We missed out on WOMAD last year so were super happy to be back with the gang in the beautiful grounds of Charlton Park. This year was a sell out and the hottest week-end of the year so far…..when a tiny cloud covered the sun there was a cheer for the 30 seconds it gave shade…
With the tents up in we realised we’d camped in the same field as Molly’s Bar but Sledge assurred us the music wouldn’t bother us……….
We managed to get on site to see one of the Thursday night acts ‘Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni ba’ (Mali). He was voted best artist of the year by ‘Songlines’ and it wasn’t hard to see why – a real treat……a ‘ngoni’ is a West African flute by the way….
We started the day with a stroll round the site. This year there was an art instillation by ‘Neville Gabie‘ entitled “Experiments in black and White”. He chalked the pavement each night so it was different the next day – I wanted to write “Chalk is cheap” on it but couldn’t find any chalk to do it with.
One of the instillations had 2 video screens facing each other with a swing in the middle. One showed a man in a black suit with a black background pouring liquid chalk from one black bucket to another, getting progressively more messy as it went on.
The other vid was the opposite with crude oil being poured from bwhite bucket to white bucket. The videos only worked when someone used the swing. Another of the projects involved collecting a bagful of breath from 1111 people which would be used to make a noise in a special instrument he designed……(and here’s the result)
The music kicked off with ‘Clinton Fearon‘ (Jamaica) doing some sweet reggae music which suited the soaring temperature well. We took refuge under the next door Sian tent and listened from there, deciding our itenery with Guy and Clare.
Acts alternate on the hour from the Open air stage to the Sian tent so we were happy to just stay put and enjoy whatever came next….
And next up were ‘SoNDoRGo’ (Hungary) playing fast flowing Slav folk songs with the biggest guy on stage plaing the tiniest guitar-like instrument, a Tambura.
I always try and get to a workshop or two whilst at womad and with it being unbearably hot and sunny (I’m a Salford boy ok!) it seemed like a good time to go and catch ‘The Jolly Boys’ (Jamaica) who play Mento (not Calypso….that’s from Trinidad) as the lead singer loved to say “Into your face!”. They’ve done an album of covers and did “Rehab” for us – would love to hear their version of ‘Blue Monday’
There was a new purpose buit stage/big round tent affair called ‘The society of sound stage’ this year sponsered by speaker firm ‘Wilkings and Bowers’. Justin Adams (UK) gave a talk on distortion in music and why it makes Rock’n’Roll what it is, playing seminal tunes and the odd riff on his guitar. Distortion is known to be ‘good’ in all sorts of musical instruments – he talked about how in Africa, a lot of instruments have spiders webs placed over the holes where the sound emerges for that very purpose. Matty and Sally where exhausted by the heat and happily slept through it all.
We got back in time to watch ‘Melt Yourself Down‘ (UK) do their thing. I managed to jump around for a few numbers at the front with Matty on my shoulders but couldn’t do it for long…..did I mention it was dead hot?
We got to the sound society stage too late to get in for Ben Watt so headed for the Charlie Gillett stage (now also the BBC Radio 3 stage as well) where ‘Tuung’ (UK) were about to start. I was expecting some dark mysterious folky stuff but instead got some very pleasant pop tunes, a few of which they said they hadn’t played for years. Had us all dancing by the end (which the photo at the start of this will attest to).
The Radio 3 stage used to be in the arboretum but this one is now sponcered by Ecotricity and our first visit to it was to see ‘Aar Maanta’ (Somalia) who Lee had seen earlier in a workshop. “As a Sunny from Somalia living in the UK, you can guess the kind of hassle I get at airports, check out the video for this one, it’s just what it’s like”
Friday for us finished with ‘Goran Bregovic and his Wedding and Funeral Orchestra‘ (Serbia/Bulgaria) where our gang went wild to the Gorgol Bordello type Balkan Punk madness. We left before they finished to take the kids back to the tent – it was nearly 11pm and we were all dropping on our feet. No Richard Thompson for us, just a cosy sleeping bag and the excellent live music from ‘Swing Zazou’ at Mollys bar.
First up on Saturday was a quite remarkable experience that was ‘The Bristol Remix/Forgiveness Project’ part funded by the ‘Womad Foundation’. ‘Forgiveness’ as our pal Sandra explained, is a project that does just that, puts the word into the room and see what heppens. On stage were a guy who has been in prison in the UK and USA most of his life who’s life was turned around by the project 4 years ago. There was also one half of a couple who had been kidnapped for 18 months in Burkina Faso and felt forgiveness for their guards.
They went along to talk about their experiences to the Bristol Remix group, a collective of young kids who’ve been working at improvisation and writing songs based on what they’ve heard. Our friends son ‘Harri’ plays keyboards with them which is how we heard about it. What ensued was great music with audience participation and was very moving when the Forgiveness ambassadors told their stories as part of the songs. I was inspired. I want to get involved.
‘Siyaya’ (Zimbabwe) are a dance group who sing and play drums and tell stories. Their set was loosely based on the first world war and contained perhaps our favourite song of the week end “Ghetto Boy“.
Next on the main stage were ‘Septeto Santiaguero’ (Cuba) who were right up there with the Buena vista social club……it was just too hot outside the open air stage so after an ice cream and a dance we headed for the Big Red tent where…..
‘Hazmat Modine’ (USA) were playing – they were fantastic with so many styles of music blended together. The trumpet player looked like a mum who had mistakenly abbled on stage but when she started playing – oh my, she was amazing!! and not often you get to see a Sousaphone player rocking out….
We caught Martin Simpson & Dom Flemons (UK/USA) set which was commissioned by ‘The English Folk Dance and Song Society’, funny and educational with Martins beautiful guitar playing. Flemons is from the Carolina Chocolate Drops – ace!
Idris Traore (Mali) lead a drumming workshop getting the crowd up to speed with rhythms that accompany everything from circumcision to marriage to death. He would show us the tribal dress worn at each and talked about their significance. The sound of 50+ drummers drumming was quite something.
We headed for the Arboretum to see my favourite voices, ‘Katherine Williams‘ (UK). Funny and self depricating, her mellow, chilled out set was just the ticket for a warm summer evening. “My mum’s proud of this one because it’s featured in Coronation Street and Emmerdale!”
9Bach (Wales) sing in their native Welsh tongue. Hard to describe they have a mellow, Krautrock feel to their music…..if that makes sense…..I’d previously seen lead singer Lisa perform with Gruff Rhys everyone in the Welsh music scene seems to work with everyone else in the Welsh music scene…..
For the rest of the night we camped between the Open Air and Siam stages entertaining the kids who weren’t that fussed by the bands…
‘Fat Freddy’s Drop’ (New Zealand) took the roof off the Siam tent with an amazing set that had the place rocking….Rap/Reggae/Soul/Dance…..you name it, they’ll play it!
Our job then was to stop people trampling on the sleeping kids as the biggest crowd of the week end gathered for…
‘Youssou N’Dour et Le Super Etoile de Dakar’ (Senegal) closed the Open air stage with a fab set that contained hits and great musicianship shot through with N’Dours wonderful voice. “This is a song about Africa. Not the one you see on the TV with starving people, but the one full of hope and promise”.
On the way home, the sound instillation ‘Chorus‘ was playing outside Molly’s Bar. Loads of tripods with spinning bars on top that emmitted differet tones and bleeps…..quite surreal and got a big round of applause when it ended.
Sledge and I had a wander around the site til the wee small hours – there was great music playing in the Arboretum bar….…and we managed to catch Clinton Fearon’s solo set to a packed Siam tent….
Before heading back past Molly’s bar where ‘The Dhol Foundation’ were rocking out the youth…..time for bed!
Sunday afternoon at WOMAD usually means a Cajun band and this year was no exception. The wonderful ‘Magnolia Sisters‘ (USA) from Louisiana who were funny and obviously loving the big crowd. “The lyrics to this one go ‘I got really drunk last night, but tonight I’m gonna get even more drunk'”
They had us dancing our socks off with 2-steps and polkas of the highest order.
On to a packed Arboretum where the ‘Batch Gueye Band’ (Senegal/UK) got everyone going. Batch has played with Baaba Mal, Youssou N’Dour and Cheikh Lo and showed great mastery of the crowd.
We hung around for a beer and a chat before catching what was to be the most amazing performance of the week-end by…..
‘Dakha Brakha‘ (Ukraine) are just extraordinary in every way. I first saw them by mistake at a womad workshop a couple of years ago. The music is like being immersed in a David Lynch soundtrack with harmonies, wailing, drums, synth, strings – and that head gear! With such troubled times in the Ukraine, the atmosphere was so charged – it was as if the crowd were totally on their side and wanting to let them know…..the crowd reaction at the end was unbelievable!!
Lee and I got right to the front for Gruff Rhys (Wales) in the Society of Sound stage – wasn’t going to miss this one! As is often the case, there was an atmosphere of gentle chaos around Gruff with his various sound producing boxes and turntable. “There’s supposed to be pictures with this but we’ve left the iPad in the van so whilst someone’s gone back to get it, Lisa from 9Bach is going to help me sing Candylion. This may turn out to be a gig of old favourites yet”. The iPad turned up and we were treated to his adventures in search of John Evans which makes up his ‘American Interior’ LP. A great LP and a funny show with ex Flaming lips drummer ‘Kliph’ in tow – an Alun Evans look-a-like!
‘Vinicio Capossela & the Post Office Band’ (Italy) were as wacky as their name would suggest – it comes from the fact that the rest of the band are pensioners! They started with some Spaghetti Western soundtrack music and had us all on their side after that.
‘Les Ambassadeurs’ (Mali) are fronted by Salif Keita and played a jazz-tinged West African 70’s style set
Once again we camped out between the open air and Siam stages. ‘Nitin Sawhney ONEZERO’ (UK) played to a packed house…..
Last up on the Open air stage was ‘Sinead O’Connor’ (Ireland) who was a last minute replacement for the deceased ‘Bobby Womack‘, to whom she dedicated the set. She didn’t talk much to the crowd between songs, but then her song lyrics pretty much say it all, especially the new stuff. ‘Nothing Compares 2U’ was the biggest mass sing-a-long of the weekend – still sends shivers down the spine…..
We got the kids to bed and Ana Luisa (who was tired after dancing several pairs of socks off over the 4 days) kindly offered to babysit so Lee and I could see ‘Public Service Broadcasting‘ (UK) – our favourite band of the last couple of years. An impecable set that has a much rockier sound live had us jumping around. My ‘Yeeeaaaahh!!’ was met with an electronic “Oh dear…..Simmer Down!” from Mr Willgoose….
A perfect way to end a fabulous week-end.
Bob the Chiropodist