Tag Archives: 2015

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.

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.

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:

The Frozen Devil 2015

Drygarn view mid WalesThe Frozen Devil is a mountain bike event held in mid Wales and organised by Red Kite Events. I’ve ridden many Red Kite events including the 2014 event so I knew what to expect: generally a challenging route with a lot of climbing but also a lot of interesting singletrack descents.

The event lived up to its name. Things were definitely frozen; the air temperature was -2 degrees when I arrived. I took a quick look at the map during registration and it used pretty much every hill possible in the area so it was definitely going to be a devil. The route reminded me of the early Real Ale Wobble events with a proper loop out  to Llyn Brianne reservoir.

Frozen Devil MTB eventThere were over 100 keen looking riders assembled in the Coed Trallwm car park at 10:30am. The mass start brought back memories of the winter xc series races with a mass start up the gruelling 1.5km climb to the top of the trail centre. I got to have my annual chat with Anna Stickland (not related).  The climb lead into the well known descent where I had some fun racing down the wide tracks but got caught in a queue on the narrow section.

We passed the trail car park again and then we were out into the wilds. After many years of riding in the area I pretty much knew all of route but I’d never ridden it in this order.

I’d been careful not to wreck myself physically over the Christmas holiday and had done a lot of walking and only two rides. My energy levels were accordingly higher than they’d been in 2013. I was pacing myself carefully and had a feeling that I was going to be mid field on this ride because I was still quite fatigued after 10 days of walking or riding.

There were some great views in the early stages of the ride with an icy landscape warmed by a sun cutting through the clouds. Later in the day a damp fog blocked the views.

Frozen view in mid Wales

On the big climb up from Abergwysn I had a good chat with another rider and we were both passed by a rider who was going almost twice as fast as us. There were a few others who did this to me on the ride. I’ve no idea where their energy comes from. I caught up with Jay Mulvey from Mudtrek MTB breaks in the Forest. He overtook me on the descent when I stopped to take off the rose tinted spectacles since they were no use in the wet fog. I played leap frog with him over several stages.

Cwm Trallwm MTB trailsThe half way point came near the top of a very long climb in the Irfon forest. My Garmin was showing 800m of ascent at this point I was expecting the ride to be around 1600m by then end. It had taken 2h25m to get this far so the ride was going to be around 5 hours long. Logging had completely changed the nature of the descent back into the valley. I can’t really remember exactly what was there before but the new route was about equivalent to it. After a quick nip through the Victoria Wells site (currently closed and for sale. This Facebook page says “the holiday park is still up for sale, but the asking price is very unrealistic. Sadly, as the park is left unattended it continues to lose value. We are still very keen to acquire it and restore it to its former glory”).

The food stop was in The Drover’s Rest restaurant in Llanwrtyd Wells where speedy waitress service brought tea, bread rolls and a pasta meal. This was a genius idea.

Drover's Rest restaurant in mid Wales

All that remained was an hour or two of riding round more of the Irfon forest in the fog. The climb up the Garn seemed a lot easier than I expected but the next big climb was heavy going. I hadn’t expected to ride several well known parts of the Ale Wobble route in the opposite direction and my energy levels were definitely dipping at this point. There is one puddle in particular that has a step in it. I knew this and was prepared. What I didn’t know is that this step is enough to stop the bike dead when going in the opposite direction. Both feet went into the frozen water. I’d put my feet in plastic bags which did keep them warm even though they were wet.

A bit more climbing and descending on soggy ground finally delivered me to the top of the Cwm Trallwm trail centre and I knew that it was downhill from this point on.

Irfon forest mountain bikingBy the end of this ride I’d been out for over 5 hours (4h 50m moving time), light levels were fading and I’d had a lot more fun than I expected riding classic trails in an area that I know well. Despite feeling tired I was also pleased with how my energy levels had held up during the course of the day.

The official results put me 42/67 (114 entered). Strava put me 12/23 for the whole event and 35/67 for the timed section. I’ve no idea why 67 did the timed section and only 23 showed as doing the whole route. I will investigate some time!

More event photos from CAC Photography.

There are more Red Kite MTB events in 2015.

Frozen Devil 2015 route map