Last time I was at WOMAD was with my own band, Revere. We played what was then known as the Charlie Gillett Stage. That was back in 2012, I think. Now, as I wander back onto the site for the first time in more than a decade, I remember the atmosphere well. Really well. It’s friendly, happy. It’s almost like the people inside are here all-year-round and never leave. It’s a home, of sorts…

It’s Friday and things are just getting going (for me, anyway). And, as I venture into the site a little further, I can see crowds of seasoned Womad-ers waving their hands together while energetic samba beats pump out of a tent called the Lizard Lounge, just ahead. Immediately, I’m reminded of the festival’s rich diversity in music. The sounds and rhythms immediately transport me to another corner of the globe. And that’s what makes it so special here. I remember now…

Seeing and hearing that gave me the urge to soak-up as much as I could in as short a time as possible. I caught a bit of Norwegian sami musician Vassvik next. He was on the Ecotricity Stage and, like anything at WOMAD, it wasn’t to everyone’s taste. That said, everyone is transfixed, one way or another. The spectrum of colourful lights illuminating the faces of fans helped with that. Pretty.

From there, I pottered on down to catch Bombay Bicycle Club and, despite some pretty pessimistic weather reports, it was still nice and dry. That meant a big old crowd had turned out and the band stood-up well to it. It was a solid energiser for a session of swing dancing to King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys afterwards, at the open-air Molly’s bar. Lovely stuff.

Saturday kicked off with a defiant act by the sun, blazing its way on down and making the whole atmosphere even more bloody lovely. Now, the site is littered with mouthwatering dishes from the world across. But, perhaps more for comfort than style, I became obsessed with the molten-cheese-loaded ‘Good Slice’ pizza (a London-founded stone baked pizza company) — seriously delicious. I quenched that down with lashings of delicious local cider, served by friendly pirates. Apparently, it’s not just Jack Sparrow that endears the public…

The festival is super family friendly, too, with parents and little ones entertained early on every day with a packed schedule of fun at the Kids World Field. I could see the relief in the eyes of the adults: they needed the break. Interactive artistic activities, like clay-carving, mosaic-making and skateboarding are all available, making an impressive selection for the youngsters. Sadly, being 41 counts you out of the mix. Probably for the best, what with these knees.

As the afternoon sunshine beamed down, a crowd gathered for a poetry performance from author, poet, presenter and political columnist Michael Rosen. He amused the expectant faces, young and old, with humorous and touching tales from his younger years and more recent experiences of life. All very real and very honest.

Continuing on with the poetry theme, I caught a team of expressive nurses and NHS supporters-come-poets in the Sharp Scratch Poetry Show. That one definitely tugged on the heart-strings. Most notably, BBC favourite, Piers Harrison-Reid. He ensured there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, as he devoted a beautiful poem to a fallen colleague.

After pulling myself together, I took a ride on the big wheel to check out the site during its most golden hour. Wow. It was like a painting, honest. Perfect mood setting for the Cinematic Orchestra. Without doubt, they were the true highlight of the day. The expansive sound, built upon melodies that sit with you for a long time after, were matched by filmic projections that had me entranced. I checked out of reality for the entire time I watched this, and I didn’t want to return. It was a truly beautiful moment.

Cinematic Orchestra put an end to Saturday for me. It wasn’t going to be beaten. But on Sunday, there was a lot I wanted to see, regardless of the eventual arrival of the rain. Wilfried Luezele — aka Lova Lova — made a solid effort rousing the damp crowd with booming, rhythmic bass, vocals and syncopated beats that energised the crowd amid the warm embrace of the Siam tent.

Raz & Alfa then took their turn at the DnB Soundscape stage — whom I will certainly hope to check out next time I’m in Hackney. They were the perfect antidote to the dreary Sunday afternoon outside the tent, with a perfect mix of house beats combined with West African rhythm on percussion. It was, simply put, amazing.

The mud inevitably loosened, but spirits were not dampened. My perseverance was fuelled by real ale. It really did work. A procession of wonderfully collaborative art proceeded through seas of awe-struck festival goers, displaying beautiful creations from the children of Womad, accompanied by the fantastic sounds and grooves of samba bands. It was a great moment to take stock of the whole event.

Next up, it was the heavier rock of Mad Mad Mad — a gem discovered by chance in the shelter of the DnB Soundscape tent — followed by Horace Andy from Massive Attack, who delivered an epic performance for an easy Sunday afternoon. For this set, Andy was accompanied by Dub Ansante Band and Matic Horns. Bloody bliss, it was.

Sunday evening felt like the right time to go and enjoy Luke Jerrand’s moon installation. Suspended deep in the Secret Forest, it illuminates the space in a way that makes it impossible to leave. And, to be honest, I didn’t for quite some time. Had some lovely conversations, a glass of red and took in the vibe — plenty of that here.

But, alas, I couldn’t just sit in the woods all night. As much as I wanted to. So, it was off to the Ecotricity Stage for Nihiloxica’s set, before the incredible Femi Kuti and the Positive Force wrapped things up as the final act on the Open Air stage.

Having not slipped face-first into the ever-deepening quagmire, and waking up every morning avoiding the dreaded festival hangover, WOMAD Festival 2023 feels like a massive win. Experiencing such an eclectic variety of music was the true magic, though. And, so far, this event isn’t spoiled by big brands and gimmicks, and, to some degree, counters throwaway culture. It welcomes and celebrates all people, the rhythms and words from all cultures, and joins in the shared interests of environmental preservation and global togetherness.

Photo. credit: Garry Jones


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