Photos: The Wonderful WOMAD Festival, Charlton Park, Wiltshire, July 2014

See my photos on Flickr here!

Every year since 2002, I have attended the WOMAD world music festival (it stands for ‘World of Music, Arts and Dance’) with my family and with friends. My wife runs children’s workshops at the festival, and for five days, at the end of July every year, we escape from the city and join the gathering of the tribes in a trouble-free version of the festival idyll that was first dreamt up by the counter-cultural pioneers of the 1960s and 1970s, and has since grown to appeal to — well, almost everyone, if Glastonbury’s success is anything to go by.

WOMAD had a capacity crowd this year for the first time since it moved to its current residence, Charlton Park in Wiltshire, from Reading in 2007. That meant that 40,000 people turned up to be hammered by the relentless sun and to be thrilled, entertained and moved by musicians who are not generally on the mainstream musical radar in the UK — with the exception of Sinead O’Connor, who stepped in at the last minute to replace the late Bobby Womack, and who was extraordinarily powerful, her unique mixture of vulnerability and anger bringing many in the crowd to tears, and not just during “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Sinead played many songs from her new album, “I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss,” which promises to be excellent.

From further afield, I enjoyed Clinton Fearon from Jamaica, formerly of the roots reggae legends the Gladiators, the legendary Manu Dibango and the magisterial Youssou N’Dour, but WOMAD is also about making new discoveries, in my case Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni ba, Malians who lit up the first night, folk legends Martin Simpson and Dom Flemons, and — my favourites this year — Debademba, a very funky, rocking and soulful bunch of West African groovesters featuring the Malian griot singer Mohamed Diaby and guitarist Abdoulaye Traoré, who was born in Burkina Faso. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m Off to WOMAD, Back on Monday: Lee Perry and Seun Kuti on the Bill!

Since 2002, my family and I, along with a crew of friends, including our kids, have been regulars visitors at the WOMAD festival (World of Music Art and Dance), originally in Reading but, since 2007, at Charlton Park in north Wiltshire, where my wife runs children’s workshops, and we get backstage passes to mingle with the great and good of the world music scene.

The festival is a world music lover’s dream, and this year I’m looking forward to seeing my hero, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry (now, astonishingly, 77 years old!), appearing with Max Romeo, with whom, of course, Perry produced the extraordinary “War Ina Babylon” album, in 1976, featuring “War Ina Babylon,” a perennial favourite (and the song that Bob Marley begged to have for himself), which I’m posting below. That album also featured other timeless classics, including “Chase the Devil“: Read the rest of this entry »

Memories of Summer: Photos of the Thames Festival on London’s South Bank

The yellow platformThe Southbank Centre's Roof GardenThe roof garden and the houseboatLooking downAcross the Thames to Charing CrossRoyal Festival Hall and the London Eye
Flogging the Olympic VillageBig game huntersE20 map (the East Village)Helter skelterLondon beachBernie Spain Gardens
ZebrasVideo in the Royal Festival HallCanary Wharf from Reeds WharfCanary Wharf from Rotherhithe

Memories of Summer: The Thames Festival on London’s South Bank, a set on Flickr.

Sunday September 9, 2012 was the final day of the weekend-long Thames Festival, established in 1997, and run by the Thames Festival Trust, which regularly attracts tens of thousands of visitors, and did so again this year, even though it was the last day of the Paralympic Games, and had been a summer so saturated with cultural events that it was possible to have thought beforehand that cultural saturation might well have set in.

Instead, the banks of the River Thames were packed, and nowhere more so than along the action-packed shoreline that stretches from Butlers Wharf in the east to Westminster Bridge in the west, via Tower Bridge, City Hall, Shakespeare’s Globe, Tate Modern and the Millennium Bridge, Gabriels Wharf, the South Bank Centre, the London Eye, and the cluster of largely unappealing corporate attractions in the former County Hall. Read the rest of this entry »

Stonehenge and the Summer Solstice: On the 28th Anniversary of the Last Free Festival, Check Out “Festivals Britannia”

So today, as 14,000 revellers at Stonehenge faced a rainy summer solstice morning, with some of them, at least, echoing the reverence that those who built this giant sun temple over 4,000 years ago had for the great axis of the solar year, many of those in attendance may not have known of the long struggles that enabled them to party in the world’s most famous stone circle, or of the free festival that sprawled across the fields opposite Stonehenge every June for 11 years from 1974 to 1984, or of the brutal suppression, in 1985, of the convoy of travellers, anarchists and environmental activists heading to Stonehenge to set up what would have been the 12th Stonehenge Free Festival, who were violently set upon and “decommissioned” in what has become known as the Battle of the Beanfield.

Those who want to know more can check out my books Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield, and can also find out more via my most recent article on the Beanfield, three weeks ago, and my recent radio interview, which I posted yesterday. However, I believe this is also an excellent opportunity for people to watch “Festivals Britannia,” a 90-minute long BBC4 documentary by Sam Bridger, first broadcast in December 2010, which I’m posting below in six parts, as available on YouTube.

This is an important programme, with excellent commentators and some astounding footage (including dreamlike Super-8 footage from the ’70s by Chris Waite, and equally dreamlike images from the last great gathering of the tribes, at Castlemorton in 1992), even though watching it was a rather surreal experience, as its narrative arc seemed to be drawn entirely — but without credit — from Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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