WOMAD offers a vibrant alternative to the regular festival landscape

WOMAD 2012 review

published: Wed 1st Aug 2012

around the festival site (5)

Friday 27th to Sunday 29th July 2012
Charlton Park, Upper Minety, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, England MAP
£135 for three days
daily capacity: 40000
last updated: Mon 23rd Jul 2012

30 years, an anniversary they are happy to be celebrating, and in that time WOMAD has only made a profit for three of them, so the ethic clearly isn't that they are delivering this wonderfully colourful, global flavoured event for the money. However with 37,000 on site this year (a WOMAD record) you have to wonder if they haven't made one this year will they ever?

around the festival site (5)
With such record numbers enjoying one of the few hot weekends of sunshine and sandals the festival never felt over crowded, but sometimes busy, and at times the food queues reflected this at 'traditional meal times'. The site is not sprawling but fairly compact, with five music stages (with three more offering workshops or dance and two late night venues. It's small enough to make it possible to catch at least two of the acts performing on any of the two or three stages in action at any time, and so it affords the chance to either stay where you are when an act begins and soak up the atmosphere or head off to explore a completely new global sound.

around the festival site (5)
The cost of bringing these international acts here is probably more than you think, and their musicianship is such that they must surely be national stars in their respective homelands and thus command decent booking prices. Much of the profit margins must go on bringing new acts to WOMAD crowds, it's something the festival has been doing since it first started at The Royal Bath and West Showground back in 1982. This year landowner Viscount Andover confirms the flagged festival will be back at this it's present home for another four years.

Soul Rebels (crowd)
Putting on such a wealth of acts must be no mean feat in itself, many of these acts are not playing to any other UK festival crowd this weekend. The variety of acts from all around the world makes WOMAD dare to be different in a festival landscape where much of the line-ups are repeated throughout the summer months at events up and down the country.
The Manganiyar Seduction by Roysten Abel
It's only here in Malmesbury that you can watch the incredible musicianship of Linton Kwesi Johnson & The Dennis Bovell Dub Band who get the crowd dancing on Thursday, or the visually stunning spectacle of The Manganiyar Seduction by Roysten AbelSoul Rebels Brass Band, dance to the crazy skanking tunes of the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, or watch the debut outdoor UK festival appearance of future festival star in the making Hollie Cook.

Where else in the UK could you listen to traditional Japanese trance dub vocals of Marewrew combined with the wooden space rock instruments of the OKI Dub Ainu Band (here's hoping for a future full set from the latter at a future WOMAD), or see punk accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen, and a quartet of Ukranians with hair that surely paid homage to Amy Winehouse.

around the festival site (2)
Alongside these stand out performances for me over the weekend were The Correspondents who had the Charlie Gillett Stage writhing to the pairs high energy set. Blick Bassy's laid back soulful jazz, and the similarly soulful French folk stylings of Lo'Jo. Then there was Ballet Nimba's performances, including the Taste The World where they danced, sang, talked, explained how the instruments were made, and still got time to cook.

Ballet Nimba (Taste The World)

This year there weren't many homegrown familiar acts for UK audiences to enjoy, one however was veteran Jimmy Cliff who proved reggae is one of the best forms of global music to get you moving on a summer's night in a field in England. The reggae flavours continued in San Frans Disco Bar with Generals HiFi bringing in an older crowd to what's more usually the late night haunt of the youngsters.

around the festival site (2)

Then there was the Latin flavoured swing inthe other late night venue Molly's Bar from JB and The Mellowtones, the late night fun continued each night with the unhinged Biscuithead and the Biscuit Badgers, and chap rap from Professor Elemental.

Sensational Space Shifters ft Robert Plant's closing performance on Sunday which filled the air with Led Zeppelin tunes, solo work, and collaborations all with a distinct WOMAD flavour, made for a perfect end to the weekend on the main stage. Virtually every act I watched over the weekend had something to offer the eyes, ears, and feet, and it was one of the strongest line-ups I've witnessed in a decade of WOMADs, if only Australian Gurrumul, and electro groover Spoek Mathambo had been there to provide the icing on the cake. Their replacements Dub FX, and Cornershop did not quite hit the mark, although Ska Cubano in for Ben L'Oncle Soul provided another memorable upbeat WOMAD set.

around the festival site (4)
There are also policing costs involved in running festival, and we are aware of the policing dispute with the local force. I have to say I saw a few police officers on site, which was reassuring, although it didn't feel very in need of policing. Whilst eating one day someone came passed with a wallet in their hand, relieved that it had been handed in and still had hundreds of pounds in it. I noticed the CCTV was being done by a private outfit, and the whole weekend was peaceful with no noticeable social unrest all weekend. Security on the site were terrific, worthy of mention is the guy on the photo pit barrier for the Charlie Gillett who randomly let in a disabled kid so he could photograph one of the acts, it's moments like that, and the delight on his face that makes you feel more human at WOMAD. I lost my keys at one point and found both the info point and lost property extremely helpful.

around the festival site (2)
WOMAD may have rarely profited, but the stalls must have. The colourful bazaars, and social causes are bright and eye catching, and illicit further investigation. Much of the wares on sale are quality items, and you can end up spending more than you anticipate on their wares and supporting good causes, and even the 50p commemorative fridge magnets proved a popular item. Also, at £4 plus a pint and around £7 for a main meal this is a difficult festival to budget at, and walk away with money in your pocket. Although there are some sensibly priced cheap eats like samosas, fruit, cakes, or crepes. But keeping your cash is made harder by the diverse choice of tasty eats from the surrounding local food outlets, alongside festival catering favourites, and a wealth of global food to delight the tastebuds. WOMAD sure works as a feast for the senses. There was a great choice of ales and ciders, some of which even ran out on the Friday night, fortunately the Barnstormer wasn't on the price list and kept flowing all weekend.

around the festival site (3)
This year the toilet experience was not quite as good as they could be, and whilst stocked with paper and hand soap in the arena, queues were longer because this year they decided to get rid of the urinals, leading to the obvious cleanliness issues, as it's pretty impossible not to splash late at night, and much longer queues as men joined women in the lines for the turdises, except in two areas on the edge of the arena where a few endangered urinals still remained. There were recycling bins that looked a bit like giant urinals dotted around the site, perhaps in homage to the missing sanitary installations. In fact the grassed areas were kept very clean this year, it seems WOMAD attracts an audience that don't make a mess. The vacated campsites at the end of the festival were also much cleaner than other festivals, with much less festival kit being disposed of or dumped, and that's so good to see after many of the other big festivals have post exodus looked awfully untidy in recent years.

around the festival site (3)
This year the celebrities wandering around seemed less, although there was still the annual visit from Prince Harry this year sporting the Angry Bird look. Also on site was Sugar sidekick Nick and The Apprentice Juniors trying to flog festival tat to the public, and John Snow standing behind me as I ordered an iced coffee, but overall we were mercifully free of the capital city's Z List - look at me freeloaders - as the Olympic Opening Ceremony kept them in London, and it made for a more balanced vibe.

Biscuithead and the Biscuit Badgers
A saddlespan Molly's Bar had the Olympics Ceremony on a big screen beside it, with bales of hay to sit on, and attracted quite a few people but most seemed to stick to the main stages watching the global attractions. There was incidentally plenty of seating all over the site, whilst many brought their own fold up chairs, or picnic blankets, the ground was dry, shade could be found in the shadow of the many colourful fluttering flags however there were also plenty of places to sit and watch the world go by. The Angus White flags beside the late night venue at Molly's Bar were white and featured mesmerizing projections and crazy artwork to give the late night revellers something to gaze at in the warm night air until 4am.

Balkan Beat Box (crowd)
With the fine weather the tree lined Healing area, often a sanctuary on rainy years, seemed to be less of a draw, despite the sensible re-design of the Radio 3 Stage, and this shaded area seemed quite deserted at times, with some the masseurs taking to the main stage crowds to offer on the spot massages to ease those dancing aches and pains.

The kids area once again offered a host of workshops and a building frenzy of costumes and instruments ensued, the final procession this year was one of the longest I've seen at the new site, with hundreds of kids snaking through the park showing off their vibrant creations to the beats of wandering bands.

around the festival site (procession 2)
Around the site festival goers could also enjoy the Gamelans, a wealth of adult and kids workshops, Roots architecture, the WOMAD recollections installation 'Memory Twist', kids could 'Meet The Species' (seeing a little girl chase butterflies with a net was rather cute), there were Living Books & Librarians, film, the Wall Of Death, and the ever growing Steam Fair, surely it has now taken over too much of the site this year?

However, it's one of WOMAD's strengths that it doesn't really rely on gimmicks, fancy dress themes, or anything other than great global music to act as the main attraction, and judging by the numbers enjoying the music in the sunshine at all the stages, that's exactly how it should be.

around the festival site (2)
review by: Scott Williams

photos by: Karen Williams / Phil Bull

Friday 27th to Sunday 29th July 2012
Charlton Park, Upper Minety, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, England MAP
£135 for three days
daily capacity: 40000
last updated: Mon 23rd Jul 2012


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