Grab Your Rhythm Sticks: Experience Pentacle Drummers (Outrageous Outfit & Face Paint Optional)

Attending the Weald On The Field annual festival in Uckfield, I was quite prepared for the usual boring wait between bands (“one two one two” over the PA) but was pleasantly surprised to find my eyes and ears assaulted by the stunning sight and sound of the Pentacle Drummers.

By the time they finished their performances I knew I had to catch up with them and get some questions answered on your behalf, dear reader.

We’re talking about a group of face-painted, drum-toting, “larger-than-life and twice as loud” characters that are impossible to ignore.  How to describe?  A cross between Braveheart and Mad Max?  Perhaps it’s best if I leave you to view the photos and read the interview which I’ve faithfully reproduced in the words of their longest-serving member, Adam.

After reading, be sure to follow the link to their website, listen to what they do and watch some of their videos.  Words are no substitute.  But audio and video is also no substiture.  Believe me, you’ll want to experience a performance by Pentacle Drummers whenever you get the opportunity.

Pentacle Drummers of Eastbourne in action at Weald On The Field Festival, Uckfield, Summer 2023
Pentacle Drummers in action at Uckfield’s Weald On The Field Festival, Summer 2023

 

So, Adam, who came up with the idea of a pure drum troupe?

We were formed 20 years ago for the Eastbourne Lammas festival (a Pagan Harvest celebration organised by Eastbourne Pagan Circle)  There were two giant puppets representing the Andred the Goddess of the Weald  and Herne The Hunter in the procession and it was thought that some drummers would be great to announce the appearance of the Giants.  A guy named George Norton got some people together for this purpose.  The Eastbourne Giants and Drummers were formed.  The Drummers started attending separate events locally including some of the Sussex Bonfire processions, and so Pentacle Drummers were formed as a separate unit to the Giants and the Lammas organisation.

Jack in the Green in Hastings, a traditional May Day celebration was another one of our early regular appearances.  Drums and Giants just seemed to go together so well in order to banish the winter and see in the summer!

How did you all meet up – did it take long to get everyone together?

Various times and places really.  That first group was formed 20 years ago, Adam is the only one left from those very early days, but we have a number of long-term members who have been with us for 10 to 15 years.  In the early days it was Lammas Festival in Eastbourne that was our main “recruitment” gig.   But now we perform at a wider range throughout the country.  We are always open to new members.  All of our members have joined us because they have seen us perform at an event and have liked what they’ve seen and heard and wanted to be part of the fun!

Back in the early days we had 8-12 members but we’ve grown into a group of over 40 members (though it’s very rare that we all get together at the same time!)

What are some of the backgrounds of the members?

We have varied backgrounds and mostly work for a living (although some are retired).  All ages are welcome and we are a family-friendly group.  Often a parent will want to join us and soon their kids and partners are itching to join us as well. Drumming is our hobby, something we do for fun rather than a living.  We are all Eastbourne based… or at least close enough to Eastbourne to make travel to practice viable.

Adam works for a local authority maintaining the website, Greg is an actor,  Laura is a probation officer, Gemma works for an animal charity, Mark works in IT.  We have teachers, charity workers, students, media professionals, bankers, financial staff – all with the common aim of having fun and performing at weekends.

When we started we were all following a Pagan spiritual path, hence the name “The Pentacle Drummers.”  These days we accept people of all faiths and none. We are not an exclusive Pagan group, although many of us are still following a Pagan path and we attend a number of Pagan events as well as fetes, fayres, community events, festivals, carnivals, etc.

Were you already drummers or did some learn “on the job”?

Most of our members were not drummers when they joined us.  Although we do have some really talented drummers or musicians in the group.  A sense of rhythm is useful, but we don’t require people to have experience at drumming.  We practice every week and training is very much “on the job.”  We learn together and soak up the vibe.  We like practice to be a fun couple of hours a week rather than a chore.  New members come and join in with us from day one.  When they and the group feel they are confident enough to perform they join us at events.

Who is the musical director/choreographer of the pieces you play?

We don’t have one person responsible for all of the tunes.  We have a number of members who lead different tunes when we perform.  We like to give all members the opportunity to lead tunes in performance.  You will notice the same few people leading regularly and doing the “speaking bit” to the audience, introducing the tunes and making the same old jokes!

But as to who comes up with the tunes in the first place, it varies.  Sometimes a member will come to the group with an idea that is fully formed, we will try it and if it works we will add it to our repertoire.  Sometimes a member will have a part of a rhythm that we all play around with until it forms a piece that we are happy with.  Occasionally two people will come up with a rhythm that we combine to make one piece.  And then there is Dave, who comes up with these fiendishly difficult pieces in different time signatures that take us months to learn!  But they sound great… eventually.

Its all a collaborative process really.

Pentacle Drummers having fun
Pentacle Drummers have fun bantering with Adam out front

 

I notice the drummers use different types of sticks, presumably to create different sounds – are there different types of drums used, too?

The drums and sticks used are a personally preference really.  Some use traditional drumsticks some use beaters or drum mallets of different design.  They all have a slightly different sound, but this is not by design.  We vary the sound by playing on the rims, or edges of the drum and vary how hard the drum is hit.

People use different brands of drum skin too, and this varies the sound tremendously from a high sound with more sustain to a deeper, short sound.  This helps with the layers and texture of our tunes.

We use ordinary drum kit drums, with the bottom skin removed, But we split these into Bass and Tom sections.  The “Bass” players normally use 16 inch floor Toms  and the Toms invariably use 13, 12 or 10 inch drums.   Each drum has a slightly different sound and this helps with the overall impression of “tribal rhythms”

What’s the most prestigious gig you’ve played?

Difficult to answer that, because we love all the performances we do.  And sometimes the best crowds are at the smaller events.

But we have drummed at Stonehenge for the Summer Solstice.
We have drummed the Olympic torch thorough town in 2012
Butser Beltaine Farm is great, we drum in front of 2,000 people whilst a standing at the foot of a 40 foot burning figure, that’s always a good one.

We attend Lewes bonfire on 5 November, another great and famous event, fire and drums… so primal.
We hold our own annual Wassail at Pevensey Castle every January.  That’s become a great event that people look forward to and travel from some distance to attend.
We have been in music videos for Dizzy Rascal and Florence And The Machine, and also appeared in a few films and TV programmes.

Every event we do is good for us, we just love to perform

And the most unusual – bearing in mind you’re a pretty unusual outfit yourselves?

Being unusual?  We will take that as a compliment.    We once drummed for an event in the basement of a pub to just a couple of people before the organisers come down and said we were 5 decibels too loud!  Spent the rest of the time chatting among ourselves!

We did another Viking feast/fantasy event where we entered the dining area (an old Church)  through a wardrobe.  Came out of the wardrobe to loads of smoke candlelight and cheers, didn’t see much as we drummed and then left the same way.

Another time we were part of the “Gentlemen of the Road” festival featuring Mumford and Sons.   We were supposed to drum on the side whilst there was a dry paint fight going on. Somehow, us being us, we ended up drumming in the middle of the paint fight getting covered in all colours of paint!

What’s the furthest you’ve travelled to a gig?

Probably Ollerton in Northampton, a round trip in a day for a St George’s day festival.

Or Brixham in Devon. Again a round trip in a day for a pirate festival.

You’re based in Eastbourne – how far would you travel?

Anywhere where the organisers pay us travel and subsistence.  We make no money ourselves but if accommodation and travel is arranged we will consider going anywhere.

Are there any events you’d refuse to play?

We consider most events.

We say we are a non-denominational non-political group.   We have and are happy to support events such as the Pride Movement  and some environmental campaigns,  but generally we steer clear of events tat have a strong political bias one way or the other.   We would all steer clear of any event that we thought didn’t support diversity or equality.

We have played reputable events before where the audience did not really ‘get’ us, so we may think twice about returning to those events.  It’s hard work when the audience aren’t with you by the end of the performance.

Your performances are very tribal and the sound seems to connect at a base level. Was that your intention?

Yes, very much. As I said we were a Pagan group when we started and that was the sound we were after, an earthy tribal sound.  Drums being one of the earliest instruments we wanted to tap into that primeval vibe.  We’re no longer just a band for Pagans, but that ethos and that tribal energy very much remains at the forefront of our performances.

There’s a dog with you who dresses the same, watches and gives a howl at appropriate moments – who is he/she?

That’s Kit he belongs to Roz.  Roz has been with us for quite a few years and so Kit is used to coming along to our gigs and is not at all fazed by the noise.  He is quite a crowd pleaser!

 

Kit with owner, Roz
Kit – honorary troupe member – with owner, Roz

 

Your image is striking – your main outfits are red and green (why these colours?), dark and flamboyant, sturdy yet flowing, but you have different outfits for different events?

So, the “tatter coats” we wear are based on the clothing that Border Morris sides wear.  As performances started coming in more frequently, back in the early days we wanted something of a “uniform” that identified us a group.  However, we didn’t want to all look the same, we always considered ourselves a rabble, and we wanted a look that complimented that.  The tatters flow and flutter with movement adding to the performance.  We love that.  So we “borrowed” the tatter coat idea from the Morris tradition.  Every member has to make their own outfit before they perform with us.  So everyone uses the same base colours, but makes their outfit their own.  We encourage the use face paints and decorative hats etc to enhance that individuality.   As long as they stick broadly to our colours of Red, Green and Black.

Red for passion.  We’re passionate about what we do and love to entertain;

Green represents the Earth, the trees, the natural world around us and ties in with the Pagan beliefs;
Black adds a little dark side to the look (this is accentuated for the Sussex Bonfires). You can’t have light without dark.

Our main outfit is generally the tatters and face paint.

But for the Bonfires we go a little darker, more black and green… less tatters (tatters and fire isn’t always a good combination!)

We also attend a few Medieval festivals during the year, and so we dress in a more medieval style for those events.

And occasionally we set sail as the Pirates of Pentacle Bay for Pirate-themed events such as Hastings Pirate Day or Eastbourne Pirates on the Pier.

What plans for the future?

To keep doing our thing, entertaining the public and having fun ourselves.  After all if we don’t have fun doing it, why would you want to watch us?

We will keep looking for new events that would suit our style and continue to support the existing events that have booked us for many years.
We will be holding another Wassail in January in Pevensey.  It’s one of my favourite events.
I have been doing this for 20 years now and see no reason to stop anytime soon.  The other guys in the group very much feel the same way.  If people keep watching, keep dancing and keep enjoying our performances, we’ll keep doing them!

ENDNOTE:

Watch out for Pentacle Drummers performing at festivals throughout Sussex and beyond.  They even have recordings available for download through various streaming services.  Check out the website for a link.  Pentacle Drummers website: https://www.pentacledrummers.co.uk

Follow on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/pentacledrummers

Author

  • Maria Bligh

    Maria Bligh is a journalist, published author, professional speaker, singer and artist now settled in Sussex, UK, having previously travelled extensively throughout the UK and overseas, including a period living in Geneva. Married to a successful musician and with a background that encompasses working in the music industry, finance, sales and presentations training, she maintains a diverse existence. Her interests encompass travel, nature, animals and the arts: music, theatre, painting, writing and philosophy. Maria now writes for online and print magazines. Having once maintained a regular full page in “A Place In The Sun” magazine, travel is an obvious interest, but her articles also cover a wide variety of subjects. She bills herself as “an observer of the human condition and all that sail in her.” Maria has frequently appeared on radio & TV as well as in print. Her humorous style has seen her travel the world addressing audiences throughout Europe, Asia and Australasia and as a cruise-ship speaker with P&O and Fred Olsen.

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