I’ve just gone through my photos – some good, some bad, some indifferent – but I hope this gives you a bit of a flavour of our festival!
The first few are of our little home for the weekend – as you can see HD was working really hard while I killed myself inflating the mattress (I can just see him snorting coffee over his keyboard if he reads this – the picture was actually taken during a very brief break, as he did most of the inflating). And you can see that as usual I am the height of sophistication and chic and gorgeousness:
The first band we went to see were called Fribo, who were variously from England, Scotland, Norway and Iceland. I quite liked them, they were good enough, though I must say that listening to a bagpipe tune being played on a Jew’s Harp was quite an experience! Then we wandered down to see a band called AltaiKAI who were Siberian throat singers. Their traditional music is designed to evoke the landscape and wildlife, so it included very realistic impressions of birds and horses as well as the very weird throat singing. They’re the group in the amazing costumes in the first picture. We then saw a bit of the ceilidh with the Sharon Shannon Band, which was fun but I wasn’t mad on some of the guest singers, and we weren’t around when Shane McGowan was on, assuming he showed up – by that point we had moved on to the Radio 3 stage in the Arboretum to see what, for me, was the find of the festival, a band from Marseille called Lo Cor de La Plana. These six guys sing a capella, plus do a bit of beatboxing (but not in a naff way) and some of them had north African drums that looked like tambourines but without the milk bottle tops if you know what I mean. They sing in a language called Occitan, which is a kind of melding together of French and Catalan, and which apparently the French authorities are trying to suppress. They were simply fantastic, and I’m afraid I was really sad and bought a CD and queued up to get them to sign it. If you ever get the chance to see them, do take it – they were brilliant (they’re in the second two pictures):
From there we went on to hear a band called Speed Caravan (or, as I kept calling it, Extreme Ironing, much to my amusement if not anyone else’s) which was the band of a France-based Algerian oud-player described as “the Jimi Hendrix of the electric oud”. I found him much more listenable-to than Jimi Hendrix, but I could see what they meant. They were very very loud, and very clubby – the blurb said they reference The Cure and The Chemical Brothers; I can’t say I heard much that was Cure-like in their set but it was pretty Chemical Brothersesque, I thought. They’re in the first (not very good – we were a long way away) photo of this next bunch. The second and third pictures show the WOMAD flags – these were arranged in various circles all around the arena, and were SO photogenic! The second picture in particular, there was a whole crowd of us taking pictures of these pink flags as in the light, with the darkening sky behind them, they just looked breathtaking:
After seeing Extreme Ironing, we wandered round the funfair which was also onsite. We had a go on a ride which was a bit like the waltzers except the cars didn’t spin all the way round. I reckon I’m getting old – I used to be able to go on one fairground ride after another and absolutely loved it, but even after this one ride I wanted to puke!
On Saturday we relaxed and mooched for much of the morning, and once the music programme really started around lunchtime we wandered round just seeing what we found. We listened to a few songs by an Italian band called Sudd MM, before going over to the main open air stage to see a french gypsy band called Babylon Circus (first picture). I thought they were brilliant – if you know Manu Chao’s music I thought they sounded a lot like him, but more energetic – but as it was so hot HD wandered off to find somewhere shady while I listened to the rest of their set. We then missed each other for an hour or so trying but not quite succeeding to find each other, but I figured it couldn’t be that hard to bump into each other eventually so didn’t flap (unusually for me). I wandered over to the Radio 3 stage to listen to another band I’d wanted to see, a Balkan gypsy band called Paprika Balkanicus (second picture). They were from, variously, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia, and were really excellent (the violinist from Romania in particular was fantastic). By the middle of the set HD and I had found each other, and as the Radio 3 area was so crowded (it was a stage in the Arboretum, so it was a small intimate space which was great, but could get really crowded) we ended up sitting under a tree a little way away listening to the music, although we couldn’t see the stage any more. Also later that same day we saw Wasis Diop (3rd photo – a late replacement for a band that couldn’t get a visa, but he was great – very cheerful, happy Senegalese music), Martha Wainwright (very good, though not my favourite) and some of Jah Wobble’s set (HD is a big fan of his).
We then were hungry, and it was quite late, so we wandered over to Leon’s vegetarian stall (someone persuade him to go to Greenbelt, his food was fantastic!), which happened to be at the side of the main open air stage. And who should be playing there, but the legendary Eddy Grant (1st photo). We hadn’t planned on seeing him, we just happened to be over that way, so only caught the last half hour or so, but I have to say – the guy is a legend! He was brilliant, and he’d saved all the songs everyone knew (and so sang along to) till the end. Walking on Sunshine, Electric Avenue, I Don’t Wanna Dance, Hope JoAnna, and then Baby Come Back as the encore. He was fantastic. Oh, and there were more flags all over the place, so here are a couple more:
On Sunday we also had a relaxed start to the day, and both went to the Tai Chi class. HD has been doing Tai Chi for years (there’s a brilliant picture of him, a few years ago in his parents’ back garden, doing his Tai Chi moves being watched (and copied) by his young toddler niece), but I’ve not really done much before other than the short lived Body Balance course I attempted a couple of years ago. I quite enjoyed it, though my feet (which by this point were rather blistered) were killing me so having to stand on them on really hard stony lumpy ground for an hour and a half was a bit trying after a while! We saw less music on Sunday, but did see Cara Dillon (first couple of photos) who was wonderful. I had wanted to see her when she played at Greenbelt a couple of years ago, but then we ended up spending the entirety of her set in the shower queue so I’d missed her, so I was really pleased to get the chance now, and wasn’t disappointed. Incidentally the guy on the left of the second picture, who played guitar and keyboards for her, was called Sam Lakeman – I’m wondering if he’s any relation to Seth (I thought he looked a bit like him, and he was certainly a fine musician, so it’s plausible). After that we spent some time sitting under a tree and reading, and we also went for our one shower of the weekend (more on the bathroom facilities in a minute!). The final photo of this next three was taken looking up from our reading spot – would you just look at the colour of that sky!!!
We went back to the tent for a bit, where HD fought valiantly with the airbed (a wedding present, which foolishly we hadn’t measured in relation to the tent – it did fit, but only just!) and I had a light beverage and demonstrated why I usually blowdry my hair! The third picture (a bit out of sequence, I think!) is of HD waiting for a fix – the woman in the coffee van asked him if he was going to Greenbelt this year, as she is so used to serving him regular caffeine over the years she recognised him!*
The first photo from this next bunch is the band we saw on the main stage on Sunday evening, one of my must-sees – Orchestra Baobab from Senegal. I’d got their 2002 album (and their latest one is going onto my wish-list!), so knew I was going to like it, and I wasn’t disappointed, although as my feet were really killing me it did affect my enjoyment a bit (note to self: at Greenbelt, go for comfort over style – carry a camping chair everywhere). Oh yeah and here’s some more flags too:
Finally for the photos, in the evening we watched Charlie Gillett record his Radio 3 world music show on the Radio 3 stage (it’s on Listen Again all this week on the Radio 3 website – must get round to listening to it, the man’s a legend). These pictures show Orchestra Baobab again (or, as the stage was only very small, Chamber Orchestra Baobab!), the man himself, and finally a view of the walkway from the Radio 3 stage to the main arena area as it was getting dark – it was really pretty with the lights.
What a great weekend. I’ll definitely go again.
It was interesting for me to see how I felt about being at WOMAD – I’d only been once before, as a day visitor, and Greenbelt is the only festival I’ve ever camped at. It felt strange not constantly bumping into people we knew (we did bump into a friend of HD’s a couple of times, as she is also a WOMAD regular, but apart from her and the coffee van woman recognising him, we didn’t know anyone else there). It was weird not getting up and saying good morning to fellow campers and joining them for breakfast as our fellow campers were complete strangers. That said, everyone seemed really friendly and it wasn’t unpleasant weird, just a bit different.
It struck me as well how, just like Greenbelt, there’s a very definite WOMAD sub-culture. Just like Greenbelt, I’d say that sub-culture was basically pretty middle-class and educated, on the whole – in a way that I don’t imagine Glastonbury or T in the Park which aim towards a younger demographic would to such a large extent. I feel much more ‘part’ of the Greenbelt sub-culture – mainly of course due to the religion thing, whereas a lot of the New Age therapies and all of that sort of thing weren’t really my cup of tea. But, like Greenbelt, I can imagine the majority of WOMAD goers to be Guardian-reading-woolly-leftie-liberal-leaning-types, so at the end of the day I didn’t really feel out of place. There were a few more black faces around than at Greenbelt, but not as many as I thought there might be – it was still pretty white, really.
I said I’d mention the bathroom side of things. There were good and bad things, and of course I couldn’t help comparing to Greenbelt. The good thing about Greenbelt is that, as well as the portaloos, you’ve got your actual porcelain at the grandstand, so you can get away with not actually using the portaloos all that much. At WOMAD it was portaloos or nothing, and I didn’t think they were very well distributed – there were large banks of them at various places, but unlike Greenbelt where you have a few placed pretty regularly throughout the camping areas, you had to trek quite a way from the camping area to the loos (and I understand that the walk from the family camping area was even further, which I don’t think was very well planned). BUT (and this is a big but, hence the capitals), unlike Greenbelt where by Saturday morning the portaloos are absolutely minging, at WOMAD they did brilliantly in keeping them clean and (relatively) pleasant, and even on Monday morning when it was time to pack up they were perfectly acceptable. So massive applause has to go to the hygiene team, who did the most brilliant job. There were also alcohol gel dispensers to clean your hands, and toilet paper dispensers, which I appreciated – I think I would have liked the option of washing hands at a water point, like at GB, as WOMAD again had fewer water points, but on the whole I have to say the toilets were brilliant, considering they were portaloos being used by over 20,000 people.
The showers were different to Greenbelt, and there was a different system there too. The main good thing was that they were free and you didn’t have to book them in advance (see previous moan about missing Cara Dillon’s set because I was standing in the Greenbelt shower booking queue for nearly 2 hours). This did mean that in the morning the queues for the showers (the ladies anyway) was enormous, but we went for ours around 4.30 in the afternoon and walked straight in. The main bad thing was that they were communal (gender segregated obviously, but it was all the girls together, just like at school). As we were there in the afternoon they weren’t that crowded, but I still got a view of lots of bits and bobs that I really didn’t need to see. So, on balance, I think I have to declare that Greenbelt showers are better from the privacy point of view, and personally I’m happy to queue a bit and pay for that. I won’t be moaning about them again anyway!
* True story: a couple of years ago at Greenbelt, when HD and I had been going out for all of a couple of weeks, I went with him to that same coffee van and the woman recognised him from WOMAD a few weeks earlier and said “Americano?” without him asking, as he’d bought so many during WOMAD she remembered his tipple. I remember thinking then and there, I think I’m going to marry this guy. Which was a bit of a freaky thought, and not one I shared with him at the time (not wanting him to freak out and run away, and recognising that that’s the kind of thing I could be hideously wrong about!). And the rest is history. How about that?!