Interesting people and their interesting tattoos: Ben Elton and the King of Pigs.
by Matthew Haddon-Reichardt on May 20, 2022
I’ve known Ben Elton since we were spotty teenagers. No not the sell-out comedian Ben Elton, I mean the other one, the guy who is so metal he shits bullets. Yayo sent me out to have a chat with my old mate and find out why he loves Rebel Base, Yayo and playing with thrash legends Testament.
Covid got in the way again, I should have been meeting Ben for a few pints and a chin wag but the wretched virus has put that on hold. Instead I’m sat sniffling at my desk transcribing an audio message from one of Nottingham City’s metal royalty.
“I first got tattooed in Mansfield; I can’t even remember the name of the place or the year. I think it was 1996 or 1997; I think it was 96. It wasn’t a very good tattoo as it was a big tattoo regret. I didn’t do any research or anything. Back in those days we had no internet so to speak, Facebook wasn’t around let alone Instagram and the like. It was a spur of the moment thing and a stupid choice I’ll admit. I went for the classic rookie error of getting a girl’s name done on my arm. I won’t mention the name but let’s just say we are no longer connected. I should have known better; but hey you do crazy things when young.”
"What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so I felt a phoenix really resonated with where I am in life right now.”
I remember the tattoo well, I’d just got a psychedelic moose tattooed on my leg and looking back I’m not sure if either of us made sensible choices in terms of our first tattoo.
“There is and there isn’t a theme to my tattoos. I kind of go with whatever mood I’m in at the time. I’ve got a number of different styles on me. I see them as reminders of my moods. They don’t necessarily mean anything but one or two do. It’s really down to what I like at the time and what experiences I’m having at the time. I’ve just had one done the other week. A totally new style for me; it’s very traditional and it’s on my chest. Right now that’s my favourite. The one before was a phoenix on my ribs. It’s a fantastic tattoo and it’s probably the one that has the most symbolic meaning for me. After a bad experience I wanted something to mark me getting through that tough time. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so I felt a phoenix really resonated with where I am in life right now.”
Having not seen Ben since covid hit I’ve lost count of his current tattoo count.
“It’s difficult to count how many tattoos I’ve got as some have kinda mish mashed into one; but I have at least 20. One of my arms is now a sleeve made up of about 10 tattoos forming a Polynesian sleeve. That started life as a cover up for my first tattoo. I don’t regret going towards a Polynesian style, but if I had my time again I’d go for something different. I don’t want it gone as its part of me now, that’s the way I look at it. Tattoos are part of my journey in life so I’d never have it lasered off. I needed something black and I didn’t want to go tribal. The sleeve just evolved from that first cover up, it wasn’t planned that way.”
As I gulp coffee and type away at Ben’s answers, he moves onto the question of his favourite tattoo.
“As for all time favourite tattoo; that’s tough. I have a Type O Negative tattoo as they are my all time favourite band. That’s on my leg. I tend to always like the latest tattoo so at the moment the swallow on my chest is my favourite. But the next new one will probably be my new favourite.”
“My regular tattooist is called Laser, he’s up in Tuxsford near Newark. He’s at Rebel Base Tattoos. They stock Yayo products so you know it’s a good place to get tattooed."
Part of the reason I wanted to interview Ben is because he is a metal legend; the other is he’s part of the Yayo tribe.
“My regular tattooist is called Laser, he’s up in Tuxsford near Newark. He’s at Rebel Base Tattoos. They stock Yayo products so you know it’s a good place to get tattooed. I used Yayo Guard on my last 2 tattoos and they have healed great. I’m going back in a few weeks to get something in on my arm finished off. Andy is the other tattooist there and they are great chaps. It’s a brilliant studio and I love going.”
The conversation turns to music and Ben’s career as one of the most prominent heavy metal guitarists in the Midlands.
“I started playing bass guitar when I was about 14 or 15. My first band was Iconic Memory with a couple of good mates at school. We were a doom metal band, we did a few gigs and a demo but it all fell apart when people grew up and moved on; work, university, girlfriends and the like.”
“I’ve been in quite a few bands over the years. In the days of Nu metal I was in a Nu Metal band called Crawl. We did a load of gigs around the Nottingham area. L.A. as I call it; standing for local area.”
“That was early 00’s. We kept going for a few years but it fizzled out. I had a break from being in a band for a while. Then my housemate at the time was a drummer and he joined a band and said they needed a bass player, so I got the job. We were called Red Shift and it was a doomy, sludgy kind of vibe. We played around the country; it's always good doing gigs out of town. When Red Shift disbanded half of us formed Drag the Lake. We did that for about 7 years. We weren’t as productive as we should have been; we did a few recordings but didn’t release them. We gigged about and they were good shows. The result was a sell out gig with thrash metal legends Testament at the Rescue Rooms in Nottingham. We were the main support, just us and Testament. It was a fantastic gig. At the time Testament were on tour with Slayer and Slipknot and they had a day off so they did a headline gig in Nott’s and we were the support. I’ve also played with Madball and Hatebreed and done Incubate festival in Holland.”
“Currently I play in a band called Punch Drunk which is an alternative punk band. We have just recruited a new drummer. Everything’s been on hold for two years due to covid so it’s been great to get things restarted but taken some logistical planning. Everyone’s lives are different two years on but we still have that passion to play.”
“My other band is King of Pigs in which I play guitar, in Punch Drunk I’m on bass. We had a L.A. tour booked a few weeks ago but covid got in the way. As soon as it seems like you are getting going again it all shuts down.”
Aside from playing in metal bands Ben has also worked within the industry.
“My other claim to fame is I was merchandise guy for industrial death metal giants The Berzerker. It was a fun experience. A collage mate of mine ended up being their tour manager so he got me the job. We were out on a tour bus for a month around Europe, which was unbelievable. I’m just trying to think of the things I can say as the tour was pretty wild. Lots of crazy stories but I’d get in trouble if I dished the dirt. All I can say is you get treated a lot better in mainland Europe than in the UK. That’s been the same when I’ve gigged abroad with my current bands. The food in the UK is crap; they just order you junk food. In Europe you get a full 3 course meal, they look after you so much better. I went out to Europe first in 2003 and it’s just the best place to play. They feed you properly, pay you properly and put you up for the night. Over here it’s still crashing on sofas and peoples floors. Fingers crossed we will get back soon, but Brexit has made it more complicated and visas' are not cheap. We need to look into it now covid is settling down. Probably get King of Pigs over there next year.”
"Tattoo wise; I’ll never be finished until I’m completely covered."
“I’m still in touch with the guys from The Berzerker; its one area where Facebook actually has a real benefit. Hopefully they will be over again. I’ve done a bit of driving for them on another tour so I hope to see them soon.”
Being a bit of an aspiring (if talentless) musician myself I asked about Ben’s current gig gear.
“Guitar wise I have a Gibson Les Paul and an Epiphone Flying V which are my live guitars. I run them through a Marshall and a tuner pedal. I’m planning on adding a wah pedal soon. Bass wise I use an Ampeg SVT Pro and I have 2 Fender basses, a P bass and a Duff Mckagan signature bass. I run them through a tuner pedal, a chorus pedal and a harmonics pedal."
Now Ben turns to the tricky question: guitar or bass?
“I love both but I can’t really decide which I prefer. I’m more comfortable on bass but it’s good to get out of my comfort zone and not rely on muscle memory. I have to concentrate on guitar more so it’s a different vibe.”
As ever I round off with the asking about plans for the future.
“I have lots of plans. King of Pigs is hard at work writing our 4th album, it's slowly coming together. Hopefully we will be giggling in Europe too. Punch Drunk are rehearsing with a new drummer and once he’s up to speed we’ll start working on the next album. Maybe I’ll pull Drag the Lake back together as we have some unfinished business. We’ll have to see on that one.”
“Tattoo wise; I’ll never be finished until I’m completely covered. I’ve got plans. My back is blank so that’s the next move. I have an ongoing Sci-Fi leg piece, so that needs adding too. Sadly my cat died at the weekend so I’m going to get a tribute done to my cat.”
Ben maybe so metal he shits bullets but the guy has a heart of gold.
A Final thought from the author: "It's great when you realise that someone you know is part of the Yayo gang. Yayo is getting more and more popular as the go too aftercare brand. The reason is simple: if you want the best then use the best. use Yayo!"
Images BJE, MNHR, Yayo and as credited
- after care,
- Ben Elton,
- Black and grey,
- comic art,
- Corona virus,
- Heavy metal,
- neo traditional,
- Rebel Base,
- Science Fiction,
- Tribal tattooing,
- William Shatner