All posts by Tom Stickland

Bloco Dos Sujos

Bloc Dos Sujos samba bristolBloco Dos Sujos is a Brazillian percussion bateria based in Bristol UK. It was formed in 2014 by Paul Baxter who was also a founder of Ziriguidum. Paul described the concept as a simple idea: “play samba properly”. I went to introductory sessions with the band on Thursdays in October through to December and the playing was inspiring. It felt relaxed and fluid and at the same time it was really tight. A good drug. Bloco Dos Sujos facebook page.

Many people in the UK associate the term “samba band” with a group of percussionists who generally play a range of styles to build a set. A drumming bateria is one part of the whole machine and usually joined by singers and a cavaquinho player (a small guitar type instrument) as well as dancers. Bloco Dos Sujos concentrate on playing the arrangements and songs of Rio samba. As some people say: “they just play samba”. There are many variations of the samba style that are generally named after the main samba schools in Rio that originated them.

This video is from a performance at No1 Habourside in Bristol in December 2015. The band were joined by singer Xavier Osmir and cavaquinho player Adriano Dias.

I took these photographs without flash using a Canon G1X. It was very dark in the venue so I was running a very high ISO level. I’m still impressed with the results this camera can produce.

Picton Street Fayre

Picton Street Fayre poster 2015The Picton Street Fayre is a street fair and music festival held near the centre of Bristol in Decemeber. The event is advertised via the Picton Street facebook page.

I was there to perform with the African Sambistas. I had some time to look around since we were playing last on the bill. I caught the end of the The Longest Johns vocal group on stage. They were followed by the Bristol swing dancers. I’m actually a world record holder in the field of swing dancing. Well, I took part in the world record for the largest group dancing jive on the street. Before we went off to prepare I watched the entertaining Jelly Roll.

When we returned to Picton Street with the band and dancers it was dark and the crowd were ready for us. Everyone in a band will tell you that they go through all the toil that goes on behind the scenes because they are chasing the high that they experience when performing to a good crowd. Picton Street didn’t let us down. The energy was there and the African Sambistas finished the year on a high.

Thank you to Paul Phillips for the video and photos (some photos here by Tom).

Picton street fayre

Picton street fair

The African Sambistas rehearse on Wednesday evenings in Easton, Bristol. New members are always welcome. No experience necessary, come along and have a go. African Sambistas are also on Facebook and Twitter.

Pyle Pro PDJ480UM review

Pyle Pro PDJ480UM review.

Pyle Pro PDJ480UM review

The PDJ480UM is a twin digital music player and mixer combined into a compact rack mount unit. I bought one of these to do a live ambient music mix. I found it via Amazon where it had good reviews. PDJ480UM user manual.

This is a great piece of kit in many ways and was ideal for my needs. It has one major flaw that makes it unsuitable for serious beat matching.

The unit is mains powered. There are phono connections on the back for the external inputs and a gain selector for each one to choose between phono or standard levels.  There’s two phono outputs on the back, one for the main amplifier and one for recording from. There’s full size jack sockets for headphones and microphone on the front.

The mixer is well thought out. It has gain, bass and treble for each side. In the middle are master gain, headphone gain and mic gain. A cue switch allows the headphones to select one of the two channels. There are selector switches for each side to allow a choice between external inputs or the digital players.

The two digital decks are completely independent of each other and don’t share USB/SD cards. They read the cards quickly. A single push/rotate button is used to navigate and select tracks. Pushing this also toggles between folder and track selection. It took a little while to get used to this.

Pylepro pdj480um
View from the yoga mat

The folder order confused me at first. The folders are listed in the order that you downloaded them to the card. If that was alphabetical and then you decided to add some more folders then they will appear at the end unless you wipe and reload the whole card. Sub folders are listed in the main list as if they were top level folders.It’s best not to go more than 1 folder deep in the file structure.

I find the speed with which the full file name scrolls across the screen is too slow. I edited my file names to make the first 10 digits or so enough to work out the whole track to work round this.

When a track is selected then it’s loaded up at the start point. The jog wheel can be used in “jog” model to navigate through the track. Jog works best if the track is paused, otherwise it’s too slow. It’s not easy to jump forwards and backwards quickly in a track; there’s no back to start button. It sets the cue point at the point where you release the deck from being paused. I found this confusing at first and not always ideal. Pressing the cue button will pause the track back at the cue point.

Pylepro mixer and digital playerThe pitch slider range can be set to +/- 4,8 or 16% or off completely by holding the button down. There are pitch bend buttons beneath the slider. This is the same function and rotating the jog wheel when not in “jog” or “scratch” modes.

The loop works quite well with simple “in”, “out” and “reloop” buttons.
The “single” button means that the unit stops at the end of the track. The “time” toggles the time display between elapsed and remaining time. There is also a progress bar showing in the screen.

Brake cause the track to slow to a halt. It also causes a track to come up to speed from a halt if you start it with brake on. Reverse works well, though it won’t work in a loop.

The scratch is OK but its behaviour when you let go isn’t that impressive if the track is in play mode.

The biggest let down on this unit is that the pitch steps are too coarse for accurate beat matching. With the +/-16% range it goes in 1% steps and with +/-8% and +/-4% it goes in 0.5% steps. These are too large and the main reason I’m looking to move towards a higher spec unit.

Overall it’s a loveable unit with a few limitations. If you want to mix music without beat matching on a budget then it’s a great piece of kit.

Bristol Sanctum closing night

November has been all about Bristol Sanctum for me. I’ve played there three times with the African Sambistas, twice as Tommy Tutu, had a go for “Fuck the house band” and I could claim my 7th appearance at the closing night. I’ve also visited four times. All the posts are listed in my November archive:

I was at a rehearsal for Afon Sistema for most of the day on Saturday. I managed to make it to Sanctum for 5.40 pm and knew it was closing at 6pm. At the door the security man recognised me from the samba band and said “go through the side door”. I walked in with a drum and joined the band Count Bobo. This means that I was there at the end and I can claim to have performed there 7 times. I’m not counting or anything.

Sanctum Bristol closing
Final moments at Sanctum Bristol
Count Bobo Bristol
Part of Count Bobo

There was a sizeable crowd inside and Count Bobo created a piece that rose in intensity for ten minutes to reach a frenzied climax at 6pm. This received a massive cheer and round of applause. And that was it, the party was over.


On the way out the security man told me that Sanctum had really changed him. That’s great to hear. For me, Sanctum has shown just how many people are out there working on their performances and that a receptive audience exists, it just needs the right place to come together. Definitely, after playing with “Fuck the house band” I realised that anyone could start a band, it’s just a matter of getting on with it. The details like working out how to play can come later.

I loved Sanctum. Well done to SituationsUK for making Theaster Gate’s vision happen.

Sanctum Bristol on Tumblr

Friday afternoon at Sanctum Bristol

I called in to Sanctum Bristol just after midday on Friday 20th November. This was day 23 out of the 24 that it runs for. There was a queue but people were being rotated every 20 minutes so we didn’t have to wait for long.

Inside I caught the candomble singing and drumming of Alafia. I know almost everyone who was performing from Afon Sistema or Bloco Dos Sujos, both bands that I’m involved with.


Next up were “Fuck the house band” who have the rules:

  • Anyone can be in the house band
  • You don’t need to know how to play an instrument
  • No covers
  • No rehearsals

After their first song they said “we need a new band, who wants to play?” and got people from the audience to form a new band. “Drums! All you have to do is hit them”. A woman volunteered but said “I’ve never played the drums before.” They said “Good”. I had a go on guitar for one song and bass for another. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but I did it anyway and it was exhilarating. I can claim this as my 6th performance at Sanctum. I’ve played three times with the African Sambistas, done two ambient dj sets in the early hours as Tommy Tutu and now this. I’ve also visited three times before.

Energy levels and spirits were lifted during the hour of punk play.

Fuck the house band - all volunteers
Fuck the house band – all volunteers
That's me playing bass.
That’s me playing bass. Photo: Hannah Sullivan

Finally I caught the start of a set by James Morton and Jonny Henderson. They explained that they were going to take the opportunity of having a focussed audience and really play some emotional music.

James Morton and Jonny Henderson
James Morton and Jonny Henderson

Ambient dj mix at Sanctum Bristol

Sanctum Bristol ambient DJI played two ambient DJ sets in the early hours at Sanctum Bristol. I performed three times with the African Sambistas and we were offered some extra slots but the times didn’t suit a band of ten people. I have a large collection of ambient music and electronica and I thought the early hours would be an ideal time to present it to some new people. I was partially inspired by the Robert Rich sleep concerts.

I appeared under my alter ego of Tommy Tutu, a name created for me by my friends after my new found love of tutus and dressing up in skirts and dresses in general. Shambala festival started it. I’ll have to tell you about it, it’s been a very positive part of my life, destroying a load of inhibitions and making me a very happy person as a result.

I spent a long time compiling tracks from my collection, a process that became frenzied as every time I found one track it set off several other ideas for things I had to put into the collection. I ended up with enough music to probably fill 10 hours. Some of these tracks go back 25 years for me and I’ve spent a lot of the last few years doing home yoga to ambient pieces. It was fairly simple to think of tracks that I really wanted to play. I also wanted to put some songs into the mix and maybe even some pop songs from the 80s, but only if they meant something to me.

PylePro PDJ480UM

I had a good think about how I would try to structure the set and wrote some notes on pieces of paper in case I lacked inspiration when I was at Sanctum. I also made two tracks of my own for the event, the main one being the ambient toilet flush. I bought a semi-pro twin mp3 player and mixer and learnt how to use it over the weekend. I spent so much time preparing that I didn’t really stop to think about the slightly daunting responsibility of filling Sanctum with sound.

My first set was 3am to 5am on Tuesday 17th November. On Monday night I performed with Afon Sistema at the Transforms event and didn’t make it to bed until 11 pm and I was back up at 1.30 am to prepare.

I wasn’t expecting a large crowd in the early hours and when I arrived DJ Guevara was performing to the sound man and stage manager. I’d brought my own captive audience of one with me. My attitude was that if I made one person happy with my set then it would be worth it.

The comedy of arriving in a tutu and heels and having a totally sensible conversation about cables and equipment didn’t escape me. Hey, I’m an artist. Dressing up is great fun, I think it’s becoming addictive.

Things got off to a surprising start when three new people appeared who wanted to dance. So I pulled some of the tracks with beats out of the bag. This meant that I hadn’t even started the ramp down towards full ambient mode until about 45 minutes in. Time just flew by and I was enjoying myself. The highlight for me was chanting along to dead can dance – Devorzhum. Watching the reaction to the ambient toilet flush was fun and as the crowd grew a bit and changed towards the end I played it again.

View from the yoga mat
View from the yoga mat

After seeing some of the amazing musicians at Sanctum I felt a little bit of a fraud sitting there playing mp3 tracks. I was sat on a yoga mat right in front of the audience and I had no equipment to hide behind. But this felt honest; I really was a man in a tutu playing mp3s. I hoped they would appreciate the music for what it was. I wasn’t creating it, I was selecting it. I had my first feelings of apprehension towards the end when several people were sat in chairs looking at me!

The biggest moment for me was after I’d finished when a man stood up and shouted “well done Tommy Tutu” and caused a cheer and a round of applause.

I played from 3.50 until 5 am the following morning to a different crowd. The first half was to an almost empty room so I had some fun mixing up some extra beats that I’d brought along in case there was more dancing. The highlight was again the chanting where I felt with some vocal input I was slightly more of a performer.

By the end of the second set I was just plain tired and relieved that it was over. I’d pushed my luck with the lack of sleep in doing two consecutive days. It was still a real buzz to have a positive reaction from people who were there. I’d love to do more in the future, maybe the early hours at a festival.

It was a great opportunity to appear at Sanctum. The Worm Disco Club also played an early hours DJ mix. See the November archive for a full list of Sanctum posts.

Ambient toilet flush

Ambient toilet flush: I was reading a review of Sanctum Bristol where a reporter had spent almost 24 hours there (I was there on the same night for a while). In the review the reporter described a “mix of noises which range from birdsong to toilets flushing”. “It’s just me here at this point. And this is not what I need. Thankfully it’s a short hour (yawn) until the next live act”.

The sound source
The sound source

The performer, Laura Denning was not happy and commented beneath the article with “Thanks! NOT. That a sonic piece I created called Underheard and no toilets flush anywhere within the piece”.

The idea of an artist having to deny that there were not any toilets flushing or not within their piece amused me. I’d also been offered a 2 hour slot in the early hours for an ambient music mix. I decided that I would make my own ambient piece based only on the sound of a toilet flushing. The joke was  only the start, from that point on it was an artistic process.

I recorded the sound of the last drops of a wee and a flushing the toilet at the city academy in Bristol using my mobile phone. Back home at 11pm I imported the sound track into Audacity which is freeware editing software. I took the basic sounds and added progressively more effects such as pitch stretches, speed changes and multiple echoes. The process was very much trial and error as I tried things until I found interesting sounds and then copied and manipulated them. Towards the end I deleted well over half of what I’d created in order to make the track less cluttered.

Audacity is a great piece of software.

I was working to a deadline and had the track completed by 4am. I found the creative process very enjoyable and I’m pleased with the final result. I believe that it stands up on its own artistic merit.

I played the track at about 4am on Tuesday morning at Sanctum. A friend of mine was there in the audience and said that the facial expressions were amusing as some people realised what they were listening to.

As featured in The sound of a toilet flushing on Bristol 24/7.

The African Sambistas at Sanctum Bristol

The African Sambistas made our third appearance at Sanctum Bristol on Friday 13th November. This was the largest and most enthusiastic audience that we’d experienced since our first two visits. We were scheduled to play for 45 minutes but the next act was late so we actually played for an hour.

Anyone in a band will probably tell you that the high from a successful performance is what keeps them going. It offsets the effort that goes into turning up for rehearsals every week, the travel, the waiting around and moving equipment.

That’s me at the front in the image below.

We’ve been featured in two videos from the performance that night.    

There’s some great sketches of us from Janiceshanice123

The African Sambistas are also on Facebook and Twitter.

With all that in the bag we went to the Plantation to watch Ilu Axe perform.

Theaster Gates Bristol: The Sanctum project in the early hours

Theaster Gates Sanctum BristolTheaster Gates Bristol: The Sanctum project is a space with performances 24 hours a day for 24 days. I called round at 5am on a Tuesday morning. This was my third visit to watch (read about the previous visit) and I’d performed there with the African Sambistas the previous week.

When I arrived the Worm Disco Club were mixing a set of ambient weirdness and distorted sounds. They were followed by Jonni Slater who I also saw on the opening night. He wasn’t using his sequencer this time, instead it was just him playing the piano and singing and then swapping to guitar. He was joined by the clarinet from The Mandalas during the handover. I watchd the Mandalas for half an hour before having to leave for work.

African Sambistas at Sanctum Bristol

African Sambistas at Sanctum BristolAfrican Sambistas at Sanctum Bristol. We performed twice this weekend. I’d visited the venue twice before to watch.

On Friday we followed on from the Bristol Reggae Orchestra with a 30 minute slot. The hand over took almost ten minutes due to the number of players and instruments that needed moving. No problem, we were on full power right from the start and projected the energy down the building and out in the queue outside. The sound in the building was impressive. It was a real joy to play there.

On Saturday it was different. Our regular musical director, Jordan from Bath Samba, was not available. I was responsible for directing the band and we had an hour to fill. I was both excited and apprehensive. My previous experience has been playing on streets or carnivals where the crowd come and find us. Here I felt that we were more like exhibits in a museum, being studied as a live piece of art.

Sanctum Bristol dancers

We had a fun crossover with Lonely Tourist who was on before us. He had a bass kick pedal which was loud enough to give a solid pulse for us to add percussion to without drowning him out.

I was really keen that we could really get into the grooves and create a hypnotic effect. I also wanted to project to the crowd the energy, excitement and joy that comes from playing in a percussion group. Not everyone enjoys drumming bands due to the high noise levels and frenetic nature of it. If you are into it then there’s a music that lies inside the grooves that can transport you to a state of bliss. That’s why we do it!

I was really happy with how it went. Between us we put a day’s worth of energy into an hour and the audience response was positive. They clapped, they cheered, I’ve seen that some are smiling in the photographs.

We’re back for one more session in the future. I’m also planning on visiting in the early hours to see if I can discover some new sounds.

Situations Bristol | Sanctum blog on Tumblr | Sanctum Bristol website | “My (almost) 24 hours at Sanctum”

Sanctum Bristol blog

Sanctum BristolSanctum Bristol blog update: this was my second visit to the Sanctum project in Bristol (read more about it in my first visit post). We called in on a Sunday evening and caught a few acts.

Jonni Slater delivered a very musical set of songs using a sequencer for the backing and adding live keys and guitar. I was really hoping I’d get to see something unusual and Domestic Sound Cupboard didn’t disappoint. They say “all music performed by the group is improvised with no use of pre-written or recorded materials.”. I found this very stimulating as they combined percussion, gongs, bells, trumpet, bass guitar, keyboards, vocals and live processing and effects. If you were feeling harsh then you could describe some of it as shapeless noise but then new shapes and musical moments would appear from nowhere. I liked it. I liked watched the audience sit through it with serious faces. Finally Iskri played a one hour solo set during which he won me over.

Sanctum is a lucky dip. You never know what you’ll get – I’ve seen twitter photos of djs, a pipe band, a pottery wheel based performance, men with laptops and effects units and the salvation army band. Go there with an open mind and see what you find.

Domestic Sound Cupboard |

Cotswold Model Railway Show 2015

I called in to the Cotswold Model Railway Show on Sunday morning. The advertising sign on the roundabout near Sainsbury’s in Stroud was an inspired move. I passed it about 10 times, each time thinking “I should go to that” before I finally checked out the details.

Layout list from

This years confirmed layouts are:
(OO) Bishops Mead — Julie West, Artist
(N) Church Hislop — Lord & Butler
(OO) Abbotswood Junction — Stewart Blencowe Books
(OO) Cherington GMRC — Penduke Models
(OO) Bishops Street Yard — GMRC Display
(O14) The End of the Line — DEMU Display
(EM) Fryupdale Brewery GMRC — Ffestiniogg
(HO) Horse Creek — CMRS/GMRC 2nd Hand
(G) GrumblinG Goods — Brians Trains
(N) Small Town GMRC — Cotswold Canal Trust
(3mm) Three Acres GMRC — Olive Turner
(O) Kingsbury — (OO) New Sodbury

There were some good layouts there. Our favourites were Abbotswood Junction and New Sodbury.