By Adrian Hextall For Tattoo.com
It will come as a surprise to absolutely no one that the heavy metal and tattoos go hand in hand. If anything, it’s probably one of the first reasons tattoos became popular outside the typical ones that saw much of the Royal Navy and the Army leading the charge in the late 1950s and 1960s. As we marched into the 70s, with the flower power movement fading behind us, rock ‘n roll had stagnated, The Beatles had called it a day at the beginning of the decade, but a new movement was gathering pace thanks to bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Taking a leaf out of their books and adding a sense of ‘heavy’ to it, the pioneers of the true heavy metal sound, Black Sabbath burst out of Birmingham, England and music would never be the same again.
Fans gathered in their masses and before long the tattoo parlours were finding a new swathe of clientele all of whom were wanting to support their musical heroes in any way they could. Band logos, representations of what the band meant to an obsessive fan, a lyric or simply an image taken from an album cover were all translated into artwork and before long both artist and fan were comparing ink with each other. It became a talking point amongst band members, it allowed the fans, the ones who’d queued up for hours at the stage door to meet the artists as they departed a venue. The interactions were often fleeting but if you were lucky enough to have a tattoo with an eye-catching design, something the band could relate to, perhaps it could lead to more than a passing moment and an autograph, perhaps for a while, you too could be part of the thing that meant so much to you.
As time and decades have progressed, tattoos have become not only accepted but expected in the music business and no where more than the world of heavy metal. The quality of ink on show nowadays puts many of the artists from 40 years ago to shame. You want a picture-perfect replica of Motörhead’s Lemmy on your arm? No problem. A pixel perfect version of Guns ‘n Roses ‘Appetite for Destruction’ album cover [the original one] on your back? It’ll take a while but it’s all possible. You name it, someone out there has the skills to turn you into a piece of living art.
With the premiere UK heavy metal festival ‘Bloodstock Open Air’ celebrating it’s 20th anniversary, it seemed only fitting that to truly celebrate the longstanding relationship between ink and metal, we should talk to the fans to see just what drives them to gets the designs they do. Is everything a musical journey or is it far more in depth than that?
Unsurprisingly a wealth of designs and styles presented themselves at this year’s Bloodstock. Speaking to husband and wife, Faye and Ben, Faye had the following to say; “My tattoos are representing my life, my music and me as a person. I’ve got a lot of Guns ‘n Roses tattoos as I’ve followed the band since I was three years old. I just wanted to show everyone my love for that band. I’ve got other band tattoos that I’ve had signed as well. If that happens then I’ll go and get the signature inked in as well. It really is like my rock’ n roll journey. Other tattoos are memorials, memories of certain things and simply express me as a rocker.” Another area that Faye points out is the link between horror and metal as well. Some of her tattoos also celebrate horror and she, not surprisingly, feels the two themes are highly complementary. Drawing attention to the beautiful piece celebrating Tim Burton’s ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ she then brings husband Ben over who has his own story to tell. “Ben has everything we’ve seen tattooed on him somewhere”, says Faye. “If anyone ever asks us if we’ve seen so and so, we just need to check his arms for a logo.” Laughing she pulls him over and when asked why he does what he does, and why it means so much to him, the answer is not altogether unexpected. “Aw hell,” he says with a sigh. “How can you answer that?” With a furrowed brow, he pauses for thought and adds,
“This is definitely not for other people. It’s for me, the story of my life and I want to be able to remember where I was at a certain point in time, what I was doing and who I was listening to. It’ll remind me what I liked or was interested in at the time. I’m sure in 20-30 years’ time I won’t like some of these bands anymore, but I know that ‘at that point’ I did. It’s no different to people keeping ticket stubs or a scrapbook of the gigs they’ve gone to. When you’re into this sort of music, it’s a way of life. This isn’t something you just go into [Birmingham] for on a Saturday, you live this Monday to Sunday. You live it 24×7. Our honeymoon was a Download Festival in 2010 watching AC\DC. All of our holidays are festivals. We don’t do holidays in Spain for 2 weeks on a sun lounger, we spend our holidays in muddy fields. My tattoos document all of that for me because that’s my, our, life.” As we wandered through the crowds during a packed set from classic British metal act Diamond Head, famous for their track ‘Am I Evil?’ to which the thousands strong crowd was more than happy to respond, “Yes I Am!” we bumped into another couple, Lewis and Paige. Again huge metal fans, Lewis bemoaned the absence of the band he was hoping to see, Mercyful Fate who, sadly, had been unable to perform this year due to the travel restrictions caused by the pandemic. They will, however, come to Bloodstock in 2022 when they will be headlining on the Friday night. A clear favourite for the fans, the band had only recently reformed after a lengthy hiatus and were gearing up for festival appearances globally when everything sadly went south! Undeterred, both Lewis and Paige were more than willing to share their insight into the music and the art that adorns their bodies. A common theme that became obvious throughout the weekend was the connection with the cover art from albums as Lewis explains; “It’s definitely the thing that drives my choices, the album artwork. Metal and artwork has always gone hand in hand. I’m a big black metal fan so I’ve got a burning church here [points to left arm and shoulder]” For our less knowledgeable readers, in the early 1990s bands like Mayhem and Emperor sprung up out of the Norwegian metal scene, playing a style of music previously unheard. Brutal metal with harsh vocals and lyrics that often-glorified Satan and demonic rituals, at it’s peak, the bands took to burning centuries old wooden churches in Norway to make an impact. Nowadays the music is the driving force rather than bands trying to make their presence known through any means necessary, but to all metal fans globally Black Metal is best summed up with the burning church imagery. For the first time over the weekend, both Lewis and Paige had full neck tattoos. Serious works of art requiring many hours in the chair for both of them. There was an initial reluctance before each of them decided to take the plunge.
“I definitely regretted it for the first few weeks,” says Lewis. “But now, I’m used to it and I’m glad I’ve got it. I’ll never go up on to the face though and I don’t think I’m done yet, maybe down on to the legs next.” “Times have definitely changed,” an enthusiastic Paige adds. “Years ago the neck tattoos would have been a problem but so many people just see them as art now and it’s far more acceptable. It leaves us much more open to express ourselves the way we want to.” Sound words indeed from the woman with ‘WILDSIDE’ written across her midriff.
Bloodstock with it’s four stages offers a wealth of music, something old, something new, something often familiar and something so totally batshit crazy that you wonder how the band could ever come up with the idea in the first place. For every band that claims to worship Satan and drink the blood of virgins (but not on a school night because we’ve got to be up early the next day), we have classic metal from the likes of Saxon and Judas Priest, the former celebrating some 40 years since formation and the latter, headlining on the Sunday night, celebrating a majestic 50 years as the undisputed metal gods. Elsewhere we have a stage for new and upcoming bands, all of whom strive to be able to celebrate their 50 years one day as well as headlining the suitably named Ronnie James Dio [main] stage. As we check out one of the new bands in the ‘Hobgoblin New Blood Stage.’ we chat to James and Rebecca who are taking a time out at the back of the tent to just chill out, have a drink and as luck would have it, talk tattoos to us. In contrast to many of the other people we spoke to, James has no band tattoos on him at all. There is no link to the music in his art rather everything he has had done was, put simply, “There because it makes me happy.” So what does make James happy? Well it would appear Xenomorphs (from the Alien franchise) fighting dinosaurs would be a great starting point as his sleeve clearly depicts. In addition, sitting in amongst everything he’s also working on some classic middle-earth designs and as he talks us through his ideas his love of ‘Lord of the Rings’ also shines through. The effort that goes into these designs should also not be underestimated. Hours and hours were spent on some of the designs resulting in, as James succinctly puts it, “me bleeding like a bitch for ages.” We definitely suffer for our art. Rebecca, like everyone we spoke to also has her own story to tell and uses her art to convey it. An arts and crafts shop manager, Rebecca is focussed heavily on her love of animals with one side set to portray deep sea creatures and time goes by. Elsewhere she has the Disney sea witch from ‘The Little Mermaid’ which sits underneath one particular band logo and that one relates to 30 Seconds From Mars. That particular piece references an album from the band that got her through a particularly difficult personal time and the loss of a loved one and the tattoo serves as a poignant reminder of how the band helped her through that dark period. Powerful stuff indeed. One thing they both agreed on, like so many people we spoke to over the weekend was the “we’re not done yet” ethos. Both of them talked at length about the tattoos on the back of the legs of a fan watching the Bloodstock Saturday night headliner, thrash giants Kreator. The quality of the art and the level of detail on the pieces clearly providing more inspiration for both of them. With the festival in doubt right up until the 11th hour for the organisers, with multiple bands needing to be replaced at short notice as a result of positive COVID-19 tests and travel restrictions making playing in the UK too difficult to achieve, it’s nothing short of a minor miracle that Bloodstock Open Air 2021 did go ahead. The team worked tirelessly and the end result which has seen the cream of the UK rock and metal scene playing some of their best ever sets alongside those who could make the trip like Canadian musical genius Devin Townsend. If you ever wonder what a metal festival could do for you but were too afraid to ask, well the answer is fireworks, an elephant and a gorilla….. Let’s just let that random collection settle in the brain for a moment. Why would we mention that as a segue? Well, random choices because “let’s just say I’ve done a lot of fucked up stuff in my life”, so Chelsey tells me as I chat to her and her partner Dave. Neither one specifically has music related tattoos but instead has random stuff that just reflects a moment or a whim. Take a look at the photos of the pair for proof positive that no two people will ever have the same artwork on their bodies. With the 5-day festival drawing together 20,000 people, acts like Judas Priest, Therapy, Evil Scarecrow, Gloryhammer, Kreator, The Wildhearts and more for possibly THE most necessary event in the last 2 years, we spent a few minutes chatting to one fellow who has the perfect replica of Lemmy that we mentioned at the start of the article. Lemmy is, without a doubt, revered by all and the bar where we were talking is even named after him. It feels only appropriate that we can sum up the connection between the festival, the music and tattoos with shots of the great man himself. I would have managed to get the name of the person with the tattoos, but for the fact that I knocked his pint over whilst getting the shots. I guess therefore I owe Lemmy a pint. It’s what he would have wanted.
PHOTO GALLERY (Photo credit Kal Ahmed)
(If you encounted a strange man asking lots of questions, then taking a photo, you may be here in our Gallery).
Bloodstock Open Air returns to Catton Park in Derbyshire (UK) Thu, 11 Aug 2022 – Sun, 14 Aug 2022 with Mercyful Fate and Lamb of God already confirmed as headliners.