How organised are you? I like to think that my chaos makes perfect sense to me and when it fails and I lose something, I’ve developed a technique called ‘blame the object’, in which whatever is lost is personified and subjected to the most tremendous hate known to womankind.
It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault.
The bills, deadlines and decisions which any adult normally has to deal with are to mike like fantastical figures looming up at me in an enchanted wood which I have to battle with increasing urgency (take that, British Gas!). They are talking trees with ensnaring branches, bright eyed creature- lings, deceptively trusty elves. They encircle and come at me from nowhere, causing my heart to thump and adrenaline levels flicker as they approach with stealth and dedication.
this is no way for a thirty six year old woman to live, but it sure as hell makes keeping on top of things more interesting than usual.
Which is why I was so surprised that our trip to Womad festival ran so smoothly, a conflation of luck (mine) and planning (theirs). I’ve not been to many festivals but those that I have have had the opposite to the desired effect; I feel tense, like I need to survive something. The campsites resemble thunderdrome by the end of the weekend: an architect’s impression of dystopia; carriers blowing free like plastic drones; scorched or sodden earth; dazed looking toddlers in T-shirts gnawing on their entry bracelets for succour and rogue loose teens without centre, winding down and then alarmingly up as they stagger towards the exit in their vomit breastshields.
Don’t get me wrong; to paraphrase Russ Abbott, I love a festival with a happy atmosphere and once I’m in the main bit, I relax. But the other bit, the camping, leaves me feeling tense (tents, ha!)
EXCEPT FOR THIS TIME. THIS TIME MAKES ALL THE OTHERS NULL AND VOID. We were parked and camped up in 20 minutes, in the glorious Cotswolds countryside and heading off to hear sublime music within an hour. I showered and ebluted in the Womad spa (additianal fee for the VIPS) which even housed a sauna and hot tubs. My husband, the rough-houser slummed it in the normal showers and toilets and came back every time looking refreshed and surprised. Security were visible and thorough but cheerful and charming and there was always someone touring the site, checking that everything was as it should be. Shout out to the festival going teachers who formed an efficient second wave of unofficial, plain clothed enforcers, bollocking privileged teenagers (in Crips and Bloods bandanas, WTF?) who dared step out of line. It must be in the muscle memory.
Now I know some of you may be nostalgic for the festivals of old, where you had to hitchhike all the way there, share a sleeping bag and forage for scraps of bean burger before offering up your body as host nation for the universe’s bacterium by visiting a fetid toilet. That ain’t me – I love new style ‘everyone be happy and organic and Cath Kidston’ and Womad delivered. Bravo.
I also know what you’re thinking, middle-management style, I’ve just spent an age describing the route and not the destination, man. I am a product of the health and safety generation. I’m also quite possibly, very boring. But, in truth, the music at Womad was so exceptional that I’m nervous about unpicking it.
We saw Amjid Ali Khan and his sons Ayaan and Amaan one Saturday and the father put it best when he said; ‘nothign we perform is planned, it is all created in the moment, for you.’ That was WOMAD encapsulated; a group of select musicians from around the world, who were so skilled that they could forget their many hours of rehearsal and put themselves at our disposal, absorbing the relentless sun, atmosphere and joy of the crowd to tailor their sound and nourish our burgeoning happiness. The Khans play the sarod and I quickly gave up trying to impose what I know about rhythm and song structure. Eyes closed, I relaxed and let my eyes go through a frantic journey into my own headspace, like Luke Skywalker in a TIE fighter.
The Khans were probably my highlight, but it’s difficult to say. However incredible they may be, when you are listening to musicians who you are unfamiliar with, their sound starts to blend together, like different pieces of plasticine, into one exquisite harmonious experiential lumpt (an analogy that I feel Sledgehammer era Peter Gabriel would approve of).
Take it as given that every artist we heard was incredible and it becomes a matter of taste and experience. The only way to listen to Goran Bregovis and his Wedding and Funeral Orchestra is by going crazy and preferably wiping one’s bum on a goose, if you’ve seen Black Cat White Cat. Trombone Shorty were slick and multi-layered and along with Snarky Puppy delivered a big funk. Though not my thing, Stylo G and Afrikaan Boy provided high intensity sustenance for the Crips branch of Eton. Ukrainian band Dakha Brakha seemed surprised by how how popular they were and gave up an fast paced auditory mindbath akin to The Khans.
We rounded out our listening with Oliver Mutukundzi and the Black Spirits. Oliver wins my prize for most unforced impressive swagger of the entire festival. Your award is in the post, sir.
There was so much more, snatches of sounds as we strolled from tent to tent, stopping and dancing wherever and whenever I pleased. In fact, I now have full on festival feet and will instinctively start getting down to any sound, including doorbells or Huw Edwards reading the news on the BBC.
The costumes, the people watching, the sounds. I spent a weekend in the Quality Street tin, 7 years old again, stuffing myself with every treat on offer, till I lay down giddy, sated and truly happy.
Well done, WOMAD and thank you.