Review: Clinton Fearon @ WOMAD 2014
07/28/2014 by David Katz
The WOMAD festival is easily one of Britain’s nicest music events. Famously started by Peter Gabriel back in the early 1980s as a means of introducing musicians and performers from around the world to the British public, it has since morphed into an international event held in various far-flung cities, as well as its annual presentation in the British countryside. The festival’s current HQ is a stately park in Wiltshire, which is normally home to the Earl of Suffolk, who grants it use to thousands of revellers each July, and this year’s event was an official sell-out, as we were blessed with exceptionally warm weather, which heightened the enjoyment of the attendees. The musical highlights of the three-and-a-half day event were many and varied, including Mulatu Astatke on the main stage and Manu Dibango in the Siam tent, both looking much younger than their years, it was a rare treat to find Les Ambassadeurs reformed, and the pairing of Mali’s Fatoumatta Diawarra with Cuba’s Roberto Fonseca worked very well; the hard-rocking desert sounds of Mali’s Songhoy Blues was an absolute delight in the Arboretum on Sunday night, and Kobo Town on the Charlie Gillett stage provided an excellent form of modern calypso that hearkened back to the heyday of the form, whilst still being rooted in the present—don’t miss them if they come to your area. The perennial mento of the Jolly Boys was another Arboretum winner, and Adrian Sherwood’s DJ set in the geodesic dome that is the new Society of Sound stage brought a dubwise dimension to the proceedings.
Clinton Fearon was given tough tasks at this year's WOMAD, since he was scheduled for a closing spots on the second day of the festival, and a near-opening on the first. I missed the set he did with his Boogie Brown band on Friday at the Charlie Gillett stage, since thye began in the early afternoon, when I had not yet reached the venue; I'm told things looked a bit 'tumbleweed' when he first took the stage, but the music quickly drew an appreciative crowd. The set I caught was in the Siam tent on Saturday night, and even though he did not begin playing until the post-midnight witching hour of 12:30am, which is mighty late by WOMAD standards, the tent was already full when he came out to deliver his music, the bright smile on his face lighting up the space even before he began. Opening number One More River, from the 2005 acoustic set Mi And Mi Guitar eased the audience right into the proceedings, despite the harder edge of the warning that lies beneath the song’s easy-going feel. Before beginning the next track, Follow The Rainbow, which the Gladiators first recorded at Studio One, Clinton declared to the audience that he is a dreamer, and he encouraged them to follow their dreams too; ‘If you’re not doing something you love, today is a good day to start’, he suggested, and the almighty whoops that met his words made it clear that the audience was paying attention to what he had to say—and mid-way through the song, when he took a little instrumental guitar breaks, handclaps broke out throughout the tent, such was the audience’s captivation.The jaunty One Love and the much-loved Gladiators’ favourite, On The Other Side kept the audience in an uplifted mood, and when he reached for Bless Your Heart, his open-hearted tribute to his mother’s sacrifices, an awed hush swept through the place.
Just A Dream from the 2002 album Soon Come, added a touch of melancholy, with a little dubby delay on the vocals as Mr Fearon implored us to unite, and Feelin’ The Same from the Vision album had that all-encompassing feeling of positiveness that got the audience on their feet, skanking away; Clinton felt the response and shouted, ‘love is in the midst!’ and it certainly felt that way! Feel The Spirit from Give And Take kept that upful vibe building, its lyrical interlude sounding like an updated Sweet And Dandy, and on ‘Love Light,’ the handclaps and whoops filled the entire tent.
Before launching into the next number, Clinton Fearon pointed out that the first thing to get cut in times of austerity is programmes for the arts, but, says Clinton, ‘We cannot live without art,’ and a tent full of highly appreciative WOMAD listeners made it emphatically clear that they totally agree with him. The final track turned out to be a new number from the excellent Goodness album, called Wi No Know It, which reminds that the only thing we really know is that we don’t know very much at all; the handclaps and whistles grew higher and higher, as Clinton blew kisses to the crowd; the set was over all too soon, yet it was clear that performer and listener were very much on the same page, with good two-way communication raising what took place to some level above the usual music festival concert.
This solo performance of Clinton Fearon heightened that his music hits you because it is so honest, above all; the rich tenor of his voice permeates even deeper with just some acoustic guitar to provide a little rhythmic accompaniment, and we all left that tent feeding on the wisdom of his words and the joy with which he imparted them. Thanks, Clinton, for such a wonderful performance, and thanks, WOMAD, for inviting Clinton Fearon to deliver it!
Photo © David Katz