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Saturday, March 28, 2015

WOMAD 2015 - a few thoughts

It’s always to cover a festival like WOMAD.  There’s so much to cram into three days.  But what I can give you are my own personal highlights.  Friday afternoon began with a search for a campsite.  When they say the world comes to Taranaki – they literally mean that!  There were 5,000 pitching on the nearby racecourse this year. 

Estere - Photo Tim Gruar
Ticket sales were fantastic, too – selling out all the three day passes.  Early estimates suggest 12,000 attended over the weekend.  And with three days of near perfect festival weather spirits were high.  I found forgetting the can opener was the perfect icebreaker to meeting my neighbours – four women in their 60’s with a retro caravan – which, ironically was kitted out with everything except that specific kitchen tool!  Behind me was a family of four and two over a group of 20-Somethings.  A perfect slice of this all ages festival audience.  Friday night kicked off with a drum display by Taikoz (who later led ran the kid’s parade), followed by a slightly nervous Estere, who with her MPC Lola, got the crowd moving with her edgy brand of ‘electric blue witch-hop’. 

A VW Tent at the campsite - Photo Mckenzie

Richard Thompson - Photo - Tim Gruar
On the Todd Energy Brooklands stage Brazilian pop act Flavia Coelho  was a firestorm of passion.  She was only slightly upstaged by crazy Spaniards Che Sudaka’, who were also favourites at the Taste the World tent when they cooked ‘au natural’, with only aprons and guitars!  Head liner Richard Thompson brought the goods –  well practised guitar solos and a mix of tunes from his enormous back catalogue.  My favourite: ‘Guitar Heroes’ which features a melody of styles from Chuck Berry to Django Reinhart, all in one song!”.  

Public Service Broadcasting brought their own corduroy cool and Airfix-kid geekery, complete with ‘40’s newsreels and tv snippets of cosmonauts. 

The ‘Mighty Lion, Senegalese sensation Youssou N’Dour was a worthy, if slightly stock-standard showman.  I expected more than a cookie cutter festival effort. 

McKenzie Interviews Estere - Photo Tim Gruar
Saturday was a crazy blur of interviews and gigs.  A wee highlight was watching my 12 year old daughter IVing Estere.  I did manage to catch the second half of Tahuna Break’s lunchtime chill session and some crazy antics from Children’s jugglers and entertainers Hoop Hooligans.  There will also be embarrassing twitter photos of me dancing along to Puerto Flamenco before dozing off to eerie strains of Indian classical artist Meeta Pandit.   I was blown away by the desert-Hendrix-blues of Niger’s Bombino and went back for their second show.  One festival fave will be the Malawi Mouse Boys, leaping out into the audience and crooning at strangers.  Local boy Mylele Manzanza (Sam’s son) and his Electric delivered two brilliant shows of hard funk. 

Thomas Bartlett (The Gloaming) - Photo Trevor Villers

On vinyl Rufus Wainright''s laboured  Broadway crooning can be an acquired taste but on Saturday night he won over every participant in the Bowl with a repertoire from his own Greatest Hits (‘Not My Best Of") and selections from his mom Kate McGarrigle and Uncle Leonard (‘Hallelujah’, of course).  The extra bonus was watching the whole hour side stage, just 15 feet from the piano.  Not even the wading stage diver /flasher could dampen the moment!  I didn’t get to see Irish band The Gloaming but all reports told me I’d missed another highlight.

Flip Grater - Photo Trevor Villers
I caught up to congratulate newlywed Flip Grater, who paraded her new beau on the Dell stage.  Along with band mates from French for Rabbits she charmed the assembled masses. 

Sinead O'Connor - Photo Trevor Villers
FFR had a slight struggle to do the same on Sunday following a typically flippant hour from Sinead O’Connor,  but they got there.  O’Connor, wearing a Catholic dog collar, cross and an shed load of tats looked like she was spoiling for a fight.  She was initially her usual intense powerhouse self before collapsing into giggles trying to finish “Nothing Compares To U’ at a swing tempo.  Apparently a quacking duck was what set her off!  Oh Well – it’s a festival, eh! 

Bridget Kearney (Lake Street Dive) Photo Tim Gruar
Speaking of, the best acts – at a WOMAD it was always going to be the boisterous party act Balkan Beat Box, who were crazy, mad, insisting that even the oldies in the over 65 stands get up to boogie – and they did!  I had a chat to Puglia’s Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino just prior to their spell-binding set, which included a ‘suicidal’ rope dance that only the Italians could master!  I also had a chat to Trinity Roots who pulled out two solid sets over the weekend mixing their challenging new album, Citizen with old fav’s like ‘Sense not cents’ – which they’d reworked into a trance like 20 minute wig-out.  Quick mention goes to Lake Street Dive, who’d sprinted down from the Auckland Arts Festival to serve up a fine ol’ hour of mostly original retro-soul numbers, retranslating those 60’s Black girl groups into white indie pop with the added vibe of a smoky late night speak easy.  Very cool.

Osadia - Photo Tim Gruar
Featuring in the intervals were Spanish ‘hairdressers’ Osadia.  Looking like a clash of Bjork and a Turkish silk shop they singled out crowd members to doll up with outlandish and fantastical hairdos and face paint.   This year flag-maker Angus Watt came to the party with a brilliant collection of banners, which encircled the grounds and a new feature, a pyramid of red poppies was constructed from audience purchases in fitting commemoration.   When it got dark the blue lights of the strung out sculpture and an ever-changing colour lit ‘couch’ came into their own.  There was also a very cool carnival style café, complete with hula-hoops and photo -op’s with a guru, in the old Pinetun space.  And that was one small commiseration, with the Artists in Conversation section of the programme disappearing this year.  For me there were only two other gripes – more toilets and showers on the campsite please and the food prices, which have been steadily increasing, in disproportion to the portion sizes.  Small, I know.  But not small was the sense of occasion and jubilation. 

WOMAD is over ten Year’s now and a permanent date in my calendar.  Every Year the line ups get better.  I’m sure I missed a few things, but given the size it was bound to happen.  One even no one missed was the Adios performance of Qrquestra Buena Vista Social Club.  Down to four of the originals from the Ry Coder days they showed utter professionalism and grace.  84 year old Omara Portuondo was the consummate show woman having the time of her life.  Through torch songs, tunes of celebration and a raunchy version of ‘Perhaps, Perhaps’ she wooed her crowd, like no other.  It was the perfect way to finish as I walked back up the hill to the car, with the crowd’s cheering in my ears, for the long hall back. 

Qrquestra Buena Vista Social Club - Tim Gruar Back Stage at the Main Stage

Public Service Broadcasting - Photo Tim Gruar
WOMAD stepped up its ongoing no waste campaign this year by eliminating all plastic bottles and issuing goblets (complete with washing facilities) for punters to refill at the bar (beer, soft drinks, smoothies, etc)  Apparently that’s knocked down the onsite tip load to about half of last year’s hall – brilliant!  There will always be criticism that the festival has too many commercial or mainstream acts but the balance is still right.  Like a food court it has a host of national dishes.  It’s only when the large franchises bully in that whole thing goes under and that hasn’t happened yet.  Big cheers to the volunteers, comperes from The Hits and RNZ, who’ll be broadcasting a few shows in the future and did ‘Nights’ on Friday and ‘Music 101’ the next day.  And kudos to TAFT and their publicity crew who also outdid themselves again!  Before the gigs started each day I managed a walked along the waterfront, a spot of shopping in the quirky art shops and a gawk at the Wind Wand.  Next year the Len Lye-Centre at the Govett Brewster Gallery will be open – even more reason to make the journey into an extended stay. Kia Ora New Plymouth!
The New Lye Ly Wing of the Govett Brewster Gallery getting close to completion

Many Thanks to the Ladies at the Label - Lisa and Lucy :, Trevor Villers (photographer -,, Taranaki Arts Festival Trust (

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