Local tattoo parlour Blue Dragon celebrated their 25th birthday last year, making them the oldest established tattoo parlour in Brighton. What was clear to me was the passion that the studio had for its work: portfolios were laid out and there were framed photos of tattoos crafted at Blue Dragon, as well as canvas’s available for sale. How they’ve managed to stand the test of time? Owner Mick assures me that it hasn’t been easy but that they’ve managed to maintain the ways of old while staying a part of the current tattoo market: “You can still walk in off of the street and get a tattoo. If we’ve got the space to do it, we’ll do it”. And considering the successful year that Blue Dragon have had, winning multiple awards at various festivals around the country including Best Ornamental at Brighton Tattoo Convention, it’s fair to see how they’ve managed to stay so popular over the last 25 years. The dedication to the craft is so much more than just a simple tattoo. Mick sees tattooing as an artform and even though all his tattooists specialise in a particular style, each of them is also an all-rounder. His favourite style is a step away from the typical small arm tattoo. “I wouldn’t say [tattoos like the one below] push boundaries, [they] are pushing tattooing to another level.”
It’s not just a random slew of clients passing through Blue Dragon. Over the past 25 years, the parlour’s established its own dedicated fan base (The Blue Dragon Tattoo Army) stretching from Northern Ireland to New Zealand. “It’s bizarre” Mick tells me when talking about receiving pictures of Blue Dragon tees in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, “we pride ourselves on being quite a friendly place and people being a part of [the shop] as well.” It’s easy for me to understand, I felt instantly welcome when entering Blue Dragon and for the duration of the interview. So when Mick tells me that he’s had three generations of family come in for a tattoo, it’s not surprising.
With the increased demand for tattoo’s over the 25 years Blue Dragon has been open, it’s no surprise the amount of parlours in Brighton & Hove has increased from six to more than 26 in that time. Tattoos have grown from being a closely guarded secret forming part of a subculture to mainstream but this has its drawbacks. Fashion, media attention and backstreet tattooists are threatening the industry. “When all of a sudden you’ve got to worry about things [going] out of fashion…that could kill the industry”, although I don’t personally see Blue Dragon suffering from this as they’ve been offering such a variety of tattoo styles for years. Nevertheless, Mick cares about the industry as a whole, signalling reality shows exploiting dodgy tattoos and makeshift tattooists as harmful to an already criticised industry, “if the media get on that, then the mainstream stories will be [about] how bad [tattoos are].”
Despite all of this and the successful year that Blue Dragon experienced last year, there is still so much in store for the parlour. Artist Damien’s work will be showcased in the book in later this year, Will has a guest spot in Japan and Trud has guest spots in conventions around the country. As for Mick? “I’m not leaving here” he laughs, “Life on the road is tough at times.”