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Ali Catterall
Interview by: Ali Catterall Friday 3 August 2018
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Mark Mahoney: The Rock Star's Choice

This year’s special guest, Mark Mahoney, has inked scores of famous musicians over the years from Tupac Shakur to Johnny Thunders, Green Day’s Mike Dimt to Marilyn Manson. Here’s how his long standing relationship with the industry began.

“I never wanted to be a rock star,” Mark Mahoney once said. But there’s an endless stream of them who want to be inked by the silver-haired founder of the Shamrock Social Club. Artists as diverse as Johnny Thunders to Lady Gaga and Rihanna have all been given the needle by the famous Irish-American tattooist, whose studio on the Sunset Strip is regularly swamped by Hollywood stars and music biz royalty. Even his tattoo parlour has musical roots: a former record store, the building was originally the offices of Bing Crosby’s publishing company, complete with a small recording studio and an upstairs apartment. “He liked to hang around with the black jazz musicians,” says Mahoney. “He’d bring them here after shows, and they’d have jam sessions, and I guess smoked a lot of pot upstairs.”

Mark Mahoney with Rihanna at the Shamrock Social Club

Mark Mahoney with Rihanna at the Shamrock Social Club

Mark pictured with Lana Del Rey, who considers Mahoney a muse

Mark pictured with Lana Del Rey, who considers Mahoney a muse

NEW YORK PUNK

Mahoney’s background is every bit as rock and roll as his clients. The Boston boy described by an adoring Russell Brand as a “living skeleton Elvis” started his career inking Hell’s Angels in bikers clubs (at a time when tattooing was illegal in Massachusetts) before heading for New York, where his sister was hanging out with Andy Warhol. There, he immersed himself in the punk scene (and a now-ditched heroin habit), living round the corner from C.B.G.Bs and kicking around with pals like Johnny Thunders – and a certain doomed Sex Pistol. “Sid’s mother stayed at my house when he was in jail,” he recalls. “She was my date one New Year’s Eve, going to see Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. She was kind of cool, like kind of a witchy-beatnik lady.” As for Vicious himself? “I’m not sure if I ever actually tattooed him or not,” Mahoney admits, having attempted to ink him several times. “He could never decide, or he’d get in a fight with his old lady” (Nancy Spungen, discovered stabbed to death at the Chelsea Hotel in October 1978).

Tattooing Lady Gaga, a frequent client

Tattooing Lady Gaga, a frequent client

Actor and singer/songwriter Jared Leto goes under Mahoney's needle

Actor and singer/songwriter Jared Leto goes under Mahoney's needle

WEST COAST MOVE

In 1980 he’d swap the chilly Lower East Side for sun-baked California, where he’d pioneer his famous Black and Gray single-needle style. “The punks in LA were different from the punks in New York,” he recalls. “Back there, they were like art school kids and [in Los Angeles) most of them were working class, surfers.” During the following decade he’d get himself a new kind of client base too; chief among them, Tupac Shakur. “Back then, there wasn't too many rappers with tattoos,” says Young Noble from the fallen rapper’s old group Outlawz. “I think ‘Pac really started the whole tattoo trend, and we was right there with him.” The hip-hop outfit even got their name from one of Tupac’s tattoos. Outlawz’ Hussein recalls Mahoney’s studio back then as having “some cool cats in there – Irish guys who wore zoot suits, greaser type dudes. We could be driving past the ink shop and [Tupac] would suddenly pull over. ‘Where you going?’ we'd ask. He'd say: ‘I'm going to get tatted.’” Adds Outlawz’ E.D.I. Mean,” He inspired the whole culture to start getting tattoos.”

Indeed it was Mahoney who ended up decorating 2Pac’s rival, The Notorious B.I.G, before he too was shot dead. Biggie’s tattoo, a Bible Psalm on the inside of his forearm, read: “The Lord is my light and salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the truth of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even my enemies and foes, came upon me to bite my flesh, they stumbled and fell.” Says Mahoney, “It was one week before his murder [in March 1997], his first and only tattoo, and it was a whole lotta work. It was probably as much writing as I ever did.”

Meet Mark Mahoney at The London Tattoo Convention, September 28-29-30th at Tobacco Dock. Advance tickets are now on sale - get yours today.