Carifesta 1978 – 1983


Carifesta was an annual festival of Caribbean arts and entertainment held at the Leeds Playhouse on Calverley Street during the summer. The first Carifesta began on 22 July 1978 and lasted eight days, ending on 29 July. Among the events was a screening of the 1972 Jamaican film ‘The Harder They Come’ starring Jimmy Cliff. Attendance for the 1978 event was low which Leeds Other Paper put down to poor promotion. In 1979 Carifesta was cut down to six days and began on 18 June. Two movies, ‘Dread Beat An’ Blood’ and ‘Roots Rock Reggae’, were screened every night at 7.30pm on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday night, the United Caribbean Association hosted a night of poetry and dance which included music by the UCA Steel Band. Friday 22 June was dedicated to the Chapeltown Dance Theatre which included a play, a dance performance, singing and music by the Chapeltown Dance Theatre Steel Band. Saturday’s ‘Gala Concert’ included calypso, gospel, dances, folklore, and limbo. Guests enjoyed a West Indian buffet and after the show, a ‘jump-up’ was held in the car park with music provided by a steel band.

Carifesta 79
Poster for Carifesta 1979.

In 1980 a week-long exhibition was held in the foyer at the Leeds Playhouse from 23rd June but the festival itself was reduced to two days. Adult tickets were priced at 60p and admission for children was half price. On Friday evening from 7.30pm entertainment was provided by the Roseville Community Theatre, the Wendy Campbell Dance Group, The Chapeltown Dance Theatre Steel Band and the Chapeltown Dance Theatre drama group who performed a play. The Saturday night ‘Gala’ included steel bands, dance performances, comedy, reggae, gospel, limbo, a fashion spectacular, and Sweet Unity from Sheffield. The bar was open until late and a West Indian buffet was provided. Again, the show ended with a jump-up in the car park with a steel band playing.

Poster for Carifesta 1981.

The 1981 Carifesta was held between 26 and 27 July. There was a price increase on tickets from 60p to £1 and 50p for children. Friday night’s entertainment began at 7.30pm and included a steel band, the drama group Urban Zebra and the Chapeltown-based dance group Mara Yi Pili. On Saturday night guests were entertained by dancers, comedy, reggae, a fashion show, gospel singers, limbo and a steel band. Once again there was a West Indian buffet and a jump-up in the car park after the show. The follow year Carifesta took place on Friday 2 and Saturday 3 July. Local reggae band Bodecian played on Friday night and two movies, ‘Dread Beat An’ Blood’ and ‘Roots Rock Reggae’, were screened. At the ‘Gala Night’ on Saturday, entertainment again included comedy, dance, limbo and a steel band. The night once again ended with a jump-up in the car park.

Poster for Carifesta 1982.

The final Carifesta was held in 1983. That year’s events took place on 8 and 9 July. Ticket prices had again increased. Adult tickets were now priced at £1.50 and child tickets were 75p. From 7.30pm on Friday 8 July, guests were entertained by music and dance. The line-up included the prize-winning Bhangra dance group Nachda Punjab, Sonik Four from Huddersfield, Mara Ya Pili and the Primrose Hill Chinese Dancers from Leeds. Music was provided by the Primrose Hill Steel Band. Saturday’s ‘Gala Night’ also began at 7.30pm and included dance performances by the United Caribbean Association Dance Group and the Los Caribos Limbo Dance Group, drama from Urban Zebra and music from the Elizabeth Noel Singers, Gospel Messengers and the funk band Brazilia.

Carnival Says No To Hard-Drugs – Leeds West Indian Carnival 1989

The ‘Give For Life’ appeal continued into 1989 and on 28 July the 100K Club, with help from the Sikh Centre Women’s Group, organised a Community Lunch at the Sikh Centre on Chapeltown Road. The lunch was attended by 250 people who enjoyed a vegetarian menu. The event raised £500 for the appeal.

Community Lunch at the Sikh Centre, 28 July 1989.

On page 9 of the 7 July issue of Leeds Other Paper, under the headline ‘Don’t Stop The Carnival’, readers were informed that “as summer days get hotter, so are preparations among carnivalists for August Bank Holiday. In Huddersfield and Leeds (Britain’s oldest carnival) steel and mas bands are tuning their pans to new arrangements for the day; and talking through the finer points of costume design and material.” The short article went on to explain “Many carnival goers give little thought to the months of organisation that goes into making the street carnival work on the day.” The article then pointed out that “Bands (mas and steel) survive from each year to the next with little support, having to raise funds from dances and shows, so most places will be throbbing with pre-carnival dances and concerts.” The newspaper then told its readers “if you want to see more colour and splendour on the street on carnival day then support these events”.

Among the events that readers of Leeds Other Paper were encouraged to support was the Jamaica Independence Dance held at the West Indian Centre on 5 August. The headlining act was Leeds’ very own soca star Chevi backed by the Secret Army Band. Born in St. Kitts, Chevi (Eugene Chiverton) had recorded soca music in Trinidad, New York and London in the early 1980s and was now living in Leeds. He was a social worker, working with young offenders in Chapeltown, Seacroft and Gipton. He was a member of Lord Silkie’s Cockspur Crew and had performed soca across the UK including Manchester, Huddersfield, Bradford, Sheffield, Birmingham and London.  In early 1989 he had founded Cariba Records, to promote and record Leeds based artists and to bring over artists from the Caribbean to perform at the Leeds West Indian Carnival and other events. Cariba Records was based on Roundhay Road and incorporated a recording studio, publishing house and management and booking agency. “The importance of music must never be underestimated” Chevi told Leeds Other Paper in August 1989. “There are no age or class barriers when it comes to music, especially black music” he added. In July Cariba Records released it’s one and only disc – Chevi’s ‘AH-Beautiful Day’. The 12 inch single, backed with ‘Beautiful Rythem’ – an instrumental version, was reviewed in the 4 August issue of Leeds Other Paper. The review described the song as a “bouncy soca rhythm that makes you dance, sing or do most anything.” Chevi and Cariba Records were profiled in Leeds Other Paper in their 11 August issue.

Chevy (2)
Chevi, 1989.

The West Indian Centre hosted a “pre-carnival event” on 12 August. The headlining acts were Trinidadian calypso singers Mighty Sparrow and Baron. Mighty Sparrow had been recording since the 1950s and had released the single ‘Jump For Jesse’ in 1988. Baron’s most recent single was 1988’s ‘Ruction In Town’. Tickets for the concert were priced at £5 or £6 on the door.

Just short of two weeks after Chevi’s performance at the West Indian Centre, Reggae duo Royal Blood made their live debut there on 18 August. The duo was made up of sisters Annette and Paulette Morris who had previously sung with the ten-piece multiracial band Exiles Intact. Exiles Intact had broken up at the end of July, their last gig was at the Grove Inn on 30 July. Any engagements they had after that date were taken on by Royal Blood backed by Stone Roots. Despite a poor turnout, the concert received a good review in Leeds Other Paper and it was reported that Royal Blood performed ‘Slipping Away’, which was set to be their debut single, and ‘Things I’d Do For You’. Under Chevi’s management, Royal Blood would make their TV debut later in the month, appearing on the TV show ‘Ebony On The Road’.

Ebony On The Road was a series of six programmes produced by the team behind the TV programme Ebony. Each episode focused on a different Afro-Caribbean community in Britain and the programme had already visited Cardiff, Liverpool, and Birmingham. Its finial stop was in Leeds. The programme, presented by Brinsley Ford, Aminatta Foma and Martin Shaw, aired on BBC 2 on Tuesday 22 August at 8.30pm. The programme showed many images of Chapeltown, particularly in its intro, including the Hayfield Pub, Chapeltown Business Centre, The CAB-INN, The Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Kuffdem Theatre Company, The Palace Youth Project, The Mandela Centre, The West Indian Centre and WYBC (We’re Young, Bright and Conscious)Radio Station – a pirate radio station run by Culture T. The majority of the programme however was filmed inside the West Indian Centre. Backed by Stone Roots, Royal Blood performed the song ‘Things I’d Do For You’ live in front of the cameras and a live audience. In the audience was proud father St Clair Morris. The programme also featured the Palace Youth Project and The Chapeltown Anti-hard Drugs Campaign. In a pre-recorded segment, campaign committee members Marina Active, Eren Weekes and Ezz Witter spoke about the campaign and its aims. Back at the West Indian Centre the discussion continued with campaign group leader Yvette Small, Chapeltown resident Claude Hendrickson, businessman Victor Shaw and community worker and carnival committee member Susan Pitter.

Royal Blood and Stone Roots on Ebony On The Road.

Among the costume designers for this year’s Leeds West Indian Carnival was Kam Sangra. He worked on his costume for four weeks and had taken two weeks holiday from work to design and make his costume. In an interview for the 1990 Official Leeds West Indian Carnival magazine, Kam spoke about his experience designing carnival costumes. “I think I’ve got the Carnival bug. I got it from Arthur France. It was he who pushed me into helping him out with his own costumes. I did that for a number of years. Then he suggested I make my own costume” Kam explained. Kam went on to speak about how he was reluctant at first. “I’m Asian, not Afro-Caribbean. But he [Arthur France] told me Trinidadian Carnival had always been the product of many cultures, and that Asians had always played a significant part in it. That reassured me” he said. His costume, called ‘Rainbow of Peace’ was 13 feet high and included a giant rainbow, 16 feet wide, which stretched from one side of the queen to the other. The sun and clouds were also included in the design and in the centre was a giant pot of gold. Looking back in 1990, Kam recalled “I was working at 3 o’clock in the morning, music blaring, glue everywhere. The neighbours asked a few questions. But once they saw it was a Carnival thing, they were understanding. I have good neighbours.”

Leeds Other Paper published a feature on the Leeds West Indian Carnival in their 25 August issue, giving full details of the upcoming events. “Chapeltown is a hive of activity this Bank Holiday weekend” the newspaper informed its readers. Black and white photos of last year’s carnival were featured on the cover and inside. The first of this year’s events was the poorly publicised Prince and Princess Show (Not mentioned in Leeds Other Paper).  The Prince and Princess Show took place at the West Indian Centre on Sunday 20 August. The winning Prince was a boy named Marlin and a girl named Sabrina took the prize for the best Princess.

The Carnival Queen Show 1989 took place inside the marquee erected outside the West Indian Centre on Friday 25 August. The show began at 9pm (doors opened at 8pm) and admission was priced at £2.50. Susan Pitter was the compere once again and this year she was joined by Hughbon Condor. An hour of music was provided by DJ Godfather before the show was officially opened at 10pm. Entertainment on the night included a dance troupe called ‘Brenda’s Dancers’. The troupe was made up of young girls aged 6 to 13 and was organised by Brenda Monique.  They danced to ‘Mary Jane’. In the October issue of Corporate magazine it was reported that “the young group showed so much talent that it was hard to believe their ages ranged from only six to 13 years”. They were followed by the winning Carnival Prince, Marlin, and Carnival Princess, Sabrina, who danced to music provided by the New World Steel Orchestra. The October issue of Corporate magazine reported that “the audience made it clear that they approved of the committee’s decision in choosing these two to represent the youngsters at the carnival.” The Old Mas sketch followed which, according to Corporate magazine, compressed of “seven items of modern interest, cleverly mocked by the seven members of the group”. Among the seven members performing the sketch were Lord Silkie, African Man, and The Godfather. A singer, whose name is only given as Jenny, was performing in front of an audience for the first time in three years. She sang two songs, including one self-penned love song. Lord Silkie performed calypso music and Janet Halliday returned once again to perform limbo dancing. Six men and six women from the audience joined her on stage to try their hand at limbo dancing.

The full programme for the evening was as follows:

8.00 – Doors open
9.00 – DJ Godfather
10.00 – Opening
10.05 – Brenda’s Dancers
10.15 – Prince and Princess
10.30 – Old Mas
10.45 – Jenny
10.55 – Lord Silkie
11.15 – Queen Contest
12.15 – Limbo
12.30 – Results
12.45 – DJ Godfather
1.30 – New World Steel Orchestra

A total of six Queens took part in the Carnival Queen Show. They were:

  • Shelley Pratt in a costume called ‘Queen of Sheba’, designed by Matthew Stevens and made by St. Aidan’s Vicarage and sponsored by Scaffolding GB.
  • Nicola Shannon in a costume called ‘Blue Caribbean’, designed and made by Gloria Pemberton and Lesley Ambrose and sponsored by NatWest.
  • Erma Norford in a costume called ‘Fantasy Island’, designed and made by St. Martin’s Church and sponsored by M.S Training Agency.
  • Ingrid Collins in a costume called ‘World of Sweet Pan’, designed and made by Arthur France and sponsored by the West Indian Centre.
  • Cheryl James in a costume called ‘Black Pearl’ designed by Leo Small and made by the Palace Youth Project and sponsored by Yorkshire Arts.
  • Sheila Howarth in a costume called ‘Rainbow of Peace’, designed and made by Kam Sangra and sponsored by Leeds City Council.

Beginning at quarter past eleven, the six queens paraded in front of the five judges. Corporate magazine gives the names of four of the five judges. They were Felina Wood, Alan Julian, Derrick ‘Tubbs’ Lawrence and Brian Brammer. Sheila Howarth’s costume was one of the largest and had problems getting on the stage.  Ingrid Collins’ large sphere costume was based on the New World Steel Orchestra logo and moved along on wheels. Erma Norford, who had been a member of the girl group Silk Cut four years previously, wore a costume made by members of St. Martin’s Church. When she entered the stage the audience were unsure of the design. However, when the costume unfolded it received great applause. Max Farrar was on hand once again to take photos of the Queens as they danced on the stage.

Ingrid Collins in her costume called ‘World of Sweet Pan’, designed and made by Arthur France, took the third place. Second place was taken by Cheryl James in her costume ‘Black Pearl’ which had been made by members of the Palace Youth Project. The winning Queen for 1989 was Sheila Howarth in a costume named ‘Rainbow of Peace’ designed and made by Kam Sangra. This win marked two firsts for the Leeds West Indian Carnival. Sheila Howarth, just days away from her 32nd birthday, was the first married woman to take the Carnival Queen title (she had married Kevin Howarth in July 1984) and Kam Sangra was the first non-black winning designers, he was of Indian descent.  In an interview for the 1990 Official Leeds West Indian Carnival magazine Kam Sangra spoke about how he felt when he was announced as the winner. “I was very happy, joyous! And obviously thankful to the people who helped me, when I won. I felt happy for them” he said. “It was a marvellous feeling to win, but the other designs were very good as well” Kam added. “A lot of my success was because of the Queen. It was a joint effort. No doubt about that. At the end of the day it was the Queen, Sheila Howarth and the helpers who won it for me”. Kam Sangra went on to speak about the sportsmanship of the other designers. “Other competitors congratulated me on the night, and complimented the Queen” he said. The prize for the winning Queen and designer was a trip to the Caribbean.

Sheila Howarth felt transformed when wearing the costume. For one day she was transformed from an ordinary woman to a Queen. “I was Queen of Chapeltown” she told Colin Grant for his 2019 book ‘Homecoming’. She would later recall how she felt praised like she had never felt before. Everybody had cheered for her and wanted to take her photo.

Sheila Howarth, 1989.

Corporate magazine reported on the Queen Show in their October issue which included six black and white photos on the cover with more photos on pages 3 and 4. Three black and white photos of the Queen Show were included under the headline ‘The 22nd Carnival Queen Show’. The photos showed Sheila Howard [sic] as ‘Rainbow of Peace’, Erma Norford as ‘Fantasy Island’ and Cheryl James as ‘Black Pear’. In the article the Queen Show is described as “the best ever”.

Newspaper Advert for Black Heroes Concert II.

Despite last year’s concert being cancelled, the free reggae concert held in Potternewton Park on Sunday 27 August was still titled ‘Black Heroes Concert II’. For this year’s concert some rules had been put in place. Harehills Avenue between Spencer Place and Nassau Place was closed off and no cars were allowed in the park. The selling of alcohol and bottles in the park was also prohibited. Those wanting to sell food, drinks and other products had to make a concession booking in advance and were told to write to Richard Brown at the Leisure Services Department on Wellington Street.

The concert was reviewed in the 1 September issue of Leeds Other Paper. The line-up for 1989 included international, national and local acts. Among the local talent was the Bradford band Enuf-Sed who opened the show at 12 noon with “twin slices of funky soul”. They were followed by Rizla and Sister B, both of whom were backed by Stone Roots. Stone Roots remained on the stage and backed the other local acts including Stallion and Royal Blood. The latter performed a version of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. Royal Blood had appeared on the BBC 2 programme ‘Ebony On The Road’ five days previously. Creation Roots, a reggae band from Bradford also performed as did the Leeds’ based bands Symbolic and We Funk. The last of the local acts to perform was ragamuffin artist Judge D.

For the second half of the show Stone Roots were replaced by the Ruff Cut Band who first backed the dub poet Ras Firke. Lovers Rock singers Janet Davis and Kofi followed. Other national acts included Nerious Joseph and Crucical Robbie who performed ‘Proud To Be Black’. Daddy Freddy was up next and was followed by Scion Success from New York. Thriller U from Jamaica closed the show with “sweet lovers rock for a sultry evening”.

On Sunday night the Leeds West Indian Centre held ‘The Mega Bank Holiday All Nighter 89’. All night entertainment was provided both in the marquee outside and the hall inside. In the marquee, guests were entertained by reggae star Alton Ellis and Supa Youth and the Java sound system from London. Inside the centre was Mike Shaft, Our Man Flint – M*A*R, Mickey Spillane, DJ Martin, and Play Boy. Tickets were priced at £6 and were available from Jumbo Records, Jewel Records, Scott Hall Videos and The West Indian Centre in Leeds as well as Live Stock Records in Bradford and Baron Records in Manchester.

Newspaper Advert for ‘The Mega Bank Holiday All Nighter 89’

Monday’s Leeds West Indian Carnival parade took place on 28 August.  An estimated 50,000 people attended the carnival in 1989. Revellers in Potternewton Park were entertained from the stage by DJ Berisford and the Invaders Steel Band.  As troupes gathered in the park prior to the parade setting off, Max Farrar began taking photos. In the performer’s arena in front of the stage, he photographed St Martin’s Church’s Fantasy Island troupe and queen. Troupe members wore yellow and red costumes and proudly held their homemade banner.

Sheila Haworth and Kam Sangra with Lord Mayor Carter and the Lady Mayoress.

Lord Silkey and The Cockspur Crew were in full swing for 1989’s Leeds West Indian Carnival. Eugene ‘Chevi’ Chiverton acted as the crew’s marketing person, providing them with t-shirts and rum. This year’s uniform was made up of Cockspur Rum t-shirts and brightly coloured shorts. The crew’s membership was at its height around this time with an estimated 100 or more members. Twenty-one of those members were photographed by Max Farrar in Potternewton Park. Max Farrar took their photograph as they posed in front of a banner that read ‘LORD SILKEY + The COCKSPUR CREW’, each member is holding up a bottle of Cockspur rum. Prior to the parade leaving the park, members of the crew had been photographed by Yorkshire Evening Post photographer Mel Hulme dancing with the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress. The following day Nigel Scott of the Yorkshire Evening Post reported “And Councillor Carter soon found himself joining members of the Leeds-based Cockspur Crew in an impromptu rumba which delighted the crowds waiting for the colourful and noisy parade to begin”. Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post the Lord Mayor, Councillor Les Carter said “It’s just fabulous. This must be one of the most spectacular events we have in Leeds.” The Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress also posed for photos with Sheila Haworth and Kam Sangra in Potternewton Park.

The Cockspur Crew, 1989 (Photo: Max Farrar)

Five steel bands took part in the parade which set off from Potternewton Park around 2pm and returned to the park at 6pm. They were The Chromatic Steel Band from Oldham, Star Quality Steel Band from Manchester, Sweet Melody Steel Band from Huddersfield and The New World Steel Orchestra and The Caribbeans from Leeds. The latter had added extra players to the band especially for the carnival, giving them around 15 players on the road. The band’s leader Wilfred Alexander was interviewed for the Official 1990 Leeds West Indian Carnival magazine, in which he gave some information on the band. “We’re a professional band with five or six members and play all year round” he said. While the band earned up to £200 for a performance, sometimes earning up to £1,000 in one day, they always played at the carnival for free. The band had toured Europe and the Middle East and played regularly in Scotland. “Once they see we’re a success, they call us back. That’s how we get bookings” Wilfred Alexander said in the Official 1990 Carnival magazine. “We can play calypso, soca, reggae” Wilfred informed the interviewer before adding “you can play reggae on pan. I don’t mean play a calypso kind of reggae. I mean real reggae. We can do it – we’re professional.”

A total of 17 troupes from Leeds, Huddersfield, Manchester, and Bradford took part in the parade. Students from the CHALCS computer school on Harrogate Road had formed a troupe for this year’s carnival and members of St. Martin’s Church had formed the ‘Fantasy Island’ troupe led by their Queen Erma Norford. Hughbon Condor, sponsored by Grenada Association, had designed costumes for the ‘Carnival Fever’ troupe from Huddersfield.  Hughbon Condor had also designed and made the Queen costume ‘Carnival Fever’ which won the Huddersfield Carnival Queen contest when it was worn by Lucy Charles. Gloria Pemberton and Beverly Samuels designed a troupe called ‘African Princes and Princesses’. Members of the Cockspur Crew included Edmund ‘Shaggy’ Jeffers, Marilyn Freeman, Mitch ‘Godfather’ Wallace, Sue Saw, Lisa Fell, Reginald Challenger, Freddie ‘Kinkie’ Mills, William Ward, Mel Lewis, Eugeme ‘Chevi’ Chiverton, Moiraine ‘Yabba’ Hall, Ephraim ‘Wishbone’ Richards, and Brian ‘Bush Wacker’ Phillips. They were led by Artie ‘Lord Silkie’ Davis.

CHALCS Carnival Troupe, 1989.

The Palace Youth Project’s anti-hard drugs troupe attracted the most media attention. They were given their own feature in Leeds Other Paper in the 6 October issue. The troupe wore t-shirts with anti-hard drug slogans on them. Among the slogans were ‘Drugs Nah Sting Inna Chapeltown’ and ‘Chapeltown Says No To Hard Drugs’. The troupe was part of ‘The Chapeltown Anti-hard Drugs Campaign’ which had been launched earlier in the year to deal with the increase of hard drugs (crack, cocaine and heroin) in the area which coincided with theft, muggings and robbery. Led by youth workers from the Mandela Centre and the Palace Youth Project, the campaign of education was backed by a £6,500 council grant. The campaign committee had also set up campaign table in Potternewton Park. A ‘Chinese Victory Appeal’ table also stood in the park in 1989; it showed solidarity with the Tiananman Square protesters in China. Photographs of both tables appeared in September/October issue of Aire View magazine. Among those taking photos at the carnival was Max Farrar who had attended and photographed every Leeds West Indian Carnival of the decade. The Lord Mayor of Leeds, Les Carter, was also spotted with a camera around his neck.

Once the parade had returned to Potternewton Park around 6pm, awards were given out on the stage. The ‘Carnival Fever ’ troupe from Huddersfield won best troupe and ‘African Princes and Princesses’ troupe from Leeds won the biggest troupe. Arthur France took the title of best individual costume and New World Steel Orchestra once again won the best steel band on the road. This was another successful year for the New World Steel Orchestra who had now become an international carnival band, playing in carnivals and concerts across Europe.

Despite the issues the local area was facing with hard drugs and an increase of crime, the Leeds West Indian Carnival was reported to be crime-free once again, this marked over two decades of a crime-free carnival in Leeds. Speaking to Leeds Other Paper, Chief Superintendent Alan Stonely said the carnival was “a credit to the people of Chapeltown”.

A police officer during the Leeds West Indian parade, 1989.

The Last Lap Dance was held at the West Indian Centre from 9pm on Monday Night. The dance lasted until 6am the following morning and tickets were priced at £3.50. Financial support from Leeds City Council, Yorkshire Arts, and Nat West Band had allowed the Carnival Committee to book an international star for this year’s entertainment. The headlining act was the Antiguan soca band Burning Flames who had recently had international success with the song ‘Worky Worky’. Music was provided by DJs Kids Sounds and Godfather.

While the BBC broadcasted live coverage of the Notting Hill Carnival in London, the Leeds West Indian Carnival didn’t receive any such privilege. The Yorkshire Evening Post covered the carnival on page 3 of their Tuesday 29 August issue. “A fabulous carnival wins the civic seal” ran the headline and two black and white photos by Mel Hulme were published. One shows members of the Cockspur Crew dancing with the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress. The other shows a police officer wearing a headdress, borrowed from the Carnival Fever troupe. Leeds Other Paper covered the carnival in their 1 September issue. A large black and white photo took up most of page 3. A colour photo of the carnival parade was featured on the front cover of the September/October issue of Aire View Magazine – a magazine for North Leeds. A two-page spread made up of 13 black and white photos appeared on pages 12 and 13. The photos show Queens and troupes in the parade, activity in Potternewton Park and the Cockspur Crew on the stage in the park. The Yorkshire Post included a large photo of Sheila Howarth on Roundhay Road, a photo of Cheryl James as ‘Black Pearl’,George Pike in a sun hat, Fred Lewis with a bottle of rum and the annual photo of a child. This year it was Daniel Powell, asleep in his pushchair.

Members of the Cockspur Crew with the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress.

The Bradford Festival held in September had a ‘Carnival’ theme for 1989. Held from 21 September to 24 September, the festival included a carnival parade on Saturday 23 September. Bradford’s own reggae group Creation Roots and Paradise Steel Band from Leeds were among the acts performing on the stage in Lister Park. A ‘Carnival Fun Day’ was held the following day which included a fun fair, bazaar and food stalls, dance displays, fashion shows, fireworks and an array of Indian music on the stage in Lister Park.

In Leeds, the city’s most popular reggae acts were reaching new heights at the end of the decade. Plans for Royal Blood to record were already in the works by August and in the second week of September, the six-piece band Stone Roots, managed by Derek Lawrence, had publicity photos taken by Max Farrar. The photoshoot took place on the Recreation Grounds  on Chapeltown Road on 8 September. By November, Royal Blood and Stone Roots were playing regularly at the Phoenix Club alongside Mavrick Internash sound system. On 10 December both Royal Blood and Stone Roots supported reggae star John Holt when he performed at the Phoenix Club.

Stone Roots, 1989 (Photo: Max Farrar)

Pan Forever! A Brief History of the New World Steel Orchestra 1984 – 2019


The New World Steel Orchestra was founded by Arthur France and Melvin Zakers in Leeds in February 1984, just a month after Arthur France had helped to set up the Roscoe Methodist Church Youth Steel Band. While not a pan player himself, Arthur’s love of the music had led him to found or co-found several steel bands in Leeds beginning with The United Caribbean Association’s Steel Band in 1965. Melvin Zakers had become involved in steel pans when he joined the Chapeltown Dance Theatre Steel Band in 1981. He later joined Metro Steel Band before joining Paradise Steel Band in 1982. Both men were members of the Leeds West Indian Carnival Committee when the band was founded.

The band was formed after it became clear that the Music Service, or indeed any other establishment were not willing to form an official School of Steel Pan. Arthur and Melvin worked together to come up with a name for the band and they designed the band’s logo together, which is full of symbolism. In the 2011 book ‘Pan! The Steel band Movement in Britain’ Arthur describes the logo as follows:

  • The steel pan holds together in love and harmony, the divided world in which we live.
  • The African Eagle transports the steel pan around the world.
  • The sticks generate the music from within the steel pan.
  • The olive branch signifies peace.
  • The wreath declare that ‘pan is forever’.

The band needed an arranger and tutor and Arthur had Raymond Joseph in mind for the job. Raymond was from Huddersfield and was tutoring the Roscoe Church Steel Band at the time and wasn’t sure if he wanted to take on another band. Arthur travelled to Raymond’s home in Huddersfield and persuaded him to help the New World Steel Orchestra. Instruments for the band were also needed but funds were low. Arthur and Raymond travelled to London to meet with the leader of Ebony Steel Band, Pepe Francis and the band’s captain Earl Lewis,  who sold them a set of second-hand pans. The band consisted of local young people aged 14-22, all who had been students of St Clair Morris. Among their first members was 14-year-old Gail Claxton who was later profiled in the Official 1988 Leeds West Indian Carnival magazine. Melvin Zakers was chosen as the band’s captain. With players, a tutor and instruments all in place rehearsals began in Gloria Frederick’s huge cellar in her home in Francis Street.

The New World Steel Orchestra began making public appearances in the summer of 1984 and made their carnival debut that August. Their official launch came in November 1984 at the West Indian Centre. Wanting to make a good first impression, Arthur France invited a number of important people to the concert including the head of music for Leeds Education Colin Brackley Jones, the deputy head of Leeds College of Music Roy Warmsley and various councillors from Leeds City Council.  Raymond Joseph arranged popular and classical tunes in a calypso tempo including songs by The Beatles and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. Their early repertoire includes ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’, ‘We Are The World’, ‘Human Nature’, ‘(They Long To Be) Close To You’ and ‘I Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely’. They became the first ever steel band in the North of England to stage a concert of Classical, Pop, Soca, Reggae and Hymns.

Dudley Nesbitt with NWSO, 1987.

Trinidadian pan player Dudley Nesbitt came to Britain in 1986 to arrange the Panorama tune for North Stars Steel Band from Huddersfield and shortly afterwards he began working closely with the New World Steel Orchestra. After seeing the second hand pans the band were using, Dudley promised he would bring a pan maker and tuner from Trinidad to Britain to make and tune pans for New World. Dudley kept his promise and thanks to the work of Kenrick Pernel, the New World Steel Orchestra got a new set of pans in 1986.

The band made public appearance in and around Leeds including annual involvement with the West Indian Carnival.The band practiced three times a week and they improved over time and increased in popularity. They soon became one of the most successful steel bands in the north of England. By the time they made an appearance in the 1987 documentary ‘Chapeltown One Year On’ they had new instruments, a uniform and a new tutor. Melvin Zakers had taken over Raymond Joseph and by 1987 he was tutoring several other steel bands in Leeds. The New World Steel Orchestra had become well-known outside of Leeds and in 1987 they performed at the Lancaster Hotel in London for the inauguration of the first black members of parliament.  As well as one-off performances, the New World Steel Orchestra toured the UK in 1987 and later toured Ireland and Switzerland. They made appearances at carnivals nationwide and became the only steel band to win three championship competitions, in Liverpool, Leicester and Leeds, in one year.

In 1989, sponsored by the Leeds City Council, the band travelled to Dortmund in Germany for an 8-day concert tour, representing their home city. Although Arthur France’s New World Steel Orchestra-inspired Carnival Queen costume failed to win the contest in 1989, the band won ‘Best Steel Band On The Road’ again that year. Dudley Nesbitt was now living in Leeds permanently and began tutoring the band on a regular basis. Dudley’s experience and expertise were crucial to the band’s success. He had been playing the instrument from an early age and had been arranging for steel bands in Trinidad since 1970. Geraldine Connor arrived in Leeds the following year and soon became involved with the band.

In 1990 Arthur France, Geraldine Connor and Dudley Nesbitt worked together towards enhancing the image of steel pan as a new art form.  However, in 1992 Geraldine Connor decided to move on and took up a full-time lectureship at Bretton Hall where she remained until 2004. Dudley continued to work closely with the band as their musical arranger and lead tutor. The New World Steel Orchestra continued to make public appearances across the UK during the 1990s and early 2000s.

NWSO in 1987.

The New World Steel Orchestra was relaunched in 2004 and continued working closely with Dudley Nesbitt, Melvin Zakers, Arthur France and Geraldine Connor. A new steering committee was formed, a new vision and objective was set out and the band were renamed The New World Symphony Steel Orchestra.Some of the original committee members included Ian Charles, Rita Kingston, Arthur France, Stephanie Lewis, Paula Swanston, Zebe Straughn, Kevin Spencer and Yvette Smalle.

Extra members were added to the band for their performance of  Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus in ‘Carnival Messiah’ when it was performed at Harewood House in 2007. New members included James Clark who was later profiled in the 2011 book ‘Pan! The Steelband Movement in Britain’. The band now included 30 players. Their performance  at Harewood House was filmed and in 2017 it was released in the ‘Carnival Messiah’ film.

NWSO in Carnival Messiah, 2007.

In 2011 Geraldine Connor published the book ‘ Pan! The Steelband Movement in Britain’ which included a brief history of the band and gave profiles on some of the players including Dudley Nesbitt, Melvin Zakers, James Clark, Anthony Gatewood, Gail Parmel (nee Claxton), Shanice Lewis, and Sheldon Evelyn. The book also lists the 2011 committee members.

New World Symphony Steel Orchestra Steering Committee Members, 2011:

Arthur France – Chairman
Magda Lezama – Deputy Chair
Derek Evelyn – Project Co-coordinator
Asha France – Fundraiser
Jasmine Richards – Marketing
Anthony Gatewood – Course Coordinator
Debra Jeffers – Registrar and General Administration
Ken Wenham – Treasurer
Jenny Huggins – Secretary
Sheldon Evelyn – Youth Captain
Melvin Zakers – Associate Tutor
Dudley Nesbitt – Musical Director, Arranger and Lead Tutor
Geraldine Conner – Musical Supervisor

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NWSO perform for Princess Anne, 2008

Dudley Nesbitt retired from tutoring in 2012 and Melvin Zakers took over the roll. Their ability to play a virility of styles has led them to perform in a variety of places including town halls, concert halls, churches, community centres, theatres, carnivals, schools, outdoor festivals and even supermarkets. They have made several appearances across the country including York, Thorner, Gateshead and London. In 2008 they performed at York Minster for Princess Anne, in 2012 they performed at the Thorner Village Diamond Jubilee Party and in 2014 they performed as part of the Tour De France Grand Depart in Leeds City Centre. An Adult Group, made up almost entirely of female players, was founded in 2016. After 35 years,  the New World Steel Orchestra continue to play at the Leeds West Indian Carnival, Pop-up carnivals and other carnival related events including the annual Prince and Princess and King and Queen shows. The band has also made appearances at other UK carnivals. In 2019 the band performed at the re-opening of the West Yorkshire Playhouse. 


NWSO at the Thorner Village Diamond Jubilee Party, 2012.

Coming Of Age Carnival – Leeds West Indian Carnival 1988

 UK Carnival celebrations for 1988 began in Huddersfield in January. The Huddersfield Carnival Committee had organised an exhibition of carnival arts held at the Hudawi Centre. Among the costumes on display was Hughbon Condor’s ‘Peacock’ costume from 1987. Members of the Huddersfield Carnival Committee were photographed in front of the costume by the local press, appearing in the newspaper the following day (15.1.88).

Huddersfield Carnival Committee members with ‘The Peacock’, January 1988.

Hughbon Condor’s costume making began much earlier than normal in 1988 after he was invited to enter a Queen into the Huddersfield Carnival. In an interview for the Official 1988 Leeds West Indian Carnival magazine Hughbon Condor said “I’m thinking about my design over the whole year – I’m always thinking about costumes.” From March, Hughbon’s home and garage became a mas camp as he worked on his new creation, ‘The Visitor’.  On the 30 August, the Yorkshire Evening Post reported that the costume was made using “cards, wires, levers, and material”. “I couldn’t do it without an enormous amount of help from my family and friends” Hughbon said in an interview for the Official 1988 Leeds West Indian Carnival magazine. Hughbon also spoke about how his costume making had improved. “My weakness in the past has been the finishing and dressing of costumes” he said but added “but I’m improving on this now.” Looking to the future Hughbon said “I’d like to move towards the Trinidadian concept of Carnival with the troupe and Queen staging whole dramas on a particular theme”.

Hughbon had chosen 19-year-old clerical assistant Michelle Adams from Huddersfield to wear ‘The Visitor’, a costume inspired by a space rocket. Hughbon also made a princess costume of the same name. Worn by Shenika Joseph, ‘The Visitor’ was entered into and won the Junior Queen contest in Huddersfield in May. The adult ‘Visitor’ costume, worn by Michelle Adams, was entered into the Huddersfield Carnival Queen Show where it took first prize.

In 1988 the Leeds West Indian Carnival celebrated its 21st Anniversary. The 1987 and 1988 Official Carnival Magazines gives us a detailed look at the Carnival Committee members from this period. 1988 saw a few changes to the committee. St. Clair Morris, Alec McLeish, Leroy Norford and Jeannie Stoute had all left the committee and three new members, Stanley Monish, Melvyn Wyatt, and Tyrone Ambrose, had joined.

1988 Leeds West Indian Carnival Committee Members:

Arthur France (Chairman)
Brainard Braimah
Gloria Pemberton
Yola Fredricks
Hughbon Condor
Mavis Bell
Melvin Zakers
Susan Pitter (Publicity officer)
Ken Wenham
Stuart Bailey
Lennie Jeffers
Ian Charles
Stanley Monish
Tyrone Ambrose
Melvyn Wyatt

The 1988 Official Carnival Magazine informs the reader that Stanley Monish was a joiner, born in St. Kitts and a “die-hard committee member” who was responsible for the parade. Tyrone Ambrose was originally from Trinidad and had been a costume designer for “many years”. The magazine notes that he plans to raise the standard of costume designs in the future. As well as being on the carnival committee, Tyrone Ambrose was also the supervisor with Chapeltown Community Centre.

The 1988 Official Carnival Magazine gives information on other members of the committee, most of which is copied word for word from the previous year’s magazine. As well as the individual photos of the committee members that appear in both magazines, a group photo of the committee was taken by Max Farrar for the 1988 magazine. At least two different shots were taken. For the most part, the committee members are in the same positions with the expectation of Ian Charles who, in one photo (unused at the time), is stood between Ken Wenham and Tyrone Ambrose. In the photo used in the magazine (and Leeds Other Paper) Ian is stood between Gloria Pemberton and Arthur France. The black and white photo used in the magazine shows Lennie Jeffers, Gloria Pemberton, Arthur France, Ken Wenham, Ian Charles and Tyrnoe Ambrose stood in front of a car outside the West Indian Centre in a similar poses to the 1974 committee photo taken by Max Farrar (although the unused 1988 photo is a more accurate recreation). Kneeling in front of them is Mavis Bell, Melvin Zakers and Hughbon Condor.

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Some members of the 1988 Carnival Committee.

Ken Wenham is sporting an old Carnival Committee t-shirt. A new t-shirt design was introduced for 1988 – a white t-shirt with the official carnival logo in red and black with red and black text. Above the logo the text reads ‘Leeds West Indian Carnival’ with ‘Arts – Crafts & Culture’ under the logo and an added ‘Committee’ in red text under that. One committee member, Melvyn Wyatt, was photographed by Max Farrar wearing the t-shirt during the parade. Hughbon Condor was also wearing a 1988 Carnival Committee t-shirt during the parade and was captured by the BBC’s camera.

Costume making was well underway by July and one of Ken Wenham’s photographs from 1988 shows Debra Jeffers and others making costumes and using wire bending techniques. The Palace Youth Project’s Queen costume was inspired by the Free Nelson Mandela movement. South African anti-apartheid revolutionary political leader Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned since 1962. A ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ March took place in Leeds on 26 June which ended with a ‘Free Nelson Mandela Festival’ held in Savile Park in Chapeltown. The march and festival took place two weeks prior to the much bigger but similar event held in London on 11 July.

The costume, a giant butterfly with emblazoned wings with pictures of Nelson and Winnie Mandela, symbolised the free spirit. The words ‘FREE MANDELA’ ran across the bottom of the wings.  Members of the Palace Youth Project troupe were interviewed for the Official 1988 Carnival magazine. Designer Raymond ‘Straggy’ Rangers said “They are fighting to be free, and for the freedom of all the African people, and that’s what we want too”. Suzette Price, who was helping with the Queen costume, explained why more young people were now interested in the carnival. “Many of us have travelled back home to the Caribbean and seen Carnival there – we’ve come to realise how important our culture is”. Straggy compared Leeds West Indian Carnival with Notting Hill Carnival, saying “Notting Hill Carnival is just an excuse to get drunk. In Leeds we concentrate on Carnival in its proper mas sense. Carnival belongs to black people, that’s its attraction.” “The white people are there at our invitation” he added.

Chapeltown was a hive of Caribbean culture during the summer of 1988.  Melvin Zakers had taken over the role of the city’s number one steel pan tutor, replacing the recently retired St. Clair Morris. Melvin Zakers was the tutor for many steel bands in Leeds including the New World Steel Orchestra, Roscoe Methodist Church Steel Band, Little London Centre Steel Band, and Chapel Allerton Junior Steel Band. The Phoenix Club at 58-62 Francis Street held an ‘Afro-Caribbean Nite’ every Thursday. The Astoria on Roundhay Road put on live acts including, on 20 July, the “King of Calypso” David Rudder and Charlie Roots plus special guest Jester Turtle. Tickets for the show, which began at 8pm, were priced at £3.50. The Leeds West Indian Centre held the second ‘Mr. Cool’ contest on Friday 12 August. The A4 poster announced ‘Mr. Cool is Back’. Three prizes were up for grabs. First prize was a holiday for two, £100 was the prize for second place and the third place prize was £50. The evening, which began at 9pm, also included a blind date competition with first prize being an all-expenses paid night for two and a radio DJ competition with a £100 prize. Application forms for the three competitions could be picked up from the West Indian Centre, the Mandela Centre, One Stop Records, and Barone Records in Manchester. Tickets were priced at £4 or £5 on the door. Entertainment was provided by special guests Annette B and Kofi, two of the finest Lovers Rock artists on the Ariwa label, with Mavrick International providing the music. “come early” the poster advised “get a seat and avoid disappointment”. A week later on 19 August Mavrick Internash returned to the West Indian Centre for a night titled ‘Jump-Dance and Spread- Out’. These were just some of the events in the local area that captured the excitement of the upcoming Leeds West Indian Carnival.

Poster for ‘Mr. Cool 1988’

In August, the local community magazine, Corporate, published a ‘Carnival Special’ issue. Pages 7 to 10 of the magazine were dedicated to a lengthy piece on the carnival written by Jerome Williams. In the article, Jerome Williams wrote that the carnival “attracts people from local, national and various sectors of the international community.” Jerome Williams added that “Already at the ‘starting blocks’ are a small group of revellers from Miami, St Kitts/Nevis, Jamaica, the US Virgin Islands and the Bahamas”. Jerome Williams went on to mention that “The carnival spectacle unites people of all races, ages, cultures and religions. It is the perfect way of expressing humanitarian feelings to the natural existence of people whatever their origins”.

In the article Jerome Williams wrote “there is room for discussion that the programme is limited and might lack foresight and certainly not in line with carnival eventing as it should be”. He then mentions that carnivals in New Orleans, Rio and Trinidad last three weeks and that the Notting Hill Carnival in London stages events over a two week period. Jerome Williams suggests that the Leeds West Indian Carnival should be used “as a stage of development”. He points out that “Carnival is not only a cultural event, it is a business too”. Jerome Williams goes on to list businesses that might benefit from the carnival including catering, fashion, entertainment, transport, publicity, and the licenced trade. Local business “should benefit in an even bigger way than they might do at Christmas and other statutory holidays” Jerome writes.

Corporate magazine also includes a Carnival Route map and ‘Birthday Messages’ from various organisations and businesses including The Northern School of Contemporary Dance, the Harehills, Roundhay & Chapeltown Job Centre, Chapeltown Mini Market, West Yorkshire Fire Service, One Step Ahead, Palace Youth Project, Apex Trust, The Government Task Force, Leeds Business Venture, and the West Yorkshire Police.

Gerald A.H. Ingham, the superintendent of Chapeltown Police Station wrote:

I am very pleased to be asked to endorse this year’s 21st Carnival in Chapeltown. Over the years this event has developed into a first class multi-cultural fun day for the thousands of citizens of Leeds, and I believe this reflects great credit on the Carnival Committee and indeed the public of Chapeltown. My officers and I wish the carnival every success and I look forward to assisting the committee in any way we can on the day and in the future. 

Route Map from 1988 magazine.

A special official 21st Anniversary magazine was sponsored by the Leeds City Council and published by Caribbean Times. The front cover featured last year’s winning Carnival Queen Amaire Claxton. The magazine was priced at 75p and, at 40 pages long, was much longer than last year’s magazine but shared some of the same content. It included a ‘Chairman’s Message’ which read almost word for word as the 1987 ‘Chairman’s Message’  in which Arthur France reminded readers “Leeds was the  birth place of the first West Indian Carnival in Europe and it’s always been the happiest occasion in the area.”

The magazine also included a route map, a full programme of events, and letters of support. In 1988 letters of support came from Richard Bourne the Deputy Director of the Commonwealth Institute, James Aboaba the Chairman of Technorth Leeds, Colin Sampson the Chief Constable of the West Yorkshire Police and Councillor George Mudie the leader of Leeds City Council. The latter wrote:

Congratulations and best wishes to the Leeds Caribbean Committee, and to everyone who takes part in this happy event. Leeds citizens, from all cultural backgrounds, have taken Carnival to heart, and each year sees more people enter into the spirit and play mas.

For the magazine Willie Robinson wrote a short piece titled ‘The Origins of the Leeds West Indian Carnival’. In it he wrote: “When Arthur France asked me to write this article, it seemed incredible that over twenty one years had elapsed since he first had the idea of a West Indian Carnival in England”. Willie Robinson wrote about the struggle in starting the carnival saying “We had the task of staging a carnival without any finance.” (The magazine list ten sponsors of the 1988 carnival, highlighting how far the carnival had come in 21 years.)

“It is fifteen years since I left Leeds but I occasionally return for some of the carnivals” Willie Robinson wrote. “I have also been to many carnivals in other parts of the country” he added. “Leeds Carnival is still the best organised one that I have been to. It continues to be an occasion of peaceful merriment. Long may it do so” Willie wrote before wishing success for the 1988 carnival. “And I sincerely hope that the next twenty years will see growth and development, not only in the Carnival, but in the community as a whole”.

Thelma Thomas interviewed the Chairman of Technorth Leeds and the Chairman of Chapeltown Citizens Advice Bureau James Aboaba. James Aboaba spoke about the similarities between the West Indian Carnival and the Masquerade in Nigeria, his native country. “Indeed this is one of the reasons why I always look forward to the Leeds Carnival, because there’s a tremendous similarity between the two” James told Thelma. James Aboaba also spoke about his own involvement in the carnival. “A few years ago I played the part of an Equal Opportunities Officer of the Local Council at the Queen Show” he informed Thelma. James Aboaba ended the interview by saying:

The Carnival time is the only time of the year when people forget their troubles, trials and tribulations with which they have been plagued, and enjoy themselves and show the English people that contrary to widespread notion, that they have cultural heritage which they have brought to enrich the lives of everyone in Britain. It also helps to break barriers between people of different socio-economic background.

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New World Steel Orchestra, 1988.

The magazine also included articles on The New World Steel Orchestra, the Palace Youth Centre, Limbo dancer Janet Halliday, 1981 Carnival Queen Theresa Thompson, The Cockspur Crew, and Hughbon Condor. Also included were interviews with people who had attended the first West Indian Carnival in 1967 including Louise Reed, Esher Walker and Alison Hodge, and Max Farrar interviewed Arthur France and Ian Charles.

“Talking to Ian Charles and Arthur France about Leeds West Indian Carnival is like being caught up in a whirlwind of enthusiasm.” Max Farrar wrote. “There are a few grey hairs in sight these days, but they have the energy which has been driving the Carnival in Leeds since 1967” he added.

The 1988 Carnival magazine encouraged members of the public to get involved with the carnival in one way or another and informed readers to “contact any of the Leeds West Indian Carnival Committee members and join the rest of us to make the Leeds West Indian Carnival the Carnival of the North”. The magazine gave contact numbers for the following committee members: Ian Charles, Gloria Pemberton, Arthur France, Susan Pitter (two numbers), Hughbon Condor, Melvyn Zakers and Stewart Bailey.

In the 26 August issue of Leeds Other Paper it was reported that “The coming Bank Holiday will witness a historic moment for the Caribbean community. It is the twenty first year in succession in which the Carnival has been celebrated in the streets of Leeds.” The report on page 6 went on to say “Carnival represents a high point in the development of Caribbean culture, both in Britain and throughout the world. In Leeds the Carnival is the product of inspired and dedicated work by hundreds of people.” Leeds Other Paper published an extract from an interview with Arthur France and Ian Charles by Max Farrar.

Programme of events from Leeds Other Paper (26.8.88)

The 21st Leeds West Indian Carnival began on Sunday 21 August with the Prince and Princess Show held at the West Indian Centre. The 1988 Carnival Magazine includes photos of two of the princess contestants, Dionne Daniels and Viola Boorne, but gives no further details. The Yorkshire Evening Post published a photograph of Shenika Joseph in a princess costume designed by Hughbon Condor. Among the Prince contestants was Andrew Claxton in a costume designed and made by his older sister 18-year-old Gail Claxton. In an interview with the Official 1988 Carnival Magazine, Gail expressed her hopes for the involvement of more young people in the carnival.  “The young people think that the older ones are so professional with their costumes that they won’t be able to do anything so good” she said. Gail went on to suggest that “special workshops to train young people in the arts” would be a good idea for the future. A second ‘Baby In Pushchair’ contest was planned but nobody entered and the idea was scrapped.

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Costume designer Gail Claxton.

The Carnival Queen Show took place in the marquee at the West Indian Centre on Friday 26 August. Tickets were priced at £2.50.  Photographs of four of the Queens were included in the 1988 Carnival magazine but names were only given for two; Helen Chapman and Heather Thompson. The Yorkshire Evening Post reported that seven Queens took part in the contest. Other Queens in 1988 included Michelle Adams in the costume ‘The Visitor’ designed by Hughbon Condor and Brenda Norfolk in the costume ‘Free Africa’ designed by the Palace Youth Project.

Michelle Adams in her Queen costume ‘The Visitor’.

Prior to the Queen Show, Hughbon Condor gave an interview for the Official 1988 Leeds Carnival magazine. “I don’t want to appear to be dominating the event, and I’d really like to help others develop their technique, so that everyone’s costume design skills develop. I’d like to get away from this competitive element to the Carnival” he said.

Max Farrar was among those that attended the Queen Show. He took a number of colour photos including one of Brenda Norfolk and one of Michelle Adams. Max Farrar also photographed one of the acts of the night, a group of traditional masqueraders led by Peter Wenham.

The winning Queen was Michelle Adams. Three black and white photos of her appeared in the December 1988 issue of Chapeltown and Harehills What’s On. The local newspaper informed its readers that this was Hughbon Condor’s third win (it was, in fact, his sixith) giving him “the reputation as the city’s most creative costume designer”. The Official 1988 Carnival magazine gives more details on Hughbon’s career thus far, pointing out that he had also had three runners up Queens. Chapeltown and Harehills What’s On also included a black and white photo of Brenda Norfolk in her costume ‘Free Africa’ which, despite not winning, became a favourite among the press.

Members of the Cockspur crew performed an Ole Mas Sketch at the Queen Show. The sketch revolved around the mock wedding of Shaggy (Edmund Jeffers), playing the part of the groom, and Godfather (Mitch Wallace), in a wedding dress, playing the part of the bride. Lord Silkie (Artie Davis) played the role of the priest. A colour photo taken by Ken Wenham shows that African Man (Freddie Mills) was also involved.

Earlier in the year, members of the crew had been interviewed by Max Farrar for the Official 1988 Carnival magazine. “I like to be in the humorous part of the Carnival” Lord Silkie said. “I’m a comedian, and I love the razzmatazz, I try to create some excitement and get people going” he added. “A drink goes a long way on Carnival day – it brings out the best in you” Lord Silkie told Max Farrar. Talking of the future, Lord Silkie expressed how he wanted to bring the Calypso King contest back and the other crew members agreed.  “It’s the music of the West Indians, it is part of our culture which is fading away” Lord Silkie told Max Farrar. “It should be preserved. I’d like to train the youths in Calypso techniques and start it up again” he added. “I want to preserve this West Indian culture, it’s what I’m used to and it’s what I love” Godfather said. “I love the Carnival because I’m a Caribbean man” said African Man “and I love to see black people dress up in the streets, especially the big bottom black women” he added.  Godfather, who played calypso and soca music on the local pirate radio station Rapid 105.8 FM spoke about calypso and soca music. “It reminds us of home” he said before adding “this is the cultural music, and the Carnival is special for steel band and soca music.” Godfather went on to note that the young people wanted reggae and sound systems. “But that’s not Carnival culture” he said. “Once a year we must give that culture its respect, and play reggae, soul and so on after that.”

Some members of the Cockspur Crew in 1988.

In their 26 August issue, Leeds Other Paper had dedicated a full page to the up-coming Reggae Concert to be held in Potternewton Park. “Reggae singer Maxi Priest will be topping the bill this Sunday at the third Leeds Reggae Concert, which is expected to bring up to 8,000 people to Potternewton Park in Chapeltown” the newspaper reported on page 7. The annual Reggae Concert was now being called the ‘Black Heroes Concert’ and Leeds Other Paper reported that “organisers hope that this will be the biggest and best concert so far and the attendance will be boosted by the added attractions of the West Indian Carnival and the Michael Jackson concert on the following day”. Corporate Magazine reported that the concert had two themes: The celebration of black heroes – Mandela, Marley, and Malcolm X and the support of Leeds City Council’s ‘Give For Life’ campaign for which there was a planned collection. Leeds Other Paper repeated this fact and gave information on Nelson Mandela, Bob Marley and Malcolm X. Leeds Other Paper also reported that “Two booklets about the Black liberation leader Malcolm X have been republished by the left-wing Pathfinder Press and will be available on stalls at the Chapeltown Carnival”. The line-up for the concert “held under the skies” included headlining acts Maxi Priest and Mighty Diamonds.  Also on the line-up was Nerious Joseph backed by the Ruff Cutt Band, Undivided Roots Band, and Sandra Cross. Local acts included Clifton Irie, Supa Youth and Fidel, Ulrik Dan, Exile Intact, Creation Roots, Natural Riddim, Little Chief and Enuf Sed. However, the concert didn’t go ahead as planned. In their 2 September issue Leeds Other Paper reported “No musicians performed, because the stage was dangerously wet after overnight rain”. The organisers blamed the scaffolding firm, Bridgecraft Scaffolding, who built the stage but the scaffolding firm told Leeds Other Paper that the stage had been passed as okay by the council.

Newspaper ad for ‘Black Heroes Concert 1988’

The Phoenix Club on Francis Street held a ‘Pre-Carnival Extravaganza’ on Sunday night. Advertised as an ‘All Nighter’, guests enjoyed music by ‘Special funk-soul-reggae DJ’s’ from 11pm until 5am Monday morning. Admission was priced at £2.

The Official 1988 West Indian Carnival magazine included a programme of events for Monday 29 August which gives some idea of what took place that day. Given the carnival’s reputation for running late, it isn’t clear how close to the times given that the events on the day actually took place. None-the-less the programme was given as follows:

12.Noon Assembly – Potternewton Park
12.30 Music – Bersiford Disco
2.00 Lord Mayor arrives
2.30 Parade sets off from park
5.00 Return of Parade
5.30 Troupes display for judging
Presentation of Queen costumes
Invaders Steel Band on stage
6.30 Announcement of winners
Troupes-Individuals-Steel Band


On Monday morning, members of Hughbon Condor’s troupe gathered in Hughbon’s mother’s house near Potternewton Park. The Official 1988 Leeds West Indian Carnival magazine reported that the house was “over-run with people getting into their troupe costumes, and his sisters can still find staples and materials in odd corners of their houses from previous years’ work.”

The Leeds Lord Mayor Arthur Vollans was present in Potternewton Park from around 2p.m to officially open the carnival. The Lady Mayoress Jean Vollans had her photo taken with Carnival Princess Shenika Joseph. The photo appeared in the Yorkshire Evening Post the following day.

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Shenika Joseph with Jean Vollans.

An estimated 40,000 people attended the carnival parade in 1988. The Carnival Publicity Officer Susan Pitter spoke to the Yorkshire Post saying “I am delirious. We were hoping for between 30,000 and 40,000 people but I think we have exceeded even that figure. I think everyone has made an effort to contribute and make today a success.”

Among the crowd was the Bailey family. Chris Bailey, originally from St. Kitts, and his wife Linda brought their children Corinne, Rhea and Candice to the Leeds West Indian Carnival every year. In the 2018 book ‘Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children’ Corinne Bailey Rae spoke about her childhood being raised by a Kittian father and English mother. “My mum made it her work to raise us in black culture” she told Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff.  “We went to Carnival every year” she added. At the 1988 Leeds West Carnival, Rhea Bailey was photographed by the Yorkshire Evening Post photographer Mel Hulme. The photo shows the five-year-old girl in her school uniform sat on the shoulders of PC Dick Braithwaite, his helmet is on her head, coving most of her face.

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Rhea Bailey at the Leeds West Indian Carnival, 1988.

Also witnessing the parade was Louise Reed, who had been in a troupe 21 years ago. It was reported in the Official 1988 Carnival magazine that ‘Nowadays she wears a big floral outfit of trousers and top and follows the procession for its whole length.’ “I like the way Carnival gets everybody together” she told the magazine. “You see people you never see and everybody enjoys it, even the police. You never have any quarrels; everybody always has a jolly time.” Louise Reed went on to explain her Carnival Day routine. “All our friends on the street go out there from about 1 o’clock” she said “We cook our food the day before. Even the babies come out for Carnival”.

Louise Reed, 1988.

Esther Walker said “I look forward to it every year” and Alison Hodge said “I enjoy the carnival every year, you meet a lot of friends from all over the country and some come from the West Indies”. “I go to every carnival, it’s very special for us West Indians, we all look forward to it” said Louise Reed. Vanessa Weight and Cheryl Daniel were photographed by the Yorkshire Evening Post enjoying ice creams and Ross Ratcliffe was photographed dancing in Potternewton Park. Hughbon Condor took a colour photo of Carnival Queen Michelle Adams and Princess Shenika Joseph in Potternewton Park before the parade.

A film crew from the BBC were  present at this year’s carnival parade. 40 seconds of coloured footage is kept in the BBC archives. They filmed Carnival Queen Michelle Adams as she made her way down Harehills Avenue. Members of The Visitors troupe in their blue and silver costumes are also seen dancing down the street. The Sweet Melody Steel Orchestra are shown in their khaki shirts and red berets. The banner at the side of their float shows they were sponsored by KFC.

Brenda Norfolk is shown, adjusting her mask and the New World Steel Orchestra can be seen in their blue uniforms. Their three floats have evolved to include roofs, to prevent the instruments from filling with rain water.  Shots of the crowd show white, Asian and black people stood shoulder to shoulder. Two women, dressed in the Goth fashion of the time, are also seen, showing just how diverse the Leeds West Indian Carnival had become. Members of Captain Wenham’s Masqueraders are seen dancing as are the Cockspur Crew. For 1988 the crew had new t-shirts – white with red text that read ‘The Cockspur Crew Rapid Radio 105.8 FM’.  

In their 2 September issue, Leeds Other Paper reported that “the streets of Chapeltown pulsated to the sounds of steel bands, whistles, reggae sound systems, and dancing feet”. On 30 August, The Yorkshire Evening Post reported that “Crowds lined the streets and spectators craned to watch the colourful processions from office windows and from flats above shops.” The Yorkshire Post made a similar report, informing their readers that “the large crowds lining the streets and roofs of buildings along the route were a clear indication that the carnival has a great future.” The Yorkshire Evening Post also reported that “Even the threat of an odd shower could not dampen the carnival atmosphere.”

Sweet Melody Steel Orchestra.

Five steel bands took part in the parade. They included The New World Steel Orchestra, The Caribbeans Steel Band, and Sweet Melody Steel Orchestra. Among the members of The New World Steel Orchestra wass 18-year-old Gail Claxton who played bass drum. Earlier in the year she was interviewed for the Official 1988 Carnival Magazine. “We’re trying to get West Indian culture recognised in Britain, because we’re West Indians who live in Britain” she told the magazine.

Also on the road in 1988 was Captain Wenham’s Masqueraders who were joined by a big drum and fife band whose members included Kenneth Browne, Prince Elliot and Henry Freeman. Max Farrar took a number of photos of them as they performed. One of the members of the troupe was again wearing the gorilla mask last seen at the 1987 carnival. Their photo appeared in Leeds Other Paper in their 2 September issue. Perhaps for the first time, Hebrew Rawlins, dressed as a Dame Lorraine, was playing mas on the road in 1988, beginning a long tradition that would last over 30 years.

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Masked member of the Masqueraders troupe.

Among the troupes taking part in the parade was a troupe of Native Americans lead by Gloria Pemberton who had been in a similar troupe 21 years ago. Both the Yorkshire Evening Post and the Yorkshire Post gave accounts of how she gave birth to her son Adrian before taking part in the 1967 carnival parade. (The newspaper makes a mistake here, Adrian Pemberton was in fact born in August 1968). Gloria Pemberton spoke to the Yorkshire Evening Post telling them “I think the atmosphere and the carnival itself is very much the same as it was all those years ago but I think more people are at this one. It is always a very happy occasion”. Despite the troupe having 150 members, the Yorkshire Post described the Palace Youth Project troupe, in traditional African dress, as being “the loudest and most boisterous troupe”. They were joined by whistle-blowing friends. Max Farrar took their photo on Roundhay Road. The photo includes Marina Active, Velma Wyatt, Melvin Wyatt, Alicia Price, Suzette Price, Cheryl James, Prim James, Jackie James, Cynthia Hughes, Carol Williams, Wendy Williams, Norma Cannonier, Fiona Abbott, and Joy Bent.

‘Free Africa’ Queen and troupe.

The Yorkshire Evening Post reported that pubs emptied as the parade went passed. This would have included the Fforde Grene on one end of Roundhay Road and the Gaiety on the other end of Roundhay Road. Back in Potternewton Park revellers were entertained by The Invaders Steel Band who played on the stage. One stall in the park cashed in on the Michael Jackson concert taking place at Roundhay Park the same day by selling counterfeit Michael Jackson t-shirts. Another stall sold copies of two booklets about Malcolm X published by Pathdfinder Press. ‘Malcolm X – The Man and His Ideas’ and ‘Malcolm X Talks to Young People’ were both priced at 60p each.

Police officers were in high spirits and were happy to pose for photos with members of the public and even enjoyed some on-duty drinking. The carnival was again trouble-free and the Yorkshire Post reported that, in comparison to the Notting Hill Carnival, policing was low. Superintendent Gerald ‘Gerry’ Ingham spoke to the Yorkshire Post saying “The approach we take here is low key using officers who are known to the local community”. The Yorkshire Evening Post reported that “The Carnival’s only known casualty was a girl spectator whose foot was injured in a collision with a float”. The unidentified girl was taken to St. James’ Hospital by ambulance to receive treatment.

The Phoenix Club held a ‘Carnival Monday Special’. An advertisement printed in Leeds Other Paper informed the public that the club, “just 4 streets down from Potternewton Park”, was open “all day and all night at no extra cost”.

Soca sensation Arrow was the headlining act at the Last Lap Dance held at the West Indian Centre on Monday night. His 1983 single ‘Hot, Hot, Hot’ had been in the top 100 singles chart in the UK but had more recently been a hit for Buster Poindexter – a white American rock singer. Arrow’s follow-up single ‘Long Time’ was a bigger success, reaching number 30 in the UK in 1984. Tickets for the Last Lap were priced at £3.00. Arrow preformed on stage with a 14 piece band. Guests were also entertained by a steel band and Mitch and Kid Sounds. The Official 1988 Carnival magazine told readers to “come and enjoy yourself”.

Full page advert for Arrow, 1988.

The Michael Jackson concert at Roundhay Park on Monday 29 August received a lot of attention from local press. Only Leeds Other Paper didn’t include the King of Pop’s photograph on the front page. Their 2 September issue included a black and white photo of the Palace Youth Project troupe led by Brenda Norfolk in her ‘Free Africa’ Queen costume. Fans of Michael Jackson had to turn to page 13 where the sell-out concert was given the same amount of space as any other concert review. Which, in comparison to the Yorkshire Evening Post’s pages of coverage, was very little.

Tuesday 30 August’s Yorkshire Post ran a ‘Picture Special’ on page 3 of the newspaper under the headline ‘Calypso Carnival Comes of Age’. Four black and white photos taken by Bruce Rollinson were included in the picture special. One photo shows Michelle Adams in her costume and another shows Brenda Norfolk in hers. The Yorkshire Evening Post included six black and white photos by Mel Hulme on page 7 of their Tuesday issue. Michelle Adams and Brenda Norfolk were both featured as were typical carnival photos including dancing policemen and children with ice creams. The headline read ‘Carnival’s happy 21st’.

The December issue of Chapeltown and Harehills What’s On reported that the Leeds West Indian Carnival Committee had donated £1,000 to the ‘Give For Life’ campaign organised by Leeds City Council. Money was being raised for “destitute children in Africa” and a 100K Club had been set up with the goal of raising £100,000. The Carnival Committee were the latest to make a donation and a photo of Ian Charles and Arthur France handing a cheque to council leader George Mudie was printed on the front page. Other contributors to the 100K Club included Jamaica Society, the Caribbean Cricket Club, Sri Guru Nanak Temple, Harehills Baptist Church, the Hindu Gurba Group, and the Leeds Islamic Centre. The appeal continued ito 1989.

Calypso Goes POP! Part Three


Since the 1940s, popular artists across the globe have tried their hand at calypso music and calypso’s influence has been heard in many genres over the decades, none more so than during the ‘Calypso Craze’ of the 1950s. From straight covers of calypso classics to calypso-influenced originals, calypso has turn up on comedy records, jazz albums and pop singles. Some even charted! With the ever growing need for more and more calypso, artists turned to other Caribbean islands for hit material. Jamaican folk songs and mento, rebranded as calypso, were popular and went on to have an influence on ska and reggae. Also popular was the Bahamian folk song ‘Sloop John B’ which was recorded several times before being picked up by The Beach Boys in 1966. The below playlist gives 40 examples of how calypso and other Caribbean music shaped the pop world, up to the arrival of cod ska and cod reggae in the mid-1960s, which is a different kettle of fish entirely.

  1. Chocolate Whiskey And Vanilla Gin – Edmundo Ros And His Orchestra (1949)
  2. Jamaica Rum – Ruth Wallis (1949)
  3. Deesapointment – Edmundo Ros And His Orchestra (1951)
  4. Jump In The Line – Woody Herman And His Third Herd (1952)
  5. Dipso – Calypso – Peter Sellers (1954)
  6. London Is The Place For Me – Edmundo Ros And His Orchestra (1955)
  7. Donkey City -Maya Angelou (1956)
  8. Trinidad E-O – Luis Amando (1956)
  9. Jamaica D.J – Bill Haley & His Comets (1956)
  10. Kitch – Tedd Browne (1957)
  11. De Gay Young Lad – Ruth Wallis (1957)
  12. Rum Jamaica Rum – Aaron Collins And The Cadets (1957)
  13. Sloop John B – Stan Wilson (1957)
  14. Boiled Bananas And Carrots – Peter Seller (1957)
  15. Calypsociety – Herb Jeffries (1957)
  16. Two Ladies In De Shade of De Banana Tree – Josephine Premice (1957)
  17. Pound Your Plaintain In The Mortar – Stan Wilson (1957)
  18. The Banana Boat Song – Shirley Bassey (1957)
  19. Hollywood Calypso – Josephine Premice (1957)
  20. Don’t Stop The Carnival – Stan Wilson (1957)
  21. Two Ladies In De Shade Of De Banana Tree – The Hi Lo’s (1957)
  22. Jamaica Farewell – Sam Cooke (1960)
  23. Judy Drownded – The Spinners (1961)
  24. The Wreck of The John B. – The Tokens (1961)
  25. Calypso Love Song – Dave ‘Baby’ Cortez (1961)
  26. Under The Mango Tree – Diana Coupland (1962)
  27. Matty Rag – The Spinners (1962)
  28. Kingston Calypso – Diana Coupland (1962)
  29. Linstead Market – The Galliards (1963)
  30. Jamaica Farewell – Hank Snow (1963)
  31. Calypso Medley – The Lennon Sisters (1963)
  32. Number One – Eric Morris (1964)
  33. Marianne – Ray Conniff And The Singers (1964)
  34. Island In The Sun – Joan Baez (1964)
  35. Sammy Dead – Byron Lee & The Dragonaires (1964)
  36. Linstead Market – The Spinners (1964)
  37. Penny Reel – Eric Morris (1964)
  38. Man Smart, Woman Smarter – Joan Baez (1964)
  39. Sloop John B – The Beach Boys (1966)
  40. Island In The Sun – The Righteous Brothers (1966)



Roots – Carnival Traditions in St. Kitts And Nevis

A large majority of the people involved in the founding and development of the Leeds West Indian Carnival were migrants from the Caribbean islands of St. Kitts and Nevis. Others were from Trinidad and Tabago, Jamaica, and Barbados. Traditional West Indian Carnival has its origins in Trinidad and Tobago. From there, the idea of Carnival spread North across the Caribbean islands. Each island has its own traditions that predate the arrival of Trinidadian Carnival. This includes the Crop Over in Barbados, Junkanoo in Jamaica and Christmas Sports in St. Kitts and Nevis.

In St. Kitts and Nevis the tradition of Christmas Sports dates back to the days of slavery. People celebrated Christmas and New Year’s Day by taking to the streets dancing, singing, playing music, and performing. The Christmas Sports have their roots in the British tradition of the Mummers’ plays. Mummers’ plays are folk plays performed outside by amateurs, often at Christmas and other religious holidays. Mummers’ plays in England date back to the 13th Century and are still performed in some parts of the country today. The tradition came to St. Kitts and Nevis with the arrival of the English in the 17th Century. In St. Kitts and Nevis, enslaved Africans added African traditions to the Mummers’ plays and they became known as Christmas Sports.

A troupe performing David and Goliath, 1901.

During the Christmas period, troupes of performers would don costumes and travel from village to village, performing.  The Christmas Sports include Bible stories such as David and Goliath as well performances based on religious literature such as the Giant Despair from The Pilgrim’s Progress. Shakespeare Lesson used speeches from Shakespeare plays including Richard III and Julius Caesar. Other performances were based on the Mummers’ plays known as Mummies. The Mummies have a cast of 13 characters including saints, knights, kings, dragons and giants. There were also performances based on local stories and histories such as the Bull and The Mongoose Play. Others took their inspiration from American culture such as the cakewalking Millionaires and Cowboys and Indians. Neaga Business mocked the white elite. Some Christmas Sports such as the stilt walking Moko Jumbies have their roots in Africa while others like the Clowns and Masquerade are a mix of African and European traditions. Other types of Christmas Sports included Sagwa, Actors, and Soldiers. These performances would be accompanied by music. Several types of music were popular at the Christmas Sports. They included String Bands, Big Drum and Fife Bands, Quadrille music, and Iron Bands. Alan Lomax’s field recordings made in June 1962 (and available on CD) gives the listener an idea of what the Christmas Sports sounded like during the period when Leeds West Indian Carnival pioneers were migrating from the islands to England. Iron Bands first began forming in St. Kitts and Nevis in the 1940s. These bands were similar to the early steel pan bands formed in Trinidad around the same time. They used makeshift percussion instruments such as car rims, oil drums, and spoon and grater. String bands also included makeshift instruments including the Baha, a long metal pipe that is blown, and the Shack-Shack, a milk tin containing beads.Each neighborhood had its own big drum and fife band,  each one with it’s own name. There was revivary between the bands, the same way there was revivary between the steel pan bands in Trinidad. The revivary between the bands could become violet and clashes would occur.

The Alan Lomax recordings also include examples of Calypso music which had originated in Trinidad and had become popular across the Caribbean in the 1950s. Calypso music could be heard on imported records but was more commonly heard on radio or jukeboxes. While Trinidadian calypsonians like Lord Kitchener and The Mighty Sparrow were popular on the islands there was local calypsonians too. The 1950s saw the rise of stars such as Mighty Kush, Lord Mike, Lord Harmony, and Mighty Saint. The popularity of calypso on the islands was down to, in part, the similarities it shared with the pre-existing folk music written and performed by musicians knowns as troubadours. As their name suggests their origins lay in the troubadours of Europe, a type of musician whose influence can be seen across the Caribbean. (In Haiti they called Twoubadou in Haitian Creole). The troubadours of St. Kitts and Nevis were solo performers who, for a price, could be hired to perform their latest tunes in your home. They performed self-penned topical songs, sometimes with serious lyrics and other times with comical but always clever and entertaining.

String Band in St. Kitts, 1964.

Steel pan bands were introduced to St. Kitts and Nevis in the 1950s by Education Officer Lloyd Matheson. The island’s first steel pan band was the Wilberforce Steel Pan Band led by Roy Martin. Other pioneers of steel pan music in St. Kitts and Nevis include Cecil ‘Moonlight’ Roberts who brought steel pans from Antigua in 1952, which increased interest in the instrument. Steel pan bands in St. Kitts and Nevis during this period included The Invaders, The Boston Tigers, The Eagle Squadron, and Casablanca.

Trinidadian-style carnival was introduced to St. Kitts and Nevis by Basil Henderson in 1957. He formed the first carnival committee whose members included Agnes Skerritt and Doris Wall. Cromwell Bowry, Cyril Frederick, and Chief of Police Major Leonard Alphonso also made significant contributions to the carnival during its early beginnings. St. Kitts and Nevis also adopted The Calypso King contest from Trinidad Carnival. The first Calypso King of St. Kitts was Mighty Kush. The 1960s saw the introduction of Brass Bands to the carnival, however, string bands, steel pan bands, and calypso music remained a popular part of the proceedings.

Carnival in St. Kitts, 1957.

Memories of the Christmas Sports and carnival in St. Kitts and Nevis acted as the foundation on which the Leeds West Indian Carnival was built. Many people who were later involved in the Leeds West Indian Carnival were involved in or witness to the Christmas Sports and carnival in St. Kitts and Nevis. For some, involvement in the Christmas Sports went back generations.  Reginald Challenger’s father was a member of a troupe of Masqueraders in St. Kitts.  St. Clair Morris’ grandfather had been a drummer with a troupe of Masqueraders in St. Kitts. In Nevis, Mitch Wallace’s father had played the Big Drum and his grandfather had played fife. Mitch Wallace was a member of a troupe in Nevis from as early as the age of eight. He recalls performing in David and Goliath and reciting lines from the Bible in-between dance performances. Mitch’s cousin, Felina Hughes would help with costume preparation but was too shy to take part herself. She enjoyed watching Mitch perform but admits being afraid of the Mocko Jumbies. Hughbon Condor, on the other hand, was fascinated by the Mocko Jumbies and attempted, unsuccessfully, to build his own stilts. Arthur France also recalls being wary of the Christmas Sports as a child but later enjoyed watching David and Goliath. His parents allowed him to watch the Christmas Sports but refused to allow him to take part. He developed a lifelong passion for steel pan music. Artie Davies was too young to take part in the Christmas Sports but grew up enjoying the music of St. Kitts and particularly enjoyed calypso. Under the name Lord Kingston, he performed calypso music on street corners with a cuatro.  Rex Watley played with a steel band in St. Kitts and Henry Freeman and Albert Henry learnt to play Big drum and Kettle drum (respectively) in Nevis. Reginald Challenger has memories of homemade instruments. Calvin Beach was a member of the Eagle Squadron Clown Troupe. He remembers the troubadours in Nevis and the revivary between the big drum and fife bands. He also recalls a Christmas Sport called Sagwa. In 1957 he took part in the first carnival held in St. Kitts as part of the Arabian Nights troupe.

Leeds carnival pioneers came from other parts of the Caribbean too. Their memories and experiences were vital to the founding of the West Indian Carnival in Leeds. In Trinidad, Ian Charles had been a member of a Sailor Band since the age of 16, although his dream was to be a Midnight Robber. He recalls witnessing the violent rivalry between steel bands that was common in Trinidad at the time.

St. Kitts 1957 (Calvin Beach collection)
Calvin Beach in St. Kitts Carnival, 1957.

Mass migration, first to other Caribbean islands and later to England, was one of the main factors behind the disappearance of some of the Christmas Sports during the 1950s and 1960s. Among those lost was David and Goliath and Millionaires. The introduction of Trinidadian Carnival, large steel bands and recorded Soca music also contributed to the Christmas Sports’ downfall. Despite this Christmas Sports have survived in St.Kitts and Nevis and their influence can still be seen at Leeds West Indian Carnival, especially in the performance of the Masquerade which are a common sight at Leeds Carnival. (Often performed by a group from Montserrat). Over the years The Bull, Moko Jumbies, Neaga Business and even David and Goliath have been performed during the carnival celebrations in Leeds. 

Masquerade at Leeds Carnival, 2017

Roots – Carnival Traditions in The Caribbean

The wearing of masks dates back to the Stone Age with the earliest known example of a mask dating to 7,000 BC. Traditions of wearing masks and costumes while dancing to music during a procession can be found in many Ancient cultures. The earlies European carnivals were celebrated by the Ancient Greeks who borrowed the idea from Ancient Egyptian traditions. The Ancient Egyptians also practised traditional stick-fighting which was performed to music, similar to the Calinda tradition found in the Caribbean. The Ancient Romans continued the carnival tradition which became a Christian festival in Medieval Europe and spread across the Christian world where it became associated with the Christian month of Lent.  One theory says the word ‘Carnival’ comes from the Late Latin expression ‘carne levare’ which means ‘remove meat’. Another says it comes from ‘carne vale’ which means ‘farewell to meat’. In either case, the word signifies the approaching fast of Lent.

Carnival in Rome circa 1650. 

When Europeans arrived in the Caribbean they brought their traditions with them. This included masquerade balls, Christmas carolling and carnival parades.  Originally, these traditions in the Caribbean were strictly for the white elite and African slaves were forbidden to take part, except as a form of entertainment for the white plantation owners. During these celebrations, the white elite would dress up as black men and women and portrait them in a negative light. The enslaved Africans developed their own celebrations and traditions. In Trinidad, a harvest festival called Canboulay included drumming, singing, dancing and chanting. The tradition of J’ouvert, an early morning street party, also originates from this period. After the emancipation of slaves in 1834 the free Africans took to the streets to celebrate in what is considered to be the first Caribbean Carnival. 

Trinidad Carnival 1888.

Caribbean carnivals have their roots in the West African traditions brought to the Caribbean islands by enslaved people between the 16th and 19th centuries. Similarities to Caribbean carnivals can still be found in West African today. These include the Egungun masquerade, Owi masquerade and the Yoruba Gelede of Nigeria, the Dogon stilt walkers of Mali and the Bwa masquerade of Burkina Faso. Ritual and ceremonial masks are an essential feature of many African cultures and traditional masks are used in many West African countries including Senegal, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Benin.

In the Caribbean, these African traditions were mixed with the traditions brought over by the European plantation owners. In Trinidad the Lent carnival parades and masquerade balls were given an African twist by the Afro-Caribbean population. In St. Kitts and Nevis the tradition of Christmas carolling and Mummers’ plays were adapted in an African style and in Montserrat St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were given an African makeover while in Barbados the harvest festival celebrations were Africanised. Elements of May Day celebrations, Morris Dancers and Hobby Horses can also be found, with African makeovers, in Caribbean traditions.

Morris Dancers and a Hobby Horse in London circa 1620. 

The roots of some traditional carnival characters such as the Moko Jumbie, the Shaggy Bear, Pitchy Patchy, the Gombey and the Cow Band, can be traced back to Africa. Others such as Burrokeet and Clowns are more European in origin. The Pierrot Grenade displays a mix of African and European influences. While similar to masquerade costumes wore by the Dogon and the Bwa of West Africa, the Pierrot Grenade also has similarities to the Border Morris dancers found in West England. The Jab Jab (not to be confused with the Jab Molassie) is another example of this mix. While it shares some elements of the European Jester (a popular character in European carnivals), the Jab Jab also appears to a close relative of the Egungun masquerade of the Yoruba people.

Left: Bwa Dancer. Centre: Pierrot Grenade. Right: Border Morris Dancer. 

The mocking of white Europeans was a common element during Caribbean celebrations and over time new traditions and folklore characters, unique to the Caribbean, were introduced. These include the Baby Dolls, Dame Lorraine, and the Whitefaced Minstrels which all acted as a caricatured reflection of European society. The Jab Molassie dates back to slavery and uses the European’s fear of ‘the black devil’ against them. Other characters are more recent in comparison and take their inspiration from America (Fancy Indians and Sailor Mas) and Mexico (Midnight Robber).

Whitefaced Minstrels, a parody of the blackface Minstrels popular in America and Europe during the 19th Century. 

The music of these Caribbean celebrations is also diverse in its origins. Calypso was developed in Trinidad from traditional Nigerian call and response songs. Calypso was originally called ‘Kaiso’, a name that either comes from the phrase ‘Ka isu’ in the Efik language which means ‘go on!’ or ‘Kaa iso’ which translates from the Ibibio language as ‘continue, go on’.  The Big Drum and Fife music found in St. Kitts and Nevis and other parts of the Caribbean has its origins in the European military bands popular during the slavery period.  Quadrille dancing and the music that accompanies it originated in France in the mid-18th Century and was popular across Europe and its colonies by the 19th century. Tamboo Bamboo evolved after the banning of African-style drums. The banning of the Tamboo Bamboo led to the development of the steel pan drums in the 1940s. Limbo dancing originated in Trinidad in the late 1800s. Claims of its connection to the slave trade and the slave ships are dubious and first appeared in the 1950s after the dance became popular in America. The Conga line of Cuba is also believed to have African origins.

Other Caribbean carnival traditions come from Asia and arrived in the Caribbean along with the indentured servants of India and China, who arrived in the 19th century. They brought their own folk music traditions as well as cultural and religious traditions to the Caribbean. They also developed new traditions such as Hosay. Indian music would play a crucial role in the development of soca music in the late 1960s. Five unique cultures; African, European, Caribbean, American and Asian, are all fundamental in the development of the West Indian Carnival of Trinidad and Tobago, the Christmas Sports of St.Kitts and Nevis, the Crop Over of Barbados and the Junkanoo of Jamaica. Through the migration of Caribbean people to England, during the 1950s and 1960s, those traditions, in turn, became fundamental in the creation of the Leeds West Indian Carnival.