Did you know that [counter] people have been having a skeg at my little autonomous region?

  

Saturday at WOMAD

27/07/2013

This morning I leapt from my bed like a salmon who had stayed up far too late at a music festival and slept quite uncomfortably in a tent on a sleeping mat which was only marginally more comfortable than just sleeping in a field after a drought so the ground was even harder than you would expect but I won’t moan about the lack of rain because I love hot dry weather and I might regret it round about four o’clock this afternoon.

Between getting up and having my first glass of wine my day comprised almost entirely of a cup of coffee from our local campsite coffee and cake emporium. Magic stuff only fifty metres from my bed and which I consumed with relish whilst sitting in my very comfortable camping chair in the sun outside of the aforementioned tent. I also had a big dish of Goan kedgeree for my breakfast and I bought a world music festival Third World hat. The hat was the only one on the entire festival site that fitted me. Any hat in a storm, so to speak, as I told the admiring lady fellow customer who commented upon how well it suited me and who I blinded with my amazing meteorological predicting skills in advance of the approaching almighty tempest so mighty as to lay low all the mountains of the world.

Then suddenly it was time for the Malawi Mouse Boys again. Once I’ve decided that I like a band or musician I often become such a chronic obsessive about them / her / him that I will go to see them perform twice in a week, or even on consecutive days, but this was the first time I had ever seen a band play twice in less than twelve hours. And what a difference those twelve hours made. Second time around they didn’t seem at all nervous and enjoyed the show from start to finish, as did the audience who responded with rapturous applause and cheering at the end of every song and at the very end they went mad as the world’s favourite roadside purveyors of boiled mice left the stage grinning from ear to ear like Malawian cats.

I already had their CD but I queued up for their autographs at the CD signing tent anyway. They wrote their signatures on a page in my journal. I discovered that the singer was called Zondikie, the percussionist was called Joseph, the guitarist who seemed so proud to show off the big brass Boy Scout buckle on his belt was Nelson and the one with the widest smile in the world was Alfred. I shook their hands and I told them I loved them and their music but they didn’t understand what I was on about because none of them were from Yorkshire, apparently. Then I told them to ‘Rejoice in the Lord’ and they echoed it back to me several times as they grinned more than ever. I bet if I’d hung around for a couple more minutes I would have got the whole Rejoice song from them. I’m going to go to Malawi one day. I hope they’re in when I get there. I’d love to call round at their house for a nice hot cuppa and a boiled mouse.

 

The Malawi Mouse Boys' autographs - an utter highlight in my world of journal writing.

The Malawi Mouse Boys' autographs - an utter highlight

in my world of journal writing.

 

The queue to meet these mighty mouse men had been a long one so I was pleased to pass the time by talking to a posh woman from Thorpe Arch in Yorkshire who was standing next to me and who did understand what I was saying, despite her la-di-dah accent. Her tales of her local vicar’s ‘sherry time’ antics were almost as entertaining as the band had been. It was such a shame that she didn’t have any signed CDs to sell.

Sadly, due to my Malawi mousing about, I missed most of the performance by Flavia Coelho from Brazil but I heard some of it from a distance as I sat in the hot sun, testing my new hat, outside the Siam Tent waiting for Angela to turn up and Portuguese Carminho to come on stage. The wait was made most pleasurable not only by Flavia’s singing but also by a cardboard coffee cup of Chianti that I had transported from the wine cellar in my tent by means of a plastic water bottle. This was the life! I was so happy in my lone little festival world that I could feel myself smiling even more than a Malawi Mouse Boy.

 

Me . . . with a cardboard coffee cup of Chianti and my brand new Third World hat to protect my old Old World head from the Wiltshire sun.

Me . . . with a cardboard coffee cup of Chianti

and my brand new Third World hat

to protect my old Old World head from the Wiltshire sun.

 

Sadly, Carminho’s music was very sad. It was that Portuguese, earthy but mournful Fado style stuff. Yer woman had an incredible voice, she had lovely incredibly long hair, she introduced her songs in a very amusing and entertaining way, and she was backed by three blokes who played amazingly well on a variety of traditional Portuguese stringed instruments but her music was so incredibly mournful that I had to either leave the tent or weep.

So I left and went next door to the CD tent and bought a fine array of fine but random World Music CDs for only twenty quid. Actually this made me weep anyway because with a few more twenty quids I could have filled a WOMAD shopping trolley and gone home very happy indeed. Coming to terms with my self-imposed financial restrictions, I vowed to return in 2014 with more money than sense.

Once I had stopped weeping, what really made me smile in the CD tent was the machine for swiping credit cards which I probably was last the victim of in the record department of Woolworth’s round about 1988 and the total look of bewilderment on the face of the youth who had to use it today to get my twenty quid off me. He looked even more bewildered than a Malawi Mouse Boy appearing on stage for the first time.

Still with my new hat on me and most of a bottle of Chianti in me, I next wandered over to the Bombay Potatoes tent for a bloody lovely huge plate of Bombay Potatoes for only four quid. Now that’s what I call a lunch! Eat your heart out Delia, in a light mushroom and Madeira wine sauce! I also managed a mild stand up row with the woman who dispensed the tayters, having made my comment that she showed deficiency in political correctness by not updating her business’s name to Mumbai Potatoes. She told me she couldn’t give a Bombay Duck! They were the tastiest potatoes in the known world by a long chalk though and I did manage to get a smile out of my Sub-Continental purveyor of fried, spiced tubers before I left by telling her so.

 

Bombay Potatoes to die for!

Bombay Potatoes to die for!

 

I thought I’d sit in the middle of the green in the middle of the arena to eat my delectable lunch but when I got there I bumped into my old friend Terri from my Bath City Football Club days. We exchanged pleasantries briefly and talked of the glory days and how different life might have been if only there had been some. She apologised for not being able to remember my name even though it was phonetically identical to her own. Then I made an excuse about having to dash off to catch up with the rest of my mates before my potatoes went cold. I wondered if Terri would remember that I’m called Terry another ten years on from now. I also wondered if I would have tasted anything to make my mouth water as much as my Bombay Potatoes another ten years on from now.

Earlier on in the day (please forgive my chronic chronology) I had spent some time in the yurt of a woman from Dublin (like you do) who worked arduously in the fields and in the fields of Third World Aid and confectionery. She gave me a leaflet about a very worthy charity called the Safe Foundation and flogged me a lump of her lemon cake and a cup of Fairtrade coffee and told me that this was the most peaceful feckin’ festival she’d ever been to (though she didn’t actually say feckin’). So, having met such a pleasant girl in such a pleasant yurt, I came to the conclusion that her yurt seemed like an ideal place for me to sit for a long while and write in my feckin’ journal. Nice cake missus. Whole lot of drizzlin’ goin’ on.

A man in another tent persuaded me to take out a year’s subscription to Songlines magazine. I’m afraid I’m a bit of a sucker for buying things from people in tents as not long after that I bought a Nepalese coat from a man in a tent. But why not? I was, after all, sort of on my holidays. They were both nice men with nice tents and it was a coat off the price of which he knocked a whole tenner and it was a very interesting magazine (and still is) with which the Songlines man threw in some free CDs, bringing my total number of CD acquisitions for the day up to ten, and all good quality music too. The way I saw it was that the WOMAD community was like a little autonomous nation striving to survive in our big wide world and by buying hats and coats and CDs and potatoes and bits of lemon cake I was helping its economy to develop. I’m all heart really, aren’t I?

In real life, Nano Stern from Chile is much fatter and sweatier than he appeared in the photograph of him in the festival programme but nevertheless, he was a smashing bloke and he turned out to be top notch in terms of entertainment value, even though I had originally decided that he had too much hair to be any good as a performer. Not only do singers with greasy long hair and big beards sing too much about pain and lentils but also their voices become muffled twixt mouths and microphones.

 

Nano Stern, Chilean mountain songsmith and stand up comedian.

Nano Stern, Chilean mountain songsmith and stand up comedian.

 

But Nano was very good indeed. He sang some very good, passionate songs in Spanish and he spoke of the problems his native

Chile has been faced with down the years, including the plight of the poor people whose lives had been ruined or even ended as a consequence of Thatcher’s support for Pinochet’s oppressive regime. He said that only governments were to blame and that no one in Chile held this against any of the ordinary people of Britain but, despite his words of reassurance, I still felt an element of shame.

To introduce one of his songs he said, “My next song is about a man who falls in love with a beautiful blue-eyed angel who lives high on a mountain in the Andes but the beautiful blue-eyed angel does not know of the man’s intense feelings for her and one day she goes away from the mountain in the Andes, never to return. The man is so grief stricken by her departure from his world that he pours out some wine into a glass and adds some poison to it so that when he drinks it he dies. I would probably do the same but leave out the poison, drink the wine, get pissed and forget all about her.”

These words of Nano’s filled my heart with joy to know that the other side of the world shares my sense of humour. I had enjoyed his music but it took a little bit of his personality to entice me into the CD signing tent to meet him after his show and part with another £12. Another nice man in another tent selling things I couldn’t resist. How could I resist?

Then the rain started coming down in torrents. The only answer to the sudden deterioration in climatic conditions was strong drink so Angela and I sneaked off back to my tent for a cheeky bottle apiece of Savanna Dry Premium Cider, the Premium Cider of South Africa . . . how WOMADDY! As we swilled the potion we compared notes about our afternoons’ experiences as festival goers and moaned about the noise that the lorry makes each time it sucks out the unwanted contents of the nearby portaloos. Mind you, it didn’t make anywhere near as unpleasant a noise as the people engaged in the activity of filling said latrines.

At this juncture, Angela asked if it could be documented that she had remembered that it had been Gerry Rafferty who had had a hit with the song Baker Street in the late 1970s. She confessed that she’s not very good at remembering musicians’ names so this was a bit of a magic moment coup for her in a Never Mind the Buzzcocks sort of way. This was probably the happiest I had ever seen her in the eight years since we first met.

Then she went and glammed up in her sparkly gold frock for a night of raving. It was an emergency foil space blanket really to help her keep out the cold and wet but, I must admit, it did look rather glitzy. Walking down the path to the food tent in which we gorged upon delicious falafel, I had to keep reminding myself that it was Angela I was with and not a member of the band Earth, Wind & Fire.

At the Open Air Stage Rokia Traoré from Mali turned out to be one of the best acts I have ever seen live in my long gigging life. This tiny African woman with a huge guitar and a massive voice was such an enormous presence on stage. As the rain poured down and she sang her song about inequality in the world, the crowd was completely silent. The only sounds in the arena were of her voice, her electric guitar and heavy, almost tropical, raindrops. She looked so painfully serious as her haunting vocals echoed around us, blending perfectly with every melancholy note struck slowly from her guitar strings. Then she stopped and for a couple of seconds there was total mystified silence until she looked up and the most amazing smile appeared on her beautiful face. I will never forget that that moment. It was one of the most special smiles I have ever seen. Each time I think of Rokia’s smile I cannot help but smile myself.

Only a few minutes later she was dancing with her band members and backing vocalists and anybody else who was hanging around on the stage who felt like joining in. This African dancing performed in such perfect synchronicity was an absolute joy to behold. They were all laughing as they danced and it amazed me to think how people who have endured such hardship in their lives can demonstrate so much happiness. I walked away from that stage at the end of the performance absolutely soaking wet but totally in love with my new idol, Rokia, and her beautiful sisters and brothers from poor war-torn Mali.

Reunited once again with sparkly Angela who had been away watching The Heavy from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we went to the BBC Radio Three Bar. There they sold Guinness which didn’t cure the cold and wet problem but it took my mind off it. As did the impressive array of fellow festival goers doing their fashion show of various bits of their bodies wrapped in various bits of plastic bags. It was as if the WOMAD Festival was sponsored by Morrison’s. I didn’t want to leave the bar and go back out into the rain to watch La Pegatina from Spain on the BBC Radio Three Stage at eleven o’clock at night but I was glad I did in the end because they were absolutely amazing. A proper, full on show band filled with energy and which seemed to have ten front men all leaping around like sweaty Spanish loonies and continually pushing each other out of the way to get a bit of the limelight at the front of the stage. I particularly liked the nerdy little bespectacled percussionist who kept appearing from nowhere like a half meerkat / half Woody Allen sort of character. The hour I spent in the pouring rain was totally chaotic and breathtakingly entertaining. La Pegatina was a little gem of a band that appeared in my musical world from nowhere.

 

La Pegatina - camp, chaotic, captivating and slightly Eurovision

but brilliant to see performing live.

 

In the early hours of Sunday morning, having neatly arranged my old, cold, wet and weary bones in my sleeping bag, I lay there wide awake and unable to sleep for almost two minutes as I reflected upon what had been a remarkable day. Despite the bad weather in the evening I had thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. My only regret was that I had waited until I was fifty five years old to go to my first ever WOMAD Festival and that I didn’t have a plate of Bombay Potatoes in bed with me.

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