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Martin McIver

Martin McIver

This issue I decided to take a look at other areas of tattooing and see what some of the people that are not tattooing do to contribute to the tattoo community. This time, it was Martin McIver, organiser of Tattoo Tea Party, The Galway Tattoo convention and Tattoo TV. A man with a deep interest in tattoos tells us what motivates him to work in tattooing.

Words – Ben Lakin
Photography – Various

What brought you into the word of tattooists when you don’t tattoo?
I was definitely a late starter. I’d always wanted one from the age of 18. My best mate is Ben Stone from Lifetime Tattoo and before he was a tattooer we went up to Lal Hardy’s in Muswell Hill to get one, where I promptly bottled it like a twat and just let Ben get his. We went up again, and after waiting a few hours Lal ran out of time and so I didn’t get tattooed twice. If that hadn’t happened, I’d have a Death Cult Mickey Mouse skull on me somewhere.

Not long after that, I fell into the music industry and toured for about 8 years, before giving that up and moving to Brighton. I went to work for Wildcat, and Ben had by now started an apprenticeship at Temple Tatu, so both these factors exposed me properly to the tattoo world. That’s where my education started, and where I discovered the moral compass in terms of the tattoo trade. I got my first one off Ben not long after when someone very close to me died – in terms of getting my first tattoo, everything felt right at that moment.

If you could get tattooed from anyone in the world right now who would it be?
Two artists for two different styles and two different spaces still left on my body. They would be Kurt Wiscombe and Marco Galdo. I’m also in the opportunism market for a piece off Drew Romero, and excuse the nepotism, but Phatt German too. Oh, and of course Filip Leu, but that has to be in India, and I’m not there right now – does it still count?

How did you get into organising conventions?

I worked in the music industry for many years. From an early age, I toured the world with some very well known bands and learnt all about tour and production management from selling T-shirts to managing entire tours. I’ve been organising different events since, so I had that events background entrenched in me. I’d wanted to organise a tattoo convention since I started Tattoo TV. I’d met Neil Dallywater (Tattoo Revolution), and we’d both been looking at possible towns and venues. Then a few years back, we were both at the Cobh Tattoo Festival in Ireland, sat by a wigwam (yes, a wigwam). We came to the conclusion that UK artists weren’t getting the plaudits they deserved. Everyone at the time was raving about US artists, and the world-class artists here were being ignored. So we came up with the Tattoo Tea Party concept of a convention celebrating the UK and Irish tattoo scene with no international artists. We scouted some more cities and venues, hooked up with H2 Events who had co-run the old Manchester show for 10 years, some stars aligned, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Tattoo convention Martin McIver

Who have been the key influences in your success?
Depends how you judge success. I don’t see myself as a success; it’s a strange thing to see yourself as. I see myself as hardworking and lucky. I’m very lucky to do something that I love and have passion for, but in terms of being successful, it’s not a word I would use. Awesome, windswept, interesting and devilishly good looking for a hobbit type are all words I would use, yes, but successful no.

I’m not a material person, and I guess I gauge this ‘success’ you speak of in happiness. I’m by no means rich, but I am very happy! In terms of influence in the tattoo trade, tattoo artists are my biggest influence as almost everything I do know I’ve learnt from them. I’m still learning, and will continue to. Nothing happens in tattooing without the artists, it’s all about them. Many forget that. Magazines, conventions, TV shows – we’re all just periphery, we only highlight what artists are doing through different mediums. Doing artist interviews constantly for about 3 years gave me a huge education very quickly, but I’m still relatively new in the scene, and the more I learn the deeper my appreciation gets of tattooing, where it’s been, and how much it means to people. Where it goes from here will again, as always, be wherever the artists take it, and we as fans will follow.

So we are doing the interview just before you launch the Galway show in Ireland. Tell us a bit about your plans and what will set this show apart from others?
Well, the Galway show is as much about making a statement as putting on a great tattoo show. Ireland currently has nothing in terms of tattoo legislation – that is zero! It’s self-regulated by the ethical and absolutely abused by the unethical; lobbying by the ethical tattooists of Ireland has fallen on deaf ears. It will probably take a politician or Bono’s kids to get an infection before something is done. Even then it’ll probably be a knee-jerk draconian reaction that everyone hates. But in the meantime, there are many people in Ireland trying hard to get some worthwhile regulation and policing going, and I hope the standards at the Galway show aid that. I live in Dublin and wanted to bring something to Ireland that not only boasted an amazing artist list, but also highlighted the health & safety aspect. For a tattoo show, it will present the standards and environment that every tattooist in Ireland should be working in. It’s the biggest yet seen in Ireland, with 90 artists, including Xed Le Head, Miss Becca, Oddboy, David Corden, Bartek Kos, Ben Stone, Dave Bryant, Yliana Paolini, Joe Myler, etc. We’ve loads of entertainment focusing on Ireland’s famous ‘craic’, like stand up comedians and traditional Irish bands. We managed to secure the Irish premiere of the Tattoo Nation movie, which was pretty cool, so we set up a cinema. All in all it’s shaping up well and has a great buzz about it. As a town, Galway is a bit like Brighton in the UK, so even outside the show there’s much revelry and fun to be had. We can’t wait!

“I just want to concentrate on doing a good job and I’ll continue to do it while people still think it contributes in a positive way, and I’d stop tomorrow if it didn’t.”

What can we expect from this year’s TattooTea Party?
Bigger, better, more fun, more tea and more tattoos. Every year we improve our artist list as a priority, and that’s what every convention should be doing in my opinion, not just letting anyone in based on whether they can pay for a booth. Conventions should further tattooing, showcase the best they can; and even do a bit of A&R in trying to find amazing artists who are just emerging or haven’t done a convention before, giving them a platform. A tattoo show is one of the last real avenues where a big audience with an interest or curiosity in tattoos can be educated truthfully about the tattoo world. The TV shows seem to increasingly focus on the bad, so to me, a good tattoo convention with a great artist list is probably the last true bastion of tattoo ‘reality’ that holds a relatively wide audience.

The best conventions in this country, like London (the real one that is), Brighton or Liverpool (amongst others), all offer something different but still maintain the core high standard of a great artist list, and even though we are still developing, I hope the Tea Party is viewed that way too. We are the only convention to feature only UK and Irish based artists so I guess this, combined with the fun aspect we’re known for, gives us our edge and personality. We certainly try to create a fun and friendly atmosphere, which is why we have the bumper cars, acts, live art and Gentlemen’s Deathmatch boxing etc; it literally is a Tattoo Party….but the good kind, not the bad ‘youtubey’ kind! I think you can spot the passionless conventions. When the artist list starts deteriorating, money has taken over from passion and I’m extremely glad we’re not that type of show.

I hear there will be a relaunch of Tattoo TV coming in the near future. What will you be keeping from the first time around, and what new things you have in store for tattoo enthusiasts and tattooists alike?
We’re stripping it down and going back to basics as a literal hub for tattoo-related film and TV. We had so many aspects to the site: video, written articles, a forum (or online battleground) and community etc. And this, coupled with the speed of technology growth, meant it was quite difficult to maintain such a large entity and keep all the elements relevant and up to date. We basically tried to do too much. We’ve accumulated over 500,000 pages on the site, which is massive, so keeping that all in check became a mammoth task. We still get between 60,000 and 100,000 visitors a month and they spend their time watching video, so we’ll cater to them. We have lots of great ideas for unique content that will appeal to tattoo artists and enthusiasts alike. Watch this space, as they say!

Tattoo tea party Martin McIver

What future plans do you have in the world of tattooing?
I have no plans really, world domination doesn’t appeal to me. I respect tattooing, and am very grateful to maybe have a very, very small seat (or maybe it’s just a stool, could even be a pew) at the massive tattoo table. I had that epiphany moment in life when you realize what’s important and what’s not some time ago. I’m too old for politics, bitching and bullshit. That doesn’t mean I don’t despise the scumbags in tattooing, whether they be scratchers, ebay kit sellers or even certain publishers, it just means I prefer to focus on the positive rather than the negative. I just want to concentrate on doing a good job and I’ll continue to do it while people still think it contributes in a positive way. I’d stop tomorrow if it didn’t.

I love tattoos, I love organising shows and events. I love discovering new artists, seeing new work and meeting new people. I especially love it when people have had a good time and want to come back to your event, whether it be an artist, trader or paying customer. That, my family, my dogs and a yearly trip to India is all I need in this life or the next.

Martin McIver
Event Organiser
Tattoo TV – Ireland

Ben Lakin

Ben was the original founder and editor of Nine Mag. He is the studio owner of No Regrets Cheltenham and Cloak & Dagger London.