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Dock Street Tattoo

Dock Street Tattoo

Here at Nine mag, we’ve known Mitch Allenden and Rich Wells for quite a few years. They’ve both forged a path in tattooing with bold and striking work. They recently came together to open the private Dock Street tattoo in Leeds so it seemed a perfect chance to get their thoughts on their careers so far.


Interview by James McCauley
Photography by Mitch Allenden and Rich Wells

Mitch also designed the new Sneaky Mitch X Nine Mag tee for us to go with this interview.

Mitch Allenden

Hi Mitch, so lets start with how you got into tattooing. You took quite an old-school route into the industry right, starting with piercing?
Yeah that’s it. I saw the piercing as a way of being around people into those sorts of practices. It was a great way to learn the basics as far as the hygiene aspects went as well, just a good ground work for the tattooing.

I had actually done a handful of tattoos before I started my apprenticeship. I was lucky to have a few friends that tattooed and my brother was an apprentice at the time, but I figured out pretty quickly that it wasn’t the best way to go about it and was really lucky when I got to apprentice with Lee hart, my first boss.

What was it about tattoos that made you want to pursue it?
I just loved having tattoos. I loved everything about it. Although I’m not an old hand as far as being a tattooist goes, I’ve been getting tattooed for 13-14 years. Before Google, Instagram and Facebook became necessary. It was more of an experience being in a tattoo studio. That mixed with the possibility of drawing and not having a real job definitely sealed the appeal.

…some poor Brazilian woman is walking round with a backwards clock tattooed on her somewhere. Simple is simple does I suppose.

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Whilst formal education like your illustration degree isn’t essential for tattooers, do you feel it helped you on your way?
It gave me a great opportunity to commit three years just to drawing (and drinking) which I wouldn’t have other wise had. Obviously you get to hang out with other people at an artistic level as well. That mixing of ideas and processes just helps you develop your own way of working, which I feel like I carried into tattooing with me.

How would you describe your style?
I don’t really know how I’d describe it. I don’t really have 1 complete way of working. I do design things differently depending on the subject matter and the customer.

Obviously there’s been a rise in television shows based on tattooing. Some ok, some horrendous. Tattoo fixers had to pay you some money right?
Yeah. A little bit. But I’ll just skip past that as I’m sure their legal team is bigger than mine.

Social media platforms like Instagram are no doubt a huge help for tattoo artists, helping get their work out there to a tonne of people. But you’ve had quite a large amount of people ripping your work off. Why do you think that is? Is there anything you can do to stop it?
It’s been one of the toughest things I’ve dealt with in tattooing. Originally when I first started noticing it I was getting really angry about it, justifiably so as well I might add. What I started to notice though was the more I seemed to call people out for it, the more I was being sent. I almost became the poster boy for rip offs. I started a little album on Facebook and used to name and shame people, but the negativity really doesn’t do much to make you feel better. Now I usually send a pleasant but firm “pack it in” message. Then depending on the response I’ll judge whether to publicly shame them. Most guys are from different countries and they don’t see what they’ve done wrong, they usually apologise and it doesn’t happen again. When it’s people more locally known to you it can be a different matter. Some people are just cunts, what can you do.

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You’re at Dock Street tattoo with friend Rich Wells now. How was the transition to a private studio?
Yeah it was great. Me and rich were lucky enough to have worked with Matt at Inspirations before. But both of us did predominantly appointment only stuff, and with us buying houses and Rich getting married etc. it started to make more sense to have our own place and take a bit more control over where we worked and how we did things.

What are your favourite things to tattoo?
Tribal. But only that stone effect 3D stuff

What machines and ink are you using at the moment?
Wayne Taylor’s. A Chris Smith. A Drexler. A very Thomas. One built by Dan Smith. Inks are mainly Solid inks and Dynamic black.

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You tattoo a pretty eclectic mix of subjects, are your favourite customers the ones that just give you a brief idea and let you run with it?
Yeah pretty much everyone u tattoo now is super sound. If I’m honest if people are too specific I don’t book them in. It’s nothing personal, it’s just usually clear they want a specific design and not necessarily something I’ll draw for them. Which is totally fine, but I’d rather work with someone that understands the process a little more and is happy to let it naturally take a course.

Are you still doing much design and illustration work? Obviously readers can get the T-shirt you’ve designed for us now.
I wish I had more time to be honest. I’d love to have time to work on my own stuff a little more. But I’m not going to knock being busy whilst it lasts. I’ll have plenty of time to paint in a few years when nobody wants me to tattoo them any more.

We’re pretty lucky here in the UK to have such a wide range of great tattoo artists and you seem to be good friends with a lot of them. Do you find that helps with your own tattooing?
Yeah definately, it’s a great way to meet people and the more people you meet in this job the more chances you have to learn new stuff.

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How have you felt tattooing as changed, even in the comparatively short amount of time you’ve been involved with it?
It’s changed a lot I think, I’ll be the first to admit I’m relative novice in the scheme of things. A lot of the changes seem to be for the positive. Access to information, equipment and reference has all massively improved. There’s obviously a lot of negatives as well. Huge over saturation of unnecessary apprentices (sweep your own floors you lazy bastards), a lot of people clearly becoming involved for the money, With no love or Involvement of the craft that goes into tattooing. It’s become a very “status” orientated job for quite A lot of people, saying you’re a tattooist is becoming more important than doing a good job or working hard to produce nice work.

But I assume a lot of that kind of thing will drop off over a few years. On the whole just the quality you see everyday has massively improved, and as much as I love to moan (I really love to moan) who wouldn’t rather hang out in a studio with a fit, talentless, Instagram model, apprentice than someone that can actually draw.

Lastly, tell us your favourite story from your time in tattooing or being tattooed.
It’s not really a story. But it relates to the rip off stuff we mentioned earlier. I once had a guy from Brazil, I think, rip off one of my designs which had a clock in the design. His customer had wanted it on the opposite side so as a clear professional he’d flipped it so it faced forward still. But he totally forgot to flip the clock back. So some poor Brazilian woman is walking round with a backwards clock tattooed on her somewhere. Simple is simple does I suppose.

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Rich Wells

Hi, Rich. So when did you first know you wanted to tattoo?
I didn’t really have an epiphany or anything like that, I was in my early twenties when I realised it was something I could get into.

Did you do a formal apprenticeship?
I didn’t have a formal apprentiship as I’d already been tattooing a bit before I got on at my first studio, but it was there where I learnt a lot, and was lucky enough to get given a chance to learn the ropes.

How did come to the style of tattoo you’re known for now?
I still don’t really think I have a style as such. I do lean more toward the traditional side of things though and ive always liked the more classic designs. simple and bold. Even though I throw some pink in now and again.

As I got to the front I said ‘Ross I’ve got something to show you’, and I dropped the jeans. He was that weirded out he didn’t even finish signing my book.

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Who are some of your biggest inspirations?
At the minute Louis Theroux is a big part of my life, and an inspiration on how to be a modern man.

How did you and Mitch meet and when did you decide to open Dock Street together?

I met Mitch at Inspirations which was the studio where I started out. I think It was a year or so of working together something like that.

How have you found running your own studio as opposed to just working for someone else?
Yeh it’s great, as ours is a private off sreet studio there’s not really too much to manage and it kind of looks after itself.

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What are your favourite things to tattoo?
I don’t really have a particular favourite, skulls are always cool, but if it’s something I think I can do well then I’m always up for it. It would be easier to name things I don’t like tattooing.

I need to ask about your Ross Kemp tattoo. What was it like meeting him and showing him the tattoo?
The ross kemp was just for a bit of fun. I thought getting a C-list celebrity (he might be B-list now i’m not sure on the current celeb rating) would be better than getting a James Dean or Marylin Monroe, plus I’d been watching a lot of ross kemp on gangs at the time.

Meeting him was pretty weird, I think he found it more bizzare than I did. I queued up with a load of Kemp horny, middle-aged women to get a book of his (which I still haven’t read) signed. As I got to the front I said ‘Ross I’ve got something to show you’, and I dropped the jeans. He was that weirded out he didn’t even finish signing my book.

You recently met another soap hero of yours, right? Barry, also from Eastenders…
I wish. I didn’t actually get to meet Barry. it was a mate of a mate who was interviewing him for leeds TV and he took one of our shop stickers with him and Baz was a sport and possed for a photo with it. During the leeds TV interview though Barry forgot to mention that I run Dock Street along side Mitch. So if you’re reading this Barry, fuck you. Only joking Barry, I still love you.

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What machines and ink are you using at the moment?
The coils at the minute are from Dave Bryant, Mike Godfrey and Mike Drexler. I have a few different inks but it’s mainly Solid ink, Dermaglo, a few starbright and the odd Intenze.

Do you do anything whilst you draw up for your clients?
If I’m at home I’ll proably just have some music on, or try find some really weird badly filmed conspiracy documentary to stick on in the back ground.

We’re pretty lucky here in the UK to have such a wide range of great tattoo artists and you seem to be good friends with a lot of them. Do you find that helps with your own tattooing?
Yeah i’ve met alot of good people through tattooing and having people to exchange useful advise and tips, also common problems you might come up against when tattooing can only have a positive effect on your work and progress.

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How have you felt tattooing as changed, even in the comparatively short amount of time you’ve been involved with it?
I can defeniatly notice trends more which I was less aware of at the start, like how a certain style of tattoo can catch on in a pretty short amount of time. But other than that I can’t really say I’ve seen a massive change as I’ve only been about a relatively short time in the tattoo world.

Lastly, tell us your favourite story from your time in tattooing or being tattooed.
At the first studio I worked at one of my customers turned up and was acting a bit strange, he then said hed just done a big old line of ket in the car. So i said I couldn’t really tattoo him like that. He ended up just sitting on the sofa at the studio trying to get his shit together but the full weight of the line he’d done started to kick in and he went proper down hill. He was doing the kettie shuffle, just being plain weird, couldn’t really talk properly and my boss had had enough in the end and he gave him a fireman’s lift out the door. It was way more interesting and funnier than that paragraph made it sound, one of those ‘had to be there’ situations.

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Find more of Mitch, Rich and Dock Street’s work:

Studio Instagram
Studio website
Studio Facebook

Rich Wells Instagram
Rich Wells Facebook
Jiggle apparel (Theroux t-shirts)

Mitch Allenden Instagram
Mitch Allenden Facebook

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James McCauley

James Mccauley has helped out with Nine mag since its inception and nurtured the transition to a free, web-based format. Now he is responsible for writing the features and interviews for the site.