Usually I hurl multiple topics at a single blog post to reflect my general state-of-mind, but you’ve got to give the whole post to this one. Seeing as he just messaged me at the same time as I was watching Sade’s tour film, I have to highlight my friend BJ Betts’ spectacular bragging rights. This man had an experience few will ever match — he actually got a tattoo from Sade in 2011. Has anybody else got one of those?
Betts himself is the tattooist I always turn to for work and he’s a scriptmaster general too — one of those tattoo industry dudes with fancy writing that belies his vast presence, and he somehow wrangled this. With a shoe collection that rivals the best of the best (and an enviable New Balance armoury — bear in mind that one of one personalised NBs are for true masters) and ink from Sade — who remains ultimate wife material — Betts has things that we can’t have. if there’s anything to take away from this strange, oddly aspirational story it’s that if you want something — no matter how eccentric — ask the right person and it might just happen.
There’s a lot I could interview BJ about, but this is by far the most pressing matter, so I asked him how it actually went down.
ME: This started with you tattooing Sade’s band prior to the show. Are those band members pretty tattooed already?
BJ: There’s, like, a few guitar players and bass player, percussion and back up singers. Initially, I tattooed this guy called Paul Denman who has been with Sade since the very beginning and was also in Groove Theory, Sweetback and a few other bands. He’s been with her since ’82 or ’83 — whenever Sade was formed. I got in touch with him through my friend Mike at Fender because my wife tried to buy tickets for Sade’s show in Philadelphia and immediately they were fucking sold out — my wife understands how much I love her. All the guys in Sade play Fender and Gretsch. So he said that Paul was his friend so he could get tickets.
I went to see the show and then he was like, “We’re gonna be back in Philadelphia in a few weeks and I’d really like to get tattooed.” I was like, “Okay, sure!” So I tattooed him, one of the guitar players and one of the saxophone players or percussion guys — I don’t quite remember. He comes to the studio and gives me one of the tour books signed by the band – which was amazing enough. Sade’s pretty reclusive — she keeps her private life private.
After I tattooed Paul he was like, “If there’s anything you want just let me know.” I told him that I’d like to meet Sade. He said, “Listen dude — we’re playing Atlantic City tomorrow night.” That’s maybe an hour-ish away from Philadelphia. He said “Just let me know and I’ll talk to them.” Then I told him, “I’d really like her to tattoo me.” He said, “Dude — she doesn’t tattoo!” I said, “That’s the point! That’s why I want it” I would be the true hyperstrike one of one. Paul said, “This is so ridiculous that she might go for it.”
We go on our way and he phones me the next day at 5:30 and says, “We just had a meeting before the show — she says she’ll do it but you need to be here by 8:30 before she goes on.” I just finished tattooing and I called my wife and said, “We’re going to see Sade in Atlantic City and she’s going to tattoo me. Get your stuff together and let’s go.”
What did she say to that?
To be honest all she probably heard was the going to see Sade bit. She probably discounted the tattoo bit as not even real. So off we go. I pack the bare minimum — one tattoo machine, one needle, one tube. We get to the event and Atlantic City on a Saturday in the summertime is out of control — it’s so busy. We’re maybe ten blocks away from the venue and it’s already 8:30. I’m getting calls like “Dude, where are you at? we have to get this moving!” I told him that we’re stuck in traffic and it’s not even moving. He’s like, “Alright! Hang on a second…” I hear police sirens and he says, “Do you hear those sirens? That’s the police and they’re coming to escort you.”
So the police come and I follow them to the venue. The police are like, “Come on! This way, this way!” I leave my truck parked on the side of the road by the venue and they’re like, “We’ll handle it! Just park!” We get out the vehicle and they’re throwing lanyards around our necks. I’m setting up and on the other side of the wall I can hear Sade warming up her voice which, by now, is really fucking me up. I’ve tattooed a lot of celebrities over the years and it’s usually whatever. I never thought about the weirdness of this until you mentioned that it was weird. If you want to do something because you want to do it it’s not that weird. This is when it hit me — Sade is ten feet away behind the wall. This is somebody I’ve listened to as long as I can remember. I get set up and Paul said, “I’ll get her.” It took all I could to not fan out.
What’s your favourite Sade song?
I don’t know. At this point I’d probably say Is it a Crime? or Kiss of Life, Cherish the Day — even Soldier of Love is up there. Sweetest Taboo…the classics.
Back to the story…
So she came in and I went to shake her hand and she just pulled me in for the hug. I think the only thing that helped me keep it together was having to talk her through tattooing me. I had to make sure it didn’t go bad. Actually, scratch that — how could it possibly go bad? I’m getting tattooed by Sade.
It was on your leg though…
It wasn’t like it was on my face. She wrote Sade 2011 and put an X on like a kiss.
How was she?
I mean as a tattooist.
Oh, it was horrible! I set the depth of the machine so it wouldn’t be that bad. She couldn’t harm me more than was necessary. I set it accordingly because she hadn’t done it before and hasn’t done it since. She kept saying to me, “Are you sure you want me to do this?” I was like, “Fucking absolutely!”