I’ve been running the Catweazle Club every week in Oxford since 1994, which is very much a grass-roots community performance space. It’s a listening space - there is no PA - and the connection between the audience and the artist is every bit as important as the performance itself. Everybody is welcome, the calibre is very high, and the atmosphere is unlike anything else you will encounter this century.
No one else was really putting on WOMAD-calibre world music artists in Oxford, so in 2001, I founded Big Village, an organisation dedicated to showcasing global artists who are at the top of their game. It is kind of like the other end of the spectrum, but actually the two platforms have a lot in common.
There is an authenticity and connection in the kinds of performances and experiences that both present that is totally at odds with mainstream culture and this is something that I celebrate.
For me, Tinariwen are the exemplars of authentic music making. Their story is one of war, struggle and survival as nomads in the deserts of Mali. There is a sense that they make music because they have to make sense of it all. And of course, their music is just transcendent. It takes you into the heart of that desert world, and is utterly mesmerising.
I was lucky enough to get the chance to book them a couple of years ago, when they sold out the Town Hall, and I’m hugely excited that they are coming back to play in Oxford at the end of April. I remember watching them from the wings at that show trying to figure out – as a musician myself - just how they managed to weave such an entrancing spell, with just a couple of guitars, a bass, and some simple percussion. I will no doubt be trying to do the same thing again at the O2, before completely losing myself in their magic once more.
(Photo credit: Jason Warner)