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Concert reviews

Womad Festival 2008 - 24-27th July 2008 - Charlton Park, Malmesbury UK: Featuring Ernest Ranglin, On-U Sound Showcase with Lee Perry & Little Axe, Eddy Grant & Mista Savona

Iíve always found the WOMAD festivals to be a great place to check out new artists and bands, and also to hear a healthy amount of reggae music, and WOMAD 2008 was no exception. I particularly enjoyed seeing a number of new artists, but Iíll strictly limit this review to just the reggae, otherwise it could run to a few pages.

We made a special trip to the site on Thursday evening just to see the On-U Sound Showcase, featuring the production and engineering skills of Adrian Sherwood. The Little Axe session set the scene, featuring almost hypnotic riffs with plenty of bass, and then there was a short break until Lee Perry appeared with his band. Unfortunately, Iíve always thought that Scratch should stick to what heís best at, and that is using his sublime production skills in the ways that nobody else can master. As a vocalist, it hurts me to say that heís not a force to be reckoned with, although it was good to see him get a raucous welcome and support throughout. His band is another matter altogether, tight as a drum and playing some of the most wicked licks Iíve heard in a long time, and they carried the day as far as I was concerned.

The headline on Saturday night was Eddy Grant, and to be honest I wasnít sure what to expect. As it turned out, it was a polished act that featured most if not all of his greatest hits, but a little too polished for my liking. Eddy stirred up the crowd to sing along, but it lacked the intensity Iíd hoped for, and came across as very middle-of-the-road pop.

Sunday brought the guitar genius that is Dr Ernest Ranglin, a man who has graced more than one WOMAD stage in the past. Here he appeared with a small but talented group of jazz musicians who, in true ER fashion, heíd only met the day before. We were treated to an hour of easy, flowing riffs with plenty of fun Ė the perfect laid-back accompaniment to the WOMAD vibe. Many tunes I recognised, a few I didnít, but after finishing with the classic Below The Bassline he was treated to a standing ovation from the appreciative crowd. In strict WOMAD fashion there was to be no encore, but that didnít stop the crowd cheering for a full five minutes. This was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend for me and many others.

The biggest surprise for me was the inclusion of an Australian reggae band going by the name of Mista Savona. To my shame, I decided in advance that the Aussies just couldnít do reggae music justice, but I still managed to make sure that I passed the Siam tent during their first (short) performance. I was genuinely stopped in my tracks and pulled into the tent to listen to the rest of the set, and decided to make sure that I caught their longer set the following day. Iím so glad that we did, because we were treated to some top quality roots reggae, rock steady and dancehall with a twist of funk thrown in for good measure. Keyboard player Jake Savona has put together a really tight band, including a wicked horn section. Iíve often been disappointed by the vocalists in new bands, but Savona has got around that problem by featuring a large number of guest vocalists on their album, and we were treated to two excellent vocalists here, namely Vida-Sunshyne and Jornick. The beautiful Vida-Sunshyne is surely a big talent for the future, singing with a surety belying her years, and Jornick, a French-Guyanan, reminded me very much of Capleton. It came as no surprise to hear that this band supported Horace Andy & Luciano on their recent short tour of Australia, and I for one will keep an eye out for future developments Ė indeed I went straight to the WOMAD merchandising tent to buy their album Melbourne To Kingston.

A few more names have been added to my memory bank, alongside other past WOMAD luminaries such as Misty In Roots, Alpha Blondy and The Skatalites, and Iím looking forward to WOMAD 2009 with renewed interest.

Review by Bob Schaffert

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