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.
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
Sanctum 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.
Sanctum 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 .
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”