Tattooing A to Z #6: Dennis Cockell

Dennis Cockell was born in 1948 in Worcester, England. He owned one of the most famous tattoo studios in London, and tattooed many famous people in his 265-A Finchley Road studio for nearly ten years, before moving on to what is now Diamond Jacks at 5 Walkers Court in Soho.

Dennis started his tattooing career in Worcester, but it was in Finchley road where Dennis made his name tattooing the likes of Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, Stray Cats, 999, Paula Yates, The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Bananarama, plus many others. It is safe to say that anyone who was anyone in the music business seemed to have had their tattoos done by Dennis.

Back in the days it was still fairly rare to see good examples of the tattooist’s art in the UK, and only a few works were particularly sophisticated. Other than sailors and certain members of our Royal Family, adherents to the art, back then, were still mostly connected to recidivists and society’s more fringe groups. Or so it seemed. In the early ’80s, besides Mr. Sebastien (aka Alan Oversby) at his salon in Earls Court, there were very few tattoo artists whose work stood: George Bone, Lal Hardy and Dennis Cockell were three who were at the forefront of introducing tattoos to a younger, hipper crowd.

Beside these “rocker style” tattoos, Dennis Cockell was also famous for his large-scale Japanese tattoos.

He was one of the first in Europe to develop a style in the legacy of the Japanese tattoo masters (also called “Hori“), he travelled to Japan and US to study this art, and became friend to the world famous tattooist Don Ed Hardy. His style was pretty much based on the designs of Mr. Kazuo Oguri (aka Horihide) with an English twist and a liberal use of a tones of tattoo colors all mixed together: a kind of a rainbow style was commonly seen on the bodies of his customers!

The Stray Cats’ drummer Slim Jim Phantom talks about his tattoos: “The first tattoo I ever had on my body was a Teddy Boy Stray Cat done by Bob Roberts in LA Same as Brian (Setzer) but as soon I was back in England I started gettin’ tattooed by Dennis in Finchley road”.

Dennis Cockell, Watercolour by Pepe
Dennis Cockell, Watercolour by Pepe

Ed Hardy remembers him in one of his books: “Francesca and I went to London to visit Dennis Cockell, the British tattooer whose torso I covered with dragons when I first opened Realistic, there were many Ed Hardy fans waiting to meet me in England and Dennis was one of them”.

Today Cockell is retired, his last shop “Tattoo World” lasted only a few years. In the late 2000s it was a Mecca for all the lovers of traditional western tattooing who wanted to meet one of the surviving old masters. One of his last apprentices was the London resident tattoo artist Duncan X: he was taught to tattoo by Dennis Cockell in 1996, before he joined “Into You” in 1997, with the great tattooist Alex Binnie.

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