a record breaking WOMAD offers an uplifting weekend

WOMAD 2011 review

published: Thu 4th Aug 2011

around the festival site (4)

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

WOMAD has at last properly moved into it's new home, it's taken a few years, but at last the crowds reminiscent of the Reading site have been drawn to the new (it moved here in 2007) site at Malmesbury. It's not so much the Islington Mothers that used to flock to Reading, it seems it's more the attraction of the music. You had only to watch the long line of creative exhibits in the Kids Procession on Sunday, at last a snaking line of creativity as sizeable as those that meandered through Rivermead, to realise WOMAD has once again found a healthy audience of all ages.

around the festival site (4)
Perhaps in this current climate where it's become the norm to spout that the bubble has burst (again) and festivals are now unable to sell tickets, a forecast of decent weather and a wide choice of world music, delicious food, and a beautiful rural location has led to WOMAD bucking the trend. Whatever the reason the magical vibe familiar at WOMAD's of old makes a resurgent return. Perhaps it's just me, or the sunshine, after all I did discover a raft of real cider options to sample on sale in the bar by the Siam Tent.

Certainly with only a week to go it did not look likely that there would be a 29% increase in numbers on last year, and no one was predicting crowds of 35,000. But perhaps the warmest, barmy night of any festival on the calendar so far this year on early entry Thursday attracted the masses. Perhaps the unpredictable long range weather forecasts we get these days, combined with the increased worth of money in the pocket has slowed ticket pre-sales before some events to more normal levels, ones we became accustomed to throughout most of WOMAD's 29 year history.

around the festival site (4)
In fact it was a good festival to make a last minute decision to attend. It's true that the audience demographic had shifted, and there was proliferation of more affluent 'middle England' festivalgoers, but even the newbies were more difficult to spot as they were decked out in festival wear and had brought all the festival gear with them.

The festival had almost perfect weather conditions, although perhaps the weather hanging around an hour or two too long on Friday morning, but it stopped before the first act Jazz Jamaica hit the main stage with some old school reggae. It may not have been blisteringly hot, but it was very, very pleasant, to unwind beneath the fluttering flags without a coat or wellies, and still be dressed in a T-shirt at night.

around the festival site (2)
Another factor in WOMAD's growing attraction, is perhaps not just the raised profile, and popularity of festivals at the moment, but also the choice of music they have on offer. Where once global music attracted only eclectic music fans, these days their beats and rhythms are much more common in Western music, and a far less exotic aural landscape.

It's not just the familiarity of world music, there's a slow seep of more guitar, and electronica in popular world music these days, often with young musicians preferring to replace the more traditional instruments. What they then produce is something we are much more familiar to hearing on these shores. The music on offer at WOMAD by many world musicians these days could perhaps be just as popular at other UK festivals in the busy calendar, and indeed many world music and dance acts do show up elsewhere these days.

Acrobats Of Gotipua
Decades ago going to WOMAD for the weekend involved opening up to listening to music that often the festival goer had no familiarity with, these days there's teens happily dancing to music where they 'get' the beats, and have grown exposed to them. Even the more 'alien' sounds are less different these days. It's perhaps this two way acceptance that creates this year a line-up of acts where everyone I see over the weekend I enjoy. The colourful dancing troupes, and traditional 'heritage' acts at WOMAD every year are always a delight.

From the early Thursday entry acts of Easy Star All Stars and Bellowhead through to an amazing rocked out energetic weekend headlining set by Alpha Blondy, the guitar flourishes of Rodrigo Y Gabriela, the laid back vibe of Baaba Maal, and the gypsy punk energy of Gogol Bordello we all had a chance to savor what was being played and participate. It's this latter part of the audience's role that is worth looking at. These days world music has an ace up it's sleeve, the familiar re-working of one or two well known popular western tunes. Where once there was nothing in an hour long set the less eclectic listener could relate to, now an interesting re-workings will pop up throughout most sets.

Easy Star All Starsare perhaps an early indicator of how much it would happen this year with their sing along Beatles, Radiohead, and Pink Floyd covers, something Alpha Blondy echoes the next night with his version of 'Wish You Were Here', and so it goes on throughout the weekend with Rodrigo Y Gabriela, and Brassroots taking it to a zenith with their guitar or horn "re-imaginings" and reconstructions of the very songs themselves.

Pacific Curls (Taste The World)
Of course it would be crass of me to suggest the whole musical odyssey that WOMAD offers is merely a repetition of well known audience singalongs, there's also incredible musicianship on display, and a chance to check out new world artists who, judging by how well they are received by the masses, could perhaps be bigger global stars than any before them. This prediction is not so much based on their talent, but coming back once again to the point that the global music market is converging with the 'pop' market, and one of this weekend's new stars could grow to straddle both.

There were plenty here like Fatoumata Diawara, Danyel Waro, Ana Moura, Nomfusi & The Lucky Charms, Lokkhi Terra, Aurelio Martinez, and more. WOMAD also boasts a unique opportunity for acts to cook and play on the Taste The World stage.

around the festival site (4)
WOMAD isn't just about the music, okay the holistic parts of it are more hidden away these days, making it less likely to get a soothing recharge without having to go to the woods to find one. But it's still a vibrant awakening of the senses. There's colour everywhere, and global social causes to discover and add support, and I do hope some of middle England's kids get something from these. There's also plenty of real ales (most of the time) and ciders to sample, all under £4 some as low as £3.40. There's lots of delicious foods to taste including a soup library, with not one burger stall on site this year. Then there's the lanes of world market stalls which are full of interesting clothes, and offer a colourful mix of interesting artifacts and festival tat.

around the festival site (1)
Wandering around there's not just the aromas emanating from the reasonably priced food stalls, but there's the smell of incense too, something that I realise is missing at other festivals, even Glastonbury these days. Talking of which there's no bad smells from the well maintained (clean) toilets, or the well used but never overflowing bins either, and it makes it all a much more enjoyable experience. The site is practically spotless on Sunday night after the rip roaring headliners Gogol Bordello have left the sweaty stage. The fact there is no sea of empty plastic glasses - due to the 10p refund offer alongside kids keen to supplement their pocket money, and the fact that the crowds (in the majority) clean up after themselves - means that this festival smells nicer than most, and better still you can sit where you like in the grass under the flags.

Another interesting effect of having a less defined policy of age targeted music programming, compared to more mainstream festivals, where the (world) DJs weren't placed on the bill for the teens, and the folk bands weren't old and creaky, means that the age range in the audience in front of most events all weekend was varied. This mixing of the old and young is something that used to happen much more at festivals. Where youngsters dance in unity with the old folks, not in a separate tent in a separate field. Although it was noticeable that there were less late teen, early twenty-somethings around compared to last year. There was still more youngsters at the 'club' sets in the Big Red Tent, and certainly the old folk were outnumbered in the San Fran DJ Bar. At one point they were so enthusiastic during the Dub Pistols' set, that the London dubbers were asked to let the audience chill out for a bit.

around the festival site (stewards)
The Network Recycling people, the Oxfam stewards and the security were all brilliant, although the latter perhaps a little zealous on one occasion where I saw them get all over enthusiastic in 'apprehending' a drunk lad. The police kept a low profile most of the weekend, sticking mainly to the campsites, presumably hoping to catch the thieves that had gone through the campsite on the opening night.

There is however an increasing number of people at WOMAD who are un-interested in listening to acts, what motivates them to come to a festival? These people talks loudly and incessantly throughout the entire set in the middle of the crowd. They don't move away from the act's performance to chat, or move to the less interested edges of the crowds, or better still go somewhere else on site entirely where they can shout loudly without ruining other people's enjoyment. Instead they imbed themselves in packed crowds, disrespect the musicians, and are incredibly annoying.

around the festival site (air guitar record attempt)
On the plus side it seems the site has now settled in the layout it's in, perhaps the only thing still to be solved is the positioning of the Charlie Gillet Stage which still sits in a 'corridor' as a friend describes it. Certainly in large crowds the fact the stage is located on a major access route means that there's a steady stream of people wandering by you, again it's about to enjoy and share the experience without distraction.

Worryingly, as a festival reviewer, that is my only gripes, the rest of the weekend was wonderfully stress free, and I'm a record breaker, to boot! Thanks to our air guitar gathering on Sunday morning. I forgot my guitar and had to borrow a ukulele. It put the icing on a great weekend, I ate some lovely food, saw a celebrity or two in the crowd like EastEnder's Patrick, and I saw some great acts - see the music reviews. I'll be back next year for the 30th Anniversary.

around the festival site (4)
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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