Now one of the most famous acronyms in the music world, WOMAD, the World of Music and Dance, actually seems as if it has been around for much longer than it really has. The first WOMAD Festival in England, at the market town of Shepton Mallet, was as recent as 1982, just two years after Peter Gabriel had the original idea after seeing, and listening to, a previously unknown African group’s concert.
Along with his two collaborators, Thomas Brooman and Bob Hooton, Gabriel set about establishing WOMAD as a festival designed to bring music from all over the world to the west of England. Now, WOMAD festivals are held annually in over 20 countries and, in most months of the year, there will generally be a WOMAD taking place somewhere!
For many years the English version of this spectacular celebration of global music took place in Rivermead, Reading but it is now firmly established in the delightful setting of Charlton Park, just outside Malmesbury in Wiltshire at the end of each July.
Everyone who has been to WOMAD will happily tell you that WOMAD is different. You won’t find big name acts on the summer festival circuit appearing here. There won’t be international superstars making their ‘long-awaited appearance’. WOMAD is about bringing emerging, original acts from Britain and combining them with a completely eclectic mix from overseas. African drummers, Chinese dancers, Spanish rap artists – there really is no limit as to the type of musician you will encounter. Many will be household names in their own countries but known only to a few devotees in England. All of them will be representative of what WOMAD is about.
Someone once wrote in a review, many years ago, that WOMAD doesn’t really appeal to Festival-goers: instead, it attracts music lovers. There’s a lot to that thought.
There are many of the elements that you would expect to find at a summer festival in England, however. There are more than 250 food, drink and merchandise traders – although perhaps a greater share of ‘ethical’ stands than at some places. There is a fun fair, some ‘General Stores’ for the campers to use, cash points, 5 bars, radio WOMAD and a shuttle bus into Malmesbury for those who want to escape the scene for a little while.
Most of the visitors to WOMAD at Charlton Park will either camp at the family camp site or bring a caravan or camper van into the specially provided field – although note that there are no power points there. Even the camp site appears different at WOMAD, though. You definitely won’t get sound systems or amplified music through the night, no open fires, and no drumming between sunset and dawn, and there always seems plenty of space between tents, despite the numbers. There’s even a special field with tents already erected and ready for use – if you really want camping the easy way. The always clean showers and toilets will urge you to use eco-friendly cleaning products. You’ll also find WOMAD Spa, with its luxury showers, jacuzzis, hair dryers and cocktail bar. Buy a weekend ticket for this and you get access to the Backstage Bar!
Charlton Park – Wiltshire
Charlton Park is between Cirencester and Chippenham on the A429, only 7 miles from Junction 17 of the M4, so access is fairly straightforward. There are train stations quite near at Chippenham and Kemble, which are well served by First Great Western trains and have bus connections to the festival.
Tickets are available either online or by telephone – the latter method carries a larger booking fee. Details of the festival can be found at on the official WOMAD website.
Children under 13 can gain free entry to WOMAD and there is a special price for those between 14 and 17, although they must be accompanied by adults. Residents of SN16 can purchase tickets at a special discounted price – up to 6 per household – so if you know anyone who lives down there you might be able to get yourself a bargain. The English version of WOMAD has stayed true to its roots for over a quarter of a century now and is sure to excite lovers of international music and dance for many more years to come.