14 years ago, in July 2002, just after my wedding, I visited — and took part in — for the first time the WOMAD festival (World of Music, Arts and Dance), a world music festival that was established by Peter Gabriel and a number of colleagues in 1982, and which, at the time, was at a site by the River Thames in Reading. I went with my wife Dot, and our two-year old son, to take part in children’s workshops run by an Australian friend, who then returned to Australia, handing on the workshops to Dot, who has run them ever since, with myself and a number of our friends and their families.
From those first days, when we drank merrily while our kids slept in their buggies, we have seen our children grow at WOMAD, and we now tend to go to sleep while they are still out clubbing. Our group of workers also shares a special camaraderie, and, of course, we have also watched a wealth of world music talent over the years. We have also worked every year with children to prepare headdresses and other creations to accompany a giant figure, designed by Dot, that, with others made by the many other groups involved in the workshops, is, every year, carried through the whole site on the last day of the festival, as part of the children’s procession that reminds all of us of the central importance of children in all our lives.
In 2007, WOMAD moved to Charlton Park, a stately home in Wiltshire, near Malmesbury, and we went with it, of course. I’ve taken photos of it every year, and have made them available on Flickr since 2012 — see the photos from 2012 here and here, from 2014 here, and from 2015 here. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m off to WOMAD, the wonderful world music festival in Wiltshire, for the 15th year running, with a posse of good friends and their families. I’ll be back on Monday. My wife has been running children’s workshops since our kids were tiny toddlers, when WOMAD was still by the river in Reading, and now our kids are young men and the festival is happily settled into Charlton Park near Malmesbury, a wonderful site.
I never quite know who’s going to be on. One of the great joys of WOMAD is being surprised by wonderful musicians from all round the world — and, for me, especially, Africa — so I’ll report back later on my discoveries. I do know that Asian Dub Foundation are the welcoming band on the Friday night, and that George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic will be wowing us at some point.
I also hope that my band The Four Fathers (on Twitter here!) will be playing the Open Mic at Molly’s Bar at some point over the weekend, and I already know that my son Tyler (The Wiz-RD) will be beatboxing and providing some spoken word pieces at the Hip Yak Poetry Shack. Read the rest of this entry »
I have been visiting WOMAD — World of Music, Arts and Dance, the world music festival established by Peter Gabriel and a number of colleagues in 1982 — as an artist since 2002, helping my wife run children’s workshops with a number of other friends, and this year our posse — eight adults, five teenagers and two children — survived the rainiest WOMAD in our collective experience, although it couldn’t dampen our spirits, or that of WOMAD as a whole. (See here and here for my photos from 2012, and here for 2014).
WOMAD has been based at Charlton Park in Wiltshire, in the grounds of a stately home, since 2007, notorious in WOMAD’s history as the year when the new site was churned up before the festival even began and turned into an unparalleled mudfest as soon as the festival-goers arrived. This year wasn’t quite as arduous as 2007, but it wasn’t far off. Friday began and ended with rain (often torrential), and although Saturday was sunny, it began raining again on the Sunday and didn’t let up much for the rest of the day — although there was a wonderful interlude when the sun shone for the children’s procession, an annual highlight of the festival.
So while we were inconvenienced and tested by the weather, we continued to take in the great music that is always on offer, and this year my discoveries included Pascuala Ilabaca, a Chilean singer and accordion player, with the voice of an angel, the powerful African reggae singer Tiken Jah Fakoly, and the Atomic Bomb! Band playing the music of the reclusive Nigerian funk star William Onyeabor, while old faves included the Tuareg desert blues of Tinariwen. Read the rest of this entry »
Every year, on the last weekend in July, I travel to Charlton Park in Wiltshire with my family and friends for the WOMAD world music festival, where my wife runs children’s workshops, where the sun nearly always shines, and there is great music from all around the world — and there is always some great band from west Africa, especially Mali, that I love. I know a few of the bands playing this year — Tinariwen, for example, and the Mahotella Queens — but not many. One of WOMAD’s great pleasures is discovering musicians that I didn’t know previously.
WOMAD also provides an opportunity for me to sing and play guitar at our camp, in one of the crew camping areas — with two other members of my band The Four Fathers, Richard and Louis. Traditionally, we’ve played a lot of covers — a lot of Bob Dylan and the Pogues, for example, but since last year I’ve written a number of songs that are featured on The Four Fathers’ debut album, ‘Love and War’, available here on CD for just £7/$11 plus P&P — and we’ll no doubt be playing unplugged versions of them this year. They include ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’, which is featured in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, the campaign calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, which I established with the activist Joanne MacInnes last November.
The video is below: Read the rest of this entry »
Happy summer solstice, everyone! I thought I might visit megalithic Wiltshire this year, for my first solstice visit in 10 years, but the anti-austerity march in London — and my desire to attend it — rather put paid to that plan. My hoped-for destination was Avebury, the village built in the remains of a colossal stone circle, roughly 20 miles north of Stonehenge, which awakened — or rather reawakened — my interest in all things megalithic from 1996, when a chance visit with my new girlfriend (and now wife) Dot led to such enthusiasm on my part that I devoted much of the next ten years to visiting ancient sacred sites all over England, and in Scotland, Malta and Brittany.
I also wrote two books in this period, after my original plan failed to find a publisher. That project was, “Stonehenge and Avebury: Pilgrimages to the Heart of Ancient England,” and it was based on three long-distance walks I made with Dot and other friends in 1997 and 1998, along the Ridgeway from the Thames to Avebury, and then an eight-day trek through Wiltshire to Stonehenge, from Dorchester in Dorset, which I christened “The Stonehenge Way,” and another walk of my devising from Stonehenge to Avebury.
I hope one day to revive that particular project, but what happened in 2002 was that I was encouraged to focus on one particular aspect of the book — the Stonehenge Free Festival, my first inspiration when it came to ancient sacred sites. As a student, I had visited the festival in 1983 and 1984, and had found my view of the world transformed by this gigantic anarchic jamboree that filled the fields opposite Stonehenge every June. The photo above is from 1975, the second festival, and is from the Flickr site of Basil and Tracy Brooks. Basil played with Zorch, who played at both of the first two festivals, in 1974 and 1975. See the albums here and here. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
Big Skies and Global Beats: WOMAD’s 30th Anniversary Festival (2/2), a set on Flickr.
Yesterday I published my first set of photos from this year’s WOMAD world music festival in Charlton Park, Wiltshire, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The product of a great flowering of interest in festivals, WOMAD, which began in 1982, as the brainchild of Peter Gabriel and five friends and colleagues, tapped into the thirst for festivals that Michael Eavis had identified at Glastonbury, when the modern era of Glastonbury began with the 1981 festival and a name change from the Glastonbury Fayre to the Glastonbury Festival.
Long-time readers of my work will know how much the festival culture that has since bloomed into a phenomenon that draws millions of people into fields every summer came out of the upheavals of the 1960s and free festival movement of the 1970s, and, at its best, drew on Utopian, cooperative, environmentally aware ideals that were ahead of their time. A trajectory of these counter-cultural movements, and their successors in the 1980s and 1990s, in the rave scene and the road protest movement, can be found in my books Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. Read the rest of this entry »
WOMAD’s 30th Anniversary Festival, Wiltshire, July 2012 (1/2), a set on Flickr.
In the history of British music festivals — and especially those with an appeal that spreads beyond these shores — the behemoth that is Michael Eavis’s Glastonbury, with its roots in the free festival movement, may well be the best known, but also of great significance is WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance), the world music festival, founded by Peter Gabriel and five others, which began in Shepton Mallet in Somerset in 1982, and has since expanded to include regular events in Spain (in Cáceres), the Canary Isles (Gran Canaria), Australia (Adelaide) and New Zealand.
In the last 30 years, there have, in total, been more than 160 WOMAD festivals in twenty-seven countries including Abu Dhabi, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Sardinia, Sicily, Singapore, South Africa, Turkey and the US, at which over a thousand artists from over a hundred different countries have appeared, entertaining over a million people. Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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