Home Sweet Home - Craigy Lee

Published: 15 October, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 217, October, 2012

After months of trekking all over Europe I decided it was time to get back to the UK and explore some far corners of my own country. After all, there are lots of fine countries in Europe, but only Britain is great!

So this month we are headed down to the West Country. My first stop is Bath to work at Electric Vintage with the talented Chantale Coady and her team. For those of you who were born yesterday, Bath is an ancient Roman town famous for its hot springs and spas – it’s a charming place full of buildings made of its famous limestone and places of historical interest. If you haven’t been, then go… end of story.

Chantale featured in Skin Deep a few issues ago so you should already be familiar with her work, but Jesse, Vicki and Dani all work alongside her putting out brilliant tattoos to the town’s residents. The shop is large, open plan and fits in with the cobbled streets and little shops that surround it; it feels very different from the standard white tiles and laminated flash seen in many of the dated studios in this part of the world and I’m comfortable here straight away. There are lots of laughs to be had, mostly provided by shop funster, Sal, who does the piercing and laser removal. As is the case all over the country, there are a lot of bad tattoo artists in every town so they are pretty busy at Electric Vintage.

The whole crew are friendly and approachable and there are artists that do most styles – “The other great shop in Bath is Broad Street Tattoo, but we co-exist just fine together here,” Jesse tells me. After finishing my working week I get to do a tattoo trade with Chantale, but as she is pregnant her husband (my Australian drinking buddy) Joel is the recipient of the tattoo. I am pleased to get some more work done on my arm; I haven’t had many tattoos this year, so it’s about time I start getting the hours in!

After our week in Bath, we head down to the even more tiny and picturesque coastal town of St. Ives in Cornwall. As we drive through the narrow roads we are accompanied by glorious sunshine and blue skies. When we finally see the shores of the town, I’m amazed that the sea is bright blue and green – similar to what I experienced in Australia (though perhaps not as warm) – and I already know I’ll enjoy my week here. I’m working at Shoreline Tattoo which is the only studio in St. Ives. It is nestled amongst other picture postcard shops on a cobbled lane barely wide enough to fit a Smart car down. When you walk in, it’s like a TARDIS – the reception and piercing rooms are downstairs, while artists Beth and Mike work upstairs in a bright, open studio.

This may be one of my favourite places I have worked this year. The place has a lot of character; it is small, welcoming and homely, has the original old white stone walls with dark wooden beams and is decorated with art, hand-painted skateboards, and the odd convention trophy. Lunchtimes are a real treat as I get to indulge in proper Cornish pasties and cream teas. Combine this with the laid back vibe of the studio and it is certainly something I could get used to. I didn’t meet a man with seven wives (should have looked harder then. Ed.) but I did find a very special tattoo shop, and if you’re down this way drop into the shop and say hi. You’ll be greeted with big smiles, a hot cup of tea and possibly a delicious homemade brownie.

My final studio stop is a few days in Torquay working with Dave Perry at Revolver Tattoo Rooms, and when I arrive it’s exactly what it says on the tin. The shop is split over three good-sized rooms – I’ve worked in studios smaller than each room so its pretty roomy – and has a very comfortable reception area. The team are young and fresh, and when you see young guns like this putting out decent tattoos, it not only makes you feel old, but makes you want to up your game! But while there is a lot of great new talent emerging in the UK there is also a lot of trash: “There are now seven tattoo shops in town,” Rich tells me. “Some are in the back of hair salons and the newest one is just a shop with printed A4 paper in the window for a sign, not to mention all the people working from home. We see a lot of bad work come in that people want fixing up.”

In only three days here I saw my fair share of what Rich was talking about and it made me realise what is going on in the UK right now cannot last forever. People are opening studios for the wrong reasons, getting inexperienced ‘scratchers’ in so they can make money, devaluing the cost of tattoos and not putting anything back into the industry. The customer who only wants to spend £20 on his tattoo is happy to spend £200 on a pair of trainers and you know what will last longer. I know you’ve all heard it a hundred times before, but one more time won’t hurt – always check portfolios and remember the old saying, ‘cheap tattoos aren’t good and good tattoos aren’t cheap’. Just don’t go there… support your local skilled artists.

I’ll leave you to ponder that as I head for my final stop this month; Woolacombe Bay and the Inkfest convention. Billed as ‘the UK’s first music and tattoo festival’, the show is in its first year and it’s certainly not the first of its kind in the world, with Kat Von D’s Musink running for around five years and Rock ‘n’ Ink in Germany now in its third year which I visited a couple of months back. Sadly though, the UK equivalent is not on the same level as its international brothers. I think maybe many holiday parks in Devon need to be knocked down – this one included.

The tattooing was split over three rooms and found people walking around on the Sunday proclaiming “wow, I never found this room before” as they came up to my booth. But let’s concentrate on the positives; there were some fine artists that’s for sure. Dawnii from Painted Lady, and Harry Morgan from Australia held the fort in one room, whilst Shakey Pete from Newquay and Roger Clark from Brighton made themselves comfortable in the room behind the stage. Pete’s booth was under the stairs although he was happy enough: “This is the weirdest place I have ever tattooed in, but I like it!” he told me. The third room had some body modification and scarification going on, but I didn’t spend too much time in there as the smell of burning flesh kind of put me off.

I think Great Britain deserves a music and tattoo festival that is truly great, so if they continue with the show I hope they can find a bigger and better venue. The bands were great as were a lot of the artists, but a ’70s holiday park just doesn’t fit the bill!


Text & Photography: Craigy Lee