stalls jumbled up in the main arena and upstairs hall. The small rooms leading off the corridors were where the traditional tattooing, painting and fine art, as well as hair dreading and braiding could be found. The visitor could explore the venue and sample the delights that Neil had set out for them.

Friday came with bright sunshine and warm weather. After a walk along the prom from our hotel, which blew the cobwebs of travel and Thursday night’s beer from our heads, we wandered into the venue for ARTIST friDAY. The atmosphere seemed to match the weather with it being bright and laid-back. Once I got sorted out with passes and where I was going, I could relax and get my convention head on! It was great just to sit back and watch artists, traders and the like milling about, making final preparations for Saturday and Sunday, catching up with friends and making new ones or getting some well deserved new ink. It was awesome to have ARTIST friDAY, as it offered the chance for tattooists to catch up with one another in a more relaxed atmosphere. At other conventions spread over two days, there always seems to be a pressure to get everything prepared, get ink laid down and get home without really drawing breath and chatting to peers. ARTIST friDAY also offered tattooists the chance to sample some lectures and seminars by some top quality national and international artists like Bob Tyrell on Black and Grey work, Portraiture by Milosch, Paulo Cruzes on Coil Machine Building, as well as Woody on Laser and cover up work.

Walking around the show on Friday had a weird ‘A-bomb aftermath’ feel to it, as artists were working away in their booths, just like any other conventions, but there were very few people walking around or stopping to look at artists working which I found really bizarre! It did however, offer me the chance to spend more time photographing artists at work and not having the feeling that I was getting in someone’s way!

Friday also was the Tattoo Masters’ Ball with many artists coming in fancy dress. Some were bedecked in beach attire, others as hula ‘girls’, 1920s swimmers, a zombie navy girl (which to be quite frank freaked the crap out of me) as well as Spiderman and Fat Von Dee! Music and entertainment were provided by Vince Ray and the Boneshakers and Isolation. There was also a charity auction from which all proceeds went to the Teenage Cancer Trust. There were lots of items to bid for including a signed guitar by Good Charlotte, a microphone signed by Muse, a selection of tattoo machines and gear, as well as prints and paintings by the artists Terry Bradley and Sean Parry.

There were also awards sponsored by Skin Deep for best national and international artist of the year, so kudos to Bez for picking up British Artist of the Year - in my opinion totally deserved!

After the madness of Friday night I was grateful for a few hours’ kip ready for the manic weekend ahead.

Saturday dawned dry, warm and with plenty of sunshine. As we again walked along the prom to the venue, we were met by a large crowd milling about with an air of excited anticipation, mixed with a sense of energy due to the free cans of Monster energy drink being handed out. I was very glad to have been handed a couple of cans as I think it was those that kept me going throughout the weekend! Thanks Monster!

Due to the large crowds, the doors opened early and allowed the big throng of people to hit the main arena and the exhibitor rooms like a tidal wave. The anticipation of seeing new work, getting some new ink or viewing the amazing array of top quality artists available, felt like electricity around the whole venue. With the likes of Paul Naylor, Jin, Darrin White, Tony Ciavarro, Bez, Joe Myler, Jo Harrison and Jason Butcher to name but a very few of artists working, it’s no wonder there was a total sense of excitement buzzing around Llandudno over the weekend!

During the day there was music provided by Kerrang Radio in the form of DJ sets, as well as live music by unsigned bands on the Kerrang Stage. This was interspersed with fashion shows and burlesque performances on the Skin Deep Stage. This brought welcome entertainment to the drinkers in the bar. Possibly the best idea for Tattoo Jam was the fact that alcohol was only to be consumed within the bar, which made for a far more pleasant atmosphere within the main arenas and around the venue in general.

Saturday also brought the first lot of categories for judging, with Small Black and Grey, Small Colour, Large Colour, Celtic/Tribal, Oriental and Best of the Day. As always, there were plenty of participants willing to get their tats out for the judges.

Well done to the judges who had a tough job over the weekend! With the amount of excellent work that was shown, I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must have been to judge the high quality of work that was there.

Saturday night continued with more live bands, with headliners Spit Like This, who totally rocked the Kerrang Stage.

Awards were presented at about nine in the main arena with Bez picking up Best of Day Award (Saturday).

The tattooists worked relentlessly right up until the close, with machines still buzzing late on into the night. All in all a good first day and a thumping start to the weekend.

Sunday. Again bright, cheerful, yet sore for some, whether it be from too much alcohol on Saturday night, or from getting ink laid on Saturday!

Sunday brought yet more tattooing fun and games with some amazing pieces being laid down by the likes of Bob Tyrell, Lal Hardy, Mike Hicks, Leah Moule, Mark Bailey, Mick Tomo, Cooky…I could go on.

The standard of work coming through the studio on Sunday was just out of this world, from Sam’s ‘Donut Girl’ piece by Tony Ciavarro to Patrick Huttlinger’s amazing dot work. It was a pleasure and a privilege to photograph these amazing tattoos.

On Sunday there was music throughout the day again courtesy of Kerrang and their unsigned acts. One gripe I did have about the music and I think I share this view with many people, is that ok, I like heavy music, but when you’re wanting to chill out on a Sunday, metal may not be the best choice in my book. I know this wasn’t Neil’s fault but you’d think Kerrang might have had a better idea of what to put on for a Sunday afternoon!

Again Sunday brought the judging of Best Portrait, Best Back Piece, Best Body Suit, Best Large Black and Grey, Best of Sunday and Best of Convention categories, and again, the level of tattoos on show was of an exceedingly high standard. In my eyes and also the eyes of the judges, there was only one winner of Best of Convention; Bez’s ‘Beauty and the Meat’ piece on Damien. For the people who saw it, you will join me in saying, that it was a well-deserved win. For those who haven’t, there no doubt will be photographs gracing the pages of Skin Deep soon!

All in all, the weekend was a huge success and a credit not only to Neil and Skin Deep but to all the people behind the scenes who made the weekend possible. So join me now in a standing ovation to

Neil, his team and all the people at Venue Cymru and give them an enormous round of applause. As we let them take a bow, lets just hope that next year will be bigger, better, and as much fun as this year!


Skin Deep 163 1 August 2008 163