Modern Primitives

INTERVIEW: My Dinner With Sarge (2004)

In the summer of 2004, modded people from all over the world gathered in Toronto, Ontario for BMEfest, an annual gathering of like-minded individuals. Some came to be social. Some came to drink. Some came to perform. Sarge came for all these reasons and more.

Sarge is a renowned piercer, and owner of the Metal Fatigue studio in Bournemouth, England. His real name has been lost to time (but is easily readable on his passport if you’re lucky enough to see it). This was his second trip to Canada, and I had the opportunity to speak with him at length, observe him performing an extremely exotic piercing, and get pierced by him myself.

Upon meeting him, it’s obvious that he fits no stereotype. On the hottest days of the summer Sarge was found wearing black leather pants, his trademark tophat, and aviator’s goggles. For a piercer, Sarge has relatively few piercings himself. The only visible ones are multiple gauged holes in his ears. I wondered about this.

“Blimey!” said Sarge with typical zeal. “Over the years I have had different piercings, but I was always into the tattooing side of body art.” Indeed, Sarge has a wonderful pair of wings on his back, and his sleeves covered. “Even though I never made it to that particular job (tattooing), I prefer the look. Body piercing to me is becoming more of a personal goal to strive at. I just pride myself on the job and quality of work the shop is producing. To me it’s more important to give good quality piercings than actually have them myself, plus I’m a big pussy when it comes to piercing pain.”

I got to wear the Sarge tophat.

Can this be true? We’ve all seen people who seem like they’re on the verge of tears when getting pierced. Could Sarge be like one of these people? Could Sarge even be worse than yours truly when it comes to pain? “No really!” he says. “Even worse than you!”

Although it’s impossible to guess by looking at him how old the Sarge might be, it’s clear from his stories that he’s been around for over 35 years. I was curious when he first encountered an “unusual” piercing, and what he thought of it at the time.

“The first unusual body art and modification I ever saw was in a re search book called Modern Primitives. That totally opened my eyes I can tell you! There was a whole world of piercing anthropology out there! I was 18 at the time and getting my first tattoo, which was pretty hardcore anyway at the time as it is a full arm of tribal. So I was pushing the boundaries then, because nobody had those types of tattoos then. Well so I thought! Then I read Modern Primitives and the rest as they say is history.”

From there, Sarge began exploring piercings himself. “My good friend Jenny was a mobile body piercer on the Isle of Wight. She taught me all she knew and pierced my navel, then got pregnant and gave the box of equipment to me. I sort of drifted about for a few years piercing my friends, then moved to Bournemouth UK and started working with various local cosmetic piercing studios. When I got fed up with their bad habits, I opened another. Then another. Then this one, which I called a clinic. I think it deserved it considering that’s a good 15 years of Metal Fatigue.”

Sarge’s first piercing was technically not his navel. He too experienced the dreaded piercing gun at an early age, before he knew any better. “I think my first piercing was when I was 14, I had my ear pierced with a really old piercing gun. It was a bit like a cross between a pair or pliers and a hole punch. I’m serious! And the freezing spray hurt more than the piercing!”

Eventually Sarge began doing piercings himself. His first was in 1989. “I cannot tell a lie, I totally screwed it up. It was a tongue piercing, and I got it off centre. It was on my friend Jenny.” Jenny had been teaching Sarge how to pierce, and continued to give him guidance. “She made me take it out and ‘Bloody well do it again!’ Suffice to say that was the first and last time I ever screwed up a tongue piercing!”

As time went on, the shop currently known as Metal Fatigue opened it doors to the public. The shop now enjoys an excellent reputation, but it was not always easy. “As an Aquarian, I have a total lack of a business mind. I am absolutely hopeless! So money has always been a problem. I have always thought it was always reputation over money anyway, so I’m lucky there, huh? I owned a tattoo studio called White Flame for three years with my ex-girlfriend, but left after we split up. I couldn’t really walk in there anymore after. It just gave me the fear. Although, my friend and housemate, Ana is a tattooist there and she just did a piece on my leg in the shop, so I’m getting better with it.”

Metal Fatigue itself runs on a fairly small staff. Aside from Sarge, “the shop runs two apprentices and two shop cleaner/desk personnel. All of them are friends, which sometimes doesn’t work: Mixing business and friendship is always a mistake. I think that pretty much sums up most piercing clinics, you definitely have to deal with the whole soap opera of this job somewhere along the line!” He must be doing something right despite this, as his shop has proven to be extremely popular.

Sarge is most definitely well versed in many topics. During a sushi dinner with him, pop culture was a topic that came up frequently. I recalled the first time I saw an unusual piercing myself. It was Axl Rose in a music magazine, and he had a ring in his left nipple. I had heard about Axl Rose’s unusual nipple adornment on a Canadian television music program, but seeing it changed a lot of things for me. I was wondering if, In England, there were any pop culture figures who might have had the same impact on people.

“The Spice Girls!” said Sarge with glee. Sporty Spice had her pierced nostril, Ginger had her navel done, and Scary had the most extreme piercing of the group, a barbell in her tongue. “They started the whole girly piercing craze. Before that it was all “alternative” people and middle aged swingers, I swear! It’s true! ” This trend has not changed, even if the pop culture faces have. “Even now, I’m getting people in who want piercings because some famous person or other has one!”

Having been in this business for the better part of 15 years, Sarge has seen a lot of different piercing techniques. When he came to Canada, he asked me how we did piercings here. I had to confess I was ignorant that there would be a difference in technique between the two countries. “I actually employ a cross between Standard American devised techniques and Standard English devised techniques. The difference is in the needles, but if you know what you’re doing you generally get the same result.”

What about attitudes? Are they the same in both countries? “With attitudes, I don’t honestly know, I tend not to get into big arguments about ethics. Lately I have had to really bite my tongue about certain issues. I’m quite happy that I did.”

I tried to pry his tongue loose on a few topics, and Sarge was willing to discuss common mistakes made in the piercing industry. “There are so many! Bad placement, wrong jewelry, trauma on areas caused by holding clamps too hard, the list is large. I personally have had to mop up after a large percentage of local piercers. I have just got used to it now. I learned a long time ago if you treat people with respect after they have been butchered by some backstreet piercer, instead of giving them attitude, they come back to you and tell all their friends. I do despair sometimes, and get downright angry about certain situations, but there’s nothing I can do about it. You can’t fight city hall, and any complaints that I make are deemed as ‘Professional jealousy’!”

Sarge does his best to keep his shop state of the art, and top of the line. In order to do this, he makes sure that he’s on top of sterility issues, and also provides excellent aftercare to his clients.

“Sterility in the studio is something that has evolved over the years. We buy better chemicals and better autoclaves each year, I update my techniques and basically do my homework. This has made the shop the way it is. We have this horrible super bug here called MRSA which seems to be ravaging the local hospitals, I don’t understand why they have it. All it takes is common sense and a proper cross contamination cleaning regime to work safely and efficiently. I swear sometimes I think that Technicare should pay me commission; on the amount of student nurses I have turned on to it!”

As far as aftercare goes, Sarge provides excellent service to his clients. “Metal Fatigue is twinned with a shop called Paradox which is just across the road; they are a jewelry shop, which is where I get all my ‘standard’ piercing jewelry. We have a policy: I use standard sensible pieces in all the different piercings that I pierce, in turn the piercees then come back to change their original piercings for an interesting piece of jewelry of their choice. I in turn change these for free. We’re pretty user-friendly like that!”

This makes Sarge a pretty popular guy. “I can’t move in my local rock nightclub for people the shop has pierced, the running joke is about the scrap value in titanium every Saturday night!”

When asked what his future plans for his studio were, Sarge’s love of Canada was evident. “Metal Fatigue Ontario, maybe? Any sponsors out there?”

Although he has yet to fulfill this cross-Atlantic dream, Sarge has pierced in Canada before. Sarge pierced my right nipple, and did a fantastic job. He made a piercing that, for me, was always extremely difficult and painful the exact opposite of that. It was quick, painless, and I did not even realize it was over until he told me that it was. Even more exciting than this was getting to watch Sarge perform was he calls his “trophy piercing”, the clavicle.

The clavicle piercing, under the collarbone.

A young Kitchener, Ontario resident had seen Sarge’s clavicle piercing on the BME site and was interested. It’s a very unusual piercing that involves going underneath the collarbone. Sarge is one of very few people who do it. This young girl eventually emailed Sarge about getting one done, not realizing he lived across the ocean. However, with BMEfest just around the corner, Sarge was planning on coming and visiting his friends. The Canadian girl could have her clavicle piercing after all.

It was quite a sight to watch. “The clavicle piercing (under the collar bone) is probably my ‘trophy’ piercing now, its really dangerous,” says Sarge. “If I hit anything untoward, someone may die. I have had loads of criticism from various piercers for even thinking about doing one. Saying that, I have now done eight and they all love them so much! I have stopped doing them now, as we are into unknown territory, watching them heal, working around possible problems with them. So far everything has been hunky dory.”

As we were wrapping up our talk, I wanted to lighten the tone a bit. I know Sarge has met a few celebrities in the past. My favourite story involved a bar, a drunken Sarge, and a certain lead vocalist from a certain British heavy metal band called Motorhead. Although he had no way of knowing, Philip Lynott from Thin Lizzy had died that day, and the bar was playing his music in tribute to the fallen rock hero. Sarge, however, was not a fan. When he openly criticized the music of Thin Lizzy with some choice words, a large man with “bad teeth, long black hair and a low gruff voice,” told the young Sarge to fuck off. This was Sarge’s first and last meeting with Lemmy Kilmister. Not all his encounters were this scary. “I met Jon Anderson from the band Yes when I was working at a hotel once! Had a beer with him after work, he was doing some book signing thing, I think I still have his autograph somewhere, he signed a copy of a (Yes cover artist) Rodger Dean art book for me!”

Has Sarge ever pierced a celebrity? “I have, but I can’t tell you her name. She’s more a British music celebrity, quite young and has only just been in the charts here, I don’t honestly know how far reaching her music is. She’s definitely not one of these corporate girly types, she writes all her own tunes. Oh yeah and she’s really cute.”

We wrapped up our talk, half of our sushi still lying on the table. I very much enjoyed having the chance to speak with, and have some work done by the man known in Canada as the “Jedi Master of Piercings”. If you ever have a chance to visit Bournemouth, UK, be sure to drop in and say hello to the extremely talented and friendly Sarge.


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