Inked in Soho: Diamond Jack’s Tattoo Parlour

Despite a recent facelift, Walker’s Court is still home to some of the last of Soho’s establishments from the years of neon lights. The Tattoo sign still shines above the door of Diamond Jacks, which has been offering body art since 1985; it was founded by Dennis Cockell who still works with the current owner of over 20 years, Darryl Gates. Enter through the discreet single door, proceed down a corridor and up the stairs, walls lined with all the memorabilia you would expect from a 36 year history in Soho.

Darryl Gates in his tattoo parlour Diamond Jacks. Photography Kamil Kowak
Photography Kamil Kowak

My first encounter with Diamond Jacks was purely accidental. I’d walked in during a brief stint last year when lockdown was lifted, to enquire if they do piercings. Simple answer is no they don’t, and I should have been sent packing. But I was intrigued about this place which had me time warped in a period before I was even born. Not a lot of old Soho left these days. Darryl however, friendly and kind-spoken indulged my curiosity with a brief history. I know there and then I’d find a way to feature him in My Soho Times one day…

I was back the following Spring for an official interview.

Kai Lutterodt, editor of My Soho Times with Darryl Gates outside tattoo parlour Diamond Jacks. Photography Kamil Kowak

“Nothing has been changed here, including the speakers, fixtures and fittings. They’re exactly the same as they were in the 1980s,” says owner and tattoo artist Daryl Gates, proudly pointing out ‘vintage’ fixtures. He is an old school craftsman believing – and is himself a testament to that belief – that quality will speak for itself without much advertising. “It brings the currency and integrity of what we do down a bit.” he adds.

Darryl Gates Photography Kamil Kowak
Darryl Gates in his tattoo parlour Diamond Jacks. Photography Kamil Kowak

Diamond Jacks is all about tradition. “We’ve never changed styles or followed trends, they come and go. We do tattoos that look like tattoos,” he sums it up neatly with a smile. His client list is as impressive as it gets in the Rock n’ roll world. “We’ve done all the guys from the Cult, Nick Cave, Libertines, Florence and the Machine.” He drops just a few names, not to boast, but as a proof of his pedigree.

Diamond Jacks isn’t trendy enough to attract the young crowd but its clientele retains the aura of legends of the golden years of rock and punk and Daryl likes to keep it that way. “We have people up to 90 years old and they are easier because they know what they want and don’t change their mind all the time.” His tattoos are frequently seen in the House of Commons and Downing Street even though this time he won’t be dropping any names. Tattooing has changed over the years, Darryl admits. “15 years ago we would get the Monday crowd after they got their methadone, it was quite rough,” he confides, “Now we get loads of professionals and it’s more friendly.” Despite the changes Darryl likes his art to be a little bit edgy. “Tattoos shouldn’t be too easy, too fluffy.”

The past year has made Daryl realise that he can’t take it all for granted. “It made me stop and think hard about the fast life I‘ve been living for the past 20 years. I am a lot more relaxed and in better shape than I was before the lockdown both mentally and physically.”

Never judge a book by it’s cover – now that’s a moral we should all have inked on our minds!

Photography Kamil Kowak
Darryl Gates in his tattoo parlour Diamond Jacks. Photography Kamil Kowak

Written by Kai Lutterodt

5 Walker’s Ct, Soho, London W1F 0BT | @diamondjacks

This article was originally published in the Spring 2021 issue of My Soho Times. CLICK HERE to read online.

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Published by The Soho Girl

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