In May 1985 a carnival was held in the Hyde Park area of Leeds to celebrate the official opening of the improved and extended Brudenell Centre on Welton Road. The carnival took place on Saturday 25 May at the community education centre. A procession took place around the local area and a variety of stalls were set up at the centre. Entertainment was provided by local musicians including Paradise Steel Band led by St. Clair Morris. Leeds Other Paper reported on the carnival the following week in their 31 May issue that included a photo of Paradise Steel Band on page 4. While the Paradise Steel Band continued to achieve success locally and nationally, the Roscoe Methodist Church Youth Steel Band were struggling despite archiving local success in their first year. Due to the inappropriate behaviour of some young members and the fact that the band’s tutor Raymond Joseph had difficulty travelling to and from Huddersfield, band rehearsals became less frequent in the first half of 1985. These factors, along with a shortage of financial support meant the band folded by the summer of 1985.
In Birmingham the second Handsworth Carnival was held in Handsworth Park. A short procession included a troupe in costumes designed and made by Arlton Browne. Also known as Professor Black, Alrton Browne had attended last year’s carnival but hadn’t made costumes for the parade until 1985. Born in St. Kitts, Alrton had trained to become a tailor before coming to England in 1961. He formed a steel band and began performing self-taught magic. His party trick was to pick up a table with his teeth. He made several appearances on TV during the 1970s and 1980s including episodes of Opportunity Knocks and New Faces. Entertainment in Handsworth Park for the 1985 carnival included Wassifa Showcase and Observer sound systems.
In Leicester, Elvy Morton along with a small committee of Caribbean people organised and self-founded the first West Indian Carnival in Leicester. Elvy Morton was born in Nevis in 1935 and arrived in England in 1958. She worked as a nurse in Birmingham before moving to Leicester when she got married in 1961. August 1984 marked the 150th anniversary of emancipation of slaves in the West Indies. Disappointed that no events were held in Leicester to commemorate the anniversary, Elvy set about organising an annual West Indian Carnival to celebrate the anniversary of emancipation in the West Indies. The first carnival was held on Saturday 3 August 1985 in Victoria Park and included troupes in costumes and steel pan bands on flatbed lorries. The first carnival queen was Felicity McCarthy.
In Leeds the carnival committee added another new member, 40-year-old Brainard Braimah who originated from Ghana. Costume designing and making, as usual, began months in advance and 1985 saw two new designers trying their hand at carnival queen costumes for the first time. Unemployed 17-year-old Alec McLeish used his spare time to practice his skills of art and crafts and made his first Carnival Queen costume for the 1985 carnival. 18-year-old Melvin Zakers ,with help from his fellow New World Steel Orchestra band members, also made a carnival queen costume in 1985. According to the Yorkshire Evening Post the costume only took “a few days to make”.
Due to complaints over late night noise this year’s Carnival Queen Show was moved to the newly opened West Indian Centre on Laycock Place. The leader of the Leeds City Council George Mudie had arranged for the car park outside the centre to be tarmacked so that a marque could be erected. This move brought the carnival closer to the community. The Carnival Queen Show took place on Friday 23 August and Reggie Challenger and Susan Pitter were the comperes again. The Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councilor Sydney Symmonds was the guest of honor. His photograph alongside Reggie Challenger and Susan Pitter appeared in the Yorkshire Evening Post the following day. Music at the Queen Show was provided by North Stars Steel Band from Huddersfield who performed as the Queens danced on the stage. A 15-second colour clip kept in the West Yorkshire Archive shows Debra Jeffers dancing in her Queen costume designed and made by Arthur France. The winning Queen was 26-year-old Murilla Smithen in a costume titled ‘Fan Queen’ designed and made by Melvin Zakers.
In their Tuesday 27 August issue, the Yorkshire Evening Post gave some details on the winning queen. They reported that she had left school without an O-level but had gone on to do O and A-level law in Wolverhampton and was looking forward to beginning work with a firm of Leeds solicitors as an articled clerk. “I have been having the summer off” Murilla told the newspaper. “I have usually done voluntary work at the law centre in Roundhay Road or on a playscheme for schoolchildren at the West Indian Centre” she added.
The Leeds West Indian Carnival parade took place on Monday 26 August. The Lord Mayor Sydney Symmonds was again present to officially open the carnival which began at Potternewton Park at 1.30pm. The Yorkshire Evening Post reported that troupes “struggled to get their floats out of the narrow gate at Potternewton Park”. The parade was led by the ‘Fan Queen’ Murilla Smithen whose photo appeared in the Yorkshire Evening Post, Yorkshire Post and Leeds Other Paper. The parade took the route introduced in 1983 and two days prior the Yorkshire Evening Post warned “traffic will be diverted along Roundhay Road, Grant Avenue, Roseville Road, Bayswater Road and Harehills Road to avoid the parade”. Returning again was Benjy’s Masqueraders whose members again included Ruth Bundey. This year they were dressed as Pallbearers in black suits and top hats with Ruth Bundey playing the part of the corpse. One unidentified member of the troupe wore a gorilla mask. Their photo was taken in Potternewton Park by Max Farrar. The next day the Yorkshire Evening Post reported on “the usual colourful collection of costumes” that included “angels, aliens and animals”. Among them was The Invaders Troupe which included many members of the Condor family including Hughbon Condor and his 8-year-old son Sephbon. Other members of the troupe included Elroy Condor, Joan Jeffers, Jermaine Jones, Anne Singer and Thea Ward. A total of six steel bands took part in the parade. They were Caribbeans Steel Band, New World Steel Orchestra and Paradise Steel Band from Leeds, North Stars Steel Band from Huddersfield, Star Quality Steel Band from Manchester and Silver Stars Steel Band from Birmingham. The following day the Yorkshire Post described the atmosphere: “Chapeltown throbbed to the exuberant rhythm of steel bands, syncopated by the persistent shrill of 1,000 whistles”. The newspaper went on to report “There was the usual rich variety in the revellers’ outfits, many of which combined the most outrageous hairstyles with the campest of garbs.” While it was reported that the weather wasn’t as warm as it had been the previous year, carnival revelers still danced in “bright sunshine”.
Back at Potternewton Park a crowd of 10,000 had gathered around the stage and performers arena. Trophies for best troupe, best steel band, Carnival Queen and biggest troupe were given out on the wooden stage. Although food stalls had been present at previous carnivals since the 1970s, they had become more noticeable by 1985. Leeds Other Paper reported that stalls in the park were selling “sugar cane, salt fish, and other West Indian delicacies” alongside “burgers, ice-creams, and drinks at over-the-top prices”. One food stall was being run by Mrs Casement, Mary Sadler, Myrna Tyrell and Millicent Francis. “A heavy disco diet” in the park was provided by “some half dozen competing sound systems”. The carnival was again trouble-free and no arrests were made. At the Notting Hill Carnival in London, which had taken place the same day, a police officer had been stabbed in the back while attempting to make an arrest. In Notting Hill a total of 89 arrests were made during the day.
The Last Lap Dance took place in the marquee erected outside the West Indian Centre and lasted until 4am Tuesday morning. Founded by Ian Charles, the Leeds West Indian Centre had opened on 13 April 1982 and was long overdue. There was still issues with the Community Center on Reginald Terrace which had no proper toilets or washing facilities and was now open on a part time basis. A purposely built community hall for the West Indian community had first been proposed in 1970 and was raised again in 1974. In March 1980 Come-Unity News reported that “Leeds is about the only major city in England without a centre catering for the needs of its West Indian community”. The West Indian Centre was established the previous year and plans for the building of the centre were already underway by March 1980 when Come-Unity News reported “building is to commence next month”. However, £15,000 needed to be raised by the fund raising committee by July if the building was to be completed by October. The centre received full backing from 16 West Indian organisations in Leeds including the Leeds West Indian Carnival, Chapeltown Dance Theatre, Los Caribos Limbo Dance Group and Paradise Steel Band. Many community members paid £40 for life-time membership.
Tuesday’s Yorkshire Evening Post included five black and white photos of the carnival by photographer Tim Clayton. For the second year in a row, the newspaper showed a photo of a baby with ice cream around their mouth. This year’s photo was of 19-months-old Leon Brown. Three-year-old Nathan James’s photograph was also published. The Yorkshire Post published a photo of Murila Smithen on their front page with a report on the carnival underneath and a report on Notting Hill Carnival on page 5. Leeds Other Paper included two black and white photos of the parade in their 30 August issue.
Leeds Big Drum and Fife players Prince Elliot and Henry Freeman were present at the annual Sheffield Caribbean Culture Fortnight on Friday 31 August. They were joined by a steel band and a group of Masqueraders.