On 29 July 2022, WOMAD and Real World Records will celebrate the 40th anniversary of a landmark cultural moment with the release of the double album Live at WOMAD 1982.
Featuring previously unheard performances by Echo and the Bunnymen, Peter Gabriel, Simple Minds, The Beat, Robert Fripp, The Drummers of Burundi, The Musicians of the Nile, Salsa de Hoy and many more, this recording of the very first WOMAD festival reflects an unrivalled diversity of music programming which has become the festival’s signature over the four decades which have followed.
In July 1982, the Royal Bath and West Showground near Shepton Mallet, Somerset was the chosen location for what the organisers called ‘a World of Music, Arts and Dance’ (WOMAD for short) — 5 stages, with 60 bands from over 20 countries. The intention behind the festival was to acknowledge the influence of non-Western music on successful Western bands and musicians, and to create a wider audience for that music by combining both in the same event — a festival celebrating music as a universal language.
The idea for the festival began with a conversation between Peter Gabriel and filmmaker Mark Kidel about their shared interest in discovering music from different cultures and a desire to introduce more of this music to UK audiences.
“Our dream was not to sprinkle world music around a rock festival, but to prove that these great artists could be headliners in their own right,” recalls Peter Gabriel. “We wanted to show that wherever you were born, whatever colour or language, whatever religious or sexual persuasion, powerful passionate and joyful work would have a warm welcome in WOMAD.”
Kidel identified a group of post-punk music enthusiasts who were running the Bristol Recorder magazine as the perfect accomplices to explore ideas on how to achieve this. Peter picked up the phone and called their office, and they were invited to attend a meeting. Amongst them was Thomas Brooman, who would go on to become the festival’s director for more than two decades. “We may have been short on professional insight and musical knowledge but we certainly weren’t short on enthusiasm,” Thomas remembers.
In Autumn 2021, the original audio tapes that documented the first WOMAD were retrieved from the archives on site at Real World and the process of restoring the 40-year-old recordings began, overcoming many technical challenges to ensure these vital, historic performances were saved.
Live at WOMAD 1982 is a window onto three days of amazing music – highlights from multiple stages, of artists from many corners of the globe. Delicate traditional music from China courtesy of Tian Jin Music and Dance Ensemble, and rousing African rhythms from The Drummers of Burundi sit alongside classics by some of the biggest names of the early 80s pop scene.
Whilst the majority of those in attendance at the festival in that first year were most likely drawn by the rock headliners, audiences were left stunned by the visceral performances by artists who had travelled great distances to take part in the festival. A review for The Observer would describe how ‘the ground beneath us shook’ when The Drummers of Burundi dismounted the stage and performed on the grass amongst the crowd on the Sunday morning.
“When we arrived at WOMAD in 1982 I thought we’d landed on Jupiter or somewhere,” said Echo and the Bunnymen frontman Ian McCulloch. Indeed, one of the lasting memories of the festival was when he and his bandmates were joined on stage by The Drummers of Burundi for an iconic performance of ‘Zimbo (All My Colours)’, which is included on this album with Ian’s introduction, “We’re Echo and the Burundi men.”
The album begins with the mesmeric, percussive introduction ‘Tabla Iqae’ by The Musicians of the Nile, followed by The Beat in a standout rendition of ‘Mirror in the Bathroom’, setting the tone for the rest of the album which, as the event itself did, takes the listener on a journey across the world and back.
The relaxed festival environment proved to be the perfect setting for Peter Gabriel to air brand new music from his yet-to-be-released fourth album, of which ‘I Have the Touch’ is included here, along with one of the earliest performances of the Simple Minds classic ‘Promised You a Miracle’.
Whole-heartedly embracing the spirit of the festival, the first of Peter Gabriel’s two sets that weekend was a collaborative affair during which he shared the stage with Ekome, the national West African Drum and Dance ensemble from Bristol, who accompanied him in a poignant version of ‘Biko’, which closes this live album.
Elsewhere, post-punk band Rip Rig & Panic (with Neneh Cherry and Andi Oliver on vocals) perform their hit ‘You’re My Kind of Climate’ next to a blazing set of Irish reels by The Chieftains.
In spite of being a cultural triumph, the festival ran into financial difficulty in that first year. The NME headline proclaimed ‘WOMAD Brilliant but Bust’, and Peter Gabriel reunited with his ex-bandmates Genesis for a one-off gig to bail out the festival.
After shaky beginnings, WOMAD went from strength to strength. By the end of the 80s, WOMAD had travelled to many different locations across the UK, and had begun to expand internationally, with events in Spain, Italy and Canada. In 1993, the festival toured across the USA and an audience of 100,000 people at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco would make it the largest ticketed single event in the world that year. Currently, WOMAD events take place every year in Australia, New Zealand, Spain and Chile.
This July at the annual UK festival in Charlton Park, Wiltshire, WOMAD will proudly celebrate its 40th anniversary with the release of Live at WOMAD 1982 — a double album capturing the early exchanges of a forty-year global musical conversation.
Live at WOMAD 1982 is out on 29 July 2022 on Real World Records, and is available on 2CD and 2LP (in gatefold package with fold-up replica 1982 festival poster). ‘Kama K’iwacu’ performed at the festival by The Drummers of Burundi and Peter Gabriel’s set closing ‘Biko’ are both available to stream now on all digital platforms.
WOMAD 2022 takes place at Charlton Park, Malmesbury between 28 and 31 July. Tickets available to purchase at womad.co.uk.