overview

WOMAD 2008 review

published: Thu 31st Jul 2008

Chic

Friday 25th to Sunday 27th July 2008
Charlton Park, Upper Minety, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, England MAP
Full price £125 for three days. Thursday camping £10; campervans £25
daily capacity: 22500
last updated: Tue 15th Jul 2008

Well we had mud last year and the site coped, this year it's the heat that tests WOMAD and it's this that ultimately highlights why this new site at Malmesbury is so much better. the old Reading site just didn't have the shade. This was no big surprise, the Arboretum remained a green haven last year, and this year took a central role, its trees provided pools of rest under the boughs of leaves.

around the site (1)

The new site layout, with most of the main stages close to each other strung along the north side of the arena, facing the opposite direction to the previous year, was an interesting development, it made everyone feel it was a new site, one that no one entirely recognised. It worked much better, although there was considerable noise bleed between the stages. For instance, the fRoots folk/world evening in the Speakeasy real ale bar was up against Roni Size, okay they really made an effort but at times you could hardly hear Zuzana Novak and friend.

On the upside it was easy to wander from stage to stage sampling the line-ups or choosing which stage on either side of an empty tent you'd rest in the shade and listen to. The movement between all the stages was easy, with routes flanked by delicious eating options or colourful stalls. however the charities, and the craft marquee both seemed to be a little hidden from the main flow of festival goers. The toilets and baby changing facilities near the latter also went pretty unnoticed.

Which brings me neatly to the toilets, which were the cleanest I've ever experienced at a festival, and pretty well stocked all weekend, the urinals in the portaloos on the left wall of each cubicle meant that there weren't accidents in the dark on the seats, which considering how poorly lit they were probably saved a lot of wet bums. There were also urinals separate in the main arena area.

You'd have thought from some of the queues that there weren't enough but WOMAD has it's own special phenomenon - the self creating queue! There might be a dozen not in use toilets, but if one person pauses before using the facilities, a line rapidly develops behind them. This line will then wait patiently for someone to leave the cubicle before they use it, ignoring all the vacant toilets, particularly in the family camping area - madness!

around the site (2)

We were in Family Camping, because we had children, both our own and friends' kids in our party. It would seem that WOMAD must view press as generally single or childless, because where we parked had to be the furthest walk to family camping. It approached Glastonbury proportions when it came to leave on Monday as we sweltered under the excess family baggage in a heat to frazzle those not up and sensibly off before the soaring temperatures.

Fortunately our arrival was less stressful, we caught the train, and then the shuttle bus to the site, but a lack of signs for pedestrians mean we end up at Green Gate, which doesn't exist on our printed off map, and we amble through clover fields to find Purple Gate. We're in quickly, and asking others reveals that there are no queues. In fact there are no queues at all either entering or leaving the site.

The walk through, still empty fields was easy, and there were cordoned off fire lanes, but these soon filled with tents, much to my 'hot on health and safety' teenage daughter, who loudly kept telling me that they'll get the site closed down and I should make people move their tents. I decline, but mention it to the smiling police officer that comes over to chat to us about sensible 'valuables and monies' practices.

Later it is revealed that the police have intel about some known criminals who like to prey on campers, during the night, they bust them keeping down a six man crime wave. Shame they can't arrest all the wasps and bees what seem hell bent on buzzing everybody all day long.

Thursday night is spent searching for the sorely missing mulled cider bar and enjoying the delicious guest ales in the real ale bar, ones that were soon to disappear over the course of the festival, shame they were sensibly priced, varied, and delicious.

around the site (1)

The food on offer was slightly less cheap, although plain food could be found for under a fiver, but it was mainly the huge range of choices, from a Japanese 'proper' restaurant, to local food, curries, noodles, paella, meze, to fish and chips, or organic burgers. There were also plenty of bars selling ales, cider or lager plus spirits, some had choices of wines and Pimms, the occasional cocktail and all giving out paper cups.

Anyone who went, knows what's coming next, the army of little people, all buzzing our glasses even more than the wasps, coaxing us into drinking faster, all these children after the 10p value of each of the cups. And, boy what a difference it made, without cups to litter the place, people were more prepared to use the bins, and so the site was kept incredibly clean. The marauding little urchins even clambered into bins to nab the occasionally dumped cup.

Wherever you sat, whether in the long term crowds in front of the Radio 3 Stage, or to the more transient crowds of the workshops in Little Sicily or in the crowds at Siam or the main Stage, these kids wanted your cups, usually before you'd even finished them, not that I minded, but they were disappointed when I kept them to help fund my booze habit.

Bedouin Jerry Can Band (1)

There seemed to be more kids about this year, perhaps like me they suffered from hayfever, and wanted to keep away from the clover fields of the kids fields, or the steam fair which drew gasps for breath every time I went anywhere near the cool looking rides.

Possibly, they wanted to be near their parents, who wanted to watch the musical treats on offer, highlights like the legendary Chic, Eddy Grant, Mavis Staples, Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Little Feat, and Squeeze. It seemed to me the kids area was more separate and distanced from the musical programme than ever, parents had to choose to 'help' make admittedly cool stuff or watch the music.

It was no great surprise but WOMAD without mud was a winner, a strong music programme which seemed to concentrate on more mainstream world music acts, and a well set out site merely added to putting this festival firmly in place as one of our festival institutions with a varied audience of young and old, families and groups of friends. A lazy WOMAD in the sun, a long weekend with much to sample, in a safe and friendly environment. Almost five days of alternative living, even a quick Red Arrows fly by. Not thinking just how hot the sun would get on Monday, we delayed for brunch and a coffee, and enjoyed the whole utopian vibe going on.

Flags & Stages

My only gripes are the campsite at night, could not the trees have been illuminated? And the toilet blocks too, even fairy lights strewn over them usually helps but in darkness they prove tricky for kids to use, I'd like to have seen a communal campsite fire, although I guess the fact of the festival's park location prevents this, so maybe big glowing light structures to chill around, for those who can't find their tent until dawn.

The other gripe isn't really the organisers' fault, but the walk back to the car, in that sun, with only an ice cream van for rehydrating (what was it with prices this year they seemed to fluctuate?) was murder, and a lasting final memory. Could it not have been better co-ordinated to let people drive on site (some did anyway), or have rickshaws or golf buggies or something for those who were in their more advanced years. If I wasn't already overloaded I'd have willingly helped a few veterans who looked on their last legs, it would be a shame after they had such a good weekend, if they felt excluded by the baking that they would not fancy having again.

Red Arrows

That's pretty much it, crime sorted, site sorted, entertainment sorted, infrastructure sorted, punters sorted. There's bound to be some tweaks, but WOMAD has also proved itself worthy to be counted in the top tier of this country's festivals. Thank you to all the organisers and the people that made sure that happened, and happened so well.
review by: Scott Williams

photos by: Andy Pitt / Phill Bull

Friday 25th to Sunday 27th July 2008
Charlton Park, Upper Minety, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, England MAP
Full price £125 for three days. Thursday camping £10; campervans £25
daily capacity: 22500
last updated: Tue 15th Jul 2008


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