Thomas Brooman

World Music Foundation Podcast | Season 1, Episode 3

“At that one fateful meeting, we coined a genre.”

About this Episode

Thomas Brooman has always had a vision of a smaller musical world — from his early years spent among fellow awe-struck concertgoers during the European Rock & Roll boom, to his later work cultivating a collective of artists as co-founder of the globally inspired World of Music Arts and Dance festival (WOMAD). We talk about the relationship between musicians and international markets, and get a behind-the-scenes look into his involvement in the creation of the term ‘World Music’- in all of its complexities.

(Intro Music Plays)

John Gardner: Hello. Hello Hello and welcome to the World Music Foundation Podcast.
I’m your host, John Gardner. And today we speak with World Shaker Award winner, Commander Of The British Empire, co founder of WOMAD and author extraordinaire Thomas Brooman.

Now this is an early episode so our audience might not be able to tell from the intro and you definitely would have no frame of reference Mr Brooman, since it’s the first time we’ve spoken. But this is not my normal voice. I woke up without one and to be honest, this morning, I really considered canceling. And I just thought, you know I can’t do it, my throat hurts. Now I’m understanding it’s a full on sickness. But then then I started thinking, Wait a minute today we have Thomas Brooman, legendary festival organizer. You’ve organized festivals all over the world, hundreds of acts. Surely there’s rarely anybody else in the world who has more the show must go on stories than you right. So I said well, let me see if I can get myself together, see if I can do at least halfway decent performance on my part. But mainly it’s going to be about you anyway. So maybe that’s a place to start when you hear the show must go on any quick story come to mind?

Thomas Brooman: Oh my goodness. Well, yes, many, many. We had a festival in Las Palmas…oh crickey… 1999, I think. We had many very successful, really enjoyable events there in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria in the Atlantic. And one year we had Cheb Khaled booked as the Sunday night headliner, it became quite important to the lineup, it was a really popular announcement and tens of thousands of people were coming everyday to the show. And on the morning off the show in question. We had a phone call from Khaled’s manager, who was saying we arrived, we arrived in Las Palmas but there’s no one here to meet us. What’s happening? And I was just saying that because they organized their own flights they were coming from Paris and as it turned out, they flown themselves to Palma de Mallorca, which was not good news at all.

So the whole day was spent in this frantic efforts to reroute them back through. I think it was Madrid then down to Las Palmas, which is, like quite a jaunt. Its not anything like the distances you have in the States. But it took him all day. And to be fair, I mean, they were up for it and they traveled. And it was the timing of this it was so tight on they arrived something like 9:30 in the evening and we had to tell these local dignitaries, politicians, whatever that Khaled was like, really scared for his own safety for security reason. I can’t remember who invented that story, but it was very effective because I was with scraps at the airport, at 9 o’clock or whatever. Taken right up to the door of the aircraft and the part just disembark. We went straight through didn’t clear customs or anything like that. We screeched into town, got to the backstage area, and they went straight on stage. So that was a show must go on moment I think.

John Gardner: No doubt. Well, what I like to start with normally is just kind of an overview. Like an origin story. We have listeners from the U. S. We have listeners in India and Singapore.

Thomas Brooman: Gosh

John Gardner: So getting people that know you and people that might not. So just how would you answer the question? Who is Thomas Brooman?

Thomas Brooman: Oh blimey, well I’m a music fan I think first and foremost. I’m a would-be musician. I was a drummer in the late seventies, in the early days of punk rock, and I just loved that challenge. I had a real ambition, I think for, you know, success as we identify that in the music business. And so many of my generation were like that. You know, it was the time of Margaret Thatcher here and there didn’t seem to be that there were many prospects for people. Very few jobs. I’ve been educated, you know very well, and I had a degree in English, but I didn’t want to be a teacher and I decided that I didn’t want to do civil service or something, You know, they didn’t seem to be any option, so I just dived into making music on an amateur and a semi-professional level in the late seventies and I suppose I was just always quite a- a dreamer, really. But I’ve loved music ever since I was a small boy. I think it’s because I was taken to Argentina with my family when I was nine and lived in Buenos Aires for a year. I visited Rio and Santiago de Chile, and it was an amazing time. As part of it I still vividly remember Bossa Nova, the Samba Rhythms of the Carnival and I think that just open my head to the idea of music being anything that I liked and in that way I mean, I’ve got the doggiest taste in music; I’ve always have. But I just like what I like. So if we are talking about music specifically that’s who I think I am. I hope I’ve been a good father to my children a loving husband you know, ( laughs) I just do my best in life.

John Gardner: I have to say just now, in the first few minutes of speaking with you, before we spoke and to be honest, when I first had the idea for the podcast as I learned about you through research, You were the first name that came to my mind. After reading your your book, my festival romance, which it’s wonderful, of course, but

Thomas Brooman: thank you.

John Gardner: I felt like now this is perfect. If there’s any way I’m able to have this man on the podcast, he can explain what I deeply believe and and know is fact about the power of music and the importance of exposing people to other cultures of music.

Thomas Brooman: Absolutely.

John Gardner: Because I’ve never heard someone that so perfectly explained what I guess I don’t have quite the degree in English as you do that I haven’t been able to explain quite as well I think So, Right away, In the first few minutes of this interview, you said that hearing those music’s the Samba Bossa Nova opened your head to different things. Our, I guess, kind of tagline, or what I see really is our mission statement with World Music Foundation, my nonprofit, is opening minds through music Open ears equals open minds.

Thomas Brooman: Right, yeah absolutely wonderful

John Gardner: Straight away you started even using the same words. So this is great and the way it came across you, Mr Brooman was with what you describe in your book, as I read later as what you considered at some points and albatrosses some points as scorpion and

Thomas Brooman: yeah, I know where we’re going.

John Gardner: I was really surprised to find out we could pinpoint the day, the time, the location of when the term world music was actually-

Thomas Brooman: Actually coined yes yes

John Gardner: Yeah. So could you tell us a little bit? What was it like before for music listeners, fans and for music sellers?

Thomas Brooman: Well, when we just began the festival in the very first place and that was with many, many meetings from the very start of nineteen eighty one. that took us eighteen months to form the concept of the festival that would be embracing just everything, anything Music of any genre from any past the world. And give that music and dance on equal platform with no regards to stardom on the one hand and obscurity on the other, just respect for artists. Well, having started out like with this great proselytizing zeal, it was a very hard sell. It was very, very difficult to project what we were up to in a successful way without any press without you know, any press promotion. Really, because there was nothing like it in our country at the time. So it isn’t just that I think people were indifferent about, it is just the journalist couldn’t find an easy way to write. In 1982, we have this glorious first event that people loved, but which was a financial disaster. We managed to find a way forward with a budget supplied by a third party organization, which was the the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. So what would what would then become no organization at all because, well, had just folded in bankruptcy and was supposed to be no more. We were given another chance and took it again with, you know, open arms and organized ten days of concerts in London in nineteen eighty three, and that was great. It was a step forward, but it continued to be frustrating because every year it felt like the same big hurdles trying to jump with no perceives idea of what we were doing. But the minute that we then came together with the prizes of all these other record labels from ah Topic, for example, folk label and Globe Style who Ben Mandelson and Roger Armstrong don’t create things again, mainly with African music. They were all in the same boat. They were releasing records into a void way. We felt really good records that were being overlooked because it was just so hard to get recognition or reviews because there wasn’t a category. So the meeting in London upstairs of this pub that i have forgotten the name of now was to try to come together and organize a campaign off some sort to at least have a book for here and presence and We have very limited funds. But the meeting decided that the best use, the best first use of the phones was suppose to coin the term under which we could collectively begin to release our record, that by several hundred browser cards. So, in other words, there would be a section where the records of the one man records globe style or whatever would get would get racked So with that meeting, we chose a name. That name was World Music, and I remember clearly at the time, like voting for that you know, quite positively that my voice in a really positive way because I’d I thought, well, world music And we’re called world old music That’s got to be really good for us, you know, in that rather kind of calculated promoters way. I mean, in some senses, it was, of course, it was because all of a sudden, with the press release a press officer at the time, very talented Suzanne Parks. All of a sudden, the press release announcing our grand campaign got coverage, got press, and from then on, especially internationally, which was really, I think, an interesting thing.

It just seems that, you know, just spread like ivy very quickly. But then what overtook us was people quite understandably and rightly questioning “So what is world music,” You know, and at that point and very quickly I was in a sense, kicking myself because it’s an impossible question to answer I feel. What is world music? Well, depends on what your perspective is I guess. You know just about any classical music, you know? Really, Beethoven and Ravel. I mean, all music is from somewhere in the world. So what justifies this selection of it . Some promoters then choose to call that term And then it’s and something that has been a bit perplexing ever since.

John Gardner: And do you remember at that meeting were there other suggestions or anything that you think might better describe it? Because that, of course, becomes the next thing. If someone takes issue with this label — World Music — what’s the alternative?

Thomas Brooman: A good question, yes, there were alternatives tossed around the room as it were. But, you know, in that terrible way that memory — I mean I’m now in my sixties — I conveniently can’t remember what any of those other suggestions were. But you know like, say, people sitting around who are musicians and they’re in the band they’re trying to find the name. It’s like, how about, you know, moon watcher — nah, rubbish — what about U2 — hate it — you know. In other words it was completely arbitrary, I think. And having said that, I mean, if I remember specifically the vote that then came because we voted definitely on more than one suggestion– the “World Music” title definitely outvoted everything else by a real margin. And I don’t know for future podcasts if you want to, you know, take up that theme with other people. But my old dear friend, Ian Anderson, the editor of Folk Groups or fRoots magazine. He was also a keen participant in that meeting. And he has got certain a real journalists — you know, elephants memory stuff like this. He may remember other suggestions. But yes it’s been a real, I guess, shock ever since that in that one fateful meeting we coined a genre.

John Gardner: And that wasn’t your the intention, it sounds like. It sounds like you were looking for a place in records shops to —

Thomas Brooman: A place to live, in record shops. Yes.

John Gardner: So you didn’t foresee this far reach of it?

Thomas Brooman: Not at all in the slightest. No.

John Gardner: Interesting. And the way that I’ve understood world music maybe naively has just been music that’s identifiable as being from a certain part of the world and anywhere that you’re not a part of. So I’ve always considered — and you mentioned at the blues being, you know, like you said, it’s not from UK. It’s clearly not from the UK. So I assume that the blues were considered world music in the UK. Or in Singapore or in India, that bluegrass I consider world music and we bring musicians to places like India and Singapore, and we treat saxophone and guitar as world music instruments where that’s not their norm.

Thomas Brooman: Yes, absolutely. And arguably all contemporary forms of music are going to be not a fusion necessarily but the result of influences that have come from cultures and years way before the time when what sounds traditional wasn’t. And so say qawwali music from Pakistan and even the Islamic countries of Southern Asia, where you have harmonium as really the dominant instrument, I mean that that’s not centuries old. That was an innovation I think of about one hundred fifty years ago. And so I think music is constantly moving on and it’s, I think, refreshed and enriched by, well, just the strands of influence that come from musicians hearing other music, which on my part was a wonderful, wonderful thing to be a part of, you know, introducing many artists to one another who have then, you know, gone on to record together, tour together, created friendship. And I think that put apart from, you know, the thrill of the chase and the events themselves I think that that aspect of the work has always been of great fulfillment as far as I’m concerned. What you do sounds sounds wonderful I must say. I must find out much more about The World Music Foundation.

John Gardner: Thank you very much. Actually, we just had a booth at an art festival in Chicago and we were displaying Indian instruments and would have people from India saying the harmonium is an Indian instrument. Well it was invented by a French instrument maker and has been adopted by India– no no, it’s an Indian instrument. So I love seeing those lines blur.

Thomas Brooman: Absolutely.

John Gardner: You’ve mentioned about some of this, and I can’t imagine all the different ways and times you’ve seen these things meld together. But you brought of course fans exposure to music of other parts of the world. Any memories of musicians witnessing their first exposure to other musical styles?

Thomas Brooman: Well, yes, and again back to those very early days of what we were doing in the ages, there was, I guess, a curiosity on, certainly on the pass of many Western musicians about the music of elsewhere. Lots of people might say have a Ravi Shankar record in their record collection or I don’t know what really. I mean, Hugh Masekela had real success in America which early on happened with — was it walking in the grass in the sixties or seventies? But anyway, I mean, very, very limited on and the experience of seeing a really powerful music from elsewhere, I guess in a sense, especially with making music, was, I think, an overwhelming experience for some people. So I’m personally very proud of the fact that at the very first festival in 1982, Echo and the Bunnymen who are, you know, still performing and, you know, creating new music, were really popular at the time. They were one of two headline groups you know, I won’t say anything of the quality of the stage but I mean, you have to recognize that Echo and the Bunnymen and the Beats, on the other hand, the other ? group on that bill, that particular Saturday evening in the middle of those two groups were the Drummers of Burundi and the Bunnymen who had heard the drummers, you know, play just the day before were just completely knocked out. Well, I think Peter Freitas, their drummer who has now sadly passed was understandably, perhaps, as the drummer he was saying, “ Oh, God, we’ve got to do something on stage with these guys,” and so some way through their concert they played one of their numbers, which was called Zumbo All My Colors and the rehearsed just once with four of the Drummers of Burundi and they brought them to the stage. And it was just one of those moments, you know, where I think everybody there knew there was something really very, well, I hate to use the word because it’s such a cliche, but — special — going on, really. And it was thrilling. You know, It lifted the atmosphere in this incredible way and partly because I think with the Bunnymen being this very, very rhythmic machine, somehow you know this very, very steady beat of their own. The drummers, on the other hand, have their own very steady beat in this like, unassailable way. So the song started with this, like, pounding, quite slow pace — as soon as the drummers came in they upped the pace and that was it. The whole band then had to increase its tempo. In order them just to keep with steady Burundi rhythm, but it was marvellous. You know, it just made this like,you know, epic, epic sound that you know, so many examples of that on and Well, another which way may just be not at all an example because they hadn’t really played before. I don’t think they have. We have a festival of Blues and Rhythm. Think it was called the late eighties in a small art center in Bach circle the Branff Art center. Both Ali Farke Toure, and Taj Mahal were on the bill, and we organized on our long workshop with them both, which is basically just then playing and just improvising around one another’s styles. I mean, both artists were completely opening up for it, but again, that was somehow something that, afterwards felt like blimey, why didnt that happened before. So yeah,stuff like that really

John Gardner:Wonderful and going back a little bit from this term. Once you had a place that you could put the records, you could explain your festival easier, assuming it’s easy to find examples of bands that had a positive impact from the label world music. I could be wrong, but I assume that I’d love to hear examples of that. And also do you know of examples of bands that experienced what I know? It’s been theorized that the term could create kind of a musical ghetto, and I’ve heard that kind of critique of it. Do you know of any examples of bands that were negatively impacted by that label?

Thomas Brooman: Well, yes, absolutely. There were quite a number of, you know, really conscious artists who were frustrated by by this tag, which they felt was only giving them a status where Well,actually, that was a misplaced thing. And, you know, you still adore for example, I think spent quite some time just feeling rather fed up about being in this, like world music categorization, because here he was tanzanian. Thank you very much, you know, and just making music that was free and wonderful. I think for him yes, it became a ghetto really very quickly. Well, I’m sure that must have been many others. But you certainly does come to my mind the majority of the time. I guess of the first five years of this, artists were often brought to this country simply as a result of our own energy and commitment. So they were just happy. They were just happy to be, you know, reaching out new audiences and really quite inspired by the atmosphere of the events that we were creating for them. But I, like, completely sympathize. I mean, you know of all my experience of music over the years, when somebody is categorized and really is a determined way, they become mostly interested to escape that category someone who comes to mind in that sense is a different friend, Billy Cobham. you know, the wonderful, wonderful drummer and He just was so fed up with simply being known as a jazz artist. And so we got involved with Bill because he was when he came to Real World Bath Studios near Bath. Well, where I use to be based. He just knocked on our door as it were and said, “Look I really like to do something collaborative with with a Latin group. Do you know is there anybody you can suggest?” And I suggested to him on the Cuban Asere. So they met and played together, and he loved that on. They recorded and they taught ,and he had the utmost respect for the bongo player especially, I‘m pretty sure that’s correct. Yes, his lead plays bongos, and hand percussion. And on the other hand, He recognised a top level musician and he was just so happy to to play music and to reach out to people on the platform that wasn’t simply jazz. Many other artists, maybe working in World Music would be only too happy to care for a large audience with invitations to, you know, Jazz festivals, for example. But you know it. Hey, it’s, such a difficult road. It seems to me, the musicians of all sorts. I think one enduring thing that frustrates me about being involved in music is that I feel that as much as we thrive and live happily because of music and without it after, where would we be for? For musicians themselves, it’s just a hard graft. You know, there’s never a end of the Rainbow with a pot of gold and with pop music, even if they’re seems to me, it probably means bankruptcy in another three years. I’m sorry and progressing.

John Gardner: No absolutely not. It’s all important and great to hear. Love to hear your thoughts on these things. One of the one of the things in your book that I read about that I could visualize, I could see and you speak about artists that we’re so thankful to have this larger audience, and it speaks to how difficult it is, even being a top musician in so many places. You tell a story in your book about Remmy Ongala. and you go to his home and you visit there and they kind of set up, you know, I guess maybe a memorial or a shrine of sorts for you, right?

Thomas Brooman: Yes, yes, to their ex instruments. Because when we brought Remmy in his band over in nineteen eighty eight, I think for the first time, the earnings not huge as they were, but, I mean, they were in Tanzania terms they were really significant. It did allow the band to buy a whole new backline or a new drum kit, saxophone, guitars, amplifiers and they brought them home with them in Tanzania. I stayed there in his house as a in a way, a very poignant reminder or yes, of the importance of that first tour . He and his wife, Tony, had just arranged a small selection of the instruments they used to use. And they were so battered and decrepit, it was difficult to believe that he used those very instruments to, you know, please, so many people all the time in Dar es Salaam in surrounding areas in in Tanzania. But you know again. It’s the experience of many musicians who play their way out of poverty and S.E Rogie, for example, another old friend means sadly passed from Sierra Leone, who was a huge pop star, if you like. You know that West African country. He said, that his first guitar, he sometimes had to string with barbed wire where obviously the barbs would get taken out.

John Gardner: But there was no other option. And that’s and that’s the only way that he could get an instrument to play chords that he would then sing over, which sounds unimaginable. Doesn’t it really,just the privation that it lies behind that.
That’s such a beautiful thing, the picture to see how these opportunities can mean so much, it can change, change so much for people. Indeed, like to go back, you mentioned. I usually ask guest, what’s your first experience with music from a culture outside of yours? You hit upon that within the first probably twelve seconds of us speaking energy, and you mentioned Samba and Bossa Nova, also about the respect for music of other cultures. Or maybe in this case, it might have been a lesson just in respect for music itself. But would you mind to share just a little bit of the story about the drum that was in your room when you first moved in?

Thomas Brooman: Well, yes, it’s, uh, some of it still brings a little um, gosh, shame to my mind, my memory when we were in when a Buenos Aires is I have my tenth birthday in April of nineteen sixty four and I was one of those children had always been, like, tapping on the kitchen table and driving the family mad and them to shut up. But that was just who I was really and so my Dad who is just really full on hook line and sinker for the culture of Argentina and South America. He brought me this traditional Gaucho Drum . Yeah, which has still got its just like next door, you know, pass where I’m speaking from and I was just so I was really thrilled I was. I mean, it’s just a wonderful present, but at the same time, within, I don’t know, like, seconds and minutes or something. I thought that this is one of the drums that’s Ringo plays and again just to explain that when we came away from England the Beatles were just suddenly triumphant and everybody loves the Beatles, including me very much. And then we were all the way down there in Buenos Aires and there was no Internet. There was no streaming. It was very much you’re thousands of miles away from where it was at. But, you know, I studied closely, you know, the drum kits.

And I just thought, Well, you know, what is this you know, doesn’t look like one of the Beatles drums. But maybe I can just, you know, help was a long and so before my parents woke up. I’m just with a biro inscribed the Beatles in that, you know, familiar logo exposed matters like a copy it. This is a fashion, you know. They’re tight face and there it was in biro. And when my parents came into the room saying happy birthday and they saw what I had done and were just, you know, really so angry and anyway, but it’s almost rubbed down now. I can’t remember exactly why I rubbed it out as much as I had. But it was an enduring, an important president. I mean, in a way, a way to face this. I mean, it was only a reflection of how much I cared.

John Gardner: That’s great. And and there’s things like that we run into. Our organization, the World Music Foundation, where a lot of times we give people their first exposure to music from India and and we’ll have people, maybe like you, very innocently, they might move the instrument aside with their feet, and we wouldn’t even walk over an instrument because we don’t want our feet to be exposed to the instrument. And just when I read that story, it was really interesting to see an innocent way you might have even been in your way showing respect to it or interacting with it in a loving way. But when you zoom out, you realize, Oh, yeah, I guess that could be seen as disrespectful to the music.

Thomas Brooman: Yes, well, I think in truth that it was, but it was unwitting. It was unwitting disrespect, you know, and the last thing I meant to do was hurt my parents, you know, for sure.

John Gardner: Yeah. So from your music — you still play drums?

Thomas Brooman: Yes, I’ve got my fantastic Yamaha kit right behind me. Yep. So I still do, but It’s just a ah, you know, home based thing now. I’m not playing with the band at all, and in a sense there’s no point in it. You are playing with people, which I have loved doing throughout my life but, you know, you reach an age where you have to accept that some things may have passed and so unless I kind of formed some band called the Geriatrics, or something like that I don’t think it’s much going to happen. But you know there’s still this strange impulse in me that goes I could do this, I could do this.

John Gardner: I mean, you’ve been able to hear so many different influences, and so many– I shouldn’t say influences– but styles of music, I wonder. Did that ever influence your your drumming?

Thomas Brooman: Well I may have been influenced, but I mean the bold truth of it is that I can only play in that really, really simple 4/4 foot to the floor, kind of fashion of just keeping a steady beat and listening to what everybody else in the band in the lineup might be doing and just, you know, creating that anchor of rhythm. But I’m not a I’m not really a musician. I’m a listener and whenever I’ve played on stage with people I’ve just felt, you know, kind of quite privileged and often out of my depth. And back to that point about you know, discipline and work. The only way I feel in which my own background resulted in quite good playing was because of just rehearsing, rehearsing and playing and just really living within the entity of the group that was playing in. But I love rock & roll, I love blues and ust simple rhythmic music. Absolutely love it, you know, and that just endures. And that’s just absolutely lives in me but I can’t pretend to any great you know, um, musical influences that rubbed off, wish they had. But it’s just beyond me, you know.

John Gardner: Well, and a lot of people, and maybe not into the music like you say, takes the technical ability to be able to bring in these these other influences. Hearing that many different styles of music, Do you think it’s affected you beyond the music. just socially, or I guess maybe in a broader way. How would you describe the benefit of experiencing music from cultures outside of your own?

Thomas Brooman: I think that, as you were saying, fairly early on in the conversation. I think the thing of it having an open mind is, well, the essential thing in social living. And you know, I live here in Bristol, which is, I think, the UK’s seventh biggest cities. Something like that. It’s got just under half million people. But there are one hundred eighty seven different nationalities living in the city and something like thirty-four different religions, many languages. And this is the reality. I live in an absolutely multicultural society and I think that music and just meeting people of other cultures through the always positive experience of music itself is bound to have a resonance, it’s bound to have a positive resonance. So I think that is in a way, you know, quite apart from the mysterious, spiritually effective music itself at its highest level, it’s something that does bring people together. Of course it does. And so I really applaud what you’re doing, it sounds really fantastic.

John Gardner: Thank you. Well, that’s a beautiful description. And I knew again you to be able to put in words better than I could. So again hats off to that English degree.

Thomas Brooman: Thank you so much. And I love, love, love the sometimes simplicity of a pop song. Where just the beat and then the art of the melody and its chords. And oddly, because I love reading. I love words. English words so much. The lyrics are much less important to me than the atmosphere and the pulse of pop music and yeah, in that sense, I really do feel very privileged to have become a teenager. You know, when I did, I was born in nineteen fifty for and as soon as I got back from Argentina and began going to concerts on my own age ten. And they were all really vivid experiences, and that thing of you know life changing moments and the second big show that I saw was in nineteen sixty seven in Bristol’s Colston Hall, and the lineup was headlined by Jimi Hendrix Experience. Also during the evening were Pink Floyd and the band The Tree Over. The Nice were featured, Keith Emerson. And The Move, who were a really brilliant pop band at the time. Amen Corner I remember was one group as well. And I guess those experiences of the pop packages also may be very open to this thing of the festival where you can go to one event. You can see many, many performances and that was a privilege, you know. And I was, what, thirteen, when I saw that and then the Rolling Stones in the same place when I was fifteen etcetera, etcetera. Two really influential events which I had experienced in the late sixties, early seventies were a festival of progressive blues and progressive rock as it was called then in Bath and then the year after in Shepton Mallet and they were big experiences for me. They featured all of these top groups from mostly England in nineteen sixty nine Fleetwood Mac, ten years after, Led Zeppelin. You know, all the great names which are all today reflective of that blues boom as they called it here, which I suppose was another influence of non UK non Western music that have deeply affected me, I have always loved blues very, very much. And so with those two events in sixty nine, seventy, I loved this romantic idea of a destination you weren’t sure what is going to be like for one thing, you know, and then this thing of a a big, big crowd of people… Everyone in a way suffering but enjoying if you know what I mean just, you know, away from home and away from creature comforts. But just having that adventure of some sort. It was a great time for pop music and pop fans I think.

John Gardner: Well I have to tell you, I’m not of the same age or generation I think. I’m thirty eight and the music of my youth– my experience was searching and running and traveling to reach the music that you had being newly created at that time. So if I had a chance to see the Rolling Stones, or Grand Funk Railroad or anybody that had a chance, that was my growing up. And I actually had an internship and I was offered a job at the third largest software company in the world. But I had been finding on my free time all these bands were playing at some small town in Cadott, Wisconsin, in the middle of nowhere and I had never heard of this town. How are all these people playing in the same place? Turns out there was an event: Rockfest, and I just knew I had to go there and they said, well, you have this opportunity, you can start working with us I had to make a choice and I chose: pull out the maps, make my way to Rock Fest, and I had no idea that was the direction of my life after that. Running after music and taking people and bands to places.

Thomas Brooman: And when did you found the World Music Foundation? When did that begin?

John Gardner: Well, this was after working with a musician, I still work very closely with him, I feel incredibly blessed to, his name is Pandit Sandip Burman. And I started touring with this musician and I played terrible, terrible blues, harmonica. I mean, not being humble, I am not good, OK, and I’m in Calcutta with these amazing master Indian classical musicians. They found out that I played. It was kind of like, Oh, great, I don’t want to play in front of these guys. I play just a few bars of my terrible harmonica and they lit up! They were like curious kids, you know, and they wanted to know about it and oh, that sounds like raag Bilawal. You know, they had all these amazing associations that they had in their mind, but I saw the way now I’m a part. I’m just a part of them. I’m accepted. We had this in common, and that’s when I said, okay, there’s something bigger here and I said I’ve gotta turn it into something that we can give this experience to more people and open some minds. So that’s what we’ve been working on.

Thomas Brooman: Great. You’re asking me about my stuff but your story is equally fascinating, I think.

John Gardner: I might not say equally, but thank you. Thanks so much. So this podcast kind of is in that vein of we started doing research and seeing that it really is affecting students worldview, not hearing about music of other cultures.

Thomas Brooman: Yeah, myself I think that in terms of, you know, musicality in the world, something that I think may be many young people who aspire to a career, success in music, is something that I think should be in the forefront of the consciousness from the very start. Is that what seems to be this you know, God given talent is, in a way a mysterious God given thing. But it’s also born of hard, hard work and discipline and learning. And, you know, you’re mentioning abstruse rhythmic signatures in Indian classical music and to the Western ear that is so difficult to penetrate but with an Indian consciousness, you know, it’s like this complete awareness. Oh, goodness, because of their mastery of time signature, phrasing, cadence, melody and everything, and it’s the same in my experience all across the world that artists get really great at their craft as a result of perseverance and such hard work. And that’s how it happens. It’s only like that, you know, it’s not a part time job so well, but then I get that’s a bit of a hard thing to say, because I wouldn’t in any way deny the pleasure that you know somebody in an amateur choir will get from, you know, singing one night a week, I’m not decrying that but if you really want to be serious and think about an involvement in music it’s more than a profession. What do you call that when a teacher is not simply professional person, they are, Eh? What’s the word I’m searching for? Let’s move on.

John Gardner: And that makes a lot of sense, especially in this fast food culture, that you have to actually sit down and pay the dues and play the same note over and over and over. If you want to really master that as many different directions, we can all hear that not just students, it’s always appreciated without a doubt. So I could spend hours speaking with you. I’m just loving it and learning so much from it. But you’ve been so gracious with your time, I don’t want to take too much of it. So I’ll go through and just ask these… We like to to wrap up with just some kind of quick questions, and it’s always interesting to see the similarities and differences between different artists and musical experts. So quick, real easy, first one is what’s your favorite food?

Thomas Brooman: Oh, crikey, broccoli, rice, salmon.

John Gardner: Okay, great and we’ll have to see as this podcast goes on if you’re the only one who ever says broccoli. And what do you enjoy doing outside of music? Any hobbies?

Thomas Brooman: Well reading and movies and talking. Being with my lovely wife from Amanda. Seeing my children, swimming.

John Gardner: Great. What’s been on your mind lately?

Thomas Brooman: My health.

John Gardner: We’re going to hope and pray that everything is good stays good.

Thomas Brooman: Thank you.

John Gardner: The last question. Let me know if it’s not clear. If you could ask just one question. And as soon as you asked the question you knew the entire truthful answer to that question. What would you ask?

Thomas Brooman: What is your idea of life after death? I think that would get to the bottom of a lot of people’s deepest beliefs and hope and fear.

John Gardner: Makes a lot of sense. And I would hope that the belief for what happens after death should hopefully and probably influence what we do before death. But maybe not always the case. So, Mr. Brooman Thomas, I can’t thank you enough again. I could keep you for hours. It’s been such a pleasure, and I really appreciate you taking the time for our podcast.

Thomas Brooman: Well, Mr. Gardner, John. You are most welcome. It was very nice to speak.

John Gardner: Take care.

Thomas Brooman:Bye bye now.

(Outro Music Plays)

John Gardner: Hooo! Man! I felt like I was talking to an older, wiser, more successful and honestly a little better looking version of myself that whole conversation. I loved it! I couldn’t believe the things that he was saying are exactly what I’ve been trying to get across in words that he summed up quite a bit better. See what he started that is still up and running all over the world, catch a WOMAD festival if you ever get the chance. Definitely check out “My Festival Romance”, Thomas Brooman’s book. I just can’t get enough of it, I’ve read through it a couple of times now. You can find that at, you can also find links to that at our website That’ll take you directly to this episode and on every episode page we have a spotify playlist. It’ll include a lot of these artists that you hear mentioned. But also the link for any musical mention, any country, any musician, any musical style that’s mentioned, we have links to extra information. There’s always that and much more for the extra curious at Thank you so much for tuning in this week. Remember to listen widely. Open ears equals open minds. And we’ll catch you next time. 

For The Extra Curious


Musical Mentions

0:13 WOMAD World of Music, Art, and Dance Festival
1:51 Cheb Khaled
4:26 Punk Rock
5:41 Bossa nova
5:44 Samba
9:38 Institute of Contemporary Arts in London
10:28 Topic Records
10:28 GlobeStyle Record
10:30 Ben Mandelson
10:33 Roger Armstrong
10:36 African music
13:17 Giuseppe Verdi
13:17 Ludwig van Beethoven
13:17 Maurice Ravel
15:01 Ian Anderson
15:03 fRoots Magazine
16:05 Blues
16:06 Bluegrass
16:28 Saxophone
16:29 Guitar
16:58 Qawwali
17:07 Harmonium
19:18 Ravi Shankar
19:23 Hugh Masekela
19:29 Grazing in the Grass
19:53 WOMAD First Festival 1982
19:55 Echo and the Bunnymen
20:17 The Beat
20:25 The Drummers of Burundi
20:36 Pete de Freitas
20:54 All My Colours (Zimbo)
22:20 WOMAD Blues and Rhythm Fest 1989
22:30 Ali Farka Toure
22:30 Taj Mahal
23:54 Youssou N’Dour
25:06 Billy Cobham
25:22 Real World Studios
25:41 Asere
27:35 Remmy Ongala
29:08 S.E. Rogie
31:09 Gaucho drum
31:31 Ringo Starr
31:36 The Beatles
32:09 Drum Set
35:09 4/4 time signature
36:00 Rock and Roll
36:04 Blues
39:33 Bristol Colston Hall
39:36 The Jimi Hendrix Experience
39:40 Pink Floyd
39:42 The Nice
39:45 Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake & Palmer)
39:46 The Move
39:52 Amen Corner
40:10 Rolling Stones
40:23 Festival for progressive Blues
40:41 Fleetwood Mac
40:45 Led Zeppelin
41:02 Blues
41:57 Pop Music
42:03 Rolling Stones
42:04 Grand Funk Railroad
42:30 Rock Fest (either 1999 or 2000)
43:11 Pandit Sandip Burman
43:20 Blues Harmonica
43:30 Indian Classical
43:46 Raag Bilawal
45:26 time signature
45:28 phrasing
45:29 cadence
45:29 melody