MUSWELL HILL PEOPLE
ART FOR AN ARM AND A LEG
The frightening needles in Lal Hardy's drawer are sharp. The frightening sign on the wall of his tattoo parlour is blunt. "Remember: tattoos last longer than romances. Think before having names done." But some people - Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit, for example - weren't put on this planet to follow rules.
When they visited Hardy's New Wave tattoo parlour in Muswell Hill they were insistent. Consequently, Liam's arm declares "Patsy", and Patsy's ankle bears the legend "Liam". "Look, I have a sign, I tell people not to have names. But when they're loved up they are shocked that you think it's not going to last forever," says Hardy. He shakes his shaved head, and the rings in his ears rattle quietly.
Hardy himself has limb-to-limb tattoos. "You'll be amazed what people ask for. Some of them aren't the full ticket. You have to refuse their requests. They say: 'It's my choice.' And I say: 'It's my choice as well.' I never do anything racist, or anything that could get them involved in incidents, if you know what I mean." I think I do. "And I don't tattoo people's faces or their genitals." If anyone - certainly anyone in Muswell Hill - deserves the title of "tattoo artist to the stars", it's Lal.
Last year his work received a wide audience when Mel Blatt, of All Saints, proudly showed her pregnant belly - complete with his Chinese dragon design - on stage at a Hyde Park concert. "I am proud when I see my work displayed like that," he says. Hardy's client list also includes Sean Pertwee, Marc Almond and the other members of All Saints.
Hardy and his three tattooing colleagues are available for bookings only by appointment. Unless you're a celebrity of course. It still hurts though. "Not as much as you'd think," insists Hardy. "It's down to the skill of the tattooist." I still feel squeamish, though, and ask Hardy to demonstrate his skills with paint instead. I opt for a dolphin, a popular design, on my arm. He isn't impressed. "People go on about dolphins getting caught in tuna nets. But I've never heard anyone complaining that tuna fish get caught in them as well." At that moment a terribly up-market lady arrives, late for an appointment. She's informed that she's too late - and has lost her deposit. She moans: "Do you know how difficult it is to get here from Notting Hill on public transport and by foot?" She's got a point. The New Wave tattoo parlour sits oddly next to a suburban newsagent on a suburban street. The nearest Tube station, Bounds Green, is a good 10 minutes away by cab.
Hardy, a former dustman with five O-levels, has been obsessed with tattoos since his school days. His first, a panther's head, drawn when he was 17, is just about visible on his body among the swirls of flora, fauna and ... well, there is so much crammed onto him, it is hard to tell make out each image. I can just pick out some words on his neck: "My crazy life." Does he have any regrets? "Not really," he says brightly. "Except I recently split up with my girlfriend of 14 years. And yes, I have got her name tattooed on my chest."
Lal can be contacted at 157, Sydney Road, Muswell Hill, London N10
Telephone: 0181 444 8779