Thomas Brooman (Co-Founder of Womad): My Festival Romance
Of Death And A Banana Skin is a collection of poems and narratives from English mandolin player Simon Mayor,
relating his muscial and not-so-musical life with a keen mind and full of wit.
The book has been illustrated by Simon's long-time partner, singer Hilary James, and features Augmented Reality
giving access to media such as animations, readings and music.
Simon Mayor, Of Death And A Banana Skin.Acoustics Publishing,
2019, ISBN 978-09522776-7-5, pp92, GB£12.00
Born in Bristol in the south of England in 1954, Thomas Brooman spent his early years in Buenos Aires, Argentina. An
ardent Beatles fan he remembers his 10th birthday:
At the foot of my bed was the best gift I could ever have wished for. My first drum. This was a traditional gaucho cowboy drum, leather skinned and more
of a bombard than a modern instrument. [...]
At school he was bullied by his mates.
But there was music, that was the thing. The agony of separation from The Beatles was appeased by Bossanova, Joao Gilberto reigning supreme. Brazil also
cast its warm light with Samba and carnival music. The fantastic soundtrack to the movie Orfeo Negro was always on my parents' turntable. Our house partied
to the sound of tango and Carlos Gardel, to Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, to Astrud Gilberto and The Girl from Ipanema, to Trini Lopez and The Beatles of course.
Brooman graduated at Oxford University in English Language and Literature, but returned to Bristol drumming with several punk rock acts and
most of Britain's best reggae bands. During the 1970s he experienced really life-changing gigs, including
the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Jimi Hendrix, The Clash and the Drummers of Burundi.
Thomas Brooman, My Festival Romance.Tangent Books, 2017,
ISBN 978-1- 910089-58-3, pp416, €15,-
Toto La Momposina,
Ghostland (John Reynolds, Justin Adams, Caroline Dale & Cara Dillon),
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan,
Kanda Bongo Man,
The Well Oiled Sisters,
Michael Messer's Mitra,
Purna Das Baul, Bapi Das Baul & Manju Das,
Bruno Mello and Trumpet Boy y su Trompeta de Exito,
Billy Cobham and Asere,
He co-founded the Recorder magazine in 1980 and asked singer-songwriter
Peter Gabriel of progressive rock band Genesis fame for an interview:
What proved to be an enjoyable and talkative afternoon was the first encounter that led soon after to Peter inviting the 'Recorder Team' to join him
in discussion of his ambition to promote music from other cultures with a musical event of his own. Discussions that would soon lead to the idea of
Womad. [...] The idea was for an event where one or more artists from 'somewhere else' in the world (most probably Africa) would appear together with one or more
sympathetic western artists who would encourage their own audiences to attend.
The first World of Music Arts and Dance (WOMAD)
was held at the Royal Bath and West Showground in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, in July 1982,
featuring a line-up from Echo and the Bunnymen to the Chieftains and an Indonesian Gamelan orchestra.
Womad's recipe has been perfectly articulated in the introduction in the 1986 festival programme:
Womad has a definite aim. The variety of music on offer serves as an entertaining introduction which we hope will encourage people to find out
more about the creative arts of other cultures. The festival also gives you the chance to participate, not merely spectate. Womad did not begin
with a group of ethnomusicologists setting out to educate the world. Our appreciation and understanding of world music and dance has evolved over
the last five years from a starting point of near ignorance. Most of all, the music this weekend is here to be enjoyed, not analysed.
The first festival was an artistic triumph but a financial disaster.
Womad 1982 was a baptism by fire for all of us involved and the experience remains a vivid one in the same way that disastrous holidays, first dates,
you know, torrid encounters of any sort so often do.
However, thanks to a Genesis reunion concert as benefit event to repay debts it was the beginning
(I was pretty stubborn about our right to continue) of
years of financial struggle, lots of faith and some of the best music in the world. There were
the percussion ensemble Drummers of Burundi and Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan as well as many obscure outfits,
all of which helped shaping the nascent world music genre and Womad did provide the first international context for many of these artists.
In 1986, Peter Gabriel opened Real World Studios:
The newly completed studio in Wiltshire was an architectural dream. Spacious and full of natural light, the whole place was designed as a sympathetic
environment for artists and the huge size of the main rooms allowed it to accomodate major sessions. Real World was built for music and live performance.
None of your typical bunker-like boxes that so many studios resembled at that time.
All of the groups we were working with were brilliant in performance. Many of them didn't have labels or management of any sort and some had never been recorded before at all.
Thus, Brooman helped establishing Real World Records, featuring the artists that Womad were bringing in.
Today, its catalogue numbers more than two hundred and twenty titles.
As Artistic Director until 2008, Thomas Bromman organised some 150 Womad festivals all around the world
with ambition, curiosity and unstoppable energy
(My job with Womad was the best I could ever have invented).
He took festivals to the beaches of Las Palmas, to the outback of Australia, to the city skyline of Singapore.
Then out of the blue, he got sacked from office in 2008. That's a story only vaguely revealed. So is life after Womad.
According to the dictum The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,
Brooman's autobiography My Festival Romance relates his life story, which
consists of music music and nothing but music. Though he
also talks about shoplifting, dodging rail fares and drug taking and selling.
His account is a lively and largely cheerful read read. There are so many events and adventures and anecdotes that a good deal is only related in passing.
It wasn't always plain sailing. On one memorable occasion Marta Sebestyen and Muszikas arrived in Adelaide 'direct' from Hungary via six different connecting
flights. The journey had taken close to thirty six hours. Seriously. This was not through our doing, I hasten to add. It had been the band's own management
who had inflicted this ordeal by air upon these luckless musicians. Ian Scobie and I were waiting at the airport to greet the arrivals and Ian had a bouquet
of flowers in hand for Marta. As she emerged and Ian proffered his gift, Marta dodged the bouquet and tried to land a hefty upper cut to Ian's left jaw. It
took some considerable grovelling and time for things to simmer down. As I recollect, the visit did eventually go very well.
Determination and tenacity are best summed up with the lyrics of the Jamaican ska and reggae singer Jimmy Cliff:
You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
You can get it if you really want
But you must try, try and try
Try and try, you'll succeed at last
And there is a story too, involving the late Pakistani Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
Nusrat was truly one of the greatest musical voices of the twentieth century. Anyone who saw Nusrat sing knew somehow that they
were in the presence of something deeply mystical. A transcendental experience of inarticulate spiritual power. And Nusrat lived
a life devoted to that transcendence. [...]
One of the many festivals around the world at which we presented Nusrat was in Yokohama in Japan during the summer of 1992. [...]
A gala performance formed the concluding highlight to the festival and the last song of the gala was to be an arrangement of Jimmy
Cliff's famous song You Can Get It If You Really Want It. A rehearsal had been arranged the day before and in impeccably
organised Japanese style all of the artists invited to participate turned up in order to agree their stage positions, microphone
allocation, lighting requirements - you name it, everything was being checked and everybody took part. Apart, that is, from Nusrat.
During the sound check, though, Nusrat turned up unexpectedly in the hall with several of his musicians. He came to the side of the
stage for a few minutes before leaving again without explaining at all why he had either come or indeed departed. [...]
The day after brought show time itself. The evening had gone well and the final number was just getting underway. As the opening
bars were playing, Nusrat suddenly appeared at one side of the hall, together with all of his chorus singers. He walked determinedly
on to the stage straight to stage centre, sat down, swung the central microphone to his mouth and proceeded to astound the audience
with an amazing vocal improvisation around the Jimmy Cliff melody. [...]
For me, the experience identifies completely the unpredictable and always musically fascinating way in which Nusrat lived his life.
Somehow detached at all times but absolutely in the flow of the music he created and encountered throughout his life. Through all of
the years at many Womad festivals I have both witnessed and worked at, this was a truly memorable experience and the hair still rises
on the back of my neck as I describe it.
After all, Thomas Brooman worships Womad and all kind of festivals as an essential and indispensable issue for humankind.
A culture of celebration through music is of course a well ancient thing. And nowadys, mention the word 'festival' to just about anyone, anywhere, and the person
concerned will express an interest. They'll give a smile, perhaps, have a story to tell, maybe mention a favourite festival of their own. A fete, fiesta, holiday
event of some sort they may be looking forward to.
Even now in our merciless world of commercial incentive and gain, festivals still occupy an almost mythical status as a social phenomenon beyond the realm of
everyday worldly values. Perhaps this idea is diminishing as the Sixties generation grows into its middle and old age and the festival norm has now become one
of 'realistic profit' accompanied by jaw-dropping prices and obvious exploitation.
But the point remains. Festivals mean many things to many people all over the world and all of us celebrate something, somehow, in the name of a festival.
The book is accompanied by a limited edition CD of sixteen recordings chosen by Brooman,
Music From A Festival Field,
featuring his personal all-time favourite tracks, many artists have performed at Womad Festivals.