REVIEW: Womad 2022, Charlton Park, Wiltshire (July 28-31)
This was without doubt a momentous Womad festival – the first in the UK for three years following the pandemic period, and the 40th since its inception – and boy did it show.
There were 39,000 in attendance at the last Womad in 2019, this weekend rising to 40,000, and thankfully no heatwave weather this time – a more temperate mix of sunshine, cloud and patches of drizzle to clear the air. Spirits certainly weren’t dampened at any point though: the atmosphere from the outset unsurprisingly a lot more buzzy than usual.
The biggest trump card of this festival, as ever, is the sheer variety and eclecticism of its programme, with bands and artists from all over the globe, covering a wide spectrum of musical genres. It remains truly unique in this respect on the UK circuit.
“I am so happy to be back, celebrating our humanity,” she effused from the stage, clad in a radiant red dress, and at one point bringing onstage festival founder Peter Gabriel to join her in one of her more famous songs. It was a magic moment in a weekend that contained many.
A daytime highlight was the gospel choir The Spirituals, who enlivened the Saturday afternoon with a selection of soaring group harmony-driven numbers, encompassing hymnal classics and a moving cover of Labi Siffre’s ‘Something Inside So Strong’ that really got the pilomotor reflex humming.
The beauty of this festival is what also goes on outside of the music programme. Logistically, the simple gradient-free layout of the site makes it relatively easy to get from one side to the other – no mile-long treks through muddy quagmires. It’s a spotlessly clean arena too, with the recycling bins dotted around the site well used at all times.
Meanwhile, the more scientifically minded are well catered for by a diverting physics tent which holds a varied programme of talks and activities, this weekend featuring an appearance from The Flaming Lips’ frontman Wayne Coyne himself, which I sadly missed!
For families with children in tow, Womad is probably unsurpassable among festivals on the kids’ entertainment front, boasting fairground attractions all generations can enjoy, while foodies with international tastes unsurprisingly have a whole world of cuisines to enjoy beyond the usual burgers and butties, from authentic Goan fish curries to Mongolian barbecues. I’ve never been better fed at a festival, nor had such a fantastic range of beers to choose from, in the real ale tent – only problem being that most barrels were drank dry by the final day.
On the continuing evidence of this year’s 40th instalment, it shows no signs of slowing down nor resting on its laurels. Like Glastonbury, Womad will be one of the few festivals that truly goes the distance. I hope to be around for many more of its future editions to personally attest to that.