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My Festival Romance by Thomas Brooman CBE (Tangent Books/Bristol Archive Records) Out Now


4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)



I like biographies and autobiographies. As a journalist and music writer, I can usually tell when it has been written by the subject themselves or a ghost writer. One can be slick and full of tabloid-ese, the other might well be less polished but can often be a far more honest read, and hold the attention more.

Like in the case of this little gem of a book. Thomas Brooman CBE has penned a lovely behind-the-scenes look at running one of the world’s most respected and “fair trade” style festivals, WOMAD for 26 years.

The 63-year-old was one of the organisers of the first WOMAD festival, held at the Royal Bath and West Showground in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, in 1982. That first event was an artistic triumph but a financial disaster. WOMAD survived, just, and Brooman went on to organise more than 150 WOMAD festivals around the world. His career with WOMAD came to an end in 2008, just weeks before the announcement that he was to be awarded a CBE by the Queen in her Birthday Honours List, for services to music and charity.

In “My Festival Romance”, Brooman explores the musical influences of his childhood in Bristol and Buenos Aires; he describes how WOMAD developed out of the Bristol punk scene of the late Seventies; recalls his time organising festivals and travelling the world with some of the biggest names in music; and reflects upon life after WOMAD. The book includes some wonderful  black and white and colour photographs.

It has been praised for being a “wonderful read” by some, including Miles Hunt of the Wonder Stuff. “Before British music festivals existed solely to make an elite few a heap of cash, there were people like Thomas Brooman. “My Festival Romance” is the story of a life lived for the love of music. A truly wonderful read.”

One can really tell that this was a labour of love for Thomas to summarise his life and his work in these 382 pages. It’s a starry read, with the artists and bands he has worked with over the years. From globally recognised household names to obscure acts who have been plucked from their homeland far, far away and given a big stage and big crowds, and gone on to big international success because of the spotlight being shone on them at WOMAD. But the book also pays tribute to the team around the world who worked hard year in, year out to make the festival the huge global success it became.

“My Festival Romance”, explores the musical influences of Thomas’ childhood in Bristol and Buenos Aires. After school he studied English at Oxford University, graduating in 1976. Returning to Bristol, he became a drummer during punk’s heyday, and in 1980 founded a magazine, The Bristol Recorder, with a group of friends. Through this magazine he met Peter Gabriel, former Genesis front man and solo star, and WOMAD was born. Thomas was Artistic Director, in charge of the booking and programming of the festival, in 27 countries and islands. He is also co-founder of Real World Records, a label established in 1989.

Apart from charting the growth, rise and success of the event, he also lifts the lid on the not-so-good times and the many behind the scenes issues to threaten the future of the festival. But overall, it is inescapable that here is a life completely dominated by a passion and a deep love of music. A burning desire to help musicians from ‘world music’ and many more genres,  to be seen and heard by a much wider audience. A man who clearly doesn’t like to see talent go unrecognised. No hidden agenda. No greed. No arrogance. No appetite for personal fame. Music the be all and end all.

Brooman still lives in Bristol and holds the city dear to his heart. Choosing Waterstones book store in Bristol for the official launch of the book on 30th June.  The event will feature live music from Colombian superstar Totó la Momposina and family, and remarkable young finger-style guitarist from Devon, Darren Hodge.  This will be an event of celebration, conversation and music. Thomas will introduce his book and encourage participation and anecdotes from artists and friends who feature in his affectionate narrative. It is an all ticket event, with free admission.


“Music From A Festival Field” CD 


The well written and easy to read book will be accompanied by a limited edition CD of music chosen by Brooman, “Music From A Festival Field” released via Bristol Archive Records. It comes with an eight page booklet, with sleeve notes by Thomas Brooman. These sixteen tracks are a musical companion to “My Festival Romance”, the book. The artists featured on the eclectic CD all relate to the lifelong passion for music that Thomas expresses in his book. Many of these artists have played at WOMAD Festivals and others are simply his personal all-time favourite tracks.

Artists featured are: Hamid Baroudi from Algeria, Totó la Momposina from Colombia, Birmingham-born reggae star Pato Banton, Ghostland is a musical collaboration between drummer and producer John Reynolds, ace guitarist Justin Adams, cello supremo Caroline Dale and singer Cara Dillon. David D’Or  one of Israel’s most famous singers, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan from Faisalabad, Central Africa’s Kanda Bongo Man, Scotland’s The Well Oiled Sisters,  British blues guitar man Michael Messer and his trio Mitra, Purna Das Baul, Bapi Das Baul and Manju Das from Bengal.

Bulgaria’s Perunika Trio, Ben Baddoo from Ghana, Bruno Mello and Trumpet Boy Y Su Trompeta De Exito,  drum legend Billy Cobham and Asere. Cobham was born in Panama, his family moved to New York City when he was just three and he is now one of the world’s most celebrated drummers. On this track, “Panama”,  Billy returns to his earliest Latin roots, working with the seven young musicians from Cuba who make up Asere.

The penultimate track is “This Old Love”, from Lior, aka Lior Attar who was born in Israel and moved to Australia when he was 10. This song comes from “Autumn Flow”, Lior’s debut album, recorded and released entirely independently, and one of the most successful independent albums in Australian music history. The final cut, “Shumba ya Mukwashi” from Zimbabwe artist Chartwell Dutiro, translates as The Lion Spirit of a Hunter. Here he is working with his band Spirit Talk Mbira.



By Simon Redley




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