Tag Archives: bristol

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.

Friday afternoon at Sanctum Bristol

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

James Morton and Jonny Henderson
James Morton and Jonny Henderson

Ambient dj mix at Sanctum Bristol

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

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

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

PylePro PDJ480UM

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

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

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

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

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

View from the yoga mat
View from the yoga mat

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

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

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

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

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

The African Sambistas at Sanctum Bristol

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

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

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

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

There’s some great sketches of us from Janiceshanice123

The African Sambistas are also on Facebook and Twitter.

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

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

sanctumbristol.com | www.situations.org.uk

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 Situations.org.

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.

Bristol walking route – Frome valley (7km)

Frome valley waterfall in BristolBristol walking route – Frome valley

This was a social walk that I did with the Bristol Hiking Meetup group. The route follows the river Frome gorge from Oldbury Court to Eastville park and the only real signs of the city are an occasional glimpse of a building up above the gorge and the M32 motorway at the furthest point.

The route is 7 km and took less than three hours at a fairly slow pace. It starts from the free car park in the Oldbury Court car park at the end of Oldbury Court Road, Fishponds, Bristol BS16 2JH (Streeview link).

There is a cafe half way between the start and the furthest point which you will pass twice (Streeview link). There are several weirs in the river along the way. There’s some historic interest too, first the double egg ended boiler in Snuff mills (a must see for all boiler enthusiasts!) and Wickham Court where Oliver Cromwell plotted part of the civil war (it was for sale in 2013). The far end of the walk has the incongruity of a rural looking view with the M32 flyover passing an old farm house.

Bristol has some other gorges that offer walking away from the urban environment. Westbury on Trym has Badocks wood with a limestone gorge. Further north is Blaise Castle with a network of walking paths (more info on the Friends of Blaise Castle website).

Map: gpx | Garmin

Bristol walking route map


Bristol Oktoberfest 2013

Bristol Oktoberfest

Bristol Oktoberfest is an annual  relay race held at Ashton Court. It’s similar to Bristol Bikefest which happens every July whereas Oktoberfest is held in, er, October. Bikefest is a 12 hour race whilst Oktoberfest is 8 hours.  I’ve ridden at both events since 2010 in teams of 3 or 4 riders. The photographs in this post have been selected from various Oktoberfest years. Some were taken by Kevin Sheldrake.

I’ve taken part in a lot of relay races every year since 2011. I’ve ridden at Erlestoke 12 (12 hour team), Twentyfour12 (24 hour team) , Mountain Mayhem (24 hour team) and Sleepless in the Saddle (24 hour team).

Pre 2013 I’d always been part of a team of between three and five riders. I’d raced in the pairs category recently and really enjoyed pushing my pace up a bit (the Thetford enduro and Torq in your sleep).  I’d talked about doing a solo for a long time but always put it off. The truth is that I’d always enjoyed the rest between laps too much as well as the social nature of the team races.

Finally the time had come to get on with doing a proper solo race.  Eight hours would be fine. It wasn’t twenty four, it wasn’t  twelve but it was double the 4 hours I’d ridden at the QECP Royal Rumble 2012.

I was confident that I could ride 60 or 70 miles off road in a day and I reasoned that 8 hours at 8mph would give me 64 miles, therefore I could easily do it. I felt inspired by seeing Jo Page cover over 100 miles solo at Torq in your sleep. Plus a seasoned racer told me that riding solo was less effort than pairs because you could warm up and just keep moving rather than keep stopping and then starting again. This made sense.

Bristol Oktoberfest

The trails in Ashton Court were redeveloped in 2011 when the mud was surfaced over plus some features were added such as berms and rock drops. See Bristol Trails Group for more information and the Ashton Court trail map via Bristol City Council website. I’ve spent some time receiving skills coaching from local shop Pedal Progression who are based in the Ashton Court visitor centre.

The Bikefest route essentially follows the full blue grade trail and includes the optional red loop. It is diverted onto the main field in place of a repeat climb at the bottom of the red loop. There’s also an additional section where the trail descends a large track and then climbs straight back up the next track.

Artistic photograph of Bristol Oktoberfest at night

Some large rocks were added to the trail in 2012 to slow riders at a path crossing. For the race a wooden scaffolding bridge is built over these. It took me a few laps before I found the correct line to get enough speed to jump off this. Big grins until I landed so hard that I expected a pinch flat.

It’s not a particularly tough route but I think that overall it’s pretty good. It has a few sections with a steady downhill gradient plus a lot of bermed corners, some rollers and few jumps. Some riders hate it due to the amount of tight singletrack and lack of overtaking places. I think the best section is along the wall – this is slightly down for a long time. The main quarry descent is a good section too. The most hateful climb is the golf course track after the gate house. The red loop has become a bit too eroded – I avoid the rock drop now because it has wheel shaped hollows at the end of it and is a pinch flat waiting to happen.

The Luff bus at Bristol Oktoberfest

The organisers had issues with the council over mud from vehicles in 2012 and had to move the event village away from the camp site to the track junction. For Bikefest 2013 they’d negotiated a deal to use the Cathedral school grounds which are right next to the old camp site. Oktoberfest used the school field again, this time having the start at the top of the field rather than the bottom.

I was on site from Friday afternoon to set up the MBSwindon gazebos. That’s covered in the MBSwindon race report.

The race starts with a Le Mans run of about 300m to the bikes. I was casually ambling towards the start line when the horn was sounded and I was engulfed in a sea of runners. I decided that I should wait until some of the crowd had passed me before changing direction and joining in. For someone who hates running I was quite surprised by my turn of speed. I know from past experience that a lot of time can be lost in the queues that form at the start so that motivated me. Once on the bike I got caught in a queue for a short while at the end of the school field.

My fuelling strategy  was to eat a Mule Bar per lap until I could no longer stand the sight of them and then to move onto anything from my stash of Carman’s Muesli bars, Trek bars and bananas. I carried some water with me in the ruck sack and also some emergency Nakd and Trek bars. I had hit the wall on my last lap at Mountain Mayhem 2013 when I ended up necking a bottle of Happy Shopper lemonade that a marshal gave me. I didn’t want to repeat that.

Camp fire at mountain bike event.

I hoped I could manage 10 mph (16 km/h) in the first few hours and gradually let that drop to 8mph (13 km/h). I set myself a pace that I knew I could hold for hours. I was pleased to see that I was easily managing 16 km/h. I called in to stop for food and Jerome, my nemesis, overtook me. He’s generally a bit faster than me but I can sometimes grind him down over a long period of time. I’d got off to a better start than him and I hoped I’d reel him back in later.

In the few minutes of rest my average speed had fallen to 15.2 kmk/h. Luckily I was feeling powerful and focussed and I easily managed to pull the average back up after a lap.

I was amazed to find that I was really enjoying this solo racing. I’d often watched solo riders go past the transition area at big events and thought how depressing it must be to finish a lap knowing that you’ve got to go and do it all over again. And then again. And again. And then again a few more times.

Pedal progression jump at Oktoberfest raceI knew I had to ride for 8 hours and cover around 65 miles. That was my task. All I had to do was keep pedalling. I didn’t have transitions or faffing to do.  I didn’t have to sit worrying about being late for my next lap. I didn’t run the risk of letting anyone else down. I didn’t need to think about the future or the past. I just had to concentrate on the now. That’s a very yogic way of thinking.

This focus sustained me for several double laps. I did indulge in quite long rests between these – three or four minutes. I’m sure I could have cut these down considerably but I enjoyed them.

MBSwindon had almost 30 riders at the event so I got to see plenty of people that I know. It was great when I caught and overtook one of our 4 hour soloists plus a few of the slower team riders. It was encouraging that I was catching people regularly during the laps. I was also being overtaken by a fair few riders.

Solo rider rest at Bristol Oktoberfest

I’d say that the biggest complaint about the event has always been the narrow trails and overtaking issues. My gripe was with riders who expected me to just move out of the way when it suited them regardless of where I was. I’ve been on both sides of this and appreciate that being an obstruction is frustrating. My own experience is that most people can hear bikes behind them and will offer to move when there’s a suitable place.

I was at the bottom of the red section when an approaching rider instructed to move out of the way. The trail was about to enter the field where there’s a lot of room to overtook so I didn’t make a particularly severe change of path. The rider barged  through the available gap and discovered a big tree stump in the edge of the trail. This caught his pedal and threw him violently off line as the pedal dug in. There was a loud bang. He turned round and looked at me with an angry face. I said nothing and did a special nonchalent internal shrug.

My policy is to not engage in discussion with riders on this topic – I once had a ride along argument with someone who thought he could tell me to get out of the way. When I found a suitable spot he overtook, shouted a sarcastic “thanks” and then crashed on the next corner.

There’s a story of a faster rider who was concerned about his ranking shouting “do you know where I am?” and the slower rider replying “yes. Behind me”.

At a previous Bikefest I was caught in a three man squash when someone else overtook me as I was overtaking. My front wheel touched the back of the pedal of the rider in front and ripped their shoe buckle off. They were not happy. That’s racing for you.

MBSwindon lap times at OktoberfestAs time went on my average speed dropped slightly. It was close to 15km/h when I was overtaken by Anthony from Bristol Trails group. He said I was doing quite well – about 10th place in the old gits category. This kept my spirits up.

I’d been doing the inevitable mental arithmetic about how many laps I would do in the time available. Laps were taking below 45 minutes and I’d be starting my last lap at about 4pm so I was easily going to complete 11 laps . My average speed dropped down below 14km/h but that was fine – my original target had been 8mph / 13kmh.

I counted down my last three laps and  kept myself entertained with the wooden bridge jump and the Pedal Progression ramp at the start area. I finished my 11th lap with 20 minutes to spare.

The results put me in 11th place out of 23 riders (47% of the way down). Each lap was 9.4km (5.8 miles) so I’d covered 103km (64 miles) in 7 hours and 39 minutes, giving an average of 13.5km/h (8.3mph). The average lap time was just under 42 minutes.

I never caught Jerome. He was 12th out of 37 in the male open category. I would have been 17th in that category (45% of the way down).

  • Tom:      11 laps, 7:39, 103km (64 miles), 13.5 km/h (8.3mph), 42 minute laps
  • Jerome: 12 laps, 7:51, 112km (70 miles), 14.3 km/h (8.9mph), 39 minute laps

Garmin connect map and results: 1st lap (part a, part b) + 10 laps. I spent 35.5 minutes resting over the 11 laps. That’s 3.5 minutes per lap and almost 8% of the total. My moving speed was 8% higher than 13.5 aka 14.5km/h (9mph).

My lap time performance is shown in the graph below.

Lap time analysis for mountain bike race.A full squiggle analysis of the 8 hour event is shown below. This plots the rank (position) for each team in a category versus their average lap time. A steep graph means that a small improvement in time would make a large difference in ranking whereas a flat zone is the opposite.

The curves show that the male teams and male pairs are the most competitive categories. The male teams are the most competitive overall, from 3rd to 13th the pairs and teams are equivalent and then the pairs drop off relative to teams. Old gits teams start similarly to male pairs and then drop off from 3rd place. Solo male and mixed teams are next but rapidly fall off. Mixed pairs match old gits teams but beyond 5th place rapidly fall off. They are followed by singlespeeders, old gits, female teams, fat bikes, and solo females and female pairs, all of which fall off quite quickly.

The vertical dashed line is my average lap time.  In my own category then I’d have to knock 6 minutes off my average time before I could make serious headway up the rankings. Below 35 minutes then there would a gain of 5 places per minute. It’s heartening to see that I wouldn’t have been last in any category.

My lap times at Bristol Bikefest 2013 were just under 32 minutes. Our team were 16th/62 which fits well with the squiggle graph below.  If I could have sustained that pace for 11 laps of a solo race then I would have been on the podium!

Bristol Oktoberfest category lap time analysis.

I intend to do more 8 hour solo races in 2013 and maybe a twelve solo at Twentyfour12.