Camping It Up (Wiltshire Wilderness)
The last time I slept in a tent there was a family of ring tailed lemurs waiting outside to come in and steal my chocolate biscuits. That was in a gorge somewhere in the middle of Madagascar somewhere in the middle of last year, but here at the WOMAD music festival in the middle of the Wiltshire Wilderness the crowd outside is even more peculiar than my little endemic friends from that paradise isle in the Indian Ocean.
I find that putting my tent up these days is a piece of green runny stuff. I’ve been to three WOMAD festivals and I’ve put the tent up three times so I reckon I’ve got it sussed now. Already I can’t wait for next year’s WOMAD to see if I can beat my twenty two minute record. I hope Cheryl Baker is reading this, partly because she knows a world record when she sees one and partly because she has had experience of events where music from a multitude of nations is performed. I wonder if the Eurovision Song Contest will ever be held in a field in the Wiltshire Wilderness.
A few metres from my own encampment were three men who were all older, balder and fatter than me but, unlike me, they were crap at putting up their tents. They stopped work every five minutes to have a swig from their cans of beer and ask each other if they were having trouble with their erection. Oh such an old joke this is amongst those who camp. I was tempted to join in their witty banter session by telling them to make sure that they had tight guys at bedtime tonight. Rather than run the risk of not having a sense of humour and of me getting my teeth broken, I kept my teeth concealed behind firmly closed lips.
In normal everyday life I feel that my interests and opinions vary greatly from those of the people I mix with. I feel that they think that I am a little on the strange side, even eccentric. So when I come to WOMAD I, for a few days in the year, feel strangely normal.
Here I feel quite mainstream and conformist because I am one of the few people that hasn’t got a ZZ Top beard, a wheelbarrow for shifting camping gear and children from the car park to the campsite, a headband or a top hat, or a guitar that was bought in Woolworth’s twenty odd years ago that I try to play Hey Mr Tambourine Man on despite the fact that all the strings are made from nylon fishing line. I don’t practise juggling outside of my tent, I’m not loud, I do talk bollocks but unlike the hordes I try to make my talking bollocks sound funny, I don’t let people do henna tattoos of druid symbols on my face, I don’t get my tits out, and I spend my money on the CDs of the artists I have seen performing rather than on soft furnishings for my yurt because apparently you just can’t get those things in Basingstoke. I bet!
In an attempt to blend in I had a plate of Caribbean goat curry, a pint of cider and a wander round. I revelled in the knowledge that I would be spending the whole of the next four days in a field with no stress, no hassle, no work and absolutely nothing at all to worry about apart from the approaching almighty tempest.
My first Caribbean goat curry
of the 2015 WOMAD campaign.
The curry and the strong drink and the treacherous forty kilometre journey from home had taken their toll on my energy levels so I had a late afternoon siesta, as people in the Malmesbury area do. In fact, from what I have seen from previous visits to the town, I would wager that the town has been asleep for the best part of six hundred years. Four days of World Music would hopefully wake them, and me, up.
When I re-emerged from the opulent surroundings of my magnificent four man marquee my fat neighbours had expanded, but in number rather than in girth. Their whole family had arrived and put up tents all around my pitch making me feel like a stranger in town in a field. Their family was so big that they didn’t know where it began and ended.
Young Olly came over and introduced himself. He asked me how I knew his dad. I said I didn’t even know who his dad was. And then I asked him if he knew who his dad was. He looked quite puzzled as I walked away towards the festival arena.
“Have a good ‘un”, he shouted after me and looking as though he had hoped that I would stay there and be his dad.
Soon I was back where the action was and the real action was just about to start i.e. the music of the world. My 361 day wait was over at last.
The Malmesbury Project with Tomorrow’s Warriors (Britain)
This was a sort of opening ceremony type thing. They were alright but I just hope that Malmesbury never gets to host the Olympic Games. This was the cream of the country’s young jazz musicians performing jazz music incredibly well and accompanied by kids from local schools that sang and danced to their music. The thanks from the organiser lady at the end went on a bit too long though, rather like a proud headmistress after the final curtain at a primary school nativity play.
Kala Chethena Kathakali Company (India)
Rooted in Hindu mythology, Kathakali is a multi-level performance of sacred theatre that’s equal parts dance, drama and visual art … but they didn’t turn up.
Shantel and Bucovina Club Orkestar (Germany)
A German band playing jazzed up Eastern European Gypsy music. Brilliant! A mad front man with a guitar and a mad drummer who wanted to be the mad front man. They also had a stunningly good brass section. This was full on Gypsy music with a constant demand from the band for the members of the audience to hold their arms aloft and clap. They forget I’m a pensioner and my arms aren’t what they used to be. For their final song the mad drummer picked twenty or thirty of the most attractive young women from the crowd to join them on stage to dance and sing. I was glad they were sexist because I really didn’t fancy going up there myself. Arms aloft clapping is the limit of my audience participation.
Lull Before the Storm (Sea of Tents)
As I walked back to a tent lost in the reservation of my surrogate festival family, I marvelled at the size that the area occupied by tents had become since I had arrived ten hours earlier. Even more surprising was that people were still arriving and pitching up at that late hour. And this wasn’t even the main day for arriving. I considered what the surge of human traffic would be like the following day. Already it was like a Middle Eastern refugee camp but for the fact that Palestinians don’t have to pay £4.50 per pint for shit cider.