Fancy this geezer’s art on your arms? Eddy Frankel explains why Lal Hardy is the star attraction at this week’s London Tattoo Convention. Portrait by Rob Greig.
Once you’ve snaked your way to the front of the queue at this weekend’s London Tattoo Convention, and before you get to the rabbit warren of stands that line Tobacco Dock, you’ll be greeted by an intimidating sight: a skinhead with a gold tooth and ink spilling down his arms on to his knuckles. This man, tattooing customers like every other artist at the event, is Lal Hardy, and he’s a major reason why tattoos are so big in London.
Hardy’s been in the business since 1979, when he opened New Wave Tattoo in leafy Muswell Hill and started drawing designs on the punks who were causing a racket in London. Slowly he built his reputation, becoming secretary of the Association of Professional Tattoo Artists for 15 years, as well as tattooist of choice for Liam Gallagher, Marc Almond and seemingly every professional footballer in the country.
‘When I first started in the mid-’70s it wasn’t the industry that it is now,’ he tells me, as he finishes off a design on a regular customer at his north London studio. ‘Your main clients were white, male and working-class. King’s Cross [where he first worked alongside another legend, Big Jock] was a violent area. There was a big alcohol and drug problem, and we’d see all this happening in the shop. Jock used to say that you’ve got to be the bouncer, the father confessor and the agony aunt.’
It was a world away from the tattooed bankers and bartenders of London today. ‘We live in a much more liberal society now,’ he reflects. ‘When I was a kid, people weren’t allowed to express themselves.’ Though sometimes those expressions go awry – cartoon Taz devils, barbed-wire armbands and eternity symbols are among the tats Hardy’s drawn over – but then everyone makes mistakes. ‘I got a tattoo of a Teddy boy,’ he says. ‘I thought I’d be a Teddy boy for life. I had a big quiff and suddenly me hair fuckin’ fell out. I’ve made mistakes. I understand.’
So, if you head to the convention looking to get tattooed, don’t be scared of the inked-up guy at the front. Under the skin, he’s only human.
The International London Tattoo Convention, Tobacco Dock, 50 Porters Walk, E1W 2SF. Shadwell DLR. Fri Sep 26 – Sun Sep 28.