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39 f The Festival Man

Womad co-founder Thomas Brooman has just published his biography. Elizabeth Kinder gets on Skype for traveller’s tales and philosophy.


he music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hall- way where thieves and pimps run free, and good

men die like dogs.” Hunter S Thompson.

Womad co-founder Thomas Brooman has written a book. A lovely late-night con- versation of a book. He addresses the read- er directly, drawing us in through wonder- ful anecdotes to the marvellous world of Womad. My Festival Romance (Tangent Books/Bristol Archive Records) becomes our romance too, what with all the music and the passion and the far-flung travelling. We’re on the plane, the train and on the bus. We’re on stage too, looking at you. And then we’re off backstage and partying. Access All Areas.

Whilst there’s an overarching chrono- logical framework, the stories weave in and out, in their own time. They take us some- times forward, sometimes back, in the way of intimate 3am confessionals, where time’s suspended as we ponder the big questions in life: Not just ‘Where’s the bottle opener?’ but ‘Our place in the greater scheme of things?’ – those pre-dawn moments when truths that affect us all are suddenly clear. Because we’ve just touched again on an event we spoke about earlier, only from a different angle, and now its real meaning stands out in sharp relief.

But truth, says Brooman, is a slippery

customer. So he sets out his stall from the get-go. Following in these pages, he explains, are events that happened. They happened not just to him, but then again just to him. So he’s careful to point out that we must accept that others may perceive these same events differently: that his truth might not translate.

Brooman might laugh at the opening quote above. Not at the “good men dying like dogs”, nor even the “thieves and pimps running free”, but definitely at the idea of “a money trench”. In fact Thompson was talking about TV in the original quote. The music business bit is someone else’s, but the truth translates. As it does in My Festival Romance, only in the book it’s integrity is never in doubt.

On Skype, Brooman’s in a light-filled, book-lined room with white walls at home in Bristol. He tells me that unlike the mainstream pop world where “people are often involved just for the money”, in folk and world music, it’s “really all about personal engagement,

fuelled by passion for the music. Most of the people I know are in it despite the money, from the musicians outwards.”

Money famously was a massive prob- lem for the first ever Womad, held in 1982 at the Bath and West Show Ground in Shep- ton Mallet. It’s an event now legendary for its artistic triumph, and in particular a blis- tering, inspirational performance by The Drummers of Burundi. Musicians from all over the world formed part of the line-up with famous Western artists like Peter Gabriel, Simple Minds, The Beat and Echo & The Bunnymen.

It was innovative in its cross-cultural

‘no-one’s better than anyone else, we’re all great artists here’ approach. And inclusive too in its multi-generational appeal, with a day set aside for hundreds of school children to attend. From the very start, as confirmed by the letters appended to the back of the book, Womad set out to explore cross- cultural musical themes, promote artistic

collaborations and provide the workshops to do this in. It was and is a truly open-minded, outward-looking, warm-hearted, magical musical mystery tour.

Womad sprang from passion for music.

So it’s no surprise really that it was the brainchild of musicians. Brooman points to the initial spark, a friendship between the film maker Mark Kidel (a guitar and clarinet playing Francophile with a highly informed love of Asian and African music – see fR 381) and Peter Gabriel.

Whilst the burgeoning solo superstar performer and Kidel were in the latter’s kitchen in Dartington cooking up the idea of a multicultural festival inspired by one Kidel had seen in Rennes, Brooman had plunged into Bristol’s post-punk musical whirl. Like Gabriel’s, his life was completely dedicated to music, though possibly on a less salubrious level. Brooman’s funny, can- did portrayal brings to mind both the brio and the squalor of The Young Ones.

Photo: © Judith Burrows

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