Riverside Tattoo & Piercing Centre, Gravesend, Kent

Published: 07 July, 2010 - Featured in Skin Deep 128, December, 2005

The studio actually opened for business at the end of August 2004. There was no big fanfare or celebration, mainly due to the fact that it should have opened in early May! This was entirely the fault of the guys who were supposed to be doing the refit work. I think they must have got through most of ‘The Big Book of Builders Excuses’ by the time I asked them to get off the premises.

Finishing at £10k over budget and 3 months late may not sound a lot to some of you readers, but bear in mind that it caused us to miss out on the whole of the busiest part of summer, which then meant we had a slow Winter. And £10k takes a lot of earning in this business. And a lot of pain for our customers! In hindsight I suppose I should take some of the blame, after all I was only running the 2 other studios, building another house and watching my relationship with my partner of 10 years falling apart, all at the same time! But hey ho, these little things are meant to try us, and they certainly did. By October, still finishing things off in the studio, still arguing with builders, I was working up to a nervous breakdown.


This was also the time (back end of 2004) when the whole of our industry was being threatened by the attempted Habia coup. Like most I was appalled at the threat, but I was one of the very few who attended meetings to argue with them and heckle where necessary. I had thought long and hard about the problems and came to the conclusion myself, that the only way we could have a recognizable voice that everyone including Government would have to listen to, was to start a Union. The old way of Associations and Old Boys Clubs would not work against this threat; we needed it to be big and strong and the voice of all of us, not just somebody and their mates, or a wall certificate purchasing club. So I started the TPI by meeting with a few different unions, and seeing what they could offer us. I settled on the GMB, by virtue of them being the biggest and strongest and having the best track record, and arranged a meeting. The rest is history. If you are in the industry, do yourself and the industry a big favour and join the Tattoo And Piercing Industry Union, ASAP. And put something back! (www.tpi.org)


But back to the studio story… I had learnt a lot since opening Medway Tattoo & Piercing Centre in 2000 and Tattoo Medway in 2001. I knew what I wanted it to look like, clean, bright, modern, welcoming etc, and I wanted it to be ‘Future Proof’. That is, be ready for any rules and regulations that may be appearing on the horizon in the foreseeable future. I wanted to be one step ahead.


So I set out to find suitable premises in Gravesend. I limited myself a bit, it had to be a High Street location, the reason being that I hate the ‘back street’ description which often gets tagged onto Tattoo Studio’s, therefore  I will only ever open on High Streets, on principle. In the middle of Gravesend is the old original High Street, which runs down to the pier on the river Thames. This street could tell some tales. It’s seen Kings and Queens, Pirates and Smugglers, transported criminals, press gangs and famous expeditions, and has more history than you could shake a stick at. This mostly due to its location, with the ferry across the Thames to Essex, and it being traditionally the first and last port of call to sailing ships bound for or returning to London. This is how come Pocahontas, the Native American Indian princess, came to be buried there.


So, I searched the High Street, recently dubbed ‘The Georgian Quarter’ by the council, and discovered an empty shop in the right place, which was under the control of a company set up to promote the recently refitted (to ye olde stylee) old high street shops. I had a meeting with their manager chap, said I wanted one of their shops; all was ok until I told him it was for a Tattoo Studio. He said something like “Sorry we specifically don’t want that sort of shop in our area”. I said “so you are telling me you won’t have a state of the art Tattoo Studio in an area which has a tradition of Gin Shops and Whore Houses”. He smiled and said “yes”.


Later I realized that the very office in which he told me this had been the site of a Tattoo Studio in the 60’s.


The Shop had a medium sized upper floor, but a huge brick vaulted cellar. Of course it needed loads of work, but at least it had the space for the things I wanted to get in there.  The plan was to build a separate ‘clean room’, where the vacuum autoclave would live, with a ‘dirty room’ next to it, where the ultrasonic cleaner and soak baths etc would live. The idea was that the contaminated tools, tips, tubes, and grips, would go into a cleaning cycle through the 2 rooms; into the dirty room, first rinsed and scrubbed, then cleaned in ultrasonic bath, then soaked in disinfecting bath, then rinsed, then bagged individually. Then taken next door into the clean room, where they would be autoclaved and then out to the piercing room or the Tattoo areas for using.  Each room is equipped with swing both way doors, i.e. no door handle to touch, passing bacteria around, just push with elbow/knee/backside. Also fitted are ‘look ma; no hands’ taps, (it’s a technical term!), as used in some hospitals now. They have a built in infra-red detector that senses your hands, and turns the water on, then off after 20 seconds or so. Clever stuff, but expensive.


In the meantime I was searching for 2 Artists and a piercer, and 2 reception staff. I found Les Barlow by a roundabout route. His mate Spam was working in the USA with Alex, a piercer who used to work with me. Alex told Spam, who told Les, who approached me for the job! Bizarre innit?  I gave Les a trial at Medway Tattoo, found him guilty, and he’s been at Riverside ever since. He has a unique style, and the right combination of artistic ability, top notch hygiene standards, drive and loyalty to the studio. He lives eats and breathes Tattoo, and when he’s not working he’s drawing, and I like that!


Little miss Becca started at the same time, but as you read this she will have left and gone to Modern Body Art in Birmingham Up North. She did a lot of great work with us, and we all miss her and wish her well. Aaaaaah!


Becca was replaced by Ben Shaw, from Up North, but, BUT! In the fullness of time, Ben is going to Tattoo Medway, because Justin is leaving for Thailand, and another artist, the lovely Clair Reid from Peterborough up North, is going to start in Riverside. (Do try to keep up dear reader!). All this should be happening about early December time, but who knows what the future holds?


Dan and Julie work the reception desk between them, and have both been here from the start. They both wanted apprenticeships, (along with 7 gazillion others), but luckily for us all, they have stayed anyway! (See Julie’s great flash and drawings somewhere hereabouts in the article). I would like to say at this point, that a good receptionist is very important in the great scheme of things, and is often a thankless and lowly paid job. Having to interface between customers and Tattoo Artists and Piercers all day, and all the other stuff involved. So I would like to go public here and just say a big ‘THANK YOU’ to you all, whichever studio you work in. (and no, you can’t have a raise!)


The Piercing is shared by Aran and Marc, so that we have full coverage, 7 days a week. Between them they are able to undertake any piercing you may require, and we make a point of offering free advice on jewellery, piercing, placement and aftercare.


I would like to finish off by saying that Riverside has a great and talented team, turning out high quality work, from the cleanest, most hygienic, modern studio in the area. Don’t just take my word for it, stroll into the old Georgian High Street, and see for yourself…



I first picked up a tattoo machine about 11 years ago. It was the old story of meeting somebody who could put me in touch with a guy who was tattooing in the local area, in this case the midlands. He helped me get sorted out with a really basic setup, old bits and bobs, leftovers from his machine graveyard. We stripped it down, cleaned it up and got started on my legs and arms. Not the most ideal way to start out, but I value the lessons I learnt with him, plus we had the added security of access to professional sterilizing equipment. I carried on in this way for a couple of years just working on myself and close mates.


I started working in a studio in the West Country. I worked there for a few years and during that time I met some really cool people and built up a loyal customer base of regulars who appreciated my obsession with hygiene and cross contamination.


I made the decision to move here to Riverside tattoo and piercing centre just over a year ago. I was given an opportunity to work in a new state of the art tattoo studio in Gravesend. On the whole I have found people here are really open minded and quite open to suggestions.


One of the things that really appeals to me is being able to work alongside great artists who truly love what they are doing and are constantly striving to be better, it is inspiring and makes you want to do the same.



I am 27 years old and originally from Northern Ireland. I’ve been into tattoos since I was about 14 and moved to Kent last year to try and break into the industry as for years I have yearned to be a tattoo artist. Fortunately a couple of months after moving here I got this job at Riverside Tattoo, which I’m so grateful of because it has opened my eyes to a lot of issues that I was blind to before. It’s been an education and a pleasure working here, which is since the studio first opened, almost a year now.


Marc King

When I first started piercing I trained as a canula piercer with a friend. Then in august last year I began an apprenticeship at Medway tattoo with Alex Catchpole, learning to pierce with blades. My training was continued with my good friend Emma Galloway and I started working as the piercer here at Riverside tattoo in June.


I’m still young (only 23, just a baby really) and still learning, exploring piercing methods such as free hand piercing and I’m hoping to learn more about scarification and implants in the near future 


Ben Shaw

I’m Ben; I’m 23 and a newcomer to Riverside. I’m from Stoke-on-Trent and began tattooing alone, but never really made any significant progress until I started working for Rob Mayer at Rob’s Tattoo Studio in Newcastle-under-Lyme. The studio became part of Tribal Images a few years ago where I continued to work and develop my abilities before moving to Kent after replying to an advert in Skin Deep. I came here for an interview with Chris the same week as the London convention took place, so the first week of October was a really significant one for me!  Since coming here, I’ve been overwhelmed by how unreservedly friendly, open and accommodating all the staff across the studios are. 


I don’t think, at this stage of my tattooing, I have any particular specialty in terms of style, but I am drawn towards images which have a dark humour about them - be it a portrait of a character with an dubious past or a simple grinning skull - and am fond of the artistic approach of tattooists such as Guy Aitchison.



17 High St, GRAVESEND. Kent DA11 OBA

Tel: 01474 329000


Skin Deep 128 1 December 2005 128