Interview: Stewart Robson – The London Tattoo Convention

On the last day, when people are tired and eyes are weary, that’s when the artists smash through the wall like the troopers they are. And on this particular last day, I see, Stewart Robson in his booth taking a well-earned break. I decided to ask him if he could spare a few minutes to answer some questions for us. Of course, being a nice guy, he said yes…

First question – how did you get into tattooing?

I got into to tattooing by basically… tattooing myself! I just did it, that’s all really, I just tattooed myself. I first tattooed a black square on my sternum, that I lined and filled in. The next day I lined a peony on my ankle which is still there. I also tattooed my friends and tattooed their friends.

Once you did that, did you go and work as an apprentice?

I didn’t have an apprenticeship. I learned by tattooing myself and friends. I’d been a graphic designer and illustrator for ten years. I knew how to be professional, take a brief and know what a client wants, that side I had down. Once I learned to tattoo I’d be on my way. I would’ve loved an apprenticeship but no one gave me one, so I tattooed myself. I was getting heavily tattooed at the time anyway. I was in the process of getting a huge back piece.

Just before I did my first tattoo and all, that is around the time I got offered a job at Frith Street.

Who did your backpiece?

That was done by Steve Byrne, who now owns Rock of Ages in Austin, Texas. He was working in Leeds while I was there, which helped.

I once believed that the number 13 meant something to a tattoo artist. Is that true and if so what does it mean?

It means something different to everybody. I wouldn’t like to say what it means to anybody else. To me it means all kind of different things. Some tattooing used to be a counter cultural thing, same as what heavy music used to be. It’s like a childish rebellion. It’s like why did heavy metal guys like skulls.

What was the first record that sent shivers down your spine?

That’s a difficult question. Oh man, the first record I bought myself was an Iron Maiden single. I can remember the cover but not the song. It was a track off the Seventh Son album, 1988/89 the single had Eddie on a motorbike. I bought that. A lot of my friends taped albums for me or they were bought for me. That was the one I chose for myself. After that it was Master of Puppets on cassette.

But the chills… I liked thrash metal because that’s what teenage testosterone sounds like. Later on in the late 90s when I first heard Burning Witch, they changed the way I thought about guitar playing. Never heard that tone or sinister feel, never heard anything like it before, nothing sounds like it, people try but those guys had it. A lot of my favourite albums came out in the 90s.

How about now, what band would you say to look out for?

I don’t really keep my ear to the ground. One of the other tattooists here asked me earlier what gigs are happening in London. I said I don’t know. Today is the Day are playing soon, but I’m not sure if they are his thing. Damn. I don’t know, God knows. While in the studio we will stick on Spotify and random stuff comes on and I want to know who it is. I google them and they’re in bands I already heard of. I do like the new Death Grips album, I just fuckin like it, the drumming on that is great, their albums I just fuckin’ love.

A choice of three musicians to play at your shop… Who would it be?

Depends on the day. Wow, ok, Leadbelly to duet with Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. Or I’d want Zack Hill (Death Grips) on drums, Steve Austin (Today is the Day) guitar, John Taylor from Duran Duran, his bass playing makes me anxious. It’s so frantic, I love his style. As front man Johnny Morrow (Iron Monkey) he was incredible. Best front man I’ve ever seen. I went to see them a few times and from then on I’ve never seen a band that has that air of threat. I was never scared of a band, but there was this air of threat and hate. It was real and honest vibe, I didn’t realise that couldn’t happen anymore. Seeing them, I didn’t realise at the time the importance of what I saw in their performances. Amazing stuff.

What advice would you give someone who is thinking about getting their first tattoo?

There’s a few ways to approach that answer. One is just go and do it. Don’t sweat about it too much and just do it. That’s what I’d say. As a professional. Think about it, do research make sure it’s what you want. But the more mundane answer is turn up for your appointment, be sober, have food, relax and just do it! Go and get it. Having one is more important than not.

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