Diamond Jacks is the longest running tattoo parlour in Central London, inking customers consistently since the mid-80’s. Located in a seedy alleyway in Soho between two porn shops, its atmosphere is reminiscent of a traditional tattoo parlour, rejecting the modern approach to the growing trend.
Diamond Jacks can be found at Walkers Court and is easily identifiable by its large neon sign. An open door leads into a narrow hallway with walls covered in memorabilia. At the end of the hallway is a rickety carpeted staircase where the sound of rock music and voices echo down from above. It’s a slightly foreboding entrance, which makes you feel like you are stepping into the wolf’s den, but when you enter the 1st floor, it’s a warm welcoming!
Darryl Gates has owned the business since 2003 and his goal has been to stay true to the traditional style of tattooing. This applies to the furnishings which have remained the same since its early days; the rock n’ roll atmosphere and the style of work. The walls are littered with work showing Sailor Jerry style flash and mementos depicting some of the parlour’s illustrious past.
Since it’s doors opened the parlour has seen many a famous face, including Pete Doherty from The Libertines and Gail Porter. The former owner, Dennis Cockel, is also known for having tattooed Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols. Darryl has designed work for films such as This Is England and celebrity photoshoots with stars such as Cameron Diaz, and that is only scratching the surface of their renowned history! Darryl is the go-to person for authentic old school tattoo knowledge and this is well apparent with a bit of research. With that knowledge, you start to realise that the artefacts covering the walls are nearly all relevant to Jacks, and are not just decoration!
Darryl remains true to his passion and is particularly interested in tattooing old school images and traditional Japanese influenced work. He was bought up in London when tattoos were still taboo, but swayed by the rebel bands of the time such as The Motley Crue. He pursued a career around music initially and only later turned his hand to tattoos. He is the archetypal rocker by image; heavily tattooed, rides a custom Sportster and is completely comfortable in his own skin. When you talk to him you find a character that is extremely kind and quite humbling, which gives you utter confidence when going under his needle. Something I was about to do.
Although Darryl’s predominant interest is old school, there are a number of other artists bringing their own styles to the table. Personally, I was keen to have a piece done by Darryl and old school was the way to go.
Darryl is also keen to help the future generation of tattooists. His current apprentice, Sunny, seen here practising.
I spoke to Darryl about my vague concept, changing my mind numerous times before settling on a design and location. Darryl said that he was a gentle tattooist, which I took as being a joke, but he assured me that he really was. He works very quickly, keeping you up to date as you go, ensuring you are comfortable and, before you know it, you are done. The fact that he works so quickly means that the body has less time to settle and the adrenaline stops the pain from affecting you. I also found that the healing process is much faster and less painful. Obviously, there are not many tattooists who you would want to work quickly when you are under the needle, but with Darryl’s extensive experience you can rest at ease!
The shop’s atmosphere is a big part of the experience. In the summer time, Darryl does a few late nights to make the most of Soho’s night time atmosphere, and that would definitely be worth looking out for. If you are looking for your first piece then Diamond Jacks is a fantastic place to head to for a no-nonsense piece of work in a classic environment. If you are a tattoo fanatic then Diamond Jacks is equally worth a visit as it is a testament to the traditional art form.
Diamond Jacks is currently digging its heels in to preserve its existence in Soho as the whole area is under development. The owner of the building has refused to sell the building to developers and is doing everything he can to help Diamond Jacks, and the adult shops either side, in an area that is undergoing gentrification. It’s a shame to think that an area which is known for its seediness is being transformed into another coffee shop community. It will be fascinating to see how the new shops across from Diamond Jacks will fair with the persistent spirit of Darryl and Diamond Jacks.
To help support the parlour in its fight to retain its place and to help preserve Soho’s character, pay Darryl a visit and get some ink done. If you are interested in motorbikes, music or tattoos then you will be in good company!
For more information, visit their site here!