In 2006 WOMAD continues to grow and those that attend have more treats and a higher calibre of entertainment than ever before. For the first time in some time the headliners are non-UK real World Music acts and all the stages have more space for larger crowds.
Stages were also moved to better locations, the only downside being that now the main stage no longer faced the campsite, so parents who took their kids home before the headliners could no longer listen to the main events. However, even if they could have heard it the noise from the fun fair would no doubt have drowned the speakers out. Increasing the size in front of the main stage, Village Stage and Tri-Span was necessary as these were often packed even with the allowance for extra numbers.
Theres more people on site than ever before with Thursday and Friday full predominantly of real festival goers before Saturday and Sunday are swelled with day trippers who give the festival a rather more sedate feel. Thursday seemed to lack interesting events for early birds and it would have been nice to have a more active programme of events for Thursday, but it was lovely to chill out, chat and have a mulled cider and a mug of chai. Saturday felt a little too overcrowded, but perhaps it was the heat making too many people static in their festival chairs and filling the stage areas too much. Cant they restrict chair sitters to the rear of the crowd somehow?
The facilities for campers and arena goers are better than ever before with proper toilets and no lakes of overspill this year. The campsite plays host to more late night tents and for the first time the steam fun fair is out with the campers rather than in the arena. Creating a great late night feel and with movies, comedy, food, drink, Spiegel bar and of course the rides its wonderful entertainment for the late night reveller. It seemed a lot of young people, whose parents had allowed them to come in large groups of friends unsupervised, particularly liked this area, preferring to have their fun here rather than sample the music on offer inside the arena proper.
Musically the programme is overall much higher over the whole site, with the new Tri-Span Tent being a wonderful addition to the festival and a glory to look at. However with the growing popularity of women (in general) taking salsa classes, my suspicion is that the organisers catered for this with a lot more Latin groove and Salsa bands than previous years. Shame cos I cant really handle a lot of Latin music. Pedro Luis Ferrer and Ska Cubano are exceptions to this, both exciting in totally different ways.
Reggae music was thin on the ground but still represented by Batacuda Sound Machine and Bomba with Derub just a shame there wasnt more. Indian sitars, Qiwali, blues, folk, soul and many more musical styles were all also represented and there was so much packed into the weekend that invariably others would tell us of great acts wed missed over the weekend.
And there were the World Music gems of Etran Finatawa, Ivo Papasov, Joji Hirota and his drums, Wang Ki Seok (if only for the name, snigger), Varttina, and my highlight was Vanuatus Supergroup, The Sunshiners who played pop classics to a smiley tropical island beat on the main stage. Although far and away the best ending for the festival was Guo Yue, with his flutes, his stories, those drums and a fantastic vibe to end the festival on a high at the Village Stage.
Then of course there are the classic WOMAD bands, those that are instantly definable by their country flavourings and super acts to listen to, in the main African acts with so much to offer. Siyaya, Dimi Mint Abba, Salif Keita, Los De Abajo, Anoushka Shankar on the Friday. Saturdays Emmanuel Jal, Toumani Diabate and Femi Kuti, On Sunday Djelimady Tounkara, Konono No.1 and their loudhailer distortion, and the rather stroppy Angelique Kidjo.
Itll be interesting to see how WOMAD can top this years line up for their 25th Anniversary next year. Talk of Manu Chao and the Afro Celts is enough to excite our interest. Whatever it may be I hope they stick to World Music headliners from other countries rather than a return to UK acts.
There was a huge selection of food on offer over the weekend, too much to possibly sample, and for those on a budget meals could still be found between £3 and £4. There were also organic beers and a couple of Bath Ales reasonably priced, as well as the usual suspects on offer at the bars. Though for gastronomists there was enough to put on a couple of stone over the weekend. All this plus master chef classes from acts delighting us with their favourite dishes, a great idea.
Not surprising then that the colourful childrens parade had a distinctly food theme, as did the kids shirts available for painting in the kids area. Which once again made WOMAD the best festival for kids, even more so now the distraction of the fun fair was elsewhere. A stunning variety of colourful costumes, hats, toys and crafts were made over the weekend and displayed at the parade. Well done WOMAD for making this the best festival to take kids to.
The souvenir shirts and programme sensibly priced, a great programme in fact, other festival programme makers take note! And reduced to half price come Sunday, if you wanted a proper mint souvenir.
Having the Healing Fields housed in those Festival Beach Huts was a great idea and made it look lovely too. My only slight annoyance was having the Radio 3 Stage next to the drumming circle, what a shame to hear delicate voices or quiet emotive music drowned out by the drummers banging all the way through. Surely they could have stopped while the acts were on?
With so much positive to say about WOMAD its a shame I had such a terrible time due to one thing they have a real problem with, thefts. An outrageous amount of thefts in the campsites, it seemed as though every group of tents had someone who was affected by the crime wave. Even the Lemonade trader was mugged and bags beside us stolen from in the arena! Hence a lot of time spent reporting our problems at the onsite temporary Police station.
What a shame, and what a worry for the organisers to deal with. As we discussed strategies from super fences, to fake police honey traps, heavy handed security and even moving location to combat the problems, we realised how difficult it is to solve but solve it they must or Joe Festivalgoer will steer clear. But fear of our tents getting robbed, led to paranoia of passing strangers and lack of sleep, as it must have done for many.
That aside, the weather was fantastic, I think we needed the rain to damp the site down a bit and stop a dust bowl developing and it would have been perfect to have it hit after Femi Kuti but well done the crowd who continued to enjoy his set in light drizzle.
The site changes were all positive, the sound at the stages much better, the flags were gorgeous, 32 Acre Field and Tri-Span both welcome additions, and parking and sanitation top notch. Food was varied, the spice of life and the beverages all yummy. I hope they dont make it any bigger as I think it has reached critical mass. But please get the crime sorted as it really depresses us festival goers. With no Glastonbury to contend with WOMAD has been the festival of the year for me so far, offering so much to so many. Bring on WOMAD 25, itll surely be legendary!
review by: Scott Williams
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