Bridgend Tattoo Studio

Published: 28 May, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 212, May, 2012

It’s not often that we get the opportunity to mess around with the logistics of a busy studio and two touring and recording monster metal bands, but fuck with the system we have, and now proudly present you with:

A few months back, I wrote an article on Nipper Williams of Bridgend Tattoo Studio. At the time I remember thinking that it would be cool to do a bigger feature on Nipper and the studio. I began chatting with Ronnie Huxford, the studio manager, and it came about that the studio had some clients whose names were certainly worth dropping around. Namely the two Welsh mega-bands, Funeral For A Friend, and Bullet For My Valentine.

Over the next few months, Ronnie and I began the process of getting both bands into the studio at the same time for some ink. At first, we figured it would be an easy task, but with tour schedules, recording time and personal commitments, it was a little harder than we thought. Finally though, we got the date set and with a promise of both bands in the studio, I found myself hitting the motorway to get down to Bridgend.

When I arrived at 102 Nolton Street, Bridgend, to a very unassuming shop front, I was greeted by Ronnie and introduced to a group of people who were ‘hanging’ about the studio. It turns out that these ‘people’ were Matt, Moose, and Jay from Bullet For My Valentine, and Ryan, Gav, and Richard from Funeral For A Friend.

Now I knew these guys were from the two bands, but not being into them, I promptly forgot their names – sorry lads, no offence, but my taste in music is a little more, um, quieter. As the morning progressed, we got the photo shoot out the way and got down to the business of chatting.

Bridgend Tattoo Studio started off its life as Skin ‘n’ Ink, and it was in the early ’90s that Nipper joined the crew. “Nipper was a freelance artist,” Ronnie tells me, “which included airbrushing motorcycle helmets and jackets. At that time, David, his brother, popped into a tattoo studio wearing a jacket that Nipper had painted. The owner instantly fell in love with the artwork and suggested that Nipper should drop in for a chat. After firstly declining an apprenticeship due to lack of funds, it wasn’t long before he had a change of heart and accepted.”

“I started completely at the bottom of the ladder,” continues Nipper. “A proper old school apprenticeship. I was taking bookings, drawing flash and cleaning. A lot of the time I’d be sitting there for hours making needles – I love making needles. My boss was a git, but in a good way! I remember once he even got me to clean the toilet with a toothbrush, but all this made me understand how much I really wanted to be a tattooist.”

Nipper managed to secure an artist chair at Skin ‘n’ Ink which led to him travelling to places like Thailand and Israel, continuously trying to master his trade before returning to keep building his clientele. Up to this point, Nipper had also formed friendships with a lot people on the local music scene, either popping in for a tattoo from Bridgend college, or at jam nights and local shows where Nipper enjoyed playing guitar. In 2002, the owner upped sticks to set up a studio in Spain, leaving Nipper and fellow artist, Billy, the option to take over the business. This was a fresh start and they decided to change the name to Bridgend Tattoo Studio. Sadly after a year, Billy had a very bad motorcycle accident and his recovery period was unsure, so they agreed that Nipper would go it alone.

And so began Bridgend’s life with Nipper at the wheel. The years went by with Nipper slogging it out on his own before Chris Harrison joined the studio in 2010.

“It was a kind of hard time,” says Chris. “Circumstances at my previous studio forced me to leave, but it was a stroke of luck when I met the boys several weeks later on a night out and we really hit it off. A couple of weeks later, Nipper offered me a job and my own room at the studio. This break enabled me to develop my technique faster than ever. I’d been interested in tattooing from a very young age – always hanging out whenever I could in tattoo studios, constantly drawing and knocking on every door until someone would give me a chance. At 19 and in my home town of Merthyr, I finally got that chance.”

Chris then went on to work in several Welsh and European studios, picking up awards along the way.

“I remember two years ago meeting Gav, FFAF guitarist. He had a ‘time and space’ themed sleeve. I was like, ‘Wow that’s cool who did it?’, and he replied, ‘Nipper at Bridgend’. And now I get to put cool ideas on him. I love what I can do with a colour pallet and I’m discovering new techniques every day. It helps that my girlfriend is an artist too as it encourages me even more, plus I have learned so much from her – somehow she has brought the drawing skills out in me (Rianne, Chris’ girlfriend, did all the artwork for Funeral For A Friend’s latest album, The Young and the Defenceless).”

A year later and Ronnie Huxford joined the growing team at Bridgend as Nipper’s business partner. Ronnie, a musician himself, had shown keen support to the studio while on or off tour for the past seven years, joining the list of many from the Welsh music scene to be tattooed by Nipper.

”I needed someone to push the business,” explains Nipper. “It was getting to the point where I couldn’t do both – run the business and tattoo. Ronnie seemed the perfect choice. He’s an ace drummer who’s totally driven. He’s a good shop manager and has a real love for the tattoo industry. Overall a great partner – in business, not in life – that sounded a bit wrong! It also meant I could spend more time improving my tattooing and know that the business is in safe hands.”

“It just made sense to go into business with Nipper due to the history we have,” adds Ronnie. “Also, the addition of Chris to the studio was a massive motivation for both myself and Nipper. It was our body piercer, Ricki Duncan from BtS Body Modification, who first pointed us towards Chris’s work a year ago after a tattoo session with him.”

With the right artists in the studio and Ronnie running the business side of things, it was all systems go for Bridgend Tattoo Studio. The clients kept coming, and among them, the guys from Bullet and Funeral. Their friendship and trust in the studio became so strong that Bullet even invited Nipper to join them for two weeks of their ‘Uproar’ tour of the States in 2011.

“It was unreal, the boys looked after me so well. I got to live the dream, staying on Hollywood Boulevard, watching four guys that I have known since they were nothing more than kids, perform to sold out arenas. I got to put some lovely work on Matt, Moose and Jay, and even dropped a tour tattoo onto some of the Avenged Sevenfold boys who were also very kind to me. Being able to dive into the Rainbow for a beer and walking into the House of Blues to see Steel Panther was a dream. I can’t thank them enough and look forward to many more adventures.”

“Me and the Bullet boys go way back,” adds Ronnie. “I remember being thrown out of a French lesson for drumming on my desk while sharing an old Walkman, listening to Megadeth, with Moose (drummer for BFMV).”

”Moose had a reaper tattoo done out in the States,” interrupts Nipper. “He asked me to re-colour it, and halfway through I realised his reaper had six fingers! I am really enjoying Matt’s sleeve at the moment; it has taken a while to plan out and our schedules don’t help, but I’m so close to finishing it. I can’t wait!

“All the bands show great support to the studio, whether they wear our shop tee at Download attracting new clientele, but one thing never changes and that’s their personality. We always look forward to their homecomings – having spent months on the road, just to sit there and have a beer and talk rubbish. It shows they haven’t changed.”

"I really love the sleeve that I’m currently doing on Ryan,” says Chris. “It has been great getting to know him – and going to watch WWE too… good times! We want to be the best we can be, giving people the best service we can provide and an awesome experience thrown into the deal as well. You know, the world is supposed to end this year, so I’m going to work like a dog to try and achieve all my goals. If it doesn’t end, that’s OK. I’ll have gotten a lot done!”

Having hung out for the morning with the bands and the artists, it’s obvious that the relationship is more than simply music and ink. These guys are close, long-time friends, all with a mutual respect for their different fields, which is a good thing, right? The talent coming from all corners in this equation is quite simply, off the scale.

Bridgend Tattoo Studio

102 Nolton Street
CF31 3BP

01656 668644


Text: Trent Aitken-Smith; Photography: Kayla Wren


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