Set Fire to the Rain: Brussels & Oslo - Craigy Lee

Published: 20 July, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 214, July, 2012

After a quick stop in London for the Great British Tattoo Show, I set our next destination on the GPS to see a rather daunting ‘2,000km to destination’ flash in front of my eyes… our next stop is Oslo, Norway, and it’s a hell of a drive from London!

Unfortunately the weather did nothing to make the distance more pleasurable. Grey clouds and drizzle were our companions as we motored through France, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, and it showed no sign of giving up as we carried on through Denmark. It’s a shame, because we drove across the Malmo and Store bridges, which are both huge, spanning some 40km of sea connecting Denmark to Sweden, but with this kind of weather they are not much

to look at. As we drive further north the landscape becomes more barren and harsh. There are signs for ‘wild moose’ as well as rocky terrain, crystal clear river rapids and mountains with pine trees… but no sign of trolls. (No trolls?! What kind of road trip is this? Ed.) Finally, after four days of straight driving, we arrive in Oslo to sun breaking through the clouds welcoming us to our final destination.

Maybe I have brought some of ‘Murphys Law’ from Ireland with me, as sadly, now that the sun is out, we will be sitting indoors at the convention. This year, the 14-year-old convention is being held on the third floor of the Samfunnssalen – a big hall decorated with murals and busts of Norwegian gentlemen on plinths in wooden coves. There is a good selection of artists from all over the world and some friendly faces; Woody from In2u and Stuart from Tattoo Workshop, both working in Brighton, who have also brought John Nott along for the party. There are artists from Germany, Spain and Japan, as well as the USA. Stef from Royal Tattoo in Copenhagen is working opposite me and putting out some great work, and my buddy, Harry Morgan, from Australia is in the booth next to me so there is a great atmosphere.

Despite the good vibe, Friday is a little slow. Apparently it has been raining for three weeks straight, so I guess with the first bit of sunshine everyone wants to get outside and enjoy it. Things pick up over Saturday and Sunday though and I do a few tattoos and meet some nice local people, including the winner of the Norwegian Big Brother who it seems has been spending her winnings on tattoos since the show finished, the latest of which was a tribute to those who died in the Norwegian massacre, which I thought extremely heartfelt. This year, Lene and the organisers at House of Pain Tattoo did an excellent job of organising and helping every artist with all their individual needs, sorting somewhere for us to park our van and putting on some lovely food and drinks on Sunday evening. The show is certainly no newcomer to the scene – probably not as busy as some previous years. The current economic climate and increase in conventions means even long-running shows such as this are seeing a drop in attendance. But Lene and her team have a good formula and are great hosts, so I’m sure next year they will adjust and it will be booming again.

After the show, we spend a couple of days exploring the city which is small enough that you can walk everywhere; we take in the likes of the old fort that overlooks the harbour as well as the ultra modern opera house that is almost like an optical illusion – you can walk from the water to the roof up one huge slope on the side around and down again.

With all the bad weather on the drive up, I really didn’t fancy driving all the way back again so I booked an overnight ferry from Sweden to Germany. There is something rather romantic about booking a cabin and travelling by boat – it’s old fashioned and adventurous, or maybe it’s all the James Bond films I watched every Bank Holiday as a kid. Anyhow, saving a days drive and being able to sleep and wake up in Germany refreshed is a novelty for sure!
Over the past few months I have driven through Belgium many times whilst travelling to various places – once you depart the Eurotunnel it is a mere 30 minutes before you hit the country’s border – yet I haven’t stopped here once, not even to get petrol. However, things are about to change as the next stop is the East Flanders convention, situated in the small town of Belare, 40 minutes outside of Brussels.

Now in its seventh year, the convention is a fair size bigger than the last few shows I have worked at. It is held in the Festivalhal, which sits in beautiful surroundings right next to a lake and a nature reserve. The organisers go the distance to make sure everyone feels welcome and have everything they need; then they go that bit further by catering a free meal for all the artists on Sunday morning before the doors open to the public so everyone can sit down together and enjoy some food. It’s small things like this that make these events more personal and enjoyable. It was nice to be able to have a quiet half hour to talk without tattoo machines buzzing away or potential customers asking how much the design on their iPhone will cost.

The convention was busy from the moment the doors opened, with around 80 artists from across Europe supplying the eye candy while some great rockabilly bands pleased the ears. After the show, I put my machines away and explored Brussels, which I have to say is lot more impressive and grand than I was expecting. We checked out Market Square (more spectacular than it sounds), headed to the Atomium (it’s the thing on the postcards that looks like giant aluminium balls), and finally eat a famous Belgian waffle.

Then it’s time to enjoy a few days off before my next stop in Aachen, Germany, where I will be working a guest spot at Bodyscript tattoo…


Text & Photography: Craigy Lee