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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Day (strava link): distances / elevation gain / elapsed time / moving time
Monday: 54 km / 1480 m / 5:19 / 4:31 / 11.7 km/h gpx
Tuesday: 47 km / 1366 m / 5:46 / 4:20 / 10.8 km/h gpx
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
Thse are some photograhs I took at the Prescott hill climb near Cheltenham in Gloucestershire. Whilst hill climbing is not the most exciting spectator sport this is a great location in terms of the visibility of the track, the views towards Evesham and the facilities. The Gloucestershire and Warwickshire railway can be viewed from the site too.
Following my internet research into the best compact cameras in April 2015 I decided to call round my local camera showroom (aka Jessops).
It was quite late in the day and the staff quickly worked out that I was there to view but not buy. It was probably obvious when I said “RX100 vs G7X vs LX100 vs G1X” and “ebay prices”. They were very good about it and left me to take a look at the models and helpfully took the LX100 out of the display case for me. The Jessops prices were pretty reasonable in my opinion so good luck to them! The company almost folded in 2013 and was bought by Peter Jones.
First up was the Canon G7X. This was a bit larger in real life than I expected. I had my Canon S90 with me for comparison and the increased lens size was obvious. It was a very nice camera to handle. I also took a look at the Sony RX100 mk3. It’s a very similar package, possibly a bit less solidly built but I don’t think there’s much in it between the two models. Since I often run in full manual mode I was a bit disappointed to find that the exposure control dial on the top of the camera didn’t have function in manual mode. The Sony camera doesn’t have this extra dial.
Next I had a play around with the Canon G1X mk2. Whilst the large lens shouts “serious camera” it was was noticeably heavier to handle. I spent five minutes messing with the settings so that control ring 1 was set to aperture and control ring 2 to exposure. In that time I developed arm ache.
I had a quick look at the Panasonic LX100. This is between the G7X and G1X in bulk and weight. It just about fitted into the pocket of my shorts so I it’s just about pocketable. It’s 4/3rds sensor is larger than the 1″ sensors of the RX100 & G7X and smaller than the massive sensor in the G1X. There was a Panasonic GX7 on display too. This interchangeable lens camera contains similar internals to the LX100 but the extra bulk was clear. The argument for the LX100 is that building the lens into the unit has allowed a space saving.
I could definitely see the appeal of the RX100 or G7X as a truly pocketable camera that produces remarkable results for its size. The G1X is too large and heavy and for the price and size there a lot of other camera options. The RX100 is probably as large as a pocketable camera can be. Any increase in size beyond this point has to be justified. The LX100 offers a larger sensor but no flash or built in lens cover (there is an auto lens cover available).
My conclusions haven’t changed much: the Sony RX100 or Canon G7X are right on the sweet spot between size and performance. The Panasonic LX100 is there if you want that bit of extra performance. I still have a bit of camera lust for the Canon G1X despite it’s extra size and weight if they drop cheap enough on Ebay I might well try one.
In 2010 I bought a Canon S90 which at the time was a high end compact camera. It offered the SLR feature set in a much smaller body with a non interchangeable zoom lens. It scored 4.5/5 on Amazon and 75% on dpreview who called it “a great walkaround camera, capable of results (particularly at lower ISO settings) that most serious photographers would be more than happy with.” Since then it’s been superceded by the S95, S100, S110 and S120 which contain a few internal differences but use the same sensor size and retain the same size body (S120 vs S90).
I picked the Canon S90 for mountain bike photography because at the time it offered the largest sensor (1/1.7″ aka 7.6 x 5.7 mm) and the widest aperture I could find at f/2 (smaller f number means larger aperture). Compared with an SLR camera then a compact will always be limited by the optical and sensor space constraints but they can still produce very pleasing photographs. See my mountain bike photography guide and article on sensor sizes.
By January 2015 then the Sony RX100 mk3 with a larger 1″ sensor (13.2 x 8.8 mm) in a similar sized body was considered to be the best compact around. It scored 4.7/5 on Amazon and 82% on dpreview with a gold award. With a retail price of £700 in March 2015 you’d expect it to be good since a full sized SLR like a Canon EOS can be bought for less than this.
Canon’s answer to the RX100 is the G7X which uses the same size sensor as the Sony camera. Some say it is the same sensor. With a similar sensor and lens size you’d expect the image quality to be similar too, and it is. Amazon users rate the G7X as 4.5/5 and dpreview 77%.
In their conclusion dpreview say: “the G7 X has one direct competitor, and that’s the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III (and arguably its predecessor). While both cameras do a great job at stills, the G7 X has a longer zoom and a bit more control over depth-of-field, so portrait and landscape photographers may find it to be the more appealing of the two. If capturing fast action is important to you, the Sony wins hands-down in all areas (it’s vastly superior in terms of battery life, as well). Video shooters will also find the RX100 III to be the better of the two cameras”
The Canon G1X has an ever larger sensor but has received lukewarm reviews. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 is similar and has received better reviews due to the very bright lens (low f number). There’s a handy spec comparison in this dpreview.com review. I’ve spent countless evenings reading up on this now and will start a new post to discuss what I’ve found.
My main reason for wanting to move up sensor sizes is to reduce image noise in mountain biking pictures that I take in low light conditions. I’ve been getting away with 800 ISO images from the S90 for a few years via a bit of despeckling and unsharp filtering in GIMP. My aim is to generally avoid post processing so a slightly tweek in equipment will hopefully allow me to achieve this.
In this article I’ve only talked about technology. Good cameras are definitely part of producing pleasing images but the person choosing where to point it, when to press the button and what to do with the captured images is more important as discussed in the article on sensor sizes.
I went to Zumba session last week. Zumba is an aerobic workout class set to dance music. See Wikipedia and Zumba.com for more information. I did a fair amount of research to find a class that fitted into my timetable. Many of the classes listed on the internet are no longer active – one the instructors said that the main Zumba trend had passed and there were now around one third of the classes left. There are plenty still going though and Zumba with Chantelle in Stonehouse on Thursday evenings seemed ideal.
I had a reasonable idea of what to expect since my Monday Tango class follows on from a Zumba session and I regularly see sweaty and happy looking woman leaving the class. Women, yes. I’ve never seen a man at a Zumba class.
The reason for this was to help a friend out who wanted to work on her fitness. Am I apologising for going to a Zumba class? Yes, a little bit. However I actually fancied the idea of moving around for 45 minutes and getting a good workout to music.
We arrived at the community centre to find around fifteen women ready to go. I was feeling a little bit nervous but also quite intrigued about it. We found ourselves a space on the floor. Chantelle pressed selected the playlist on her phone and off we went. Chantelle stood on the stage demonstrating the moves and we mirrored what she did. All of my focus went into this and the movement and I quickly forgot about the rest of the class. Within about three minutes I was really enjoying myself. This was all about keeping up, not worrying about getting every detail correct and enjoying the release. One of my samba bands, the African Sambistas is all about the life affirming power of dance and drumming.
How did I feel as a man at a Zumba class? Quite happy actually. This was about physical condition and stamina, all things that my interest in yoga develop. One of the tracks involved doing some hip wiggles which made me giggle. I definitely need to work on my butt shaking technique for future weeks and I could see those moves putting off a lot of men. But no one is judging you in a Zumba class and you don’t have to do everything. The majority of the moves are about moving around and burning off energy and anyone could do them.
At the end Chantelle said that we’d both been smiling a lot, which was true. She also noted that we picked things up pretty quickly. I think that’s because we play in samba bands where we’re used to having new things thrown at us and we pick them up as quickly as we can. I had a good sweat on and I felt elevated. Overall I’d say that Zumba is a fun way of getting a good physical work out with the benefit of some high energy music.
Stroud half marathon photos: this was a drumming gig out on the route of the 2014 event. A scratch band made up of members of Ola Samba, Stroud Samba (band now defunct) and the Silver Sambistas (Cheltenham U3A group) gathered with the aim of raising the energy levels for the runners. Ola Samba regularly play events like this but there was a problem: Dave Walter the Ola Samba leader wasn’t available nor was his understudy. This meant that we were left to fend for ourselves and not as an official band gig. I’d spent the previous two weeks learning the introductions for the tracks so I could attempt to lead on the caixa (snare drum). Band leaders typically use a hepinque aka repinique for this.
Things turned out pretty well – we delivered almost all of our repertoire and without any major mishaps. The runners and marshals clearly appreciated us being there too. We played for almost two hours solid, the gap between the first runner and the the last runner.
We were located just before the 9th mile and the route looped back past us just after the 10th mile which is about 3/4 of a half marathon (13.1 miles).
Over the summer my local band (Ola Samba) had a bit of a rest from practices. I was desperate for a weekly fix of drumming therapy so I headed off for some Bristol samba with the African Sambistas.
Drum sessions are a form of meditation where the mind closes down to external thought and you immerse yourself into the moment. A deeply primal part of the brain processes the sound that is arriving. There is a strong bond within the band as it requires everyone to work together to create the piece and there is continual adjustment to keep it together. There’s also the physical part to playing which brings heat into the upper body. A good drum session will leave me feeling physically and emotionally elevated well into the next day.
The African Sambistas (website / Facebook) are about creating a happening with the ingredients of drumming, dancing, crowd involvement, high energy and elevated spirits. They play at a lot of festivals and carnivals.
I turned up for a Wednesday evening practice. I’m used to playing in a reasoably large band (20 members typically) and working closely to the requirements of the group leader and generally with a prescribed arrangement. This was more of an opportunity to jam along and create something with a smaller band. The surdos (big drums) started us off and we gradually joined in. After about ten minutes the wave arrived I was totally into the groove. Having dancers working to the groove was very motivating.
African Sambistas jam session
I went to a few gigs with the African Sambistas over the summer.
At Bath Carnival we played for a half hour dance session. This started out with a surdo (bass drum), myself on caixa (snare) and a few agogo bell players. Quite a small band for field full of people. One thing I love about the African Sambistas is there’s always a feeling of “get on with it and it will be alright”. With that in mind we started playing and soon the field was echoing to drum sounds. Two more players arrived from Bath samba and one of them starting playing. On the first hit the end of the beater flew off and hit Rachel in the back, leaving the player with a useless stick to hit the drum. After a while it was amazing to see that Rachel and the dancers had got the crowd going and towards the end a big circle formed and people took it in turns to do their thing. Good times.
In the evening we joined the back of Bath Samba for the main parade. This meant playing with a large band (50-60) and involved a bit of rapid learning since I wasn’t aware of their arrangements. I recognised much of it and was able to fit.
We also did a rather bizarre event at the University of the West of England (UWE) for their freshers fair. This involved playing outside various accommodation blocks and processing to the registration building on an hourly basis. From my point of view it meant that I got to join the core of Jamma Du Samba for a day. I still didn’t know the details of the arrangements though!
I also did a gig with the dancers and three djembes. This was another great experience. The gig was fairly low key, for a health and well being day but once again a crowd got involved and we got a big cheer for one of our pieces. I just love getting into the groove and meshing with a drumming group.
Whilst Ola Samba is my main band I intend to continue working with the African Sambistas over the year and really look forwards to future happenings.
Ola Samba practice on Tuesdays in Cirencester and Wednesdays in Cheltenham.
Bath Samba practice on Tuesday evenings at the University of Bath (see the classes link on their website).
The African Sambistas practice on Wednesday evenings in Bristol. Check their facebook page for times.
Mountain biking, yoga, music. Probably in that order.