10 Things that I have learnt from watching Tattoo Fixers

I love Channel 4’s Tattoo Fixers… I mean love it.

The show has been given some criticism lately, and to be fair, it’s not a genuine representation of how a tattoo parlour runs, or the sometimes lengthy process involved in a good cover-up (as far as I can tell – I am definitely not an expert!), but it does make for good telly.

Anyway, putting aside the controversy, here is a list of things that the show has taught me through the totally reliable medium of reality TV (ok, I admit it – some of these are just common sense really):

  1. DO NOT let your friends tattoo you (unless said friend is actually a tattoo artist in a studio and not a random person with a tattoo machine)
  2. DO NOT tattoo yourself – I mean really, why would anyone do this?!
  3. DO NOT let your ‘friends’ influence your decision to get a tattoo – see point below
  4. DO NOT get a tattoo when drunk (especially when on holiday in Magaluff, or wherever, where there are, apparently, heaps of tattoo shops who’ll do any ridiculous design for really drunk tourists)
  5. Getting an ‘edgy’ or ‘funny’ rude tattoo is a bad plan – the joke will wear thin and you’re left with a permanent design that you’re ashamed to get out in front of the children…
  6. Never get a partner’s name/portrait tattooed – relationships change unexpectedly; sad but true
  7. A tattoo can reflect who you are, but sometimes things can change and said tattoo can become a reminder of who you once were – luckily, there is something you can do about it #PutASkullOnIt
  8. Get your tattoo done in a proper parlour where hygiene is taken seriously
  9. Before you choose a tattooist, check out their previous work – look at quality of the lines and shading, check out their style to make sure you like it. Hopefully that way you won’t end up with a disaster on your skin.
  10. and finally, in at number 10… think before you ink!



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Everyday Alchemy

I was fascinated with potions when I was young. I clearly remember sitting in the yard to the side of our house at around 6 years old, carefully mixing together various ingredients in the jug taken from the bathroom. A little of this, a little of that; water, flowers from the garden, shampoo, even mud – anything was fair game. I was a witch and anything could be used to make a spell. Talcum powder in particular always gave a particularly pleasing horrible lumpy effect; the worse it looked and smelt, the better.

I can’t remember what I did with my potions once they were made – the point wasn’t the result; it was the process that mattered.

That playful feeling of experimentation, of mixing things together and seeing what happens, is, I think, something that we should take with us into our adult lives. Whether it be in the kitchen, in art, music or any other creative endeavor, sometimes the process matters more than the result.

The process of experimenting can be rewarding in itself – and most importantly, each time we do it we learn a little. Like cooking without a recipe, we learn that this flavour works with this, but not with that. We learn that adding a little something new can change the nature of the whole dish.

Even if the results are not the focus, sometimes they are a pleasant surprise and you have produced something that you may not have, had you had a specific goal in mind. Sometimes the outcome is average, or even a complete failure, but even then you can take away something from the experience of doing.

And what’s more, that child-like feeling of ‘let’s see what happens if..’ is fun. So why not have a play?

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Mobile Phone Photography

There is, in my opinion, a degree of snobbishness from people who are into photography about cameras in phones. And while I agree that there are limitations, I actually appreciate having a camera on my person when I don’t have my DSLR  with me, when I’m just off on a short walk for example. Mobile phone photography is a compromise in quality (although a lot of mobile cameras are pretty good these days), and in control (exposure settings are usually pretty basic), but the convenience often means that you’ll get a shot that you wouldn’t have had you not had your phone with you. And I think that’s a good thing, overall.

Anyway, I’ve been collecting pictures on my phone and haven’t done anything with them for a while now, so I thought I would get back into blogging after an extended break  by sharing a few of the shots here.

These are all un-edited, as they came off my phone. The focus is not great on some of them, which is more my fault than the phone’s, but sometimes it’s tricky to tell when you’re a little off using a screen and not a viewfinder (well, at least I find that’s the case). Some of them have come out ok though, and are pictures I would have missed had I not been able to get my phone out to capture the moment. And that’s what photography is all about, really.

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When is a bad gig not a bad gig?

As musicians, we all have our share of bad gigs – myself included. It’s worth remembering though, that regardless of how you felt a performance went, the audience doesn’t necessarily share your feelings.

I’ll give you an example: I played at a venue a while back where I really struggled to hear what my percussionist and I were playing due to inadequate sound separation between where we were playing and another room where a rock band had been booked. As an acoustic act, there was no way we were going to win that battle! I came off stage thinking ‘well that one was a write-off’ – despite trying to keep a professional front on things, I felt that my performance really suffered. I hadn’t played as well as I know I can, and I beat myself up for letting the situation get on top of me.

That ‘awful’ gig got a glowing review from one of the audience members, which he kindly shared on my Facebook site.

An even more poignant example is described in the post below from Rennie Sparks on the DIY Musician blog:

DIY Musician – How Good Things Can Come From the Worst Gigs

I’ll leave you with a quote from Rennie’s post, as it’s a nice summing up:

“…every chance you’re given to offer your art to the world is a chance for adding meaning to life (yours and other people’s). You may not know how meaningful your work is for some time. You may never know. Have faith, though, that what you’ve put your heart into will speak to the heart of another… It adds up.

There have been many other “horrible shows” along the path of my musical career, but the amazing thing is this: There have also been just as many times when fans have told me that they first saw us play and fell in love with our music at a show I remember distinctly as being god-awful, ignored, meaningless.”

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5 Most Common Reasons You Didn’t Blog

Seeing as I haven’t posted on my blog since February, I thought this was probably an appropriate thing to share…


Peas and Cougars

blog 1blog 2 blog 3blog 4blog 5

Btw, in that first frame I’m supposed to be filing my nails, but in retrospect it looks like I’m confused by a strange joint. Feel free to use whatever interpretation works best for you.

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Two Thousand Trees 2013 – A Review

This review is a touch late (by about 6 months), but here goes anyway.

It’s now February, and, after one of the wettest starts to the year on record, my memories of 2000Trees Festival last summer have faded into a happy, hazy blur.

2012’s festival was defined by mud. Mud, mud, mud. Mud in rivers throughout the site. Oh, and rain. That’s not to say we didn’t have a good time, but the weather made most things a struggle. Last year, however, was like some mystical force had decided – for the first time in the festival’s history – that it was about time that Trees didn’t have any rain at all. In blazing Gloucestershire sunshine; 2013 would be defined by heat.

But the weather isn’t the main reason you go to a festival; Two Thousand Trees prides itself on lining up the best underground UK bands, and that pride is not misplaced. Over the years I’ve seen a few bands play here who have gone on to enjoy greater success, Frank Turner being the obvious example.

The line-up this year included two sets from Frank on the Thursday Early Entry and Friday nights, but as a firm favourite here, he popped up unofficially too and for each performance was greeted like a returning hero. Thursday night’s solo performance was a personal highlight for me, especially as I missed his ‘secret’ set* over at Camp Reuben on Friday. There was a good reason for this though – wandering round the site, we’d bumped into Dave McPherson trying to find his way up to the new secret garden area, accompanied him up there and stuck around to watch him play his own secret set. Which was awesome.

Other weekend music highlights included InMe in the Cave (which left me with moshpit bruises, but was so much fun – and loud… really loud!), Stealing Sheep’s impressive and innovative set headlining the Leaf Lounge, which ended in an outdoor un-amplified performance with their marching band (a joyous thing indeed), Stornoway on the main stage (despite sound issues that delayed the start of their set) and an emotional Ben Marwood playing to an adoring crowd at the Treehouse.

Ben Marwood at 2000Trees 2013

Ben Marwood at 2000Trees 2013

And let’s not forget eating icecream from the Split Screen Icecream Company, basking in the shade of the tree with cider, playing on the busk stops scattered through the site, and the delicious freshly-made pizza.

There were one or two negatives – the heat over the weekend was intense (the temperature in our tent was 50°C at one point! Phew) and hard to cope with at times (not that I am knocking the sunshine, just not being able to take a break from it), the sound on the main stage had a few more issues than it has in previous years, and a few people that we spoke to reported problems with security.

For me though, 2000Trees is still a fim favourite festival and I am definitely going to return again this year for more of the same – great line-up, great food and great times.


*I seem to have a habit of missing Frank’s unofficial appearances at Trees – the first year we went, hubby and I woke up to singing in the middle of the night, thinking ‘that sounds like Frank Turner…’. Too tired to get up and investigate, we discovered in the morning that it was indeed Mr Turner, resulting in a now-legendary campsite sing-along, which we missed.

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The Hidden Art of Finishing Stuff

I am not a strong finisher. The final hurdle in any given task has always been the hardest for me, which may explain why I haven’t updated this blog since July. It’s not that I haven’t been writing posts – I have a heap of them in the drafts folder – it’s just that I haven’t been finishing posts.

And it’s not just blog posts – I have so many unfinished projects kicking round that I’ve lost count of them. The table I was up-cycling, the jewellery that I intend to fix one day, the sewing pile that isn’t getting any smaller… the list goes on. It’s a miracle that I even ever manage to finish a song… but who knows how many scraps of lyrics I have in various box files and folders in my studio.

I constantly write lists, and although they help, I often find myself procrastinating or doing something that isn’t even on the list but somehow seems more important right now (wait, that’s still procrastinating, isn’t it?). Even if I set myself deadlines, they are usually ignored if they are self-imposed and not dictated by something outside my control.

So what do I do? Is it beyond the realm of possibility to hope that I can change my ways?

To try to give myself (and you) a helping hand, here’s a few interesting posts on the subject:

It seems the most common problem is to make your goals too vague, leaving you feeling like you don’t know where to start, let alone finish. This sounds very, very familiar to me, so my first task is to break down my to do lists into more manageable chunks – I may not be able to tick off ‘sort out kitchen’ but I am much more likely to complete the task if I put ‘wash dishes’ and ‘wipe down kitchen surfaces’, for example. I’m going to give this a try, and to apply a few more tips from the articles above – we’ll see if it makes things easier.

Do you have any tips for getting through your to do lists? What makes you feel productive? Let me know in the comments!

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Album Review: Bateleurs, A Travelling Band

Bateleurs Album Cover

A Travelling Band is the second album from stalwarts of the Swindon music scene, Bateleurs. Formed around the songwriting talents of Daryl Ball and Sean Amor, this new album sees a more settled line-up for the band with drummer  Chris McCormack joined by Nick Wall on bass and the addition of Anna Wall on fiddle and backing vocals.

It’s clear that this is a band that have developed their sound from their début All in the Past, released in 2011. The overall sound is more coherent, and the songs, although still tinged with pop influence, are more clearly focused on Americana and folk. It’s a successful blend, as the songs are instantly accessible and will have you singing along in no time.

Strong harmonies and foot tapping rhythms drive the album along at a bouncy pace, starting with opener Temptation and moving through up-beat numbers such as Firecracker (Ryan Adams cover), while the catchy melodies and well thought out arrangements will keep your head nodding throughout. The track list is rounded off nicely with the slower paced tones of Timelines.

This is a really strong album – quality songwriting, well performed and well produced. Stand-out tracks are the aforementioned Temptation, Barriers, and Wayfarers Daughter.  Highly recommended.

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First Tattoos and Body Image:

I got my first tattoo done back in March. It’s something that I considered doing for a very long time before actually taking the plunge. I’ve admired tattoo art for years and years, but I’ve always been a bit put off getting my own for a few reasons: a. it’s permanent and I am a fickle beast, b. the pain/being slightly freaked out by needles, and c. justifying the cost.

So what changed my mind?

Well, it started with a Valentine’s day treat (or an Anti-Valentine’s treat I should say). My husband and I don’t usually ‘do’ Valentine’s; we’ve been together a long time and both of us hate the commercialism that has taken over  Feb the 14th. So, when I saw a Bands and Burlesque ‘anti-valentine’s’ night advertised at one of our local venues I thought it sounded like a great idea. And so we went.

It was a brilliant evening: the band were Cannibal and the Corpse (full-on high-energy psyco-billy), the burlesque acts were highly entertaining – and then came the raffle. I had bought some tickets more because it was for charity than for the sake of winning anything, so imagine my surprise when the very last ticket drawn was mine – and the prize… a voucher for two hours of tattoo time with a local artist.

I am not one to let such good fortune go to waste, but nor am I one to jump in willy-nilly – so I duly checked out the website/Facebook page of said tattoo artist and, following some advice from the good old interwebs, looked carefully at his past work to make sure it was of good quality, seemed to be to my taste stylistically, and that the tattoo parlour itself was legit. All seemed fine, so after popping in to discuss what I wanted, I booked the appointment.

Tattoo first sketch

Tattoo first sketch

Above is the sketch I gave to James, the tattoo artist – the green dragon represents Earth and the red dragon, Fire; together they represent balance or harmony. If you want, it’s also like the two opposing sides of my personality (sensible me and reckless me), which co-exist together as part of my whole. Or, it’s just two dragons – but dragons are awesome, so that’s ok.

When I returned to the tattoo parlour for the appointment, I was shown the design as it would be done on my skin – James had embellished it with clouds and lightning and it looked amazing. He transferred it on to my skin before starting with the outline. The tattooing did hurt, but it was never too painful to deal with – kind of like a cat scratch but over a longer period – and we took a few breaks when it started getting sore. One little tip though: if you’re getting a tat done make sure you eat properly first (in hindsight a small bowl of cereal was not enough breakfast – felt a bit weird afterwards!).

Aftercare wise, it was pretty simple – keep it clean, don’t soak it in water, keep it moisturised (James recommended Bepanthen),  and don’t scratch while it’s healing. It was sore for a couple of days, itchy/peeling for a week or two after that, but it healed up well and I’m so happy with it.

Showing off the final tattoo (pic by David Hobson)

Tadaa! Finished tattoo (pic by David Hobson)

Reactions have been mostly positive, though the most common ones are ‘wow, that’s quite a big piece for your first one’, or, when I explain that my husband doesn’t like tattoos, a slightly confused ‘but you got one anyway?’. Yes, I did. Hubby would never dream of dictating what I do with my own skin.


The thing I didn’t expect though, was the strange side-effect – my tattoo has changed how I feel about myself. When I catch sight of it looking down or in a mirror, I feel kind of proud. Proud to have endured the pain of getting it in the first place, yes, but mostly of how it represents who I am, where I am now, and how far I have come to get here. The last couple of years have made me re-consider a lot of things, make changes in my life and attitude towards it, so this is a visual marker of my progress.

As I said – the two dragons represent balance and harmony, and sometimes, just sometimes, I’m starting to feel like I’m finding it.


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This blog is moving…

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted here for a while – so I will start with my usual apology for slackness. Sorry about that.

Anyway, instead of boring you with excuses I’ll get to the point – I am moving this blog. Its new home will be within my other website (www.ells.biz), which currently concentrates on my music. I post about music here a lot anyway, so it seems to make sense to put everything all in one place. I’ll be moving all the old content over and thoroughly categorising it (and having a bit of a sort at the same time) so that if you’re only interested in the music stuff you’ll be able to find it easily, and if you’re only interested in the other bits and pieces that I (infrequently) post about life, the universe and everything, then they should be easily find-able (if that’s a word?) in their own section too.

So that’s the plan – now I just need to get on with it.

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