Morning Has Broken (The Tiny Tea Tent)
This is one of the rare jaunts on which I have been where I have sufficient time on my hands to write about my adventures, or misadventures, live as they happen. Though this is always my intention at least up to the point where I leave my house but it never quite works out the way I planned it. Normally I write accounts from rough notes taken during the day just passed while I sit on a balcony late at night with a bottle of the local wine, or three weeks after I have got home whilst sitting at my kitchen table as the instruments of my trade bubble and hiss in the autoclaving machine. In the latter case, it has to be said, that there is little else for me to do while my tackle is being sterilised. I have travelled the world late on many a weekday evening to escape the monotony of the alternative which amounts to little more than picking my nose and staring at the pop up toaster (which never pops up) during those dull, dull hours. In fact my mind is constantly travelling the world in an attempt to distance myself from the reality of the endless drudgery that tries to consume me. As I write many a piece I am thinking about a livestock market in Bolivia and the lady who runs the greasy spoon café that I am sure will exist there.
At the moment, however, I am sitting in the Tiny Tea Tent surrounded by people drinking a mugs of Positivitea, a herbal infusion based item because that’s what festival goers drink before the sun has set beneath the guy rope. This place is beautifully scruffy in a festival sort of way. Basically it is little more than a standard kebab van, the likes of which you would find in the car park of any half decent British retail park, but it has been tarted up with a thousand enhancements. The rusty bare metal scaffolding that supports the awning has been wrapped in multi coloured rags and ribbons, old wooden trestle tables have been splattered with coats of paint of many colours, no two chairs are the same, there are a couple of old charity shop settees with people sitting on them who were probably also picked up cheaply at a War On Want outlet, rusty rustic candle holders and Moroccan style lamps made from recycled tomato tins illuminate the space under the Bedouin canopy as the fine folk of WOMAD wake up with one of the million flavours and blends of tea on sale. Being a bit of an awkward git I asked for coffee. This is a new angle on my requesting lager in a real ale pub method of irritating people.
The nomadic Saharan atmosphere is further enriched by the music of the Kinks, the Clash and Madness.
Try the house of fun.
It’s quicker if you run.
This is a tea tent
Not a joker’s shop.
Beyond my temporary desert home I see a field full of puddles. The rain continues to pour down as it has done since the early hours of the morning. A young man with a sledgehammer (could this be Peter Gabriel’s very own sledgehammer that he sang about in his song of the same name, I wonder) comes to the place where I am sitting every ten minutes. He uses the shaft of his blunt instrument to poke the sagging bits of the canopy where rainwater has collected so that it cascades onto the ground outside. At first when I saw him approaching me with his implement in his hand I had flashbacks to the 1980s and terrible times so I thought he must have recognised me as a Glory Glory Leeds United fan so I was ready for him the sharp edge of my bone dry piece of biscotti. That may sound a bit pretentious but even hand to hand combat has moved on into a more sophisticated age.
My lethal lump of razor sharp biscotti.
The edges on it were even sharper than my tongue.
The rain stopped long enough for me to dash across the swamp to go to complete one of my morning ablutions. The facilities don’t provide for a bloke to ablute more than one ablution. There must be about a thousand of these portaloo devices on the WOMAD site but somehow I managed to pick the one with a leaking roof which makes me think that perhaps there is some sort of almighty omnipresence up there and he (or she) hates me and watches me even when I go for a poo. Consequently this was the first time ever that I have sat on the toilet with the hood up on my storm force, Arctic standard, reinforced, hurricane-proof, intrepid explorer style, Gore-Tex pac-a-mac garment.
As it happens, the above paragraph hasn’t been written live as it happens. I had other paperwork to concentrate on.
So back to the tea tents which are the only places where you can get a half decent cup of coffee unless you are prepared to queue for an hour at a coffee tent. I considered doing that and then asking for a cup of Earl Grey, to be awkward. Isn’t awkward and awkward word to spell? It just doesn’t look right. Any road, bored of my first tea tent I set off in search for another. En route I saw three kids dressed as Paraguayan alpaca herdsmen dancing in the rain to Let’s Face the Music and Dance which blared out from a nearby trade tent. Obviously the wet weather had damaged their X Box so they had nothing better to do. This gave me a good idea for something for me and my own lovely children to do on Boxing Day afternoon when there’s nothing on the telly. It’s sure to be raining.
Also on my tent to tent travels I saw a retail outlet bearing the sign ‘Ethical Artists Co-op’ which struck be as being a tad elitist. At the Co-op near where I live, anybody can go in to buy a pint of milk and a loaf of bread. I was surprised that the WOMAD Foundation could allow such blatant discrimination.
My second tea tent of the day is actually a falafel tent but nevertheless it sells coffee and, no matter what else, it is a shelter from the downpour of Biblical proportions that is causing sogginess everywhere in Biblical proportions. Things that you would never imagine as being likely to go soggy are now well and truly so. I wonder will I be the first person ever to die in a falafel tent. At least they are playing reggae at its best which is just the sort of music I would like at my funeral.
But then the live music started. The rain doesn’t matter when there’s fine music to be heard.
Sona Jobarteh (The Gambia)
I was about forty minutes early for the start of Sona’s session so I was standing right at the front, touching the stage, ages before any other members of the audience turned up. Ten minutes before the kick off a lady who had parked up in her collapsible garden chair about ten metres behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to sit down because she, being an ‘older person’, couldn’t stand for the sixty minute duration of the performance. I was just about to tell her to sod off when another lady sitting adjacent to where I was standing beat me to it, pointing out that when a band comes on stage everybody stands up. I was pleased that she had been on my side but sorry that I hadn’t had the opportunity to express my opinion myself. The ‘older’ woman didn’t even look as old as me. As the band struck up I looked around to see where she was but she had gone. She would have had a miserable weekend if she had been planning on sitting so close to the stage for every performance and expecting a clear view.
Sona with her kora didn’t say anything about the fussy woman but I could tell that she was thinking “knobhead”. Sona was from a family of master kora musicians in a land where traditionally only men take up this beautiful instrument. I love kora music but this was a bit special as she cranked up the tempo a bit more than I would have expected for this type of music, and she had a lovely voice too.
Kapela Maliszów (Poland)
Since my trip to Hungary a couple of years ago the muse of North and Eastern Europe has really got to me in an irresistible sort of way. Kapela Maliszów’s music was a mixture of the haunting and the sombre played on traditional stringed instruments and had a bit of an Irish cèilidh feel to it. So much so that I fancied a pint of Guinness, but sadly that’s one thing that WOMAD doesn’t do. But even if there had been it would have been no good because I was standing out in the pouring rain to watch these fellas and Guinness is no good if it gets wet. Perhaps if I had had the foresight to learn to play a cello like a mad Polish cellist they would have let me stand on the stage with them and my Guinness wouldn’t have been dampened. A lesson learned!
Totó La Momposina (Colombia)
This amazing lady was the Omara Portuondo of Cumbia music. At the age of seventy-four she has been around a fair old while, produced a string of huge hit albums and attained legend status amongst her fans. She was utterly lovely in a matriarchal kind of way, and also lovely was her granddaughter Maria del Mar who was one of the backing singers and Totó’s translator. This was hot, sunny Caribbean music on a wet, miserable English day and my admiration grew even more when the dear lady waded in her wellies through the mud to the merchandise tent to sign my copy of her CD. If I had known how to say it in Spanish I would have offered to buy her a pint of Guinness. A lesson learned!
My lovely new friend Totó La Momposina
signing my lovely new CD.
Pascuala Ilabaca (Chile)
I’m not sure if this is the name of the whole band or just the incredibly entertaining front woman. This was the nice little surprise of an act that always turns up in my list of people seen at a WOMAD festival. They were like a cross between Santana and Skinny Lister. If you don’t know who Skinny Lister are you’ll have to go rooting about on my blog because they’re a cracking band who I have seen at a festival before and they are still a cracking band. Pascuala even wore red shoes just like Lorna in Skinny Lister does and as well as having a strangely wonderful singing voice she gyrated like Gyrating Jenny and was very funny when she was introducing songs. She told us that she didn’t care about the crap weather because she and her band were flying off to do another festival in Spain at 2:00 am and that St Lawrence was the patron saint of people who depend too much on alcohol. A lesson learned!
Count Drachma (South Africa)
I read about these in the programme and thought ‘yak’ (an expression of dislike rather than a long haired bovid from Central Asia) but for some strange reason I went along to see them and they were brilliant. They seemed to lack confidence a bit and were startled by the appreciative response they got from the crowd. They performed traditional Zulu songs and music on western instruments and they told stories that made me smile. The front man said that in South Africa it was winter at the moment and that in South Africa there was a town called Malmesbury and although it was winter it was a very warm sunny day in Malmesbury in South Africa.
They had a choir performing on stage with them. The choir were from Oxford and it seemed like they had never met the band before prior to the festival. The woman standing behind me had been a member of the choir in the past (her very loud American friend announced this fact to the whole of WOMAD) but seemed a bit nervous about admitting to it and even more nervous when I asked her if she would be signing CDs at the end of the gig.
Ibeyi (France and Cuba)
Before and after their performance, everybody at WOMAD was saying how marvellous and gifted these two women were but despite them being the daughters of former Buena Vista Social Club conga player Miguel ‘Anga’ Diaz, I thought they were a bit dull and over produced. Sorry.
These people are one of the best bands I have ever seen. They are all from the West Country of England (apart from the Mancunian flautist … and for those who don’t know, flautist isn’t a term of abuse) but the music they play is fast and furious Balkan Gypsy folk with a hint of the Hungarian Circus act thrown in for good measure.
They get their name from old Celtic and Briton symbols of welcome in the form of figurative carvings of naked women displaying an exaggerated vulva. I always find that these make me feel more at home than a coconut door mat.
I’ve seen them perform live on four previous occasions and they have never failed to amaze. The only thing I don’t like about them is that their frantic dancing, prancing and madcap, slapstick leaping about approach to entertaining a crowd always fills me with dread that one of them might have a heart attack. They have recently acquired a new bass player. I have no idea what happened to the old one.
A Short Aside (Devizes)
As a short aside I would like to mention that I am writing this bit in a café near my home in Devizes two weeks after the event. I ran out of time, energy and dry paper so I failed to scribble away as I had hoped at WOMAD, and since I have returned I have tried to write at home but struggled. It seems that I am much better at this sort of thing if I am sitting in a place where drinks can be bought, even though I live in a house full of hot and cold drinks, beers, wines and spirits and a selection of savoury snacks. Outside of this delightful cuppa tea and a scone emporium where I am currently seated it is pouring down with rain which recreates the festival spirit impeccably. When I ask for my next drink I’m going to request a side order of mud.
The Cambodian Space Project (Cambodia)
This cracking little band reminded me of a thousand nights in seedy bars in South East Asia in a time before CD bars were invented. I was expecting at any minute to be dragged up on stage to whine out a karaoke version of I Will Survive or Total Eclipse of the Heart.
Although this seemed like happy, jolly party music Srey Thy, the nice Cambodian lady singer (the rest of the band appearing quite western), told us that her songs were about abject poverty, the horror of life under the Khmer Rouge regime and genocide. She still managed to get everyone to clap their hands and sing along though. She also sang Cher’s Bang Bang in Khmer, finishing off coldly with the line ‘my baby shot me down’ in English which was sadly very appropriate.
And I watched this band whilst exposed to the elements in the middle of the Malmesbury monsoon, which was nice.
She also sang about Whisky Cambodia which is a drink, apparently. This made me think of those hilarious hot nights out in small towns in Thailand a couple of years ago when me and my Exodus Travels chums sat up drinking Hong Thong whisky flavoured fluid well into the wee wee small hours.
Strangely, Srey Thy seemed as happy to be in England as I had been to be in Indo-China. Extremes of climate have strange effects on people.
Kassé Mady Diabéte (Mali)
Bedecked in all the African clobber with a band playing traditional instruments, with a wonderful soulful voice, with all the lights and atmosphere that I have come to expect from the late night performances in the Siam Tent, and in the driest place in the entire arena, this wonderful man still didn’t manage to warm me up and keep me awake.
Feeling I had let myself down, the festival down and my inflatable mattress down, I toddled off back to my tent (in the hope that it had not been blown or washed away) feeling as tired and cold as a badger’s tired and cold bits.
I’m very sorry Kassé. Perhaps our paths will cross again on a better day my friend.
I wonder if Kassé Mady Diabéte has a son who is a boxer and is called Sugar.
My Tent (Festival Camping South)
The twenty minute walk back to my tent from the performance arena turned into a thirty-five minute splodge through the thin and sloppy diarrhoea-esque mud. Everywhere and everything and everybody was muddy. There was no way of avoiding it.
At a time well after midnight people were still arriving. It was miserable enough having to crawl into a rain lashed tent and trying to go to sleep with your flaps a fluttering in the wind but to have to try to put up a tent in such conditions would have made me want to blow my head off with the foot pump that I use to inflate my inflatable mattress. I went to sleep, eventually, wondering if there was money to be made from selling foot pumps to my customers who come to me with flat feet.
I hope you're reading this Pearl Simpkins. There'll be a written test at the end of the week!
Pascuala Ilabaca, from Chile ... now that's what I call Latin music!