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Jim Smallman: Tattooligan

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

Every picture tells a story, so they say, and Jim Smallman’s covered in them, Even if some of his tattoos tell no anecdote more than ‘I had £50 and half an hour to spare…’

His heavily-inked body means people judge him. Indeed, he sent the elderly listeners of his BBC Radio Leicester show a photograph of himself – without confessing it was attached to the friendly voice they heard every week – and asked them to describe the personality traits they thought he had.

‘Terrible at relationships,’ said one 76-year-old dear, ‘craves attention’ said another, ‘terrible parent,’ said a third – and these comments form the chapter headings from the show. As you can see they have conveniently (possibly a bit too conveniently) given enough broad topics for Smallman to discuss every aspect of his life.

Smallman is an affable, open guide to himself, remaining enthusiastic despite the soul-sapping heat in another Gilded Balloon furnace. He is more engaging and approachable than any of those with preconceptions about his body art would ever imagine.

Under those roasting spotlights, he talks eloquently, warmly and honestly about his bipolar disorder, his drug and alcohol abuse and his inner pervert; not to mention his relationship with his mother (who’s had her own health problems), father and eight-year-old daughter, all of whom he discusses with profound love. None of this is as heavy as it sounds, though, and much of the rest of the show has a much lighter tone anyway; using those good old comic staples of pointless ire and unquoshable pedantry.

It’s an hour of sharing confidences, with tales full of warmth, wit and occasional poignancy. Is it funny? Well, sometimes – but that’s not particularly the aim. It’s certainly uplifting, which appears to be what Smallman hopes to achieve by laying open his life and finding a resonance with an audience who, had they prejudged those tattoos, might have expected an altogether different person.

Review date: 18 Aug 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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