Week from Monday 5th July 2004

So I managed to plot a course between ROBERT FRIPP and BOB MARLEY in this month's DGM "Degrees Of Separation" competition (I let you figure it out for yourself) and I've ordered the latest CRIMDISK to boot...

Finally, two weeks later than planned, what with trips to Cornwall and inclement weather (which is going to get even INCLEMENTER by all accounts!), I made a start on the "PAINTING OF THE BIG BLUE DOORS" project (sounds like a Sting album title) - Have you ever tried to paint wood with the consistency of FLAKY PASTRY??!

I've been listening to rather a lot of TALKING HEADS over the last few days - I'm really looking forward to seeing DAVID BYRNE this month at Rivermead (although, if last year's dream comes true, he probably won't turn up and he'll be replaced by Hawkwind and their trio of lady backing singers...).

I purchased in a sale, a rather nice (and cheap) seedydisk of the woodwind music of the Brazilian composer and mucker of Edgard Varese, HEITOR VILLA-LOBOS... and a collection of rough-as-yer-like, "LIVE RECORDINGS OF QUESTIONABLE ORIGIN" by GENTLE GIANT.

I managed to finish the painting before THE WEATHER arrived on Wednesday; the usual gales and thunder and tropical rainstorms that take Britain by "surprise" every year. Come Thursday, I have, of course, got very sore shoulders from all that ladder activity!

I have been giving the "WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAYS" pages a facelift. These pages will become less and less "WOMAD-specific", although I can't be bothered to change all the filenames and hyperlinks to match this BROADER POLICY at the moment. This follows the decision that this month's trip to WOMAD Reading will be the last for the time being - We fancy a CHANGE! I would welcome Festival/Gig reviews from other parts of the world, especially from over there ACROSS THE POND, if you still have "festivals" (perhaps you call them "hayrides", "hootenannies", "PAN-CULTURAL INTERACTIVITY SUMMITS" or "election rallies" or something)...

The new KING CRIMSON TRAINSPOTTERS' CLUB item arrived on my doorstep, a fine recording of the eighties' line-up in Philadelphia. Top-hole it is too. However, I currently have Nascente's "MEDITERRANEAN CAFÉ" compilation in REPEAT PLAY MODE (lots of sunny tunes from the likes of LO'JO, RADIO TARIFA and an indeterminate numbers of Italians, North Africans and Greeks). I had discovered that this four-year old favourite, for reasons best known to the WICKED SEEDYDISK GOBLINS, does not play on my home Wharfdale, so I had to do a "back-up" copy of it! Having done so, it makes for nice OFFICE ENVIRONMENTAL ENHANCEMENT while I update my treasured StarOffice5.1 programme from the Sun Microsystems concern, to the newer - right on! - OPEN SOURCE (OpenOffice.org1.1.) version.

Week from Monday 12th July 2004

I dun nuffink this weekend... nuffink at all... As I'm in the mood for updating bits of software at the moment, it came as a welcome surprise to find a newer version of one of my VERY favourite programs, XARA WEBSTYLE, on a coverdisk. Webstyle is the tool I've used for doing those pretty menus and buttons and 3D headings that you can see on this and a couple of other sites (the SKUNKFUNK one, for a start).

I've been dipping in and out of the TOUR DE FRANCE highlights whenever I can (although on Monday nights, it clashes with "I'M SORRY I HAVEN'T A CLUE" on the digital space box, so it's out of the question!). Of course, as I mention elsewhere, I've NEVER seen the last leg of the race in Paris, as it ALWAYS falls on the same weekend as WOMAD.

My dial-up connection is SHOCKINGLY ERRATIC today, thank you BeeTee, but I did try out my new XARA WEBSTYLE on yet another revamped look for the FESTIVAL "site-within-a-site" and managed to upload it (e-v-e-n-t-u-a-l-l-y). IT IS AWFULLY ARTY, being based on a MIRÒ-esque style template, but I thought it looked appropriate for the subject matter!

I also heard from the HUMAN NAIL (aka BINKY aka SIBELIUS RUDEDONKEY) that his mother has died of "that fashionable ailment MSRA Pneumonia" (his words, not mine). She'd been ill for quite a while. The funeral is on Thursday.

I'm not all that keen on the new format for 6Music's "DREAM TICKET" show. It is FRUSTRATINGLY PATCHY amd PIECEMEAL at best - it looks unlikely that we will ever again, under this format, hear ancient "RADIO ONE IN CONCERT" broadcasts in their near-entirity... but there have been one or two little gems pulled out of the SESSIONS archives, most recently the very first (1982!) session by FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD in their PRE-BUGGULAR* state. There is promise of more of the same to come.

* PRE-BUGGULAR (prée-bug-ew-lar) - 1. adj. Informal. Possessing the raw, unadorned sound of a pop group before Trevor Horn gets his hands on them. [neoligism; pre (prefix: Mid.Eng = prae-) + BUGGLES, THE: a popular musical combo, who thrived briefly at the turn of the 1980s] - re: Z.T.T. Morley's Very Clever Dictionary of Modern English Usage.

I finally got that FREE SONGLINES BINDER to which I was "entitled", for having my abbreviated rantings published in that particular periodical. On market day, I stocked up on cheap batteries and a new pair of khaki shorts for the imminent festival. The man on the market had never heard of WOMAD (but had been a trader at the CHEGFEST in Eastleigh!) Now all I need is the pith helmet...

Week from Monday 19th July 2004

'Tis the weekend-oh, for climbing up into the attic and getting the self-contained LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE kit ready for next weekend's shindig... make sure I have the right number of tent pegs, or that I didn't leave them in the middle of a field in Reading last year (I've done that before!) ... See just how much one really can squeeze into a sixty-five litre rucky ... I accomplish this to the accompaniment of TINARIWEN's "The Radio Tisdas Sessions" - I now prefer this disk to their recent "highly acclaimed" "hit" album: it sounds more HONEST somehow (and no new-agey sidefillers or PRODUCER'S INDULGENCES either). Although it doesn't mention Aldershot... I've also had one of my occasional "crazes" for MARILLION (nuisance melodies which lodge in your brain and stay there) and I've rediscovered some of the WITTY MUSICAL STYLINGS of DJANGO BATES and his chums, following an appearance on this weekend's "MIXING IT" (and thus coining the phrase, "they sound like a right bunch of djangobates").

Apparently, MICHAEL NYMAN(nymanNYMANnymanNYMANnyman-NY-NY-ny-ny-MAN-MAN) has a new "multimedia-operatic-theatrical-production-type-thing" called "MAN & BOY DADA" now showing at the Almeida Theatre, OOP DZAT LOONDIN. It's all about the years in exile that my art-hero KURT SCHWITTERS spent in the Lake District, during the second world war. I haven't actually heard any of it, but it does, by all accounts, feature some good arty back projections, the MERZmeister's sound poetry set to music (Been there! Done that!), and a rather moving "SNEEZE ARIA"...

I've been tuning into the ongoing PROMS where possible, but I haven't seen or heard anything to totally blow me away as yet... I'm look forward to some interesting stuff that's on next week (some MESSIAEN, plus premieres of some new works that look good, at least on paper!) ...and there is some STRAVINSKY coming up, but I have usually been massively disappointed by any Proms performances of Uncle Igor's works in the past, especially by BBC orchestras...

I just received a typically cryptical (or cryptically typical) e-mail from THE SHELF, alluding to the fact that he's got his beady eyes on another military vehicle of some sort... He's called it "ROSALIE" and it must be for real, because he's asked me to do some vinyl names to go on it, in a couple of weeks' time.

Last day of preparations for THE WEEKEND:- I've got to sort out my first aid kit and towels, count things off against THE CHECK LIST (anal retentive, obsessive-compulsive - more bloody lists!) and I'm booked in for a haircut this avvy... This diary will now continue elsewhere, as we journey to THE FESTIVAL ZONE...

Friday 23rd July 2004

Ahh! It doesn't look like I'll be needing the 'Rivermead Mud' background on this page this year... So I guzzled down some vitamins, strapped on the sixty-five litres and made my way to that mean ol' station... where even the pigeons make announcements... was that something about Eastleigh Indian Earring Works? WRITE IT LARGE: THE TRAINS WERE ON TIME!

Midday, or thereabouts... Wristband exchange, locate a programme vendor and find a nice camping site... It took a couple of goes to get my LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE up. Some of the poles are distorted and for some reason, the flysheet is shorter than the inner tent. There are also one or two holes, I've just noticed. It might be time for a new tent, methinks. I got chatting to some folks 'next door', who made me my first cup of tea of the day.

13.00... I'm off on my customary 'evaluation' tour (or 'recce' for short). I particularly want to locate the all-new River Stage. I noticed some good stuff scheduled to appear there, plus it has the bonus of being a long way from the rest of the 'action'. It is just the kind of nice little stage they used to have 'IN MOY DAY', when 'acoustic' stages came out of the back of American school buses.

14.00 - River Stage... First act of (my) day is to be Senegal's LAYE SOW and his band. This is a very similar sort of sound to last year's Pape & Cheikh - quite folksy, with chord changes that threaten to turn into "All Along The Watchtower" at any minute. There is the bonus touch of some lovely, filthy lap steel guitar from none other than BJ COLE (Who here hasn't got an album with him on?). I notice that Neil Sparkes (out of Temple Of Sound) has inexplicably kept his job as a master of ceremonies, but they've tucked him away down here this year.

15.30 - "Where am I?" "In The Village" "I am not a number, I'm a world music enthusiast!"... The not-terribly interesting Irish ditties of Cara Dillon are entertaining them from the Main Stage, but I want to see some old favourites from last year, the Kurdish Zahawy Brothers, with their band LIVING FIRE. I'd like to know whose silly idea it was to programme them on an outdoor 'acoustic' stage, at the very same time that THE DRUMMERS OF BURUNDI are playing a couple of hundred yards away, but in the event, if you stood close enough to the Village Stage, you could block the Burundi lads out, surprisingly. They only intruded on Kurdish airspace during the very quiet bits, like the dudouk solo. Or the gaps between the songs. The Living Fire chaps were more than capable of making a goodly percussive racket of their own, what with all those dufs and daraboukas or whatever. Caner Zahin again stole the show with his show-off saz feature.

Sign Of The Times: Apparently, it is the done thing at festivals nowadays to write your mobile phone number on your children, just in case they get lost. A near neighbour in the camp-site lamented, upon answering his phone that, if he could discard just one thing in his life, it would be his mobile... but he is still beholden to the damn thing and he brought it to a festival, didn't he?

16.30 - 'World On Your Street' Stage... OUMAR SOW, who we'd earlier heard playing with his non-brother Laye on the River Stage, makes another appearance, this time with SEYDINA INSA WADE, for some more Senegalese folk music. This was a much more sparse sound which didn't communicate to me and, therefore, didn't hold the interest for so long.

17.00 - Open Air Stage... (But they're all 'open air stages', aren't they? ...Ed) The DHOL FOUNDATION are doing their usual thing in the main arena. Their new album is called "Drumbelievable". See, I'm not the only punster around here - remember "Never Mind The Dholaks", "Out Of The Dhol Drums" and other pun(jabi)s? After a few earfuls of Dhol, I go for another walkabout. I want to get a good "seat" in the Siam Tent for the first "essential" of the day...

17.30 - Siam Tent... I'd been looking forward to seeing Cameroon's RICHARD BONA and his funky line in basso profundo, for quite a while. I think I saw him on the telly (at Brecon Jazz Festival?) a year or two back, and I've heard some of his tunes on magazine cover disks which I've found rather appealing. Whoever described Bona as the 'African Sting' wants their ears testing (this is probably just lazy journalism)! So he plays bass and sings in a high voice. I'd challenge Mr Sting to pull off a Weather Report cover like the one played by this band. Both Bona and Sting have cited Jaco Pastorius as an influence on their playing. The difference is that Richard can actually play like him too. I also detect an influence of Marcus Miller in his style. The band, a mixture of Africans and New Yorkers, were incredible and Bona has so far avoided the option of singing in "English" just to "cross over". This was awesome jazz funk of the highest order.

I've just noticed how underwhelming the décor is in the Siam Tent this year - just a few glittery metallic streamers and a parachute. Only later, when it is dark and the lights go on, does it start to make sense.

18.30 - Open Air Stage... And so to Rai! FAUDEL has shared a live album with Khaled and Rachid Taha, so I expected splendid things. This is the first outdoor set I've noticed being BBC Four-ed today. He's not such a fantastic singer as the first of the above two gentlemen (he's not unlike Cheb Mami though), but he's a great showman and he looks like a cross between Gary Barlow and Marti Pellow, so the girlies love him - a proper pop star. As is now expected with all Rai music, the (Parisian?) band are tight and solid in the extreme. I'm not too sure that the version of "My Way" adds anything to the canon though, I could have lived without that!

19.00 - River Stage... I thought I'd take a walk down to the River Stage to catch the tail end of AZIZ' set. Even though he has played with Simply Red, the idea of a semi-acoustic 'space-guitar' and tabla duet sounded appealing on paper. In the flesh though, there was too much waffle and not enough spaciness and his vocals were drab in the extreme. So I returned to catch the rest of Faudel's set.

19.30... A quick trip back to the camp-site is called for - I need a snack of Bombay mix and a change of shirt. Then I tramp back down to the Little Blue Tent to catch some of KITTY CANDLE'S CABARET. I've either just witnessed a supreme work of Dada or the world's most pointless act. MR DENNIS TEETH sits on stage with an old wind-up gramophone. He plays some old seventy-eights through in their entirety, while he sits there tapping his feet along with the music and grinning inanely. Nothing else happens. He then plays a record of "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" performed by a plummy nineteen-thirties soprano. He hands out bottles of bubble mixture to the kids at the front. They blow bubbles. That's it. End of story. Genius or Lunatic? I believe Mr Teeth is also a whiz on the musical saw, but he didn't do so on this occasion. Outside the tent and around the Village, LES GOULUS are doing a walkabout. They are France's equivalent of our own Living Theatre Company, in that their premise is to dress up in funny costumes and then interact with the festival crowd. On this occasion, they are dressed as members of a strange oriental Hare Krishna-like cult, in loincloths, beads and peculiar tufty wigs. They approach people and start feeling the bumps on their heads and initiate them as members of their brotherhood. If they play along, then the new devotee is subjected to increasingly strange 'rituals'. It is incredibly amusing or incredibly embarrassing, depending on where you're standing at the time.

20.30 - Open Air Stage... I suppose RADIO MUNDIAL could be described as the East Coast's answer to the West Coast's Ozomatli, in that they are are a bunch of young kids from Da Streetz exploring their own Latin American heritage in a way that makes sense to them in the here and now. Their sound is a lot more rock than hip-hop, they're much more of a guitar band, with no horns or keyboards... in fact, very similar to Columbia's Bloque (with a lot of early Santana thrown in). The guitarist uses a very weird fuzz-wah tone, sounding not unlike an early guitar synth of the seventies.

21.30 - Village Stage... There is a very colourful display of traditional drumming and dancing (oh! how they danced!) from the Ivory Coast's YELEMBA D'ABIDJAN. This sort of thing is a guaranteed crowd pleaser, while being culturally 'worthy' enough for Radio 3.

This year's Songlines t-shirt is green.

22.30 - Open Air Stage... Yer man DAVID BYRNE was everything one could have hoped for! He started the set with "Road To Nowhere". A lot more (in fact, a large part) of the set now consists of Talking Heads 'hits' given the rhythm'n'strings treatment, including my all time favourite, "I Zimbra" - I never before realised that the lyrics to this song were based on Dada poems.

David Byrne is one of a very select handful of people on this planet who can write (English) lyrics which are actually worth listening to. The other three are... oh, I'll let you figure that out for yourself.

At least he didn't do the ill-advised Whitney Houston cover, making this a pretty perfect set of old and new. The band are, of course, fantastic and I'd quite forgotten what a great (if quirky) guitarist Byrne can be. He wears a boiler suit. He does his shaky dances. He is David Byrne,'nuff said! You could probably guess that the encores are "Life During Wartime" and "Lazy". The BBC did not film this for posterity...

Saturday 24th July 2004

08.30... I got up for my 'far too early' walkies into town. Having mentioned earlier the low-key decor in the Siam this year, I notice that there isn't even a "Welcome" banner on the main gate either. I'm obviously not the only one who can't be arsed anymore... So I'm meandering fairly aimlessly around the town and I realise what a strange building Reading's Town Hall is. It's kind of an even-more-dark-and-gothic version of the one in Winchester.

At the Open Air Market, a boombox booms contemporary commercial hip-hop across an otherwise quiet church square, making me loathe it even more. "Ah'm totally original in ever'thang ah do!" grunts somebody, over a blatant and obvious loop sample of the Talking Heads' "Once In A Lifetime", laced liberally with the usual James Brown grunts and whoops. Original? Yeah right...

What is more, the aforementioned vendor's selection of so-called "jazz" was feeble in the extreme. At the Virgin MeagerStore, I purchase the new Django Bates album, thus crossing that off my 'wants' list. I also "did" the never-ending HMV sale, finding Weather Report's "Black Market" for under a fiver, while that 'secret' little second-hand shop hidden down the lanes (the name of which escapes me at the moment) supplied similarly priced CD replacements for favoured recordings by Miles Davis and Don Cherry's Nu.

11.30... Returning to the campsite, I find I have to do some running repairs to the tent (someone must have fallen into it in the early hours). I 'breakfast' on meusli bars and swap one of mine for one of the girl's next door. She is enthusing about this morning's Tai-Chi session.

12.00 - 'World On Your Street' Stage... First offering of the day is GUILLERMO ROZENTHULER and his two sidekicks. Their music strikes me as sounding surprisingly Brazilian for a group consisting of two Argentineans and a Paraguayan. This is nice, gentle music for a Saturday 'breakfast slot', sounding deceptively simple at face value, but underneath polyrhythmically complex. The percussionist is incredible.

Well Said... Guillermo suffered against the noise pollution drifting across from other venues. "It is a metaphor (sic) for the whole world," quoth he. "There is too much going on and no one is listening to each other..."

13.00 - Siam Tent... I've just noticed a flight case with "SNAKE-6" stencilled on it (The significance of this will be totally lost on anyone outside my immediate circle). CULTURE MUSICAL CLUB TAARAB ORCHESTRA OF ZANZIBAR (to give them their full english title) were spectacular, as I was hoping. Starting the first half, looking like a very formal, sit-down orchestra, by the end they were playing standing up, to accompany the botty-wobbling displays of the lady singers (or the younger ones anyway - this band was founded in 1958 and many of them look like original members).

14.00 - Little Blue Stage... Who wants to see the puppets?! There is a traditional Javanese shadow puppet show going on, with music and sound effects provided by an intriguing 'one man band' on the side of the stage. There is, however, far too much noise leakage from other venues to distract the attention. I instead set off to find a vantage point for the Radio 3 debut of Mauritania's pop queen, Malouma.

Why do all photographers from local newspapers resemble the kind of sad, 'Speccy Norman' individual you might see hanging around at the end of railway platforms, photographing dozens of identical items of rolling stock and taking down numbers? You expect them to talk exactly like John Major...

15.00 - Siam Tent... MALOUMA was wondrous, commercial without crossing the stylistic east-west divide just yet (pandering to western 'taste' by singing in broken english - step forward Youssou N'Dour, Anjelique Kidjo, etc etc). I look forward to re-hearing this on the Beeb when I get home. Mind you, one song did sound suspiciously like a twelve bar blues... which brings us neatly to...

16.00 - River Stage... The blues 'Theme Afternoon'... I'd seen slide guitar phenomenon MICHAEL MESSER at Bracknell some years ago (and I bet you he smokes rollies...), but his novel approach to DE BLOOZ at the moment is to collaborate with a turntablist, who provided 'backing vocals' with samples of the hoary old groaners of yesteryear (Those I recognised were Son House, Robert Johnson and Captain Beefheart).

KILA are a band who will appeal to those who still think that Afro-Celt Sound System are a pretty neat idea. "Diddly diddly diddly dee, Rafferty McAfferty Dougan!" go the fiddles and pipes. "Thubbity thubbity thubbity!" goes the djembe. "Boom chicca chicc boom chiccaty chicc!" go the drum & bass rhythms.

17.00 - Village Stage... Meanwhile back in Bluesville... The newly regrouped and acoustic HOT TUNA features original members Jorma 'Eskimo Blue Day' Kaukonen and Jack 'I Thought He Was Dead' Casady, with mandolin supremo Barry Mitterhof. This is very much blues in a 'West Coast' style - their approach is the same as the unplugged Grateful Dead, with songs stretched to breaking point, ten minutes of jamming in between verses, that sort of thing. I, of course, loved it.

18.00... The dreaded Belgian Spice Girls, ZAP MAMA are on the main stage. What WERE they thinking when they decided NOT to be an acappella group anymore? I pay a visit to the tent, to replace the batteries in my camera again. The Pro's and Cons of Going Digital: it's a lovely little camera, but it eats batteries for breakfast! The nice lady from Carmarthen gives me a (half) bottle of water, which she says is from her own well at home.

19.00 - Siam Tent... I quite like what I've heard of the electric (in all senses) fiddling of NIGEL KENNEDY and his Polish chums KROKE. I'd seen Kroke themselves on previous occasions and didn't think they were anything special, but with 'monster' Nige on board, they make some sublime music. I'm not sure that a crowded marquee is the best place to appreciate it though, you might just as well listen to the album in comfort! Kennedy swears rather a lot, causing concerned mothers to cover the ears of their offspring.

19.55 - Village Stage... Over to the village, now proudly displaying BBC Radio London banners for CHARLIE GILLETT's broadcast. We are treated to the first burst of TINARIWEN of the evening - more of them later! There was also an appearence by LAYE SOW and his Anglo-African band of brothers, featuring BJ COLE et al. They were even better than they were yesterday. I see now how much Laye sounds like his old boss, Baaba Maal.

21.15 - Siam Tent... Passing swiftly by SIDESTEPPER, who are, to these ears, very much a studio project - drum'n'bass with a latin flavour - I head for the Siam for TINARIWEN's own set.

Surely I don't have to describe what Tinariwen sound like to YOU, dear reader?

22.30 - Open Air Stage... I enjoyed the always spectacular DRUMMERS OF BURUNDI and then made a hasty retreat from the arena to avoid hearing the 'Future of African Music' DAARA J. I needn't have bothered, I could hear them just as clearly from the campsite.

23.00... I'm a bit lost for something to inspire me now. THE MOON DOGS are the ten-a-penny kind of rhythm'n'blues combo that one can hear accompanying alcohol-fuelled activity in Portsmouth and Gosport ANY night of the week. The Kershaw-introduced acoustic session in the Village, with Mauritania's DABY TOURÉ didn't do anything for me either. I would quite like to hear the middle-eastern stylings of YAIR DALAL and his band, but I think this kind of thing would be best heard on the radio when I get home, rather than in an over-subscribed Siam Tent. So I take to my pit, where I am lulled to sleep by the not-too-distant sound of young Senegalese tykes shouting at their audience in Wolof and French...

Sunday 25th July 2004

11.00... Sunday morning comes around so soon... I am determined to have a good old fashioned lie-in this morning. My neighbours wanted me to go with them to the Tai-Chi session. My preferred Sunday morning regime is one of 'TET-CHI', so it is a relief to learn that they didn't go either! I run an inventory of the tent and its fixtures and fittings:

> Torn flysheet with possible leak potential.
> Ground sheet coming away from the tent inner in at least four places.
> Holes at several anchoring points.
> Broken or bent ridge poles.
> Bungee ropes either missing or rotten.

I think it might be time to retire it, being twenty years old at least. In fact, I'm not even going to bother to cart it all home again. I shall rescue all the pegs and little bits, then chuck the rest away before I leave.

12.30... I go walkabout. There is a really horrible noise coming from the Siam Tent. I don't know who they are and I don't really care, but I take a look in the programme anyway... It's a band from Bristol called the WIRE DAISIES. The piped music coming from the River Stage is a bit nicer, if not a tiny bit odd. It is a dub version of "Dark Side Of The Moon" of all things - someone has audaciously covered the entire album in a reggae stylee!

13.00 - River Stage... It is customary to start WOMAD Sunday with something spiritually uplifting, if not downright 'RELIGIMOUS' and I'm down here to see AAYJEMAAL from Turkmenistan. Remember the percussion wizard Khakberdi from Aschkhabad (old WOMAD favourites, who wowed at least half a dozen people in Gosport)? Well, he's in this band as well. This is music as old as the hills and thoroughly virtuosic. The lady singer (Aayjemaal herself) looked like she might collapse under the weight of her own costume, but was a demon on the gob-axe (or jaw harp to you non-gridlers). On the Main Stage, DABY TOURÉ was filling in for an absent Dimi Mint Abba (as he had last night - she'd failed to get a visa). With a full electric band, his music is even duller.

14.00 - Siam Tent... The first of today's expected highlights is the appearence of this year's NEAPOLITAN CONTINGENT. On at least two previous occasions, acts from Naples have won 'The Gridler Jersey' at WOMAD... Tarantella rules, dude! ENZO EVITABILE & BOTTARI were something else again, with their relentless barrel percussion (with a conductor?!) and jazzy horns, they drag those gorgeous Neapolitan melodies and skipping rhythms into the space age (Imagine, if you will, Eugenio Bennato sitting in with the Glitter Band and Adam & The Ants simultaneously). Meanwhile, on the Main Stage are CARAMELO SON, an all-girl salsa band. They look like The Corrs and sound like every Cuban band ever.

15.00... It starts to rain. Spooky! It's almost as if the Meteorological Office KNEW this was going to happen. I go to the tent to get my protective garment, only for the sun to come out again.

16.00 - Siam Tent... The WOMAD 'Gala' is usually an opportunity to see artists you might have missed yesterday, or some you might want to see again. It is also named after a kind of Australian parrot. So this is basically what we used to call a 'jam session (man)', in which various people such as a kora player (N'FALY KOUYATE) or an Israeli fiddler (YAIR DALAL) get to sit in (man) with HOT TUNA. It certainly had its moments, such as the Tuna's "Death Don't Have No Mercy" and the kora/mandolin duet. Other attempts weren't so successful - a Chinese pipa (LIU FANG) cannot compete with an Arabic oud (YAIR DALAL again) for volume, while N'FALY KOUYATE's kora sat uneasily amidst a horrid new-age slush of keyboards. He seemed to like it though. I made a swift getaway when CHRIS DIFFORD started singing.

17.30 - River Stage... Back upsite (is that a word?) for the 'essential' performance of the day, that of ANTONIO FORCIONE and his multi-cultural band, including RONU MAJUMDAR returning the favour from a couple of years ago. This is a veritable 'Around The World In Sixty Minutes', making some of the other attempts at 'global fusion' we've witnessed this weekend (and other weekends for that matter) seem so trite and contrived in comparison. The playing is awestriking throughout - plenty of "How the hell does he do that?" moments. This is a festival highlight, but of course, as a bit of a jazzbo, I'm probably biased.

18.30... Back to the tent for yet more batteries and to snack on bombay mix. BA CISSOKO and his troupe are doing their thing on the Village stage as I shuffle past; theirs is fairly standard Guinean kora'n'balafon fare.

19.15 - Open Air Stage... Any style of music that has ever been recorded in the Spanish-speaking world, AMPARANOIA will have a crack at it, including a Manu Chao cover and a Tex-Mex number! They're a hot little band, a bit more commercial-poppy than their compatriots Manu Chao or Ojos De Brujo. Dock several brownie points, however, for their occasional diversions into nonsensical attempted-english, including the surely oxymoronic "Don't leave me, I'm coming to you".

20.30 - Siam Tent... SENOR COCONUT Y SU CONJUNTO are really a one-joke novelty act that have had their day. There are only so many mambo cover versions of popular hits you can take before it all starts to sound like Edmundo Ross! They go down a storm however, so that's another one chalked up for my 'BAD TASTE = MASS HYSTERIA' theorem (aka 'THE FLACO PRINCIPLE'). At the same time in the Village, JIM MORAY is doing English folk music "in a startling new way". In practice, this means singing songs about jolly ploughmen and milkmaids (plus obvious Richard Thompson covers) in a weedy sub-Boy George/George Michael 'soul' croon. So that covers ALL the colours in the spectrum of 'ghastly' then...

How can GREENPEACE expect me to take them seriously when they come up with slogans like "SAY YES TO WIND"? To be filed alongside "SURFERS AGAINST SEWAGE"!

21.30 - Open Air Stage... I don't expect to like LUCIANO. After all, Jamaica hasn't produced any PROPER reggae for twenty years, right? But this turns out to be one of those old-fashioned showcase/revue-type affairs, with an MC introducing and featuring the members of the team BEFORE the big 'star' comes on. So first THE MESSENGER BAND gets to do a couple of muscular 'dub' instrumentals... then the female backing trio (called, I think, THE FAR EAST) do some gospelly crooning... then someone called THE MIGHTY GENERAL leaps about the stage in combat gear and does what may well be his only 'hit'... then sax legend DEAN FRAZER has a blow, milking an instrumental take on "Redemption Song" (very similar to the Courtney Pine one) for all it's worth... then, forty-odd minutes in, LUCIANO himself is ceremoniously brought on, wearing what looks like the full dress uniform of a third-world generalissimo, and uses every inch of the stage with his gymnastic displays. It has to be said, he's not THAT great a singer, but he's got some memorable songs and he's one hell of a 'front man'. Like everyone else in REGGAEWORLD, he does rather overdo it with the Bob Marley tributes - TWO "Redemption Song"s in one night?

23.00... I am now far too tired to wait for the Late Night Acoustic Session in the Village, so I take to my tent one last time...

Monday 26th July 2004

07.30... So it's up bright and (far too) early, to pack up the gear - and dump the tent! I'm not the only one dumping camping equipment; in the skip there is also a couple of broken deckchairs! I have, of course, got hours to wait for my first available train. These days, they don't have waiting rooms (or even litter bins, because of CORPORATE GLOBAL PARANOIA), so railway stations are mainly there as places for people to try and sell you things and make you as eager to move on as possible...

My souvenir of the weekend: a packet of BBC RADIO 3 "A PASSION FOR NEW AND WORLD MUSIC" PROMOTIONAL JOSS STICKS. I think that says it all.


As long ago as 1990, I expressed the opinion that the (British) WOMAD Festival had got too damned big.

I longed for the halcyon days of the eighties when a trip to WOMAD meant a trip to somewhere DIFFERENT (usually the West Country), away from computers and phones and mass-multimediathons, in a word, away from what is laughingly called CIVILIZATION. WOMADs were always intimate affairs on a HUMAN scale, there was always the element of adventure and surprise, of "EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED" (whoops! cliché!), but above all, there was the feeling that the AUDIENCE mattered, that one was SHARING a unique experience with the artistes and organizers of the festival (and not "COME ON Y'ALL, IS THERE ANYONE OUT THERE? LET'S SEE SOME HANDS!").

Now that the journey to WOMAD has become a ROUTINE trip to Reading, I no longer experience that same sense of anticipation and excitement that my "annual holiday" SHOULD bring. I know that the festival will always be on the third weekend of July (thus always missing the end of the Tour de France ...Ed). I know exactly how the journey will go. If we go in one of Shelfy's vehicles, we know all the routes to take to avoid the congestion. If, as this year, I'm traveling under my own steam, I know exactly what trains to catch to get to the festival site by lunchtime on the Friday. I know that I will be going into Reading town centre on Saturday morning to do some shopping. I know these things because I have done the same thing EVERY year since 1992. The only things that change are the size of the stages and the growing CHASM between performers and audience to accommodate the film and television crews that are now running the show.

The music is still, by and large, fantastic. I have a fair idea, when browsing through the festival programme, which artistes I will probably enjoy and which ones I will probably want to avoid. There will always be pleasant surprises, indeed when I go to a festival I WANT to experience NEW things.

However, music aside, the "TOTAL FESTIVAL EXPERIENCE" at Rivermead is now... well, Glastonbury really...

For a huge majority this is a good thing.

It is not what I personally want from a festival.

The involvement of the BBC in the festival is a mixed blessing. Their presence at the festival HAS become somewhat intrusive. The festival now seems, from this audient's point of view, to exist for their benefit and not the public's. However the fact that the BBC is able to make available so much good recorded material from the festival (radio, TV, webcast) is a godsend for us anal-retentive musical trainspotters.

Back in 1990 we decided to give WOMAD a miss (it had just moved to its now firmly entrenched Rivermead site) and hunted around for an alternative. That year, we found the BEST "World Music" event we have ever attended, at FROCESTER in Gloucestershire. On the hottest day in half a century, we gathered in a beautiful English country garden and thrilled to the sounds of THOMAS MAPFUMO (at his very best), a still fresh K'PASSA and over a dozen other interesting and varied "roots" performances. The site was small and the stages were intimate. Everyone was friendly. There were good causes involved. It was sheer multicultural heaven. An event such as this is often termed a "well kept secret" on the festival circuit. As far as I know, this event was never repeated.

Shelfy is not going to WOMAD at all this year, but as a seasoned campaigner, he has this to say on the subject...

"Although I enjoy the 'World Groove' experience of the WOMAD cavalcade, I agree with your comments on it being too big, there being too many BBC personnel, "DAYJARVIEW" with the same Rivermead layout and all those tings. This year, because of extortionate dental fees, I can't afford to go. Last year was fab, but I did feel that there was too much of a ROUTINE about it. And the broadcasting encampment took up more space than the actual 'do'. And everything is so beautifully bloody organised. My short documentary film - 'ONE WORLD....SEVERAL SNACKS' , tells the story of  international entertainment in the Reading area through the medium of 'pot noodle' film-journalism. It does reflect my mood and feelings about the noble enterprise that is WOMAD, which is now slick, mega-this'n'that, and, sadly, more machine than adventurer. I realise that the whole thing is, and has to be, evolving, but I'm just a little monkey and can't be having with all that lark! Yes indeed, Frocester was a memorable occasion, and nowhere near Berkshire!"

I don't necessarily agree that being "so beautifully bloody organised" is such a bad thing - I remember the "shambolic" years, when the WOMAD organisation was based in Bristol and they ran on a shoestring - but there is surely something amiss when one can get the best view of some of the festival performances by staying at home and watching telly, rather than getting up off your arse and actually going there! ... the "Glastonbury" syndrome, in fact. That said, I am determined (and expect) to enjoy this festival as much as all the others...

AFTER this year's WOMAD (my eighteenth), it is my/our intention to find another alternative festival to attend NEXT year - the "Out There" festival at Bracknell (But that's Berkshire! ...Ed) and the Larmer Tree Festival in Dorset look particularly inviting at the moment... JUST FOR A CHANGE!

Week from Monday 26th July 2004

Okay, so here I am, back from THE FESTIVAL, tired and emotional. I haven't listened to any of Radio 3's version of the festival as yet - there's a (growing) pile of tapes awaiting my attention just as soon as I can be inclined. I did catch that Fiona Talkington last night, still nattering on about her WOMAD HAIKU COMPETITION... Alright then, here's one:

two festivals now
one for the b.b.c. staff
and one for us chumps

How's that? Do you think it'll win? I really can't equate the British Broadcasting Corporation with this forced image of touchy-feely new-ageyness, FREE HEAD MASSAGES, HAIKUS and RADIO 3 INCENSE STICKS. Can you? (Mind you, the joss sticks ARE rather nice...)