Sanctum Bristol project

Sanctum BristolSanctum Bristol is a programme of 552 hours of continuous performance during Nov 2015. It takes place in a temporary structure built from reclaimed materials located in a bombed out church near Bristol city centre. Whilst the artists are listed on the Sanctum website there is no public programme so visitors experience a lucky dip. The name of the performers is written onto a blackboard. I’m there myself later in the month with the African Sambistas .

The Guardian: 552 hours of surprises: artist brings open-mic mayhem to Bristol

Follow on twitter with #sanctumbristol. Sanctum is coordinated by

I called round at 10.30 pm on the opening night to take a look. I caught the end of a performance from a singer with computerised backing tracks which sounded great. The next slot was taken by pianist Simon Capet which was lovely but didn’t satisfy my cravings for crazy things. The last performer I saw was a harp player who I wasn’t too excited about at first. Things started off quite slowly and with fairly predictable runs up and down the strings and I wasn’t really into it until one of the bass strings was brought in and then I was pulled in by the sound. I left after a crowd pleasing Stairway to heaven. My visit coincided with a reporter from Bristol 24/7 who spent almost 24 hours there: “My (almost) 24 hours at Sanctum

Sanctum Bristol


Sanctum Bristol

Sanctum Bristol location map: Temple Church. Nearest postcode BS1 6DE. Next to the King’s Head pub and Ye Shakespeare pub.

Shambala Festival 2015

Shambala festival 2015 was my third festival of the year after Wychwood and Womad and was another trip with the African Sambistas. Prior to 2015 I’d only ever been to one festival: Waveforms 2008 in Wiltshire and that was a drugfest and pounding music. I did discover Orchid Star though, so it wasn’t all bad. I love their track Barefoot (in the sunshine).

The Shambala website sounded promising but every festival bigs themselves up on their website. I’ll leave it to Whingefest to explain. After the mud and toilet situation at Womad I wasn’t feeling too keen about this jaunt. I didn’t have any choice though, my festival partner was expecting me and we set off on Wednesday evening, arriving in the dark.

The African Sambistas at Shambala festival
The African Sambistas at Shambala festival

Actually getting to the designated camp site area was straight out of a Kafka novel. It was dark, we didn’t know which area we were allocated to and our pass didn’t allow us bring the car and trailer of kit in. After wandering about for a bit we heard someone say “artists area”  which sounded nice and we had artist passes. Then we found a map and finally knew where we were supposed to be going. We walked backwards and forwards with the trailer in the drizzle. Our neighbours had managed to drive in with the same type of pass as us, as more of our group on subsequent days. In the dark we put wrong poles in various holes so it took a good while before we had shelter.

Helter skelterA walk round the site the next day showed that this was a much smaller festival than Womad. The layout felt a lot less regimented and there were interesting things to see including the enchanted wood, the lake and healing fields. Fair ground wise there was a Ferris wheel and chair-o-plane but no waltzers. Not good for addicts like us.

In a similar vein to Womad, I didn’t actually get to see much of the live bands. As well as the two main stages the festival had a lot of small venues offering music and djs all day. We spent a lot of time in the circus big top watching odd cabaret acts and the disco themed boogie nights. The crowd energy was tangible, with Mexican waves starting before anything had happened. I tried the Red Bastard show but found it too aggressive for a good natured festival when I was tired. I’m always going on about edgy comedy and lightweights who can’t take it. Turns out that I was one this time! The comedy in the smaller venue was pretty good too, there’s a clip in the video.


Shambala festival dance stage

There were a lot of adult workshops, which was great. We did a singing workshop and a really good shamanic drum session where we spent 25 minutes drumming a very simple heartbeat before a gong was hit and we were free to go for it. With no plan or director then everyone set off to do their own thing. After several minutes there was a moment when suddenly everything came into time and we were drumming as one. I worked up a very satisfying sweat. After 10 minutes the gong was sounded and the madness stopped. As well as the singing, drumming and yoga there were also some unusual offerings, such as nipple tassle making and cock drawing.

Shambala cross dressing dayShambala is a great festival. It’s a place where anything goes. It has an air of liberating madness. It’s a place where you lose inhibitions and give things a try.  I was feeling pretty cool about cross dressing Friday and I enjoyed it far too much. It corrupted my mind permanently. In a good way. I came home with an interest in nail paint, a very lovely tutu, several pairs of tights and a fascinator hat. The tutu comes from Fairy Love.

The African Sambistas at Shambala festival

The Sunday fancy dress parade was our opportunity to perform and we had a great time. There were a lot of inspired costumes. My favourite was an alien craft where three people walked together with their heads inside the pod looking out of the windows.

man wearing a tutu and tights
My new look.

It rained at some point on the last evening. Getting out on Monday was a major challenge, with various stewards telling us different things and a struggle to get the car in to collect the trailer. We did finally make it and I’ve forgotten about any of that hassle now and just remember the good times we had.

Shambala festival photo gallery.  Shambala photos and chat on Facebook.

Womad UK Festival 2015

I spent 5 days at Womad UK (Charlton Park) with the African Sambistas. We did 3 workshop sessions and drummed for the Sunday parade. The dates were Fri 24th to Sun 26th though we arrived on Wednesday morning and left on Monday.

Womad UK stage tent
Big tent. Dry in there.

The line up included the following (lifted from efestivals): De La Soul, Tinariwen, Bellowhead, CW Stoneking, 47soul, AcholiMachon, Aurelio Martinez, Banda Magda, veteran Brazilian singer Dona Onete, Eska, Ester Rada, Kim Churchill, L’Hijaz’Car, Molotov Jukebox, Orange Blossom, Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp, Japanese funk from Osaka Monaurail, Sagapool, Sona Jobarteh, and Swindle.

I didn’t really see any of the big name bands but I did hear a live mix of several of them late at night in the tent. It was a great sound. The Bowers and Wilkins sound stage promised a lot of interesting performances but failed to deliver for me.

The weather alternated daily: Friday: rain, Saturday: dry and sunny, Sunday: rain. I went to the morning sessions with yoga tree and then wandered around, taking in the healing gardens, various small stages and a daily visit to Carter’s vintage steam fair to feed our waltzer and octopus addiction. The ghost train, chair-o-plane, steam boats and victorian swings were also great. We spent several hours a day preparing and delivering our workshop sessions.

It rained a bit.
It rained a bit.

Womad is often described as the most middle class festival. The positives include a good natured crowd who are receptive to unheard music and lack of too much scummy excess but I found it to be a slightly flat festival compared with, say, Shambala. Womad UK is big and organised which is great, maybe it’s too big and organised.

I can’t remember the name of any the bands that I saw apart from the Malmesbury School’s Project on Thursday night with Tomorrow’s Warriors, which was good.

On Sunday afternoon the rain was falling, it was slightly cold and the ground was muddy. As we sat under our gazebo in the camp sight then it’s fair to say that spirits weren’t too high concerning the parade. But we there to do a job so we set off to do it, wondering how we were going to parade round the whole site when walking took twice the effort as normal.

The waltzer.
The waltzer.

When we arrived at the parade start we found that the plans had been modified. The various samba bands played a set in the dry under the dome stage. Then the unexpected happened and the sun appeared. The procession was significantly shortened so that it looped into the nearest stage tent (red or blue) turned round and came back. The parade ending with a jam with Ilu Axe, Beatroots, the African Sambistas and anyone else with a drum to hit.

We packed up in sunshine on Monday, driving past the clean up operation with a massive pile of broken tents being loaded into recycling containers.

In summary, it was a major achievement to survive the whole festival considering the weather. I had fun hanging out with my friends from the sambistas. We did a bit of work and we got to experience a lot of festival. Hopefully 2016 will be dry.

Womad festival photo gallery.

Epic Cymru photographs

Epic CymruEpic Cymru photographs and write up. See also official photographs from Anthony Pease.

I entered this event in April 2015 and then, for various reasons, didn’t actually ride my mountain bike for almost 6 months. I had pretty much lost interest in mountain biking and was spending all my spare time playing at samba drumming gigs or walking.

One day I finally fixed the front brake using parts from Ebay and decided to go and ride the Llanwrtyd Wells cider wobble whilst visiting my parents. I was surprised to find that I had about 85% of my fitness intact, I enjoyed the descents and I thought “maybe I should go and that Epic Cymru event”. A plan was hatched. I managed to book some more time off work, and the organisers sorted me joining on the third day along with a stiff time penalty for not being there.

Epic CymruMy full training plan consisted of:

  • A 6 month rest period
  • One 10 km ride round the pavements near my house
  • One 35 km ride in mid Wales

I was pretty confident that I’d be ok since I’d ridden several consecutive 50 km + days on my own in mid Wales in December 2013.

My weekend was packed. I had a samba gig, a social evening, a wedding followed by a 2 hour drive to a samba gig and a day at another samba gig. I was home by 5.30 pm on Sunday and arrived at Margam park at 7.20 pm ready for the briefing.

  • Monday (day 3 of the event) was Margam to Afan via the Penhydd, along the old railway, a timed stage up to White’s Level, a timed stage down the end of White’s Level and then a monster timed stage up the Skyline descent all the way to the top of the mountain. The final stage was a descent to the camp at Dare Valley park.
  • Tuesday was a loop from Aberdare to Bike Park Wales with a timed climb, a timed descent and then another climb to get to Mountain Ash for a descent to the bottom. A very long climb took us back to the descent to the Dare Valley.
  • Wednesday was a bike like Monday in reverse. This meant a long climb to the top of Skyline and then a brilliant descent from there all the way to the valley floor via the Blade trail. This was split into two timed stages. A long fire road climb at Afan linked to the Sidewinder descent and then turned back towards Margam. A very long ascent and the final timed stage returned riders to Margam park next to the castle.
  • Each day was about 50 km and 1200 – 1500 m  of climbing. I’ve done longer distances and similar elevation gains before but none seemed as arduous as this. I’ve done 85 km and 2300 at the Red Kite Devil’s MTB challenge but that didn’t seem as tough as this.

Epic Cymru route 2015:

Epic Cymru 2015 map

I opted to stay in the hostel accommodation which worked really well. I didn’t fancy tents and wet kit if it rained. We were treated to blue skies for most of the event. The last day was wet throughout. I broke my camera and phone with the wet and even my Garmin had some condensation inside it back at home.

Epic Cymru

In the official results I show as DNF (did not finish) because I missed the first two days. The strava results and stage times suggest that I was about 75% of the way down the field. Not last, though lack of mechanicals helped with that. I was just happy to survive and have a good time with no training.

I saw the same people throughout the day as we leap frogged each other. It was very sociable and I had some great encouragement when back ache set in on the long climbs. I had to accept that my pace was down a bit due to lack of riding. I found that a 15s rest from time to time made a massive difference to back pain.

2015_08_17 Epic Cymru 024

Monday was all about hunger. I fixed that the next day by having a second breakfast in the Dare Valley cafe,  a veggie burger and chips at Bike Park Wales and cheesy chips at the Dare Valley cafe an hour before the evening meal. Tuesday was all about de hydration. I just couldn’t get enough water inside me quickly enough. By Wednesday I was in the groove and feeling pretty good.

Overall this was a great event and gave me my mountain biking mojo back.

See also official photographs from Anthony Pease. Event write up from Transalpuk.

Bath Carnival 2015

I’m currently in three samba bands and all of them were at Bath carnival 2015!

The African Sambistas did a dance workshop in the park at 1pm. The African Sambistas are all about dancing, drumming and getting a party going. A great crowd got into the spirt of things really quickly.

For the main parade I made my first appearance with Afon Sistema who play maracatu style. This means a lot of heavy wooden drums called alfai, shakers, gongue bells and a few caixas. We sing and drum and it’s more of a slow burning and heavy trance compared with the bright energy of Rio samba. The video sound really doesn’t capture the volume and energy of being in the centre of this storm.

My regular band, Ola Samba were also taking part. I love playing gigs with this lot but after a year of rehearsals with Afon Sistema I had to play my first gig with them.

Also present were the Samba Sulis aka Bath samba aka Jamma de Samba and Ilu Axe from Bristol. I’ve also played with the Samba Sulis but not Ilu Axe. Whilst I’m talking samba, I’ve been to practices with Batala Bristol and Bristol Samba recently. Just for fun.

Great video of Bath carnival 2015

Photos by Paul Phillips or myself unless credited otherwise. Any credit issues then please contact me. See also a great photo album on Bath Carnival Facebook page.

Wychwood Festival 2015

I went to Wychwood Festival to perform in the parade with Ola Samba. Some of us decided to make a weekend out of it camped. My last festival experience was at Waveform in 2008 which seemed to be mainly a bunch of druggies in a field tripping to booming bass. On the plus side I did see the Ozric Tentacles live (well, two of them) and find a new band, Orchid Star (Barefoot in the sunshine video).

I had mixed feelings about spending another weekend at a festival. I’ve seen photographs of festivals when it rains, videos of casualties sleeping in litter strewn fields and people always talk about festival toilets. Despite becoming increasingly sensible over time there was still a youthful part of me that wanted the excitement and adventure so I got on with packing my tent and wellies.

As I found out,  Cheltenham Racecourse is a well kept venue though the festival seemed to be placed onto a building site. This worked quite well since a fair proportion of the ground was compacted gravel which was weather proof. The camp site was spacious, the toilets were cleaned regularly by Andy Loos, there were free showers (hidden after the Superspa djs) and the festival had a lot of families there which seemed to keep things good natured. The line up was a mixed bag which seemed to work well.  The biggest acts each night were:

I got to see a few smaller bands. Folk On made us laugh a lot. The big top tent had a dj set from Andy Kershaw on Saturday and Craig Charles on Sunday.

I really enjoyed the two hours of Hobgoblin comedy each night. Six acts with twenty minutes each and they were all funny. Jay Cowle and Jack Heal tickled me the most.  After that we went off to the silent disco. It wasn’t that keen on the idea but it turned out to be a really good idea. It wasn’t silent – the big top was full of people cheering, laughing and singing along.

Here’s what I got up to.

I heard a few people saying that the festival wasn’t as good as it used to be. There’s a special Facebook group for them: Whingefest. For me the festival gave me a great weekend with a mix of entertainment, a well sorted camp site and a crowd who seemed up for having a good time. I’m off to a few more festivals with the African Sambistas this year this year so I’ll have something to compare it with: Womad and Shambala.

Is fruit juice healthy?

This short post was inspired by some very annoying Innocent Smoothie adverts on youtube, a company who are now 90% owned by Cocoa Cola, the well known purveyors of health orientated products.

Is fruit juice healthy?

Orange juiceBecause fruit juice can be made from a single natural ingredient it is easy to assume that it is a healthy drink. However, fruit juice contains a lot of fructose and very little remaining fibre so it is quickly digested. This makes it no better than any other sugary drink apart from the lack of other artificial ingredients. If you believe that excessive dietary sugar intake is the most significant dietary risk to health then fruit juice is only one step away from junk food status. Both the following two articles refer to Dr Robert Lustig who says that sugar is poison.

The most sensible advice comes from the Guardian article: “It’s about portion size. 150ml of fruit juice is perfectly acceptable as one of your five-a-day,” says Azmina Govindji, dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association. “But we would suggest you have it with a meal so it doesn’t make your blood sugar go up too quickly. I think the difficulty comes when people think of fruit juice as being a really healthy drink and having half a pint, or having it throughout the day, or where children are being brought up on large amounts.”

Follow Dr Robert Lustig on Twitter.

Fruit juice also present a risk of tooth decay because they typically have  pH of 2 to 3. The risk can be reduced if the juice is consumed at a meal time.

The best solution is to drink water!

Is sparkling water healthy?

Is sparkling water healthy?

The most healthy drink is water. This means pure water, not flavoured water which can as bad as fruit drinks for tooth erosion! There really is no need for flavours or sweeteners or isotonic salts for the regular person. Avoid the marketing hype.

My personal preference is for Evian water because I like the taste. Tap water is fine too. Tap water quality is in many ways more closely regulated than bottled water and often tastes as good.

Badoit sparkling waterI’ve got bit of a love for sparkling water. Again, just water and carbon dioxide, not flavoured waters. I really like the naturally sparkling waters. They come out of the ground in the sparkling state. My favourite is Badoit which has no added carbonation.  San Pellegrino is a close second though it has some extra carbonation at the bottling plant. I find the artificially carbonated waters a bit sharp and harsh compared with Badoit.

Is sparkling water healthy?  Well, it’s water and carbon dioxide which forms a weak solution of carbonic acid and makes the water slightly acidic but nowhere near as acidic as flavoured drinks. Claims have been made that sparkling water causes decalcification of bones and promotes tooth decay. Neither claims are bourne out by any research. This article by business insider summarises it all and comes to the same conclusions as

The following links discuss the risks to dental health:

On the pH scale then 7 is neutral, lower numbers are acidic and higher numbers are alkaline. The measured pH valuyes for sparkling water are between 5 and 7 compared to values as low as 2 and 3 for fruit juices and drinks. This means that the sparkling waters are not as acidic as the sugary drinks.

pH values of mineral waters: 5.2

 Is fruit juice healthy?

uk general election 2015 results

UK General Election 2015 results.

The data was taken from the bbc uk general election 2015 results. Scotland turned light yellow (Scottish Nationalist Party) and the rest of the UK turned mainly blue (Conservative) with a bit of red (Labour). The Liberal Democrats were cleared out, the UK Independance Party held 1 seat and the Green Party likewise.

UK general election results mapThe graphs below shows how each party fared relative to their popular vote (the proportion who voted for them). The Conservatives, Labour and SNP were all ahead relative to the proportional allocation of seats. The UKIP, Lib Dems and Greens were all down.

The first past the post system that is used in the UK receives a lot of criticism for this disparity between the percentage who voted for a party and the number of seats that they receive. Wikipedia article on voting systems. The Electoral Reform Society in the UK argues that first past the post should be replaced with a single transferable vote.

UK General Election Results 2015UK general election results


Welsh Encontro Cardiff 2015

The Welsh Encontro Cardiff 2015 was a three day event for samba bands and percussionists. It was held in the bay area of the city and organised by Samba Galez.

Full write up coming later. I need to sleep now! I have a lot of video to edit too.

The JP Courtney samba band is strong on caixas
The JP Courtney samba band is strong on caixas

I woke up on Saturday morning feeling weary from residual man-flu and wondering if I was going to have enough energy to go to the evening event. Energy levels were lifted when I went to my first workshop, Baque to basics. There was a wall of drums reaching to the ceiling and once we had 30 people laying down some maracatu grooves I remembered why I was there.

Ola Samba did a busking slot at midday. Then in the afternoon I had a caixa (snare) workout at a great cuban carnival workshop. This was another big groove session which left me smiling and on an endorphin high.

I saw several really top notch bands peforming in the city centre on Saturday night and took part in an impromptu busk. Thanks to Eri Okan for lending me a timba. Bloco Fogo laid down a storming set in a samba reggae style.

bloco fogo
Bloco fogo laying down grooves in foggy Cardiff

I was up at 10am on Sunday for a 1 hour caixa workshop with JP and then I finally got some spare time to go and watch the busking bands. The afternoon was spent with Raz from One Voice Music who had 2.5 hours to teach 40 people his arrangement for the presentation for omolu which we were going to perform that evening. We had a few wobbly moments with one transition until we realised that adrenaline was making us push the pace too hard. There was no time to worry, we had to practice with the dancers. They were following a similarly steep learning curve.

After a break for food we met up in the basement of Portland house to prepare for our performance. Energy levels were very high…and a reassuring sense of calm occurred. We had all volunteered for this because it would be exciting. Now we just had to go out and do our best. Raz really brought it together with an inspired group singing session before we walked out onto stage.

One Voice Music samba
Raz’s showcase band

The crowd was large and cheered us on to stage….a stage that wasn’t large enough for us. After moving a few mircrophones and drums out of the way we squeezed on. As we approached the most risky transition in our piece the pace was holding back nicely, the hive mind knew what to do. We passed it without any issues, big grins all round. We were soon into our final groove and the pace and energy lifted. Tension released, everyone happy.

Raz had done a great job pulling this off and so had Marcia Magliari and the dancers.

Eri Okan samba
Eir Okan performing in Cardiff bay

The mass busk was held on Monday. Several hundred drummers met up in Portland house to rehearse. That was quite an event in itself.  We fitted in a two band performance with Ola Samba and Sambassadors of groove. At 3pm it was time for the mass busk. After performing the rehearsed piece there was no way that the group was all going to walk off for a cup of tea….inevitably someone started a call and soon we had a samba groove going on. I’m sure there will be many videos going up on youtube with the evidence. After an hour or so we did all go home for a cup of tea.

Ola Samba
Ola Samba and the Sambassadors of groove. Photo by Paul Phillips.

Good times…I wrote all this at 10pm when I got home.

Samba Galez
Mass busk.
samba galez cardiff mass busk
Samba Galez mask busk. Photo Paul Phillips.

Here’s some of the bands I saw, ran workshops or whose members I got talking to during the event.

Big thanks to Samba Galez for organising it and all the great people I met over the weekend including my Ola Samba family travelling circus.

How to edit a Garmin fit file

How to edit a Garmin fit file

Garmin edge 200This is very handy if you accidently leave your device recording after an activity and want to delete some of the points. Garmin gps devices log their data in a fit file.

  1. Copy the fit file to your computer. They are stored in the activities folder on the device. Use CTRL+C and CTRL+V to copy and paste.
  2. Convert to a csv file using the online fit repair tool. First press the browse button to select a file. Screen grab. Then press the “convert to .csv” button. When it is finished then select “save file” and it will save onto your computer. Possibly into the downloads location depending on which browser you are using.
  3. Edit the csv file using a text editor. It’s best to right click on the file name and select “open with” to select an application. I use notepad++ for this. The standard windows notepad also works quite well. Be careful if you use Excel – ensure that the file is saved in csv format. The file format is fairly obvious.  Logging data is stored line by line and starts with the keyword “data” each time. There’s a timestamp stored as the third record in each line so you usually work out which bits to delete. Delete lines and make sure that the line with “TIMER, STOP_ALL” is retained. Screen grab.
  4. Convert from csv back to fit file using the online fit repair tool. Screen grab.
  5. Upload the fit file to Garmin connect, Strava or where ever else you want to use it. Most sites have a direct upload button on them for this purpose.

Epic Cymru

Epic Cymru

IEpic-Cymru-Logo‘ve just paid to enter Epic Cymru – a 5 day mountain bike stage race in Wales. It’s being held on August 15th – 19th 2015. This is organised by A Cycling aka Matt Page. I’ve previously been on a skills course (hosted by Mudtrek) and a tour of the Elan valley with A Cycling.

This event is a successor to the Trans Wales event that for many years was a 7 day stage race in mid Wales.

A quick history of the Transwales race series.

The Transwales started in 2006.

“The 7 day MTB stage challenge 12th – 20th August 2006

Trans Wales 2011 Anna Slab
Will it be as epic as the Trans Wales event?

The TransWales ‘06 event is the first ever seven day long two person team mountain bike stage event in the UK. With a mixture of linking stages and special stages it promises to put a fresh spin on the tradition of endurance stage events. Not just endurance but also tactics, the right equipment and the ability to pace both yourself and your team mate will be key to enjoying as well as to winning this unique event.”

For most years the route worked from Builth Wells up to Nant y arian and back again. The 2011 event called into Shropshire.

In 2012 it changed to a single site at Llanwrtyd Wells in mid Wales, had three days of stage racing and was called the “Ritchey TrailMasters powered by Mercedes-Benz Vito Sport”.

Mountain biking, yoga, music. Probably in that order.