WOMAD 2017 WAS THE CRAZIEST FESTIVAL:
MCR Live: Top 10 Highlights
One week ago MCR Live set foot in the World of Music and Dance. WOMAD has been running for over thirty years, but this is the first year that MCR Live has been able to check it out. Although its reputation and demographic tell you that’s it’s a family festival first and foremost, you could easily describe WOMAD with the words of Byron Lee and the Dragonaires: ‘It is a really crazy festival, 50,000 party animals, people come from countries far away tuh help us celebrate Carnival Day’. To rephrase, I’ve never seen a festival that caters to so many age ranges and tastes. This is the most experimental event I’ve ever come across. It was also the muddiest. The volumes of mud spoke volumes for the muddling of music and the crowd. Cultures and genres of all kinds came together in one big pool to create a squishy, malleable, wonderful experience for all. Everyone was knee-deep in the same cultural mixtures, and everyone loved it. To create this weird wacky world, of course it had to rain. And boy did it rain. Only upon my departure of the site did the sunshine emerge and remain. As bags on legs made their way past me I heard pure delight. ‘The best WOMAD in years!’ was just one exclamation of many.
Since WOMAD is a world festival, it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but I wasn’t mentally prepared for the range and quality of the food at the festival. I spent hours surveying stalls because there was just too much choice. Falafel, thai curry, dumplings, everything the world has to offer really, what was my poor brain to do? It was the rain that saved it from overdrive. Whilst I cowered in a bar-tent, I noticed the most sensational smell. My body became the vessel of my stomach: I found myself asking and listening after the mystery dish: Tibetan stew. I’d advise anyone to follow in this man’s footsteps.
Stage-wise, WOMAD was all abustle all day long, but I found that a routine tended to fall into place. I’ll take you through a day in Charlton Park. During the day, I found myself most often at the tent stages. These are great massive things where everyone is free to boogie, and they include the Big Red Tent, the diverse and wonderful Siam Tent and the Bower and Wilkins tent, which I’m eager to tell you has the best sound system that I’ve ever encountered. At night, bars become more lively, for example Lizard, a latina-vibesing tent, and Molly’s Bar, which offered speakeasy-grade swing, jazz and the likes of Dutty Moonshine. And all the while, the massive Open Air stage was ablaze with top quality acts and orchestras, both big and small. Now, let’s explore some of these sites with a trip through my WOMAD top 10.
TOP 10 HIGHLIGHTS
SUNDAY AT 19:15 AT THE BIG RED TENT
If you read my WOMAD preview post, then you might know how excited I was for Clap! Clap!. He did not disappoint. The Big Red Tent fell under the cover of sheer madness. Now Clap! Clap! has a range of songs, but everything that he played at WOMAD was ‘boot-off’ tribal. I advise you to listen to ‘Black Smokes, Bad Signs’ at full volume on your speakers for a taste of the show. The crowd was animalistic, wild and free. Even press and stagehands were leaping around. Shout out to Callum for getting my camera shoved backstage so that I could join him. At one point Clap! Clap! danced so hard that the entire table that he was mixing on completely fell off. The music stopped, so naturally I assumed that the set was over and started clapping. Great set y’know, shame it was a bit short. Realisation only dawned upon me when my cameraman came over, ‘I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT JUST HAPPENED!’ I was only half mortified – the heavy drumbeats kicked off again and all movement reignited. Luckily my team captured the gig on 360, so stay tuned for that.
KATE SIMKO & LONDON ELECTRONIC ORCHESTRA
SUNDAY AT 17:00 AT THE BIG RED TENT
This electronic orchestra was both aesthetically and audibly brilliant. Featuring a harp, two cellos, two violins,a bass and a keyboards, the performance explored the realms of deep house and breathtaking techno. The high point of this highlight was Kate’s cover of the Hacienda classic, ‘Voodoo Ray’. Eclectic and beautiful, the notes surged past me, never quavering, never withering. By this I mean never in the passive sense, for they had the potential to wither audiences in the active sense. It’s special when a performance is simultaneously floaty and powerful, and I can easily deem this such an experience.
ROY AYERS AND SEUN KUTI
SUNDAY AT 21:30 AT THE OPEN AIR STAGE
I very nearly missed this headline act because the campsite was separated from the Open Air Stage by a couple of hundred feet of deep mud. A couple of footsteps into the trek it became apparent that my trainers weren’t going to hack the rest of the festival. Somehow I made it to the largest act of the weekend, a tribute to Fela Kuti by Roy Ayers Ubiquity and Seun Kuti with Egypt 80. The crowds went back for miles, and understandably so. Even though everyone’s feet were stuck firmly in the ground, the energy of the percussion and traditional dancers took them out of a tempting standstill. A solid effort was made to move in time with those of the glistening traditional dancers who shimmied and shook onstage. Time barely seemed to pass as the tracks continued, the only semblance of it passing seemed to be in the colour of the sky, which gradually deepened. By the time ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine’ came on, the horizon was a mystical, clouded navy. The satisfied wonder of thousands of fans was obvious. This is shown up by the fact that none of the swaying masses seemed to care about the complete lack of sunshine, and the overbearing presence of darting raindrops. Soon, Seun Kuti took the stage and the high energy of traditional Africa emerged. It was a joy to see this embraced by the wet, frigid air of the English countryside. That all encompassing mud took my foot in in the same way. The glue that held my soles to my shoe predictably deteriorated. Eventually it clung to the tip of my trainer’s toe. I decided to sacrifice my sole to the hotchpotch and tore it off so that I could dedicate myself to the dance. This performance was beautiful in every way. Musically diverse, and a bridge between cultures and generations in multiple ways, it seemed to release the spirit of WOMAD.
!!! (CHK CHK CHK)
SUNDAY AT 16:00 AT SIAM TENT
I stumbled across this one by way of complete accident. In between acts on the WOMAD 2017 app (which was insanely useful, might I add), we decided to have a quick look at what afternoon entertainment Siam Tent had to offer us. Lots. Its electric guitars blasted an intensity that didn’t frighten, matched onstage by !!!’s flapping hands which beckoned ‘come at me’. I’d like to call this funk punk, which is not at all what I guessed it would be from its name. What its name does reflect however, is !!!’s high energy. Bowie-esque dance moves took the stage in the form of its two leads. The female lead was as fluid and effortless as the early 80s that she represented. And the male lead wore a duck-egg-blue school boy’s suit, obviously open and shirtless. I wasn’t sure right, but I’m convinced that his shorts featured a wet patch around the crotch. Stain or no stain, !!! presented real teenage angst and attitude at its most mature. Everyone was dancing like they were on a mission, which only goes to show that !!! brought a real stage presence. Disco is a crowd-pleaser on its own, so you’d be correct in assuming that !!! brought the house down with this crowd.
BLUE LAB BEATS
FRIDAY AT 20:30 AT THE BOWER AND WILKINS SOUND SYSTEM
Blue Lab Beats were a find of my director’s mother, who had met them shortly before they performed. Chilled and fresh, their hip hop sounds couldn’t have sounded clearer or cleaner than they did from the Bower and Wilkins sound system. The group definitely had neo-soul talent and expert timing – they made every instrument look eaaasy. You might call Blue Lab Beats a modern, J-Dilla-esque take on coffee-shop music. I could’ve stared at the lights and visuals for hours, if I hadn’t been so excited by the lineup changes, which included a saxophonist. The saxophone is the sexiest sounding instrument, there’s no arguing with that.
SHOBA LEADER ONE
SATURDAY AT 19:00 AT THE BIG RED TENT
Funnily enough, I didn’t make it to this one, but I’ve been convinced that Shobaleader One are really worth putting in. This was a live band performance by Squarepusher’s side-project. I’m gutted to have missed this because I imagine that the track ‘Iambic 5 Poetry’ was a real treat live, let alone the fact that the band-members played wearing LED masks. These masks were synchronised to the music, which I’m told was ‘like funk, metal and jazz on crack’. I’m feeling proper sorry for myself just listening to them, and very bitter writing this, so I’ll keep it short. These ‘masters of their instruments’ may very well have been a WOMAD highlight, and it’s highly unfortunate that they weren’t one of mine.
SUNDAY AT 14:00 AT THE BBC RADIO 3 CHARLIE GILLETT STAGE
King Ayisoba weren’t familiar to me prior to my seeing them. Two words. Rhythmic, drums. Entranced, I started taking notes down – I had to find out who was onstage so I asked the guy standing next to me. He told me they were called Toko Telo, so I wrote this down. Good thing I worked out that he’d looked at the wrong day on his timetable, but I can vouch and say that the music was way too interesting for anyone to be giving me a correct answer. I reckon that getting the wrong answer was karma for my distraction from the performance. Anyway, King Ayisoba was simply different. There were a bevvy of mystery instruments in hand, being powerfully handled and played in ways that I’ve never seen, or heard. This unique and colourful group made for a memorable and impressive experience. Traditional percussion is something which is underappreciated by the Western world, I feel. At WOMAD it was recognised and given due attention. So was King Ayisoba’s political message: ‘If you want to be a leader, you have to be a good leader. No corruption’. Musically and politically, King Ayisoba are as simple as that, but they ring true.
Shout out to Toko-Telo-guy who recognised me as ‘notepad girl’ at 5am the next morning and said hello. Those little moments always make for a beautiful festival!
SATURDAY AT 23:00 AT THE BOWER WILKINS SOUND SYSTEM
I’m just going to say it. Joey Negro is the best DJ I’ve ever witnessed in action. And he’s a grand selector. A combination of these two attributes makes his reputation as a deejay practically invincible. The set traversed a disco, funk and soul and house, and although each part of it spouted some well-loved hits such as Gwen Mcrae’s ‘Keep the Fire Burning’, I’ve never heard them mixed so smoothly and so interestingly before. You’d think that I couldn’t gas the Bower Wilkins Sound System any more, but you’d be wrong, because the thing just enhanced and solidified the growing appreciation that I found for every song choice, every drop and every transition of the legendary artist. I might have mentioned that WOMAD found the time to appreciate the home of MCR Live, I might have mentioned that the acid house scene and the Hacienda were given consistent tribute throughout the festival. Now, Joey Negro gave Manchester a nod with a couple of Hacienda bangers, but the nod became a pumping fist when he landed ‘Fools Gold’ by the Stone Roses. Everyone was ecstatic – good move Joey Negro. An equally good move would be to go and see him do his thing.
SEU JORJE: THE LIFE AQUATIC
SATURDAY AT 20:15 AT THE SIAM TENT
Anyone who’s known me for longer than five minutes will know that The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is one of my favourite movies. For this very reason, Seu Jorje has been on my radar for a long time. I was surprised to see that he was on everyone else’s too – the tent was jam-packed. Seu Jorje fully deserved this respect however, because his renditions of Bowie’s songs and the Life Aquatic soundtrack were truly magical. Even though I was amongst so many, the gig felt truly intimate. Seu Jorje was more than worth crawling out of a tent and through buckets of rain for. I only wish that I could have caught his performance for longer than his final song, because somehow Seu made swaying in a sea of wet shoulders feel super special.
LOYLE CARNER AND THE SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETER
SATURDAY 18:00 AT SIAM TENT
Loyle Carner was one of the most widely anticipated acts at WOMAD, despite the fact that he’s a lot younger than a lot of them. He’s also one of the nicest. Not only did he shout-out his mother who was in the crowd, but he also took the time to offer his appreciation for his sign-language interpreter. He detailed his excitement at the option to have her on the stage. Literally just before the performer did this, I’d been watching the interpreter work. It was fascinating to see her stylishly delivering the words of Loyle Carner. She had skills, let me tell you. I met Loyle Carner for a very brief minute after his performance, but I wish I’d met the interpreter too to be honest. On meeting the rapper, I can tell you that I had absolutely nothing of value to say. I resorted to telling him that he’s a lot nicer than I thought he’d be (???) and asking him where he was going next. I think he said Amsterdam. I should’ve at least told him how heartfelt his deliverance of ‘Florence’ was, or how much fun it was to finally hear ‘No CD’ live. I stand by these claims wholeheartedly.
To sum up, WOMAD is the cool aunt of festivals. It’s easily one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to, and definitely one I want to return to. It’s chilled, deceptively chilled in fact, because it’s actually so easy to get into the groove. You can make WOMAD whatever you want to make it, and you don’t feel pushed into doing anything you don’t want to, or prodded into being anyone who you don’t want to be. This is a festival where everyone is free to be themselves, and to enjoy things that they’ve never seen or even heard of. Since my experiences were largely music-focused, I’ll lift a line from Byron Lee and the Dragonaires once more, and conclude my personal opinion of WOMAD: ‘Music hot, you ain’t go’ get enough’.
A super special thanks to my film crew, Samuel Pilbeam, Harry Matthews and Mic Elmes for enhancing the magic of WOMAD and for supplying enough chutney for the whole weekend. And thank you to the Institute of Engineering and Technology and The 360 Company for providing all of our equipment.
Photo credits to Mic Elmes, Jim Holland and Borkowski.
Credit to Simon Crosbie for our featured image. This is a brushpen drawing of Ladysmith Black Mambazo at Siam Tent at WOMAD this year.
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