Rock n Roll Tattoo - Glasgow

Published: 20 April, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 198, May, 2011

Rock n Roll Tattoo have been making quite a name for themselves over the last few years. Their story is one of a fistful of talent and raw determination. Brace yourself for the 21 Gun Salute...

"It’s quite a long story." 

Yeah, sure. This is how Sebastian ’Seb’ Flasza, begins, but it’s more like being strapped to a torpedo than an interview. I’ll let him run free in the field before I put the lead on:  

“I used to play in a band in Poland called Frontside, it was quite a famous band. In 2003, we even won the equivalent of a Grammy in Poland, in the Best Heavy Metal Album category. At the time, I had some big dreams for the band, you know, to earn enough cash to live from the music but I soon found that it was impossible. In the end, I decided to split up with the guys and take my chances in Scotland. When I came over, I found myself working in Edinburgh, in the scrap yards and the factories. I did this for a very long time, about two or three years. During this time, I was checking out the tattoo studios that were around and to be honest, I wasn’t too impressed with what I saw; everything, from the approach to the customer to the artwork, the same designs on the walls all the time. And the prices too - everything seemed a little overcharged. I’ll give you an example; once I was walking down a street in Edinburgh, a very busy street. I saw a tattoo studio and they had their open doors so you could see the customers getting tattooed and all the dust and shit from the street was blowing inside. I was thinking, this is mad, why can’t I do it - and do it better!”

I admire Seb’s style. His ability to see something that could be taken, reworked and made better for everyone. It’s flashes of inspiration like this that drive us forward but what does an ex-musician and factory worker really know about setting up a tattoo studio, let alone running one? “Having been a musician for about twenty years, I knew nearly everything I needed to about tattoos because I had sponsorships and endorsements from tattoo shops in Poland. I still had some good contacts with tattoo studios, so I sent a message to a friend in Poland and I said to him, “What do you think about opening a tattoo studio in Edinburgh? Tomasz has been my friend for a long time so we knew each other very well. At the time, he was responsible for the piercing section at Dragon Tattoo Studio in Katowice. Tomasz is a guy with a full head of ideas but he just can't sit in one place for too long, so after two years at Rock'n'Roll Tattoo he decided to open his own studio in Krakow - his studio is called Rock'n'Ink Tattoo. We are still close and co-operate all the time. In fact, one of his resident artists, Mariusz Romanowicz, will be doing a guest spot at our studios from the 15th of April.”

So with the idea in place and interest being shown, all Seb needed was the money to set about putting his plan into action. In true Seb fashion, this major obstacle becomes just another hurdle to be overcome. “I had no cash at all, so I was working in the factory, on nightshift, four nights a week and also 12 hours shifts Saturdays and Sundays, double time, just to save some money to open and run the studio.”

And the hard work paid off. It wasn’t long before Seb was out of the factory yards and into a newly opened studio in Edinburgh. “When we opened the first tattoo studio in Edinburgh, we had a big Polish community and they were our main customers in the beginning. Then what happened was because we are Polish, our language and accent was very easy to recognise by the Scottish people, so we started getting more customers. Because of the increasing number of customers, we decided to invite a few guest artists from the good and well known Polish tattoo studios, basically our friends. In those early days, we had Pawel from 3rd Eye Tattoo, Carlos from Blackstar Tattoo, Dominik from Tattoo Lucky, the guy called Tattooman and Adam Gorek who was on the road at this time. Not many people know this but we also had Kazik Rychlikowski, better known as KOSA, guest spot with us. He started his international career at Rock'n'Roll Tattoo. So quickly, they saw that we were good artists and that our level of hygiene was very high. We knew what we were doing, how to run a proper tattoo studio. We were talking to customers for about two or three hours about their designs, we were preparing everything for free because it was all such fun you know. And people were really surprised. And we try to keep that feeling still now. I was speaking to a woman, about two days ago in the Glasgow studio, who said that she had never had that kind of service that we provide, at a studio before.”

Not content with one successful studio, Seb turned his drive and passion onto another one, this time in Glasgow...and then another one in Aberdeen. “I received a phone call about a tattoo studio in Glasgow that was for sale. After few days of intensive thinking, I decided to check the place out. The studio was fully equipped and it was in a good location so I decided to take the challenge and open our second branch. Then another idea came into my head. A tattoo studio in Aberdeen. We have a lot of customers travelling from Aberdeenshire so it seemed a good idea. While I was making up my mind, I spoke to my cousin Aga and her husband Stephen about it. They had just come back from Australia, where they had lived near Bondi Beach, and they told me that lots of people were very impressed with their tattoos. One of their dreams had always been to run their own tattoo studio, so I asked them if they would like to help run the new studio. And that is how another branch came to life.”

“But I have had some funny things happen setting up the studios,” Seb continues, “Once, I was having a chat with some one from Edinburgh Health & Safety and she never knew that something like single-use tubes existed. She was trying to tell me a couple of things about opening a tattoo studio that was absolute rubbish. Four years ago, they never knew that you had single tubes and all that they expected from me, was just to have an autoclave.” 

And when it came to opening the other studios, there were even more surprises in store for Seb: “The rules for opening a tattoo studio, for running that kind of business, should be the same in each city. But it’s not! In Aberdeen, you have to pay for a licence for each artist, which is about £300 for 3 years. In Edinburgh, that is £52 for three years. In Glasgow, it is £112 for one year. I had a big rumble with the Glasgow council because in Aberdeen, you can apply for the licence and if everything is OK in the studio, you can run the business no problem. In Glasgow, I have been told, that we can’t tattoo people for money until we have the licence. We can do it for free but we can’t charge without the licence. What is the fucking point?”

So with three studios successfully up and running, does Seb have any plans to open up any more studios, say in England. Maybe even London? “No, definitely not. Three tattoo studios in the last four years is enough for me. I was thinking about making a move to Nice in France and opening a tattoo studio there. I was trying to find premises but they were expecting something like forty thousand euros to take over a ruined shop. So first you pay that, then the agency fees, then the rent, then the refurbishment and decoration. It was all a bit too much - even for me!”

So maybe another studio in a different country completely might be pushing it but having being involved so heavily with the tattoo industry in Poland and then running three studios in Scotland, I’m interested to find out from Seb if there is much difference in how things operate between the two countries. “Tattooing in Poland, it is bigger now. I would say that the biggest difference is in the prices. Here in Scotland, you can spend £250 straight away for a tattoo because you have another £750 or £1000 to live but in Poland a good tattoo will cost you, say, two thousand zloty (approx £430) so you have to save for a good tattoo, sometimes a month, sometimes six months. But still the Polish tattoo studios are growing and growing. Also with the Polish tattoo artists, these people, they want to learn all the time. They don’t think to themselves, ‘We are the best now so we don’t have to do nothing!’ All the time they are checking out new artwork and speaking to other artists. About techniques, about different inks, swapping experiences. And that’s how they keep going forward. All the time improving themselves. The simple rule is, even if you are doing something small like lettering, or love hearts, it must be done tip top. One hundred and sixty-six percent good. And that’s the reason why we are so popular in Scotland. Each tattoo for us is very, very important. You can spend millions on advertising but if that tattoo you do is crap, you’ll be ruined soon enough.”

Once again Seb proves why he is, as he has proudly told me before, “the brain of the operation called Rock’n’Roll Tattoo.” There is no denying, when Seb sets his mind on something, very little is going to get in his way to achieve that goal. “I am really busy running the studios. So busy, I don’t even have time to get my own tattoos now. All mine, they are from ten or fifteen years ago when I was in the band. You know I have three Facebook pages, three mySpace pages and a couple of Polish websites to run.  To run a good tattoo studio, you have to learn how to run Facebook, how to do advertising, how the booths look at the tattoo convention, the promoting and advertising, the guest artists - all this stuff  I am doing myself. And my English is the best of the guys so I spend a lot of time chatting with the customers. A big help, is our manager Voytek from the Edinburgh shop. He is a body piercer and has been with us about four years now. In Glasgow I have a big help from our manager Adam and finally when it comes to Aberdeen, Aga and Stephen are on top of everything. So even though I am waiting for a moment to get more tattoos, it is not happening just yet.”

The Rock’n’Roll family are hitting the convention circuit hard this year too - which is another area that seems to be a thorn in Seb’s side: “In Scotland, each booth is supposed to have a wash basin and an autoclave; everything is supposed to look like a normal tattoo studio, which of course is impossible. Then in England people can do conventions without all this, why all these different rules? Tattooing, it is a massive industry right now, so I think that all the councils should do everything they can to help the tattoo conventions. I mean, it’s prestigious to have a tattoo convention in a city. Unfortunately I think that some councils are just too closed.”

Politics aside, there must be something that draws Seb to the conventions. “When I left the band, everything seemed a lot quieter. I had been used to doing big shows with Iron Maiden, Kreator, Sepultura and other big name bands. It was like I had nothing to do. So now, doing the conventions for me is like doing a good gig. The competitions, it gives me shivers talking about it. It’s good, it’s like being on the stage again. I have no time for the music anymore and my wife, she was never happy about the sex, drugs and rock and roll, but sometimes when we are doing the big competitions and are winning at the convention, that is a big party for us. We had tours with Behomoth and Vader and we were doing ten or fifteen gigs, day after day and it was a massive party. I had to decide to stop for my family and for my health. Yeah, I had a liver I didn’t want to transplant.”

Good thinking, though I am sure there will be plenty more celebrations to be had in the future for Seb and the Rock’n’Roll family.

 

Seb on Adrian ‘Gru-Chan’ Gruszczynski

Adrian ‘Gru-Chan’ Gruszczynski is 21 and the youngest artist in the family. He has been in the tattoo game for only two years and is already making a big name for himself. I followed Adrian’s work for over a year on a Polish social network site, noticing what a huge progression of quality, home made talent was there. Every tattoo picture he posted, was better than the one before, so I decided to invite him to our brand new Aberdeen branch as a resident artist. So far, all the knowledge that young gentleman knows about tattooing, has been collected by himself from the internet and from other good Polish tattooists - and only by email. Now he has spent a few visits, and few hundred pounds, on the tattoo convention circuit being tattooed by KOSA and DEADI which gave him another level of knowledge altogether. He is a celebrity in our Aberdeen branch, much loved by all the girls age 18-66. Adrian is a new school, cartoon style guy with a little hint of realism. He has a passion for gymnastics and martial arts. His nickname, Gru-Chan, is from his movie hero Jackie Chan.” 

Seb on Grzegorz 'Mr Greg' Klich

After some very bad experiences in different tattoo studios in Wroclaw, Poland, Mr. Greg decided he wanted to work for a crew where the owners were tattoo lovers and not just money makers. So in January 2010, he moved to Scotland and join the family permanently. After just a few months in the studio, Mr. Greg did his first convention at North Lakes Tattoo Show, Carlisle, and won Rock’n’Roll’s first award in ‘The Best Sleeve Of The Show’ category. It was Mr. Greg’s  second award in his career. Previously he had won second place for ‘The Best Tattoo of Sunday’ at the 2008 Cottbus Tattoo Convention in Germany. Mr. Greg is very determined and very well organised as a tattoo artist, so all the preparations before the conventions are done by him and we never forget even the smallest screw from our equipment. The traditional style of tattooing will always be in his heart but new school and realistic are not a mystery to Mr. Greg. He is crazy about fishing as a hobby so Scotland seems to be a good place for Mr. Greg!

Seb on Jaroslaw (Jarek) Rzymski

Mr. Rzymski, the quietest tattooist in our squad. It took me about six months to have a couple words with Jarek, before I realised the full potential of his artistic and sometimes very sarcastic humour. Not only is he based permanently at Edinburgh studio, he is also co-owner of Lucyfire Tattoo in Szczecin, Poland. In the past he has had some very bad experiences working in a ‘studio’ in Larnaka, Cyprus, where he had hundreds of drunk and drugged up people asking him for all sorts of weird tattoos, normally at about three in the morning! Feeling very disillusioned and upset, he decided to leave that hot Mediterranean island and come back to Poland. It was a few months after that, that he had an offer from another Scottish tattoo studio but because his friend Herr Kempke was already our crew member he choose Rock’n’Roll as his final destination. Because they are still running their studio in Poland,  Mr. Rzymski and Herr Kempke are currently working on a monthly basis but from July or August, Jarek will stay with us permanently. His favourite style is black & grey.”

Seb on Arkadiusz 'Herr Kempke' Kepka

Some people say that he is a son of a Viking king - he looks like one of them. He is master of celtic and pagan, black & grey tattoos and has over six years of tattooing experience. He has been a member of the Rock’n’Roll tattoo crew since September 2009. He is also the co-owner (with Mr. Rzymsky) of Lucyfire Tattoo in Szczecin (Poland). With almost the same story of joining our crew as Mr. Rzymsky, he is the biggest Swedish melodic death metal maniac in our team. Though he is currently with us in Edinburgh, from July he will be forced to return to Poland and Lucyfire Tattoo Studio because of massive amount of customers waiting for his work. It will be very sad to say goodbye to Arek for a while but we’ll definitely work together in the future and host him as a guest artist in all our studios.

Seb on Peter Raduly

Peter is our resident artist in the Glasgow studio. He is our first non polish artist in the Rock’n’Roll family history! Peter is from Hungary and Rock'n'Roll Tattoo Glasgow is the first professional studio he has worked in ever! We found Peter working in a tyre shop in Aberdeen doing airbrushing and repairing cars. He had been a NATO soldier for five years, where he was also an amateur tattooist, when he decided to move to Scotland. A studio had promised him a permanent job but unfortunately nothing like that ended up happening. Reality is sad sometimes. But as soon as I saw his portfolio, I knew that I wanted him in our squad. He is a raw but very talented diamond which needs to be polished and needs a little bit more attention but when you look at his portfolio, it speaks for itself. At the moment, his favourite style is realism and colour tattoos.

 

Rock n Roll Tattoo

11 Watson St
Glasgow,
G1 5AF
United Kingdom

 0141 5521640

Credits

Text: Trent Aitken-Smith; Photography: Rock n Roll Tattoo

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