26—28th July 2013
As a result of a little piece about me in Bristol's The Spark, I got offered a free ticket to teach maths (as my alter ego, Prof. Raphael Appleblossom) at this year's WOMAD festival, out of the blue, a few days beforehand! Then I was offered an easy lift there and back (with Kim and Leida). I wasn't expecting to get to many festivals this summer, so this was a pleasant surprise. And it's always best if I have something specific to do. In this case, I was installed in the "People's Parlour" (formerly "human library") area of the "World of Wellbeing" and given a little dome to share with a storyteller called Taprisha. We alternated shifts for part of each day, with me teaching maths in my usual freestyle way to whoever saw my sign and came up to ask about something. I got to chat with a whole range of interesting people, and as usual the maths generally tangented off into discussions of philosophy, psychology or sociology. A recent chemistry graduate from Bristol University, after quizzing me intently on the Riemann Hypothesis (and clearly following my answers) told me the best maths joke ever:
"What did the 'B' in 'Benoit B. Mandelbrot' stand for?", she asked
"'Benoit B. Mandelbrot'!!"
[Think about it, and if you still don't get it, have a look at this.]
And then I had the rest of the day to wander 'round and enjoy the music, including:
- Ondatrópica [Will Holland a.k.a. Quantic and his current Columbia-based cumbia/salsa/bossa nova/Tropicália band, wonderful stuff]
- Tamikrest [very much in the style of Tinariwen, and just as stirring]
- Lee Perry and Max Romeo with the Charmax Band [Sista Bassy D on five-string bass, as mighty as ever, Perry in his glittery get-up stumbling around stage mumbling and cursing the British monarchy and establishment..."politiciaaan...go to Hell!"..."policeman...go to Hell!"..."Queen Elizabeth...go to Hell!"..."Prince Charles...go to Hell!"..."Prince Wiliaaam...go to Hell!", etc., all more-or-less in time to super-heavy dub rhythms. It was particularly funny when he carried on with this between songs and the WOMAD sign-language interpretter had to do her best from the side of the stage to convey Scratchy's curses and ramblings in BSL.]
- Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 [Fela's youngest son with his old band, a top-notch afrobeat set starting with "I.T.T. (International Thief)"...a shame I was so tired by this point in the night]
- Imperial Tiger Orchestra [playing Ethiopiques-style music from Switzerland — a beautiful set on the Radio 3 stage spent dancing in the sun to stage right with a crew of Canterbury heads]
- Osibisa [the 70's Afro-Rock band, still going, a bit cheesy, but good to see]
- Malouma [she's apparently now a senator in Mauritania, standing up for women's rights. I didn't know this when I saw her, but liked the music, except when it drifted into highly Westernised "world music" style (4/4 beats and synth washes).
- Rokia Traoré from Mali was plaing on the main open air stage when the rain really started coming down. I really wanted to see her (after hearing her remakable cover of Robert Wyatt's "Alifib" but couldn't quite brave the elements without raingear...instead spent the time shivering in a damp bit of paisley cloth talking maths with some people who remembered me (as Professor Raphael Appleblossom) from a festival some years ago.
- Babylon Circus then came on the main covered stage — too much of a slick show for my liking, but then that's kind of inevitably what happens when you end up with venues of that size...people on stage have to project right to the back, so it ends up losing some subtlety. I went to bed not too far into their set, but a lot of people were clearly loving it, so respect to the Circus.
- Syd Arthur kicked the day off from the open air Charlie Gillett stage. This was a real highlight for the Canterbury contingent, but I imagine I would have been just as severely impressed had I not known the band. It was a beautiful setting, sunshine, wind, streaming clouds, countless multicoloured banners flapping, and this loud, clear-as-a-bell, progressive/psychedelic wonderfulness, the band clearly delighted to be there (they've been going to WOMAD festivals since they were young). Liam and Joel's brother Josh, who filled in as their drummer for a European mini-tour a couple of years ago, pointed out afterwards that they played everything a touch faster than usual, really "unleashed" the music, to great effect. And they got a decently long set — an hour — to really unfold things. Raven seems to have switched from his acoustic mandolin to a solid-body (Gibson?) electric model, was shredding on it by the time they closed the set with an extended "Pulse". Five new pieces: "Chariot", "Nothing's Sacred", "1000 Miles", "Garden of Time" (with extended heavy modal jam) and another I don't know the title of. It's always a good sign when you don't want a band to play their old familiar stuff because the new material is so enticing....
- Gocoo [Japanese Taiko drumming spectacular — I'd been getting woken up early in an overheated tent, staying up late, drinking alcohol, so by this time was lying on my back, half-dozing, rather missed the visual component of this...I do recall the incongruous sound of a didgeridoo]
- Sam Lee and Friends [traditional British traveller songs learned from real travellers and arranged in most unusual ways...Sam's a great peformer and I'm looking forward to seeing him and the band again at Smugglers Festival soon.]
- Riot Jazz Brass Band [this is the Manchester-based project of Nick who was once trumpeter in Zoo For You...a raucous brass band with sousaphone for bass and MC Chunky hyping the crowd and rocking the party...the instumental Bon Jovi cover at the end that got the crowd singing along enthusiastically was an interesting WOMAD moment...almost the band teasing the audience!]
- Hidden Orchestra [all a bit vague at this point — apparently an "electronic-jazz" collective from Edinburgh...I just remember liking them]
- Mokoomba [a superb guitar band from Zimbabwe, but again, I wasn't really in the mood to see a "show", and the situation demanded that they perform one]