Category Archives: events

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

mondraker enduro series 2015 round 2 photographs

2015_04_19 Red Kite Mondraker rd2 161These are photos from round 2 of the Mondraker Enduro series 2015, a series of races organised by Red Kite events.

This was a chance to try out my latest Ebay purchase: a Canon G1X, a compact camera with an almost SLR sized sensor in it….read all about it. I’m really pleased with what it managed to capture. The gallery below shows about 50 from my set of 190 images. They  have been resized from 3000 down to 800 pixels for the blog. They look a lot better original size. The whole lot are listed on roots and rain.

Mondraker enduro crash
Time for a sit down.

The event was held at the Coed Trallwm trail centre and used a series of sections that were purpose built for the enduro race. There were a lot of positive comments from riders on the day along with quite a few WTF, whoooah, yeeessss sounds on a few of the features. This series is definitely providing more thrills than normal for an enduro race.

I saw a few big crashes and was amazed that in every case the riders got back up without serious injuries. These guys bounce well (and the girls probably). The most spectacular was at the base of stage 4 (also used for stage 7) where a rider came down the drop onto the track and then launched off the edge onto the next track, a drop that’s almost shoulder height. He went over the bars and used his head as a brake on the gravel. After spending a minute on all fours with heavy breathing he stood up, looked around, said “is the bike alright?”. He was then more concerned about the peak being snapped off his helmet than any injury. Once that was snapped back on he was a happy man. His final words were “this isn’t the bit I thought it was” and then rode off just as the first aid kit arrived.

There are several more rounds over the year as well as events like the devil series which are generally longer distance and less extreme mountain bike events. There’s a full list on the Red Kite MTB events page. I even did a few Red Kite sportives!

Mondraker Enduro 2015The Mondraker enduro round 2 results are listed on SportidentStage map on Strava. See also the round 1 photos.

Other write ups:

Mondraker enduro 2015 round 1

Mondraker enduro 2015This was round 1 of the 2015 Mondraker enduro race series. It was organised by Red Kite events, well known for events like the Frozen Devil the winter xc series and road sportives.

For various reasons* I left my bike at home and spent a day walking around taking photographs with my trusty and slightly knackered Canon S90 camera. I own two of these and this one has a slightly fogged up lens that’s just visible in pictures with direct sun pointing at the camera. I’ve spend the last month reading camera reviews and I’ll soon be moving up a few sensor sizes but not to full SLR. Probably to a Canon G7X or something similar.

*nothing serious….I’m in three samba bands and the gigs and practices are filling a lot of my time including the Saturday of this weekend, I’ve also straightened my body out by not riding so often and so hard. I’ve also lost what little nerve I ever had.

There were five stages used on both days, all using the steep slopes at the Coed Trallwm trail centre. Food was provided by the Drover’s Rest.

My first impression of the quarry section of stages 1 and 2 was WTF! A steep ramp lead down to a bend on top of a ledge protected by a pile of bales. A steep step cut into sharp looking rocks then turned to the top of a steep ramp. After watching people riding down it I convinced myself that it was a bit of an illusion and the drops looked sort of alright. I’m sure that they would look steep again from the top. I saw a few riders opt for a walk assisted by the marshals.

This was a really laid back and inclusive event, with everyone clearly having a good time. I’m sure that a weekend riding stages like this would build confidence on ramps and off camber rooty trails. I saw a fair few crashes but no serious injuries occured. It would be wrong to assume that this only appealed to hardened down hill riders; it attracted a more mixed crowd with some clearly having a go at something new.

Some comments from the Facebook page

  • Phil Allum “amazing weekend’s racing at the Mondraker Enduro, even more amazed after yesterday’s buckaroo fest that I managed to stay on the bike today to finish 6th! As always it was giggles galore with the lads, just how it should be. Proper awesome.”
  • James Scott “So god damn brilliant. Stages 1 2 and 3 were huge fun and a great challenge. The fresh cut stuff was brilliant. Changed every run to keep you on your toes. With the hill available the gradient of those stages were ideal too, kept the flow going without having to pedal through boggy soft ground.”
  • James Robinson “awesome days and glad you paid the extra for the weather. Thanks. Absolutely loved it.”
  • David Goulson “brilliant weekend riding, great selection of trails. thanks all! #qecptrailcollective”

Mondraker Enduro r1 results.  More photos on Facebook. Write up on Chris Shroder’s blog, Drover’s cyclesSwinley bike hub and Enduro

I walked over 10 km during my photographic tour according to Garmin connect.