a wealth of quality music on offer at WOMAD or should that be wow! mad!

WOMAD 2011 review

published: Fri 5th Aug 2011

Alpha Blondy

Friday 29th to Sunday 31st July 2011
Charlton Park, Upper Minety, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, England MAP
£135 for three days, teenagers (14-17) £70, under 13s free
daily capacity: 22500
last updated: Mon 25th Jul 2011

It was an easy journey to the site, and we found the well signposted box office with ease, drove in for a 'vintage' weekend and set up on 'early bird' Thursday. It was only seven hours to wait for the first act, so we relaxed with a few beers.

Easy Star All Stars
The Malmesbury School Project and Dhol Foundation partnership rather passed me by, as I was distracted by a man up a pole. I'm not sure why you'd want to learn this skill, perhaps to catch birds! It wasn't until Easy Star All Stars started up that I really felt involved in this year's WOMAD. They really got the large crowd going with their mixture of Beatles, Radiohead, Pink Floyd and reggae compositions, and proved a worthy start to what was to be an aural feast of music. 'Money' and 'When I'm Sixty-Four' proving my personal highlights of a bouncing, vibrant set that felt exclusive as most of the festival wouldn't be on site until the next day. I'd love them to cover a Queen album next.

It's a short walk back to the main open air stage via some nice smelling caterers and a chance to see Bellowhead in their pomp. The band who are given an award tonight, not for their ale on sale in the bar but for their album 'Hedonism'. What an early treat the 12 strong headliners gave us, and before long the field is moving to their energetic full live music. 'New York Girls', and 'London Town' provide an opportunity for a decent singalong.

The Communicators
Friday started with a cooling rain falling lie in, and after lunch it's time to check out competition winners The Communicators who get the crowd going with their ska tunes in the Red Tent. The Bristol based band are rather reminiscent of Madness, and singer Big Mitch has the energy and mass of a younger Buster Bloodvessel meets Suggs, and they're not yet fully on tight form, but give them a summer on the festival circuit and this lot will be fantastic. Back at the main stage Jazz Jamaica are delivering old school Jamaican ska classics.

Acrobats Of Gotipua
Next door in the Siam the Acrobats Of Gotipua are a captivating watch, accompanied by drummers, the colourfully dressed girls dance and deliver slow acrobatic contortions and human pyramids. This is one of classic WOMAD spectacles that I love to watch. I just have time to watch a little of the bodhran and guitar fuelled fiddle playing of Rua MacMillan and it's a deft uplifting performance.

Time for a cider (Old Bristolian) and a chance to relax on the litter free grass under the fluttering flags and watch El Tanbura, with their Sufi chants, ancient lyres and wheeling rhythms. The audience was nowhere near the one million-strong crowd when they played Tahrir Square during the Egyptian revolution. The band revel in the music swapping singing duties on their patriotic songs, dancing and waving flags.

Jamie Smiths Mabon
Taraf De Haidouks are described a frenetic players of fiddles and accordians and boast Johnny Depp as a fan. They start with no vocalists in sight and build rapidly, eventually the elderly singers appear. The band feel past their prime slightly, and I catch a little of the excellent Jamie Smith's Mabon (his dad's no longer in the band, hence the name change), a natural raconteur he makes jokes about the miserable songs and there'll be plenty of chances to see them again on the festival circuit.

I've been recommended Pacific Curls who were at the Taste The World Stage earlier. The New Zealand and Scottish fusion trio prove an entertaining watch, it's not just about the Polynesia/Celtic music, but we also get stories and Maori tales. The tunes aren't bad either, and they know how to work a crowd. The three girls talk of fiddle player Sarah Beattie's imminent pregnancy and the fact that they might not play together for a while, let's hope that's not true.

I miss the beatbox quartet of The Boxettes who receive plaudits from friends because Asa holds my attention with a commanding performance of pleasing songs on the main stage. She sounds like a seasoned pro and delivers a terrific live performance.

Wandering back past the Charlie Gillett stage Aurelio & The Garifuna Soul Band's Carribbean fused guitar sounds amazing, and by comparison Dub Colossus rocking the Siam tent sounded slightly flat. I can't believe I've just written that, but I do have to see the Honduran guitarist for longer next time.

Whilst Dub Pistols drive the youngsters crazy in the Red Tent and allegedly are asked to stop for 15 minutes to let them cool off a bit, there's a spellbinding fusion of Cuban and West African music on the main stage. What a fantastically potent combination, and it's clear both sets of musicians are enjoying this musical blend of virtuosity.

Alabama 3
Following them is a clash between Abigail Washburn, and Alabama 3, the Siam is packed for the latter so I join Larry Love and The Very Reverend Dr. D. Wayne Love for a sing along to songs like 'Woke Up This Morning', 'U Don't Dans 2 Tekno', 'Mao Tse Tung Said', 'Hello... I'm Johnny Cash', new song 'Vietnamistan', with its sample of "one, two, three, what are we fighting for?" by Country Joe & the Fish and every song is dedicated to Amy Winehouse, at least once. As is their performance and the festival, nuff said.

Time for headliners and I go to watch a little of Mungos Hi Fi, and some of their original reggae and dub before hot footing it down to the main stage to be blown away by the set of the weekend. Alpha Blondy's rocked up reggae is just spell binding, really one of the best acts I've seen in some time, and one of the best headlining sets I've ever seen at WOMAD, and we even get to hear some new material, terrific!

CW Stoneking
But the blamy night's not over yet, and later the white Australian CW Stoneking tells us charming amusing ditties whilst sounding like a deep South blues musician on the Charlie Gilette stage. A rather enjoyable conclusion to the live music and we round the night off showing the youngsters how to dance in the San Fran Disco Bar.

Saturday's self induced hangover means I miss The Bear Beats Band and AnDa Union both I discovered would have been worth seeing. As is Wales' 9 Bach whose moody dark tunes wrought from harp and xylophone make me feel much better. I feel positively invigorated after Susheela Raman soothes my soul with her well blended world music on the BBC3 Stage.

Back in the main arena Ana Moura on the Siam, and Vieux Farka Toure on the Main Stage are revelations. The latter shows amazing dexterity on his guitar, and desert energy flows from the speaker stacks. The former's voice is nearly as technical, and both provide a terrific two hours of musical excellence.

Brassroots make that three hours. The band "re-imagine" well known songs, deconstructing them and putting them back together arranged for drums and horns. It's a boptastic singalong to tracks like Beyonce's 'Single Ladies', New Order's 'Blue Monday', Radiohead's 'Karma Police', Cee Lo Green's 'Crazy', Daft Punk's 'Around The World', Kylie's 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head', and 'The Good Life', as well as some of their own compositions.

Oi Va Voi's world fusion provides a familiar breather and a good time to eat half a chicken from the rotisserie before squeezing into the crammed Siam Stage along with what seemed like most of the rest of the festival to see guitar duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela totally blow us away with their complex high energy playing, another outstanding performance from the Mexican pair.

The Nextmen feat MC Wrec
After a brief look at The Nextmen feat MC Wrec who drop Ini Kamoze repeatedly and get the young crowd in a raving frenzy by fusing Adele, and Marvin Gaye in killer mixes whilst Wrec bounces about under the strobes shouting, "Rewind" and other suitable MC yelps. It's a singalong boogie fest!

Baaba Maal was a much more mature alternative, sat on the stage he slowly builds the acoustic set adding Senegalese drumming guests to pivot the set to a more vibrant second half. By the end we're left desperately wanting more, as it seems Baaba's just got into his stride, and we're dancing along, and given another hour the set could have been incredible!

The blond haired Danyel Waro from Reunion Island brings what it seems to me is the sounds of Africa to the Siam tent using various old school instruments. Until I get up close, under the amazing designs glowing in the roof of the Siam, I had presumed he was a young man he spills so much energy, but he's actually in his mid-fifties.

around the festival site (air guitar record attempt)
Sunday is the record breaking day! We arrive early to find ourselves in row one, and wait sometime to discover if anyone else is joining us for the attempt at the Air Guitar World Record attempt was in aid of the Action on Hearing Loss music campaign, which raises awareness about the importance of listening to loud music safely by wearing hearing protection at gigs and festivals.

The attempt was made with the help of current Air Guitar UK Champion, Thom 'W!ld Th!ng 37' Wilding, and Justin Adams informs us we've beaten Austrlia's record of 1,883 people with 2,227 people turning up to rock the main stage with Jimi Hendrix's 'Purple Haze'.

A late brunch is then spent listening to The Savoy Family Cajun Band who play laid back cajun country song, foot tapping stuff, I like their music and they're another act I'd like to see again, properly. Away from the main stage the festival is much more packed and by the time we get to the Red Tent to see Penguin Cafe, not only is the tent full but the area around it is so packed that crowds sprawl all the way to the steam fair.

Nidi D Arac
We decide to bail, and go and go to sample the Meditteranean sounds of Italians Nidi D'Arac, before sitting outside the Siam to listen to the Spanish songs of Amparo Sanchez, who shamefully hasn't drawn much of a crowd, by contrast the All Singing All Dancing tent is packed for China's AnDa Union. Amparo deserves better as both the assembled band and her own musicianship are superlative, the music slower and more soulful than her incarnation as Amparanoia, and conjures up her hot sunny homeland as WOMAD warms in the sun, and warm breezes.

Kitty Daisy & Lewis have beefed up the rockabilly sound since I last saw them in 2007, the banjos have gone replaced by keyboards, but the band members still swap roles on stage. It takes a while to settle in to them, and their music takes on a new dimension when the bring out Ska Cubano's trumpeter, Jamaican legend Eddie 'Tan Tan' Thornton to funk up their set with his ska notes.

I also want to see Ebo Taylor so I skank out at half time to groove to his mellow Afrobeat, I'm so glad WOMAD brought him out of retirement to play for us, and I loved his crazy Sunday curtain suit and hat combo.

I Am Kloot
Before I had to decide upon another clash it was time for the parade an explosion of sound and colour that passed through the main arena boasting hand made Indian themed gods and godesses towered over us, masked children carried crafted items, and bands played amongst them. By the time they had passed , I Am Kloot were just starting. I remain watching their whole set and miss all female jew's harp playing vocal group Ayarkhaan.

I Am Kloot's lead singer has been here the last few days and says he's seen and heard some amazing things, including blues from blind Chinese monks, and keeps our interest between songs talking about the festival. Most of the tunes they deliver are from 'northern Skies' and played wonderfully, not surprisingly they get rapturous applause once their allotted hour is up.

Booker T Jones
Perfect for the Sunday sunset slot are The Creole Choir of Cuba who bring their Haitian inspired rhythms, songs and colour to Malmesbury Park, it's dramatic, musical, and entertaining and another of those must see WOMAD moments.

Another has to be the legend that is Booker T, who has a hit packed set, and a fantastic backing band. We all sing along, and the crowd dance in union to songs like 'Green Onions' which Booker tells us he penned when he was just 16. More hits follow including 'Take Me to the River', and 'Hold On, I'm Comin''. With so many years of live performance he clearly he know how to deliver and has the delighted crowd eating out of his hand. Any hope of seeing Frenchman Chapelier Fou goes out the window.

Gogol Bordello
The Lower East Side's gypsy punks Gogol Bordello are perhaps a surprise act to be Sunday's main stage headliners but they work fantastically mixing fiddle, guitar and drums to full effect they sweatily deliver 'Not a Crime','Wonderlust King', 'Immigrant Punk', 'Think Local', and crowd favourite 'Start Wearing Purple' to get us all frenetically dancing, and prove themselves worthy of such a slot. and by the end of their high energy set, the festival has been re-ranmed "Wow! Mad!"

Headlining the Charlie Gillett and billed on WOMAD fm as tonight's headliners are Bristol's Smerins Anti-Social Club who bring a packed crowd amongst other things their dubbed up horn laiden 'Dr Who Theme'. Guest singer Nuala Honan added an extra dimension to some of the jump about tunes like 'Disco Borka', even when not singing she zips animatedly around the stage working the crowd up, with Dom Coyote also providing an extra vocal dimension. Their set includes the dubby 'Sway' and the swing number 'Alibi', and they brought my weekend at WOMAD to a funked up hands in the air close.

I have to wonder how they will top this line-up for the 30th Anniversary next year!

Smerins Anti Social Club
review by: Scott Williams

photos by: Karen Williams / Phil Bull

Friday 29th to Sunday 31st July 2011
Charlton Park, Upper Minety, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, England MAP
£135 for three days, teenagers (14-17) £70, under 13s free
daily capacity: 22500
last updated: Mon 25th Jul 2011

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