It gets better and better (and sadly wetter)
Well after all the excitement and build up to this year’s WOMAD Festival (World of Music and Dance) it’s all over again for another year. (insert crying emoji) I’ve said it in previous reviews and in my preview for this year’s festival, but this is my favourite festival. Granted I haven’t been to every festival around and I’m sure there are dozens of other festivals that I would have an amazing weekend at but no festival has compared to WOMAD so far for me. I’ve been to bigger festivals and I’ve been to smaller ones but this is “The World’s Festival” The sheer variety, not just in music, but also in everything else on offer here; the food, the various activities as well as the melting pot of people coming together, all ages, different backgrounds, all coming together for the love of real music.
I’ll be honest if you ONLY listen to rock bands, don’t bother with it, if you ONLY listen to House or Techno then jib it, if you just listen to Pop and R&B save your time. BUT if you want to hear a mix of all the above plus Latin music, Funk and Soul, Ska, Drum n Bass, Punk with a Gypsy flavour, African Rhythms and so much more then read on and more importantly get yourself a ticket for WOMAD 2018. I’ll be there, I’ll be one of the thousands of people there grinning from ear to ear, bopping away.
In this review I will highlight some of my favourites acts from this year including Saturday nights headline act for the Open Air Stage – Toots and The Maytals. I will also cover the other major areas within festival; the World Market, World of Words, Taste the World all the sights, sounds and smells that make this a place like no other.
What is truly amazing is how they fit so much in without you having to walk miles and miles and miles from one place to another. I’m yet to do Glastonbury Festival, I know, I need to go, but the thing that has put me off is the scale of the place and the fact that I would likely miss countless acts because of the time it takes to get between stages and campsites, I might be wrong and I know I’d have an unbelievable experience there but with WOMAD it was less than 5 minutes walk from my car to my camp and the same again to get into the main arena area, in fact getting between any of the stages will take less than 5 minutes if you don’t get distracted by all the weird and wonderful things in-between.
Right, so, onto the music, in past reviews I’ve highlighted some of my favourite acts, this time round I’m going to try and run through pretty much every act I witnessed. Time is ticking and I’m off on holiday tomorrow so forgive me for not going into great detail on everyone but what I will do is include links to the acts because I want you to be able to see and hear what it’s all about.
Thursday night then and its now an annual tradition for pupils from the local Malmesbury School to join forces with an act to create something truly special for WOMAD. Here we saw the high tempo, incredibly energetic folk band with a twist Sheelanagig take to the Open Air Stage at 7pm with a horde of youngsters dancing in formation throughout much to the appreciation of the crowd who had just arrived and were eager to get dancing! Check out Sheelanagig below. (without the Malmesbury School Pupils though)
Moving on to Friday afternoon and we have to talk about The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, once a huge ensemble, 90 strong, known in the past as ‘Syrian National Orchestra For Arabic Music.’ Of course in recent years Syria has been ravaged by war, but just 7 years ago Damon Albarn (Blur & Gorrilaz) performed with the group in Damascus, as did Bobby Womack. Abarn later took members with him on tour around Europe. Sadly now, with many of the original members spread around the world due to the civil war, only a smaller group remain, but they still put on a wonderful show, orchestral music with that distinctive Arabic flair graced the Open Air Stage and the crowd were even treated to surprise special guest, Maverick Sabre, who sang on a few tunes with Orchestra starting with a very special version of his own hit ‘I Need’
You can find videos of Damon Albarn performing with the group but I’ve selected their performance of ‘Old Damascus’ a song I really enjoyed at WOMAD for you to check out…
Straight after it was over to the BBC Radio 3 Charlie Gillet Stage, Don Kipper put on a blistering performance on behalf of BBC Introducing. These are a truly exciting group to watch, dance to and chant uncontrollably along to, exemplifying the WOMAD tradition of diversity the group fuses Turkish, Romani, Greek and many other traditionalist music styles.
A little break between acts, a little trip to the tents to stock up on beverages and then off to take in the House Gospel Choir at Big Red Tent. What can I say, they’re what they say they are, a Gospel Choir performing with House classics amongst other hits like ‘Ain’t Nobody’ with the help of musicians and a DJ. Live performances of dance classics are always a favourite of mine and I wish I could find a video that really did them justice but what I have found is a snippet from a performance at Glastonbury. Keep an eye out for them.
The second biggest stage at WOMAD is the huge, blue Siam Tent and a chance for my mate Gorgeous Vaughan to get himself all done up a la Goat. No I’m not calling him a Goat but just take a look at Swedish band Goat, a group that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of The Mighty Boosh. Goat are progressive, Goat fuse musical styles, they’re psychedelic and acidic, they’re boss like. I’m not usually to throw compliments at goats, but yeah, check them out, ripping guitar and powerful beats, quality!
Now to a very special stage, Molly’s Bar, situated out of the main arena and running till 4am on the Friday and Saturday night, (2am on Thursday and Sunday) it’s so well loved by some of my WOMAD family that they named their band after it!! Look out for them in future too! (Yes Maidstone! ELLO MAAAAATE!!) Anyway over the years at this stage I’ve seen many incredible Electro Swing bands and this year didn’t disappoint with The After Hours taking to the stage at 10:30. I challenge anyone not to stand there, listen and not dance! It won’t happen, they’re infectious (but in a good way) Scratching in with mashups of dance and hip hop classics these guys excel, we heard Crazy in Love and No Diggity amongst other greats. I spoke to a few of the guys after their set backstage (I’m trying to get them to play a festival for me) great guys a good laugh and I was lucky enough to bump into a few of them the following day and have a dance with them at the Open Air Stage
The After Hours loving life after the show!
My glorious note taker.
Saturday came and after two late nights we may have been a little later getting out to see bands, I know, professional like. Another great thing to do at WOMAD is to just meander between stages taking in a whole load of acts and that’s a good excuse for arriving late to Bokante! Wondeful instrumentals, with powerful vocals, a delight.
Little hint of Floyd in the one below.
Bombino brought Tuareggae, a term coined by band leader Omara Bombino, to the Open Air Stage and despite the more ‘normal’ looking line up of guitars, bass and drums, these were no run of the mill guitar band! Hailing from Niger, Tuareg people are an ethnic group inhabiting areas of the Sahara desert in Niger as well as Lybia, Mali, Algeria and other areas, but anyway about the band and its leader, well they smashed it, dressed in traditional clothes of Tuareg people they showed us something familiar with a guitar band, but something very different with their own flavour. Rocking but very dancey, they lifted the spirits of people who were already having an incredible time!
Back now to the Siam Tent and chance to see hip hop done right, Loyle Carner a story teller, moving wordsmith hailing from London, a rapper rapping like rappers should. Plus the lads a Liverpool fan, go ed! Although as a nice tribute to his Man U supporting stepfather, who sadly passed a few years ago, behind him hung a big red shirt with no 7 on, not for King Kenny but for his stepfather’s hero Eric Cantona. His songs are sensitive, with him often paying tribute to his mother, watching him was a pleasure, in fact whilst writing this I’ve had a good listen to a few of his tracks and others around me have commented on how good he sounds, all preferring it to the usual Grime stuff that is all the rap we often tend to hear these days. Click on the link and then just sit back, chill and listen to a few more.
The packed out Siam Tent for the incredible Loyle Carner.
At the Big Red Tent once again something different again, the digital druids that were: Shobaleader One, how do I describe them, funky, heavy, electronic, there’s bits of metal, bits of R&B and jazzy beats. A 4 Piece dressed in black with Daft Punk-like light up face masks, a great show. Check out the track below with a great 70s esque funky tune, with a bit of Starsky and Hutch feel. Get on it!
Afro Celt Sound System as the name suggests, bring together African rhythms with traditional Irish instrumentation over the top. With albums released through Peter Gabriel, they really are close to the WOMAD World. I can’t find the words to describe how incredible this group were. It was pouring down at the time and a huge crowd surrounded the BBC Radio 3 Stage to dance away to an awe-inspiring performance. Honestly this band was one of the best I got to see all weekend.
Toots and The Maytals, the big band for Saturday night at the Open Air Stage, I’ll be honest one of the only bands I had heard of before this year’s WOMAD and sadly the rain battered us! The Jamaican reggae group first formed in the 60s and had a lot to do with the term reggae and the genre and sub genres its become. In fact Ska hits, Pressure Drop and Monkey Man, (songs I foolishly thought were by The Specials) were by The Maytals, these songs have been covered by so many since too. Their cover of Loui Loui by The Kingsmen was a great inclusion to the set, but the one I wanted to see, predictably, came at the end of the set, with thousands in the crowd drenched Toots and The Maytals performed the soundtrack to This Is England! 54-46 Was My Number! Oh yeah!
Where most festivals tend to tone it down from 11.00pm WOMAD still has loads going on and from 11:00 till 2am Joey Negro filled the Bowers and Wilkins Stage – a tent set up to showcase the brilliance of Bowers and Wilkins sound systems. The British DJ/Producer and remixer of greats he put together hearty House set, filled with Disco including his own remix of the Chic classic ‘Everybody Dance’ You can hear that one below…
(Consequently I’ve just got tickets to see Chic featuring Nile Rodgers in Liverpool in October EVERYBODY DANCE!! Doo doo doo doo Clap your hands. Clap your hands!)
Sunday, of course, came around too quick and once again we were all up a little later but we still caught plenty of incredible acts through the day and into the night. First up was !!! (chk chk chk) The band’s name is !!! but its pronounced chk chk chk. Do you like dance? Do you like punk? Do you like some amalgamation of the two? Sound get on these. But don’t expect just that, we got funky, we got electro and very Housey but with rocky guitar to boot. You can’t keep your eyes of them, Nic Offer the hardcore singer bounces around the stage, dancing and contorting all over the show, he and his female vocal partner even got right into the crowd to join the party we were having. In a way they reminded me of Scissor Sisters but more raw and with a wider range of styles brought into their sound. The final song was almost Techno-ish in beat but with funky too. For the first band on the Sunday we were off to a flyer!
Have a listen to a few to see their range, this one is a little Hot Chip(ish) in a way to me…
From the big blue Siam Tent to the Big Red Tent and time for the merger of House with classical music, a match made in dance music heaven. Kate Simko, an electro, house + techno producer and for this project composer, was on decks and keys/synth joined by a trio on strings. A harpist, celloist and violinist made up the all-female quartet of Kate Simko & London Electronic Orchestra. I’ve read about different line-ups used within the group, sometimes more playing, but this is what I witnessed and what I witnessed was great. Synthy grooves with the grand sound of strings over the top was yet another different aural experience that we thrived on in the beautiful but muddy Charlton Park.
Click below for some nice chilled house from Kate Simko & London Electronic Orchestra feat Jem Cooke!
Next up was Chico Trujillo at the Open Air Stage, formed in Chille in 1999 this was a proper jamming type of band, bold brass and sax, percussionist and drummer (switching places at one point) bass, guitars and keys, this is the kind of line up I would love to be a part of! Rocking in parts with reggae and ska but with their distinctive Latin American Cumbia style these guys had us dancing our wellies off and we loved it!
Back now to Molly’s Bar and one my most favourite groups of the weekend, one of the most fun, a proper giggle (despite them coming from Manchester) Gypsies of Bohemia were boss! An acoustic group playing songs you love and songs you will love now you’ve heard their version! As I arrived we heard Dead or Alive’s You Spin Me Round, but from there we had So Solid Crew. We heard, (in the words of one of the incredibly talented guitarists) Morrisey in Speedos! Their version of Charming Man was mind blowing. Where do you go next? We had a bit of Destiny’s Child with incredible finger style guitar moving into Celtic Rock! The highlight though, coming just after a bit of Backstreet Boys, as an encore, was Jump Around with the incredible guitar riff of Heartbreaker by Led Zeppelin! I’m still buzzing off it now!
It’s been hard to find a video of these guys that really does them justice, but, near the end of the set, their performance of this Prodigy classic was immense!
Our Alex’s doppelganger in Gypsies of Bohemia!
Being a bit knackered on a Sunday I didn’t stick around too long for DJ Marky and MC GQ but the beasts of Drum & Bass and Jungle showed that WOMAD won’t slow down even in its final few hours! The Big Red Tent was packed, the strobes were going and there was some serious skanking, I wish this set had been earlier in the weekend to be honest, but plenty others still managed to power through, I went for some Paella and some Ska though, that was sound.
The Ska Vengers performed a couple of times over the weekend but this set was at Molly’s Bar, clashing with DJ Marky I took in a few tracks on the way back to camp. You can’t beat a bit of Ska, unless, you throw in some rap, a little latin flare, a pinch of punk and syphon off some psychedelic vibes to throw in the mix. Based in New Delhi these guys were cool as, predictably high tempo and high energy with a political twist and they turned out to be the last band I would see at WOMAD this year (not that the party was over yet)
Don’t be fooled by the beginning!
If I haven’t sold you on this festival yet then maybe I can’t, but more fool you. This place, this festival, this experience, this spectacle, it’s more than a festival to me, it’s an incredible celebration of the world and it’s diversity. Visit the World Market to pick up something interesting to take away with you, this year I finally bought a Saxaflute after wanting to purchase one for the last three years.
Take in smells and more importantly tastes of dishes from all around the globe with an incredible array of food stands, no greasy burgers though, high quality food here. One of my favourites that has been there during the three years I have been is Greek Expectations, I just had my tea, but Christ, I could go for one of their wraps right now! I won’t go into all the foods I tasted whilst there but what I will say is that I never take food with me and unlike other festivals where I’m happy with a liquid lunch, here I look forward to trying something new at every meal.
Just a part of my WOMAD family.
If tasting great food isn’t enough for you and you want to find out how to make some signature dishes from the country of the act you just watched then you might just be able to. Several acts playing over the weekend take to Taste the World to put on a live cooking class, this stage was even bigger this year too!
As I mentioned earlier this is a festival for people of all ages, many at WOMAD have been coming since its conception 35 years ago, many have those have brought their children along over the years and no doubt some those have brought their own children. I’ve met many people in their 20s who went as children with their parents and now attend with friends. In fact I’ve spent many wonderful WOMAD days with two generations of the brilliant Batchelor clan!
Within the Arboretum there are many opportunities to relax with a massage, share a story or have a listen, calve your own bow, meditate and this year, attend seminars on physics including a live stream and chat with NASA I believe! There’s even laughing yoga, if you like that sort of thing,
For families with younger children there is so much for them to get involved in; World Rhythms gives an opportunity for kids to take part in drum circles, learning from professionals and there are even more varied activities in the World of Children and even a massive parade around the arena later on in the weekend!
If I had one tiny complaint, we did miss the old traditional steam fair that sadly didn’t make an appearance, instead there was a new ferris wheel and other. Not that I’ve ever gone on any rides at the festival but we missed the smell of the steam fair. Like I say not the end of the world but we did notice. Although the weather sadly let us down slightly this year, we had a couple of glorious years there previously. The organisers put on wonderful things over the weekend, sadly they have no control over the weather, never mind, nothing could dampen our spirits.
Although walking around the festival site you can simply go from stage to stage discovering incredible acts after incredible acts, there is also the WOMAD App which can be used to create your own timetable for the weekend and to check out acts before the festival.
Who doesn’t like to dress up at a festival?
When WOMAD comes up in conversation I can go on forever, but I think you should have read enough by now. All I want to do now is thank my ever-growing WOMAD family for helping make this festival my favourite. And a special thank you to my assistant too, Sam, who wrote down whatever gibberish we felt was necessary at the time. I have some hilarious notes to cherish, sadly I can’t put them all on here but I will include a few quotes from random people we met including one below by a great couple who I danced with at Afro Celt Sound System, they even brought and shared homemade brownies, no they weren’t of the galactic variety.
“The most awesome, empowering, sharing festival ever! Lovely stuff, hope you enjoyed the Brownie! X Jake and Poppy
“There are a lot of beautiful people here” Irish Gavin
“The Lanisters send their regards” Hannah Murray AKA Gilly from Game of Thrones (IS SHE A LANISTER SUPPORTER?!?!?!)
“Got to have a go” Marylin (Whilst attempting a giant puzzle near the Physics Pavillion)
“Chloe is having a lovely time!”
“Sylvia is having a lovely time!” (This seems to have been the general consensus of many…)
“Electric, Spontaneous Mayhem” “We Love it” – The Gumbley Gortons 2nd year Womaders
“Dare we say, even better than last year so far”
“Loves Goat, Loves WOMAD” Liz
Julie – Comes every year because she loves music!
“Pink is the best colour in the world” Billy the Kid (I don’t think this kid understood the question but he did love the colour Pink and he was proud of it, go ed kid.)
“All we want is gooey, stringy, melty cheese”