Folk-punk, singer songwriter Frank Turner, has been a long term client here at MBA. In 2013 he filmed the music video for his single ‘Losing Days’ at Modern Body Art and played a short acoustic set afterwards. He has kindly taken some time out of his constant touring schedule to write a short blog on his introduction, experiences and reasons for getting tattooed.
Tattoos and music have always been linked in my mind. My first love was Iron Maiden, and among the many things I noticed about them, as a 10-year-old kid, was the fact that Steve Harris has ink on his forearms. I thought it was cool, though also outlandish, and probably, along with long hair, the kind of thing my parents would never approve of. I wasn’t wrong.
I got my first tattoo when I was 16 years old at Evil From The Needle in Camden. By that time, punk and hardcore had taken over my life. I remember going to see shows at the Red Eye and the Highbury Garage; the bigger, cooler, slightly intimidating members of the scene all had a lot of ink, and it got me thinking. None of my friends had any ink, so I didn’t really have anyone to ask about the process, the pain, anything like that. But for some reason I just really felt the need to get something done. I went down there of a Saturday afternoon, up from school on the train, and booked an appointment for the next day. They never asked me for any ID.
I remember walking in there the next day, pretty much quaking with fear. As I waked up the stairs, some massive skinhead guy, midway through a huge and bleeding chest-piece, tapped out with tears in his eyes. I almost ran away – I didn’t realise they hurt quite that much. In the event, though, mine was easy. I got a simple black UKHC logo done on my upper left bicep – an easy spot – and the whole thing took maybe half an hour. The door had been opened.
My choice of design was, to be polite to my younger self, primitive, but it seemed important to me then. The UKHC scene in London – Household Name Records, the EvilFest shows and so on – gave me a sense of direction and community at a time when I really needed it. I also felt pretty fucking cool having ink, the first in my direct peer group to do so, though I had to hide it from my mum and dad. My second piece, a year later, is in the same spot on my other arm. It says “No Spiritual Surrender”. It’s the title of a song by Inside Out. The band Abjure had covered it as their set closer on my first ever tour, and I’d sung along. It represented touring to me, this new-found mode of existence that I found so intriguing. It also has some small black Xs on there – I was Straight Edge at the time. So I also learned about regret and how things change over time.
After that I didn’t get anything done for a long time. I think I was a little unsure of whether or not tattoos was something I wanted to pursue, perhaps even a little remorseful about the two I had. They’re hardly works of art, and on my skinny frame they looked pretty out of place. My parents finally discovered the two of them on a family holiday in Italy. My mother was mortified, my father was furious. But there wasn’t much they could do. I reassured them that they were both easily hidden – as evinced by the fact they hadn’t spotted them for nearly 5 years.
My next piece of ink was, in many ways, the most significant for me. About a week after Million Dead finally imploded, I got the band’s logo done, underneath UKHC. Jamie, our guitar tech and one of my best friends, got the same. There was high symbolism in the fact that we got the ink done once the band was definitively, irreversibly over. I think I’d learned to appreciate tattoos as a mark of passage by that point. I wouldn’t have got it while the band still had time left to run. These days I tend to think of them as stickers on a suitcase.
I think that’s when I decided that tattoos would be a big part of my life. Music was central to it. Partly that’s a cultural thing – it’s a visible mark of membership, a pledged allegiance. Punk, hardcore, metal, outsider status – etched into the skin permanently. I suspect that I’m also subject to the changing winds of social fashion as well; tattoos have become much more widely accepted, more common, in the time period we’re talking about here. But my first intent was to align myself with the scene that I discovered as a teenager – bold, assertive, unapologetic, slightly mysterious figures in the underground mist.
You can find Frank’s website with all his album and tour info here.