Earlier this year, D and I decided to make our main 'holiday' of the year three festivals in a row, over two weeks. Yes, we are mad. I'm pleased to say we survived this, and over the next few days/weeks I will be sharing my experiences of mud, music and mayhem.
If – as sometimes happens – we only get to one festival, by choice it would be WOMAD (short for World Of Music Arts and Dance). This is partly for the vibe, which is friendly, if a little worthy in places, but mainly for the music, which is always extraordinary and massively varied.
This year WOMAD's main arena area had a new layout, which we observed on first entering from the (considerable) heights of the (also new) big wheel. The stages form a fat crescent separated by stalls and eating/drinking establishments, each stage angled so its sound doesn't interfere with adjacent ones. About half of them are open air, half in large tents. On Friday we managed to work our way round the stages in a clockwise direction, kicking off the festival with a performance by the New York Theremin Society in a tent set up to have the best sound quality possible in a field, which I refer to as the Aural Sex or Sonic Attack tent (depending on on who's playing in it). We then caught another couple of acts, both good and very different (Brazilian jazz and Sicilian trancey folk) before approaching the main stage where the beat caught my feet and did not let go for the whole set of mambo-anarchists Orkesta Mendoza.
Back to a stage we'd already visited for more jazz, this time African influenced then into the Siam tent (always our favourite place) where we had a psychedelic experience courtesy of masked Swedish weirdoes Goat, then a surprisingly chilled Greek experience courtesy of Xoas (one member of whom played a set of pipes which appeared to have been made from a whole goat, aptly enough) and finally some chilled jazz from one of the members of Dave's favourite band, Snarky Puppy. (This used up my quotient of jazz acceptence for the weekend.)
Saturday we blew the cobwebs out with the Dhol Blasters. They were playing in the Arboretum; WOMAD has addition stages, art installations, activities and random musical instruments scattered through the manicured woodland outside the main arena area, something few festivals can boast of. From there to the Siam tent for one of my festival highlights. I first heard Hannah Peel a few weeks ago on Six Music, and she stopped me in my tracks. My responses to music tend to be based on rhythm – I'm all about the dance – but something about her ethereal synthetic sounds married with the surprisingly subtle wind instruments of Tubular Brass (who do what it says on the tin: they're a brass band who play Tubular Bells) speaks to something else deep inside me. Before the band played their signature track she played most of her upcoming album 'Journey to Cassiopeia' and, at the risk of sounding pretentious, the music pierced my soul and flooded it with cosmic light. I stood there with tears of rapture streaming down my face, my mind well and truly blow (and no, I was not under the influence of anything more mind-altering than a pint of real ale). The only problem with this transcendental experience was that it spoiled me for the next few acts – an African super-band and some tech trance in the Aural Sex tent that D blissed out to but I, having used up all my bliss, couldn't connect with, and so went to a dance workshop instead.
As evening – and rain – fell we left the main arena, passing an outing of wizards from the Unseen University, complete with utterly ridiculous beards and pointy hats. We headed for 'Drink the World' (as we call it), which is a wine bar opposite the 'Taste The World' stage, that being where artists talk about music and food and cook a favourite dish live on stage - another unique WOMAD thing I suspect. Over a bottle of Tasmanian fizz we discussed our evening plans: originally we'd been up for seeing Afro-Celt Sound system (who we've seen before) and Toots and the Maytals (who we hope to see at a later festival) but the rain was setting in, so instead we decamped to Molly's Bar.
Molly's is actually yet another stage (WOMAD has a lot of stages – great for choice but you always miss a lot!) but is undercover with its own bar, and from about 9pm it's one huge party. If you have been overdosing on worthiness and/or bliss, Molly's will bring you back down to earth and I kind of needed that. This Saturday night was enlivened by the unreconstructed blues rock outfit Johnny Cage and the Voodoo Groove – who had ::sigh:: semi-naked female dancers, though in fairness half the blokes in the band had removed their shirts by they end of the set – and a favourite local band who we've seen many times, Smerin's Anti-Social Club. I was in the mood for gin – and had some on me as it happens - but as Molly's only had crap tonic I braved the rain to visit the adjacent 'Lunched Out Lane' (named after the 'Lunched Out Lizards' cafe, where chai and dub is available 24 hours a day) and purchased a summer cooler smoothie, with added guarana for energy, then added my gin to that. We partied hard and stayed up late.
We didn't get up that early on Sunday. While Dave went in search of his usual WOMAD breakfast of kedgeree from the Goan Fish Curry stall I lounged around the tent and listened to Radio Womad to get an idea of what bands were coming up. We started with some science because there's even a tent for that in the Arboretum (so perhaps it should be WOMADS); we found out more about theremins, and though only the kids in the audience actually got to play them, Dave asked several questions, and now wants one of his own.
Thence to watch the Taiko drummers, where Dave managed to fall asleep, which was no mean feat considering how loud they are. We then drifted around in what had turned into a lovely day, until a shower had us running for the Siam tent where we caught the second half of a performance by the Whirling Dervishes of Damascus. Later, also there, we saw the highlight of the day, a band called '!!!' (pronounced chuk-chuk-chuk) who are actually from New York, and are a bit like Talking Heads with a lot of added profanity, and funk; at one point the lead singer lost his radio mic down his underpants and had to get a roadie to bring a replacement. During their gig we noticed that a change that had come over the penguin-on-a-stick (WOMAD, not being covered by TV or massively crowed, isn't a place for ostentatious flags, but the penguin is there every year, on his stick) – he had obviously enjoyed the dervishes as he now had a skirt made out of paper napkins and had had his stick adapted to allow him to whirl, or at least twirl.
As the evening was fine we returned to Drink the World, and did in fact drink their last bottle of Tasmanian fizz. As an added bonus, the Spooky Men's Chorale were doing a cookery demo on the 'Taste the World' stage next door. We've seen this Australian close irony group (that's close harmony singing, with irony; lots of irony) many times but to see them cook was … quite something. As the evening drew on we found ourselves back in Molly's, where we finished the festival with a brilliant set from the Ska Vengers (Indian ska with a social conscience – only at WOMAD!).
Not that the festival was finished with us … we awoke deep in the night to the sound of a rousing chorus of Bohemian Rhapsody, as sung by several hundred drunk people in nearby Molly's bar, just before the music stopped. Because this was WOMAD, they were all singing in tune. And because this was WOMAD various campers joined in from their tents, including us.
weather, fashion and culinary notes
We made great use of D's real-time rain radar app, and stayed dry through various sharp but brief showers until Saturday night, when the site developed avenues of Festival Mud (a variation on type 4, for those familiar with my Taxonomy of Mud from Plokta). It mainly dried out on Sunday.
Food news: Halloumi is the new falafel. Pretty much every stall did an 'add Halloumi' option, with one veggie-burger stall advising punters to 'Join the Hallouminati'. I even had Halloumi curry.
Fashion news: Sparkly is IN. I'm generally a fan of sparkly, though I can't help thinking that those men who went for glitter beards regretted their decisions later. Also, while I defend a man's right to wear what he wants, very few men – hell, very few people of any gender – can carry off sparkly fish-scale leggings.