Community Carnival – Leeds West Indian Carnival 1985

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.

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Alrton Browne, 1985.

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.

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Leicester carnival, 1985.

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.

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Reggie Challenger, Sydney Symmonds and Susan Pitter.

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.

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Murilla Smithen as ‘Fan Queen’.

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”.

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Carnival Queen Murilla Smithen on Roundhay Road.

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.

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Police officers enjoying Leeds West Indian Carnival 1985.

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.

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Leon Brown.

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.

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Sheffield Caribbean Culture Fortnight, 31 August 1985.
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Olympic Carnival – Leeds West Indian Carnival 1984

A West Indian Carnival had been held in Birmingham in 1969. Organised by Iola Merchant, the carnival parade and dance was a one-off event. It wasn’t until 1984 that an annual carnival was founded in the Handsworth area of Birmingham. A short street procession from Holyhead Road to Handsworth Park included troupes in costumes. The majority of the event was held in Handsworth Park where entertainment was provided by local reggae sound systems. In August 1984 the Antillean Summer Carnival in Holland was moved to Rotterdam. The carnival was first held in Utrecht the previous year. The winning Carnival Queen was Deolinda Gomes. A group of people involved with the Leeds West Indian Carnival including Arthur France and ex-committee member Felina Hughes attended meetings in Huddersfield to help organise the first Huddersfield Carnival. Founded by Natalie Pinnock-Hamilton, the carnival parade included troupes organised by the Huddersfield West Indian Association, Aztecs of Mexico Club and the African Descendants Brotherhood. The parade travelled through the town centre and ended at Greenhead Park.

Leeds residents got an early preview of the Leeds West Indian Carnival when a group of Masquareders took part in the first South Leeds Festival during the last weekend of July.  The Leeds West Indian Carnival Committee underwent some changes in 1984. Arthur France became the new chairman and three new members were added to the committee. They were Yola Frederick, Sheila Howarth and 20-year-old Stuart Bailey. Stuart, who had already been involved with the carnival for a couple of years, joined the committee after volunteering to incorporate “younger voices” into the carnival. He was joined on the committee by 21-year-old Susan Pitter, 18-year-old Melvin Zakers and 27-year-old Sheila Howarth (nee Wilkes, Sheila had married in July 1984). Over the next decade, these new faces and young voices would help to modernise the carnival while staying true to its traditional roots. The Carnival Committee wasn’t all young faces however, and among it’s older members was St Clair Morris (46), Arthur France (48) and Ian Charles (52). By 1984 reggae sound systems were already an established part of the carnival but steel bands still played an important role. 1984 saw steel bands from Leeds reaching new heights. Inspired by the large steel bands and orchestras of Trinidad, St. Clair Morris added more players to his band, Paradise Steel Band, and renamed them The Paradise Steel Orchestra. They made their debut at the National Steel Band Festival in Warwickshire in June 1984.

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St Clair Morris and  The Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Douglas Gabb.

Two new steel bands had formed in Leeds since 1983’s West Indian Carnival. Members of Roscoe Methodist Church on Chapeltown Road, in alliance with the Leeds Brotherhood of Steel, launched the Roscoe Methodist Church Youth Steel Band in January 1984. The equipment needed for the band was estimated at a cost of £5,600 and the church requested financial support from various organisations including Leeds Leisure Services. Various fundraisers were arranged and members of the church who were involved in raising funds for the band included coordinator Arthur France, Hughbon and Gloria Condor, Girls’ Brigade Captain Myrna Tyrell and Boys’ Brigade Captain Allan Herbert. Organised under the guidance of the Steel Band Association, Roscoe Steel Band consisted of youths from Roscoe Church and the local community. Rehearsals with their tutor Raymond Joseph from Huddersfield took place three times a week. The band is reported to have made a brilliant start, achieving a “fair measure of success in a short time”. They played regularly at Roscoe Church, during the morning communion service and other occasions as well as performing at other services in Leeds, playing at the Leeds Town Hall and at a special display by the Girls’ Brigade. Despite their success, the Roscoe Methodist Church Youth Steel Band never performed at the Leeds West Indian Carnival. Their tutor, Raymond Joseph was involved with another new steel band during this period, the New World Steel Orchestra.

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Children from Mayflower Playscheme try their hand at steel drums used by The New World Steel Orchestra, 11 August 1984.

The New World Steel Orchestra was founded in February 1984 by Arthur France and Melvin Zakers. Arthur France contacted Raymond Joseph and after meeting him at his home in Huddersfield, he persuaded him to help with the New World Steel Orchestra. Raymond became the band’s tutor and arranger. He arranged pop and rock songs in a calypso tempo. With little founding, Arthur and Raymond travelled to London to buy a set of second hand pans from Pepe Francis, the leader of the Ebony Steel Band. Rehearsals began in the huge cellar of Gloria Frederick’s house at 45 Francis Street in Chapeltown.  The band consisted of local youths aged 14-22 who had all studied under St. Clair Morris. The New World Steel Orchestra made a couple of public appearances in 1984 including a visit to the Mayflower Playscheme at Lawisha Self-Help Centre on Roundhay Road on 11 August.

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Angela Carr as ‘Spark of Life’.

The Queen Show for 1984 took place at Primrose Hill High School on Friday 24 August. The comperes for the evening were Susan Pitter and Reggie Challenger. Guests were entertained by the Maraya Pili Dancers, a semi-professional group based at the Roseville Arts Centre and organised by Paul and Jan Hambley, and reggae duo Judy and Linda from Brandford. Their ten minute performance included a cover of Deniece Williams’ 1977 hit ‘That’s What Friends Are For’. Kooler Ruler sound system provided music and an Old Mas comedy sketch was performed by Lord Silkie and Kinkie (African Man).  For part of the sketch an immigration office was set up and Kinkie, playing the part of a police officer, asked questions to Lord Silkie, playing the part of a Pakistani immigrant. Lord Silkie’s answer to each question was the same: “Bradford”. Another part of the comedy sketch saw the two men dressed as Olympic Gold Medallists Daley Thompson

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Tessa Sanderson, 1984.

and Tessa Sanderson.  Both were black athletes who had won medals in the recent Olympic Games held in Los Angeles. The sketch celebrated the fact that the real Tessa Sanderson was a guest of honour at the Queen Show. The 28-year-old Jamaican-born javelin thrower lived in Leeds at the time. Her role that evening was to crown the winning Carnival Queen. Five Queens entered the contest and they were:

  • Carol Stapleton in a costume designed and made by Arthur France sponsored by Harehills Tech Centre.
  • Angela Carr in a costume designed and made by Hughbon Condor, family and friends sponsored by Leeds City Council.
  • Lorna Forest in a costume designed and made by Bradford Black People’s Festival sponsored by Yorkshire Arts Association.
  • Shirley Duffield in a costume designed and made by Gloria Pemberton and friends sponsored by NatWest Bank.
  • Sharon Hall in a costume designed and made by Sharon Hall and Ken Wenham sponsored by Roseville Arts Centre.

Over a minute of colour footage kept in the West Yorkshire Archive shows Shirley Duffield and then Sharon Hall, dressed in a butterfly costume, dancing on the stage in front of judges that include Ian Charles. The winning Carnival Queen for 1984 was 18-year-old Carol Stapleton who, instead of receiving a crown, received a golden medal from Tessa Sanderson. Max Farrar, who was in the audience, captured the moment with his camera. Carol Stapleton later spoke to the Yorkshire Evening Post saying “I never thought I would touch an Olympic gold medal. It was a lot heavier than I thought but all I wanted to do was run home with it.” Second place was taken by 16-year-old Angela Carr while the third place was won by Lorna Forrest from Bradford. Susan Pitter also spoke to the Yorkshire Evening Post saying “Tessa is the heroine and her appearance made it that little bit special”. Due to complements made by local residents regarding the noise of the late night event, this year’s show ended at 11pm, the bar closed at 12.30am, and parking was only allowed on Dolly Lane.

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Carol Stapleton at the Queen Show.

The following day The Yorkshire Evening Post published a story about the Queen Show on page 3 of the newspaper, it included a map showing the parade route – the first time such a map had been published. The newspaper also gave details on how traffic would be affected by Monday’s parade. Traffic diversions were in operation from 1.30pm. “All traffic junctions will be manned by police and with the exception of the Fforde Grene junction, no real delays are anticipated” the newspaper reported.

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Parade Route Map, 1984.

The Leeds West Indian Carnival parade took place on Monday 27 August.  The Lord Mayor of Leeds, Councillor Douglas Gabb was present to officially open the carnival. He was photographed by Leeds Other Paper talking to the Carnival Queen Carol Stapleton and the Yorkshire Evening Post snapped a photo as he posed alongside St. Clair Morris and the Paradise Steel Band. Lead by Carol Stapleton in her costume titled ‘Into Space’ the parade left Potternewton Park around 2.30pm and took the new route introduced the previous year. Among the five Queens was Angela Carr in her costume titled ‘Spark of Life’. A short colour clip in the ITV archives show both Carol Stapteton and Shirley Duffield on the road. Max Farrar snapped a photo of Carol Stapteton as she made her way down Roundhay Road. A total of 13 troupes from Leeds, Bradford and Manchester took part in the parade. Among them was the ‘African Pearl’ troupe designed by Brenda Ferrara and Brenda Hall. Another troupe donned green archer costumes. Benjy’s Masqueraders made a return in their ‘Bushmen’ costumes first seen in 1981 and again in 1982. The costumes again included masks (1984’s masks were purple) and tennis rackets. This year they were photographed by Leeds Other Paper and among their members was “the famous Leeds Solicitor” Ruth Bundey. Ruth had moved to Leeds in October 1969 to work for the Race Relations Board. She had been attending the carnival and Queen Show since the early 1970s after being introduced to it by Edris Browne. She became a solicitor in 1980 and was perhaps “famous” for working on the Bradford 12 case in 1981.

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Benjy’s Masqueraders 1984.

Also on the road was Lord Silkie’s crew who, perhaps for the first time, had a name and sponsorship.  Dressed all in red (headbands, t-shirts and kilts) they were now ‘The Tetley Crew’ or ‘The Tetley Bitter Men’ and were sponsored by Tetley’s Brewery who had provided them with red ‘Join Em’ t-shirts. Members of the crew were photographed by Max Farrar as they enjoyed cans of Tetley’s Bitter in Potternewton Park. Members of the Caribbean Steel Band were also photographed sporting the ‘Join Em’ t-shirts but not the full Tetley Crew outfits. A total of six steel bands were on the road in 1984 which, according to the Yorkshire Evening Post, included “two from Manchester and one from Leicester”. These were Star Quality, Super Stars and Contrasts. As well as The Caribbean Steel Band, the bands from Leeds were Paradise Steel Band and The New World Steel Orchestra. The latter band was making its carnival debut. Music on the road was also provided by Captain Wenham’s big drum and fife band who played behind Carol Stapteton. According to the Yorkshire Evening Post, the parade was enjoyed by “dancing tiny tots to beaming, swinging grandparents”. The newspaper spoke to one spectator (whose name isn’t given) who said:

It’s just incredible. I have been to several Notting Hill carnivals, but this beats it hands down. It achieves in one day what they do in two. I have never enjoyed myself so much and I will definitely be back next year.

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Leeds Carnival ’84 T-shirts with and without the added ‘Committee’ text.

The parade returned to the park around 5pm were a stage and performers arena had been set up. From the stage, Soca music was provided by ‘Mitch Sounds’ sound system run by 30-year-old Mitch Wallace who had been DJing locally since 1970. When  Mitch Wallace migrated to England from Nevis in 1967 he arrived with two calypso singles; ‘Archie (Break Them Up)’ – The Merrymen and ‘Fire In Your Wire’ – Calypso Rose. These were both recent calypso hits, given to a teenage Mitch by his grandmother. They acted as a reminder of home and Mitch kept them always. Born into a musical family (his grandfather played fife and his father played big drum), Mitch began DJing at the age of 16, first as a hobby and then as a career. He played at Blues parties, dancehalls and youth clubs.

Reggae music was provided by Mavrick Internash sound system, among others, who had set up on Harehills Avenue. Nine-and-a-half minutes of amateur footage shows very little of the parade and the park but is a great example of the atmosphere surrounding the carnival outside of Potternewton Park. Crowds of people can be seen enjoying the sunshine and music along with ice creams, beers and the occasional joint. Among the stalls in the park was a stall raising funds for the Ethiopia Famine Appeal, selling light refreshments and taking donations.  Awards were given for the best troupe, costume and steel band. ‘African Pearl’ took the prize for the best troupe. This year’s Leeds Carnival t-shirt was white with red text above the image of a steel drum. A version that added the word ‘Committee’ to the bottom was seen being worn by committee members including St. Clair Morris. Police Superintendent Reginald Firth, who was in charge of the parade, later spoke to the Yorkshire Evening Post to report that no arrests had been made and that “things could not have gone better”.

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Carnival Queens on the stage in Potternewton Park. Left to right: Carol Stapleton, Lorna Forest, Shirley Duffield, Angela Carr, and Sharon Hall.

The Last Lap Dance was held a Primrose Hill High School. Tickets were priced at £2 and music was provided by steel bands that had played on the road. The Last Lap Dance ended at 1am the next day. Alternative carnival night entertainment was provided by Mavrick Internash sound system who played at the Chapeltown Community Centre.

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Carnival Queen Shirley Duffield in Potternewton Park (Photo: Max Farrar)

Both the Yorkshire Evening Post and Leeds Other Paper published photos of the carnival on their front pages. While Leeds Other Paper printed a photo of a carnival troupe, the Yorkshire Evening Post went with a crying 17-month-old Wendy Anne-Marie Walker with ice cream around her mouth. Both newspapers included more photos inside. Leeds Other Paper printed a two-page photo spread on pages 10 and 11 of their 31 August issue that included seven black and white photos but didn’t include a report on the day’s events other than claiming it was “another success”. The Yorkshire Evening Post also published seven black and white photos, by Mel Hulme, on page 4 of their 28 August issue. Under the headline “and it’s a funshine carnival” Tim Zillessen of the Yorkshire Evening Post wrote “In true Caribbean style the finale of the Leeds West Indian Carnival celebrations produced a rhythmic array of bright sunny smiles, friendship, harmony…..and pure enjoyment”. The newspaper spoke to carnival committee chairman Arthur France who said “Tell me of anything else in Leeds that brings such joyous harmony between the races. It’s fantastic”.

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17-month-old Wendy Anne-Marie Walker during the carnival parade.

New World Steel Orchestra’s official launch came in November 1984 at the West Indian Centre. Arthur France invited a number of important people including the head of music for Leeds Education Colin Brackley Jones, the deputy head of Leeds College of Music Roy Warmsley and councillors from Leeds City Council.

Reggae Carnival – Leeds West Indian Carnival 1983

Prior to 1983 the only West Indian Carnivals held in Europe had been held in England. The oldest of these, Leeds West Indian Carnival, was founded in 1967 and other cities soon followed suit:

Bristol (1968)
Birmingham (1969)
Nottingham (1970)
Manchester (1972)
London (1973)
Preston (1974)
Derby (1975)
Luton (1976)
Reading (1977)
Liverpool (1978)
Sheffield (1979)

However, it wasn’t until 1983 that mainland Europe had its own West Indian Carnival. In Utrecht in Holland, students of Curacao and Aruban origin organised the very first ‘Antillean Summer Carnival’ which took place in August 1983. The carnival’s very first Queen was Joyce Blijd.

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Dutch Carnival Queen Joyce Blijd.

In Leeds the Carnival Queen Show was held at Primrose Hill High School with a total of six Queens entering the competition. They were:

  • Cavelle Browne in a costume designed and made by Hughbon Condor sponsored by the Commission for Racial Equality.
  • Patricia Smith from Sheffield in a costume designed and made by ‘MAS’ sponsored by ‘The Hub’ youth club.
  • Brenda Monique in a costume designed and made by Sharon Hall sponsored by Roseville Arts Centre and Leeds City Council.
  • Patsy Richards in a costume designed and made by Kooler Ruler Sounds sponsored by Leeds City Council.
  • Pat Burt in a costume designed and made by Arthur France sponsored by Yorkshire Arts Association.
  • Yasmin Hack in a costume designed and made by Hebrew Rawlins and Michael Paul sponsored by National Westminster Bank.
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Cavelle Browne as ‘Eastern Delight’ (Photo: Max Farrar)

Around 25 seconds of colour footage from the Queen Show shows Cavelle Browne and Pat Burt dancing on the stage. Entertainment at the Queen Show was provided by Kooler Ruler Disco, Friction Dance Group, La Rumba Limbo Dancers and The Paradise Steel Band and the comperes were Susan Pitter and Reggie Challenger. The winning Queen for 1983 was 18-year-old Cavelle Browne in the costume ‘Eastern Delight’ designed and made by Hughbon Condor with help from his family and friends. Her photo was taken by Max Farrar from the front of the stage.

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Pat Burt on the road.

The Carnival parade took place on Monday 29 August beginning at Potternewton Park where it was officially opened by the Lord Mayor of Leeds Martin Dodgson and the Lady Mayoress Mrs. Dodgson. The Yorkshire Evening Post reported that 6,000 people gathered in the park before the parade began. The parade, which left Potternewton Park around 2pm, was led by Cavelle Browne as ‘Eastern Delight’. Among the other Queens on the road was Yasmin Hack as ‘Arctic Crystal’. Both Queens were photographed by Bill Hirst for the Yorkshire Evening Post. Pat Burt in her Queen costume was photographed by Leeds Other Paper and appeared in their 2 September issue. Around 30 seconds of coloured footage of the parade filmed by ITV shows Cavelle Browne leading the Eastern Delight troupe who wore white and carried parasols. The footage also shows one of the steel bands on the road that day and Arthur France can be spotted in the background. The parade included a total of five steel bands. Metro Steel Band, Paradise Steel Band and Boscoe Steel Band from Leeds were joined by Star Quality Steel Band and Caribbean Serenaders from Manchester.  A troupe of roller skaters, first seen in 1982, were again present and whistles, also first seen in 1982, were now an established part of the carnival parade. Both the Yorkshire Evening Post and Leeds Other Paper printed photos of troupe members blowing whistles and the Yorkshire Evening Post reported on “youngsters on roller skates”.

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Troupe of whistlers in front of  Paradise Steel Band.

The 1983 parade took a new route designed to avoid the recently completed Sheepscar junction. This route replaced the shortened route introduced in 1979, making it the fourth route used by the carnival parade since 1967. The 1967 route was a completely unique route, ending at the Leeds Town Hall, from 1968 to 1978 the route went into the city centre and returned to Potternewton Park. From 1979 the route cut out the city centre. The new parade route began at Potternewton Park, travelled down Harehills Avenue before travelling down Roundhay Road via Harehills Lane. From Roundhay Road the parade made its way towards Barrack Road and from Barrack Road it travelled up Chapeltown Road before turning back onto Harehills Avenue and returning to Potternewton Park. According to the Yorkshire Evening Post’s report the following day the new route attracted larger crowds of spectators. On page 6 of the newspaper they wrote “more people than ever seemed to join the singing and dancing procession as it headed through the area”. Leeds Other Paper also reported that “All through Chapeltown and Harehills people lined the route to watch, many joined in the dancing”. Leeds Other Paper also reported on the day’s weather describing it as “hot and sunny”.

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Michelle Bent (aged 6) with PC Lloyd Peatfield during the carnival. (Photo: Bill Hirst)

Back at Potternewton Park revellers were entertained by the Tropical Heatwave Steel Band from Manchester who played on the stage. Max Farrar was present at the park with his camera and took a coloured photo of the Kooler Ruler crew dressed in checkered carnival costumes and sombreros. The members of the crew photographed were Dave McKoy, David Francis, Christopher Brown, Calvin Johnson, Stuart Bailey, Peter ‘Brickie’ Brown and David Bailey along with two extra ‘members’ Pat and Icilma Richards. The presence of reggae music in the park was noted by both the Yorkshire Evening Post and Leeds Other Paper.  Leeds Other Paper reported  that “the park reverberated to the sounds of several reggae sound systems” while the Yorkshire Evening Post’s subheadline read “Revels, reggae and roller skates…”  The Carnival had its own t-shirts this year for the first time. Committee member Ian Charles was photographed in the park wearing one of the blue t-shirts that had red text and a red image. The carnival was deemed another success. The Yorkshire Evening Post spoke to Ian Charles and it was reported the following day that “they believed the crowds were much higher than last year and the event had been a big success”. It was also reported that no arrests were made and the West Yorkshire Police had said the day had “gone very smoothly”.  The Last Lap Dance was again held at Primrose Hill High School.

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Ian Charles in an official Leeds West Indian Carnival t-shirt. (Photo: Max Farrar)

 

The Other Island – Best of British Reggae and Ska 1964 – 2019

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The music of Jamaica has been popular in Britain since the 1960s. British artists such as Georgie Fame and The Beatles showcased Jamaican influences in their music as early as 1964. The first British Ska and Rock Steady groups such as The Cimarons, The Bedrocks, and Symarip began appearing towards the end of the decade. The 1970s saw the development of the British sub-genres Two-tone Ska and Lovers Rock. Groups like The Specials, Madness, The Beat and Bad Manners brought Ska to a new generation. British-born artists such as Janet Kay, Carroll Thompson and Deborahe Glasgow  all found fame with Lovers Rock hits.  The 1970s and 1980s saw the rise of British Reggae bands including Steel Pulse, Aswad, Black Slate, and Matumbi. For better or worse, non-Reggae artists tried their hand at Reggae numbers throughout the 1970s and beyond. In Britain these included The Clash, The Police, Culture Club and The Rollings Stones. The best known example is Eric Clapton’s 1974 take on ‘I Shot The Sheriff’. Whether it’s Ska, Rock Steady, Lovers Rock, Dancehall or Dub, British artists have continued to be a part of the worldwide Reggae scene. Below is a list of  100 of the best examples of British Reggae and Ska.

  1. Humpty Dumpty – Georgie Fame And The Blue Flames (1964)
  2. Tom Hark Goes Blue Beat – Georgie Fame And The Blue Flames (1964)
  3. El Pussy Cat – Georgie Fame (1967)
  4. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da – The Bedrocks (1968)
  5. Skinhead Moonstomp – Symarip (1969)
  6. Skinhead Girl – Symarip (1970)
  7. Black And White – Greyhound (1971)
  8. Love is Strange – Wings (1971)
  9. Big Six – Judge Dread (1972)
  10. C Moon – Wings (1973)
  11. I Shot The Sheriff – Eric Clapton (1974)
  12. I A Rebel Soul – Aswad (1976)
  13. After Tonight – Matumbi (1976)
  14. Cherry Oh Baby – The Rolling Stones (1976)
  15. Back To Africa – Aswad (1976)
  16. Silly Games – Janet Kay (1977)
  17. Watching The Detectives – Elvis Costello (1977)
  18. Police & Thieves – The Clash (1977)
  19. Up With The Cock – Judge Dread (1977)
  20. Prodigal Son – Steel Pulse (1978)
  21. I Do Love You – Janet Kay (1978)
  22. Empire Road – Matumbi (1978)
  23. Can’t Stand Losing You – The Police (1978)
  24. Walking On Sunshine – Eddy Grant (1978)
  25. Dreadlock Holiday – 10cc (1978)
  26. Emotion – 15 16 17 (1978)
  27. Five Nights of Bleeding – Poets And The Roots (1978)
  28. Ku Klux Klan – Steel Pulse (1978)
  29. Bluebeat And Ska – Matumbi (1978)
  30. Roxanne – The Police (1978)
  31. Living On The Frontline – Eddy Grant (1978)
  32. Rat Race – The Specials (1979)
  33. One Step Beyond – Madness (1979)
  34. Ranking Full Stop – The Beat (1979)
  35. A Message To You Rudy – The Specials (1979)
  36. On My Radio – The Selecter (1979)
  37. Night Boat To Cairo – Madness (1979)
  38. Fite Dem Back – Linton Kwesi Johnson (1979)
  39. Points of View (Squeeze A Little Lovin) – Matumbi (1979)
  40. Too Much Too Young – The Specials (1979)
  41. Madness – Madness (1979)
  42. Walking On The Moon – The Police (1979)
  43. Arrow Through Me – Wings (1979)
  44. Forces of Viktry – Linton Kwesi Johnson (1979)
  45. Too Much Pressure – The Selecter (1980)
  46. Lip Up Fatty – Bad Manners (1980)
  47. I’m So Sorry – Caroll Thompson (1980)
  48. Inglan is a Bitch – Linton Kwesi Johnson (1980)
  49. Let’s Do Rock Steady – The Bodysnatchers (1980)
  50. Mirror In The Bathroom – The Beat (1980)
  51. Warrior Charge – Aswad (1980)
  52. Living In Babylon – Dennis Bovell (1980)
  53. Murder – The Selecter (1980)
  54. Food For Thought – UB40 (1980)
  55. Hands Off….She’s Mine – The Beat (1980)
  56. Amigo – Black Slate (1980)
  57. The Bed’s Too Big Without You – The Police (1980)
  58. Bankrobber – The Clash (1980)
  59. Burden of Shame – UB40 (1980)
  60. Too Experienced – The Bodysnatchers (1980)
  61. Special Brew – Bad Manners (1980)
  62. Three Minute Hero – The Selecter (1980)
  63. One In Ten – UB40 (1981)
  64. Walking In The Sunshine – Bad Manners (1981)
  65. Ghost Town – The Specials (1981)
  66. Pass The Dutchie – Musical Youth (1982)
  67. Do You Really Want To Hurt Me – Culture Club (1982)
  68. A Slice of English Toast – Ranking Ann (1982)
  69. The English Connection – Mad Professor (1982)
  70. Red Red Wine – UB40 (1983)
  71. Police Officer – Smiley Culture (1984)
  72. Borrowed Time – John Lennon (1984)
  73. If It Happens Again – UB40 (1984)
  74. Mash Up The Telly – Pato Banton (1985)
  75. Cockney Translation – Smiley Culture (1985)
  76. Hello Darling – Tippa Irie (1986)
  77. Everything I Own – Boy George (1986)
  78. Wild World – Maxi Priest (1987)
  79. Don’t Turn Around – Aswad (1988)
  80. Give A Little Love – Aswad (1988)
  81. Champion Lover – Deborahe Glasgow (1989)
  82. Making Love – Barry Boom (1989)
  83. Slipping Away – Royal Blood (1990)
  84. Close To You – Maxi Priest (1990)
  85. Rastafari – Alpha & Omega (1992)
  86. Mad Them – General Levy (1993)
  87. Boom Shack-A-Lak – Apache Indian (1993)
  88. Champagne Body – General Levy (1993)
  89. Shine – Aswad (1994)
  90. Baby Come Back – Pato Banton (1994)
  91. That Girl – Maxi Priest feat. Shaggy (1996)
  92. Night Nurse – Simply Red (1998)
  93. Cupid – Amy Winehouse (2008)
  94. Fire – Gentleman’s Dub Club (2009)
  95. Heaven In Her Eyes – Gappy Ranks (2010)
  96. Call Mi A Yardie – Stylo G (2012)
  97. This Town – The Skints (2016)
  98. Amsterdam – Mungo’s Hi Fi (2017)
  99. Murder – Reggae Roast (2018)
  100. Over Tonight – Empress Imani (2019)

Fame At Last – Speedy Acquaye 1931 – 1993

Neeomi (Sometimes spelt Nii Moi) ‘Speedy’ Acquaye was born in James Town, Accra, Gold Coast (now Ghana) on 7 June 1931. He began playing drums from an early age after his parents bought him a drum as a gift. He began attending Royal School in Accra at the age of 12. Despite encouragement from family and friends and a couple of teenage bands, Speedy showed no interest in a musical career at the time.
After a brief period in the armed forces as a company boy he travelled to England in 1947 at the age of 16. He settled in Leeds in West Yorkshire and undertook a factory job before beginning his career in showbiz. His first taste of show business came when he played the role of Man Friday in a pantomime in Nottingham. He then bought a pair of bongos but didn’t yet take up music full time. Instead, he joined a travelling circus as a dancer, fire-eater, and conga player.
During his time in Leeds, Speedy spent a lot of his time dancing in the local ballrooms. Most pubs in the city would close at 10pm and couldn’t compete with the excitement of the ballrooms. While some pubs had a ‘colour bar’ in place, ballrooms were more welcoming to African and West Indian punters. They were not, however, free from racism. Africans living in Leeds discovered that some of the best places to dance were Leeds Town Hall and Armley Baths, where wooden boards were places over an empty pool to create a dance floor. A highlight was Saturday nights at the Mecca Ballroom in

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David Oluwale, one of Speedy’s friends from Leeds.

the Country Arcade where Jimmy Savile was the general manager and DJ. Savile held no prejudices and African and West Indian men found a warm welcome at the Mecca. The ballroom had two floors. The downstairs room had a ‘strictly ballroom’ pre-war polite atmosphere and Ross McManus’s band would play there. (McManus would father Elvis Costello in 1954.) The upstairs room allowed jiving and became popular with the black community in Leeds and visiting African American GIs. Speedy became known for his dance moves and wild antics. He would delight the girls by pulling up his trousers and setting fire to his legs. Speedy also made a lot of male friends at the ballrooms including Nigerian David Oluwale.

 

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Speedy in Soho.

Speedy left Leeds around 1953 and moved to London to begin a career in music. A regular at Soho clubs, Speedy became friends with African and local Jazz players. He first played with Tubby Hayes Group and made his recording debut with the group on the 1961 album ‘Equation In Rhythm’. Speedy then joined Kenny Graham’s Afro-Cubists who blended British Jazz with African sounds. He later played with Ronnie Scott’s group for a time before meeting Georgie Fame in 1962.
Speedy met Georgie Fame at the Roaring Twenties club in Carnaby Street and the pair became instant friends. Speedy joined Georgie Fame’s group The Blue Flames in May 1962. The group had originally been Billy Fury’s backing band until they were sacked in 1961. The Blue Flames continued on without Billy and Georgie Fame took over on vocals. Speedy played with the Blue Flames at the Flamingo Club during the group’s three-year residency at the club, showcasing a new wave of appreciation for African musicians. Speedy was a pioneer in introducing African instruments into Western Pop music. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones would soon follow suit. Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames’ debut album ‘Rhythm And Blues At The Flamingo’ was released in September 1963 but didn’t feature Speedy on percussion. Speedy had  recently been busted by the police and was in prison on a drug offence during the time of recording. He was briefly replaced by Tommy Thomas. The album and the follow up singles failed to chart. During his time with The Blue Flames, Speedy played alongside drummer Jimmie Nicol for a time before the drummer left to replace Ringo Starr for 13 days during The Beatles’ 1964 Australia tour. The group’s first chart success came in October 1964 with the album ‘Fame At Last’ which went to number 15 in the UK.  ‘Fame At Last’ was Speedy’s recording debut with The Blue Flames. The group had a number one single in January 1965 with their version of ‘Yeh Yeh’ and a couple of notable TV appearances followed including ‘Ready, Steady, Go’ and ‘Top of The Pops’. The Blue Flames even made an appearance on the American TV show ‘Hullabaloo’ in 1965 where they were introduced by Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein.

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Speedy (far left) with Georgie Fame And The Blue Flames.

Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames achieved a large Mod following and helped introduce Ska music to the subculture. Speedy plays on the 1964 EP ‘Rhythm And Blue Beat’ as well as a number of other Ska songs by the group. Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames also recorded a version of Lord Kitchener’s Calypso classic ‘Dr. Kitch’. While Speedy enjoyed some elements of Mod culture (he was known to take Purple Hearts) he refused to give in to Mod fashion and often wore traditional Ghanaian dress on stage and especially when appearing on television. Speedy ensured that he became part of group’s stage act and would sometimes step in front of his instrument to perform African dances. Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames toured across the UK and were part of the popular Tamla-Motown UK Tour of 1965. The tour came to Leeds on 31 March. Georgie Frame and The Blue Flames would return to Leeds the following year, playing at the Odeon on both occasions.

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1965 Leeds poster for the Tamla-Motown tour.

The Blue Flames underwent several line-up changes throughout the group’s time together. In December 1965 Mitch Mitchell became the group’s drummer. Georgie Fame disbanded the Blue Flames in October 1966 to pursue a solo career and Mitch Mitchell joined the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Speedy went on to join Herbie Goins and the Night Timers. He appeared on their 1966 EP ‘The Incredible Miss Brown’ and their 1967 album ‘Number 1 In Your Heart’. Herbie Goins and the Night Timers made an appearance on French TV in 1968 performing ‘The Same Old Song’. During the same period Speedy also recorded with The Small Faces after building up a friendship with Ronnie Lane. Speedy appears on their self-titled 1967 album. Speedy left the Night Timers around 1969 and began working as a session musician, playing with Poet and the One Man Band on their debut self-titled Psychedelic Rock album. Around this time he joined Alexis Korner’s live band, bringing him to the attention of a new generation of musicians including Denny Laine, Rod Stewart and Ginger Baker.

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Speedy (far left) with Herbie Goins and The Night Timers, 1968.

Speedy joined Ginger Baker’s Airforce in September 1970 and appears on the group’s second and final album ‘Ginger Baker’s Air Force 2’. The group were popular in Germany were they were given their own television special on the series ‘Beat-Club’. Airforce also toured the UK throughout 1970, playing at Leeds Town Hall on 20 November. After the band’s breakup in 1971, Speedy went on to form the group Akido. Akido were managed by Ronnie Lane and performed regularly at Ronnie Scott’s club in London. Going back to his days with the travelling circus, Speedy would perform fire-eating on stage during the band’s gigs. Akido worked the college circuit and in 1972 they released their self-titled album.

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Speedy as a member of Airforce, 1970.

Speedy continued to work as a session musician throughout the 1970s and became the go-to-guy when it came to African drumming. He made recordings with Third World War (1971), Rod Stewart (1972), Faces (1973) and John Martyn (1973). He is also reported to have recorded with The Animals and The Rolling Stones but details are lacking. Speedy’s session work often saw him working alongside friends and in 1979 he began working with Georgie Fame again. He played on Georgie Fame’s albums ‘That’s What Friends Are For’ and ‘Right Now’. He also worked with Denny Laine again who he had previously played with when both men were members of Airforce. Denny Laine went on to join Wings and Speedy features on their 1979 album ‘Back To The Egg’ as a member of the Rockestra. In December 1979 he performed at the Concerts For The People of  Kampuchea as part of the Rockestra and appears on the 1981 album of the concerts.

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A selection of albums Speedy played on during his career.

In the mid-1980s Speedy began working with Adzido. Formed by George Ozikunaj in 1984, Adzido was Europe’s leading traditional African dance company. Speedy later returned to Ghana and worked with the Ghanaian band Dade Krama. Speedy took ill in 1990 during a visit to Ghana and had to return to Britain to seek medical attention but wasn’t diagnosed with liver cancer until shortly before his death. Speedy died in London on 15 September 1993 aged 62. Georgie Fame, who had been working with him shortly before his death, helped pay for his body to be flown back to Accra where he was buried following a wake at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden, London.

Full Album Discography

Equation In Rhythm – Costanzo Plus Tubbs (1961)
Fame At Last – Georgie Fame And The Blue Flames (1964)
Sweet Things – Georgie Fame And The Blue Flames (1966)
Number 1 In Your Heart – Herbie Goins And The Night Timers (1967)
Small Faces – Small Faces (1967)
Poet And The One Man Band – Poet And The One Man Band (1969)
Aireforce 2 – Ginger Baker’s Airforce (1970)
Third World War – Third World War (1971)
Never A Dull Moment – Rod Stewart (1972)
Akido – Akido (1972)
Solid Air – John Martyn (1973)
Ooh La La – Faces (1973)
That’s What Friends Are For – Georgie Fame (1979)
Right Now – Georgie Fame (1979)
Back To The Egg – Wings (1979)
Concerts For The People of Kampuchea – Various artists (1981) (Recorded 1979)
Home From Home – Heads, Hands & Feet (1995) (Recorded in 1968)

St. Christopher Steel Band, 1964 – 1977

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John Rawlins, circa 1959.

Formed in Birmingham in 1964, the St. Christopher Steel Band was made up of seven members who were all originally from St. Kitts. The group’s Guitar pan player and vocalist John Rawlins was born in St.Kitts in 1940. He began singing with a steel band in St. Kitts at the age of 14 but hadn’t yet learnt to play the instrument. He soon learnt to play the pans and took up Guitar pan. John, known as Tim, came to England at the age of 19 in August 1959.  He saw the move as an opportunity to work and help his family in St. Kitts financially. He first lived in Wednesbury in Sandwell where his cousin had secured him a job at Patent Shaft Steel Works. He arrived on Sunday and began working as a labourer on Monday. As well as working as a labourer he trained as a Spare Man. He later worked at GKN Steel Works and Sertec Steel Works in Birmingham. John joined the St. Christopher Steel Band in 1964. The other members were:

  • Leroy Matthew (Tenor pan, bandleader, arranger)
  • Franklyn Norford (Guitar pan)
  • Wendell ‘Pat’ Boone (Double second pan)
  • Melvyn Edwards (Cello pan, vocals)
  • Rudolph ‘Midge’ Davies (Drums, vocals)
  • Peter Edwards (Bass, vocals)

The band performed locally and built up a fan base. Their repertoire included ‘Elizabethan Serenade’, ‘In The Mood’, ‘Island In The Sun’ and ‘Yellow Bird’. The band also composed their own music but were best known for their covers. They took part in the first Leeds West Indian Carnival in 1967 and entered the steel pan competition, the first of its kind, and took first place with their version of ‘Elizabethan Serenade’. St. Christopher Steel Band performed at other carnivals across the country in the 1970s including Nottingham Carnival in 1970 and 1971. The band became well-known in their home city of Birmingham and played throughout the city including an appearance at the 1970 May Ball held at the University of Aston where they shared the stage with Chris Barber and The Fourmost.

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Flyer for the May Ball, 1970.

St. Christopher Steel Band’s big break came in 1974 when they made an appearance on the TV talent show ‘New Faces’. They were the first steel band to appear on the show, predating 20th Century Steel Band’s winning appearance in 1975. St. Christopher Steel Band came fourth on the show but were spotted by a Mr. Franklin, a travel agent.  Mr. Franklin offered them a two week gig at a hotel in Spain. The band went on to play in clubs, pubs and hotels around the world. They played concerts in England, Scotland, Wales, Spain, Germany, India and the UAE. During a residency in Dubai the band were not allowed to drink alcohol in the city but could buy alcohol outside of Dubai. The band members would travel outside of Dubai and smuggle alcohol back to their hotel room, risking a prison sentence. Once the hotel manager found out, the band were certain they would be arrested. To their delight the manager understood that musicians enjoyed a drink and told them that they could purchase alcohol from him as long as they only drank it in their hotel room.

Back in England, St. Christopher Steel Band made an appearance on the BBC Radio programme ‘Caribbean Corner’ and in 1977 they recorded the album ‘Island In The Sun’. The album was recorded at Grosvenor Recording Studios in Birmingham and was released on the local label Hollik & Taylor. The album contained twelve tracks that were “their fans’ requested favourites”. St. Christopher Steel Band disbanded around 1977/1978. John Rawlins went on to join the Tropical Islanders Steel Band who made an appearance on the TV show ‘Alright Now’ in December 1980 and later appeared on ‘Tiswas’. He then joined the Sunjest Steel Band who recorded a number of CDs and was later a member of the Caribbean Harmonics Steel Band who made a DVD of their performances.

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Island In The Sun album, 1977

Soca Goes Back To Basics For 2019

While carnival season in the UK doesn’t begin until June, carnival in Trinidad (and other parts of the Caribbean) takes place two days  before the Christian month of Lent, which this year begins on Wednesday 6 March. For music lovers, a highlight of Trinidad Carnival is the Road March competition in which Soca artists battle it out for the much-sought-after title. Artists have been releasing new material with the Road March in mind since November, giving the listeners plenty of time to grow familiar with the tunes. By the end of January, there’s already hundreds of new Soca songs to pick from with some artists having released as many as 16 new titles.

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Machel Montano.

The competition has been officially held in Trinidad since 1932 but it’s roots go back almost a hundred years before then. Until the 1970s it was Calypso all the way with Lord Kitchener, Roaring Lion, and Mighty Shadow being regular winners. Then Soca took over with Calypso Rose’s 1978 number ‘Come Leh We Jam’ being the first official Soca song to win the Road March in Trinidad. Calypso Rose had become the first female to take the title the previous year. Other Caribbean islands have Road March competitions too, most of which date back to the 70s. The United Kingdom even held a competition for four consecutive years beginning in 2010, making it the only country outside the Caribbean to do so. The Carnival Road March moves with the times and listening to the winning Road Marches in chronological order not only gives you one hell of a party playlist but gives you an understanding of how Calypso and Soca has developed over the past century or so. Listen to the winning Road Marches from 1967 to 1978 and you’ll witness the birth of Soca in 12 songs. Skip forward to last year’s Road March, ‘Soca Kingdom’ by Machel Montano and Superblue and you can begin to understand why some feel that the older traditions are being lost, it’s almost a different genre.

However, if some of the latest Soca releases are anything to go by, traditions are still important and are far from lost. Adapted yes but not lost. While songs like Superblue’s ‘Rag Storm’, Machel Montano’s ‘Dr. Mashup’ and Iwer George’s ‘Road March Bacchanal 2’ bring nostalgic vibes to the fete, Aaron Duncan sings about going ‘Back To Basics’ mentioning Lord Kitchener and Mighty Sparrow, in ‘Iron Love’ Nailah Blackman sings  about her love of the iron bands, a predecessor of the steel band and Superblue gives us a history lesson in ‘Rag Storm’. “Oh my gosh” he sings “since de 18th century  de first carnival was in T and T”.

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Superblue.

There’s another tradition that can be heard in recent Soca releases that many listeners may not be familiar with. Calypsonians have been battling it out lyrically since the very early days of the genre. Long before Rap Battles and Diss Tracks, Calypso singers would write ‘Calypso Wars’ about their revels and would ‘battle’ one and other live on stage. The art form seems to have made a come back with the ongoing drama between Iwer George and Machel Montano. As Iwer George’s song ‘Road March Bacchanal 2’ explains the drama began  in 2018 when Machel Montano’s ‘Soca Kingdom’ won the Road March over Iwer George’s ‘Savannah’. In ‘Road March Bacchanal 2’ Iwer also sings about how Machel ‘blocked’ comedian Sunny Bling from performing on stage with him. Machel’s reply came in the form of ‘Dr. Mashup’ to which Iwer replied to by adding a new verse to ‘Road March Bacchanal 2’. The back and forth continued when Machel released ‘Dr.Mashup 2’, giving us a four song battle with a possible third round on its way.

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Aaron Duncan

With so many great tunes competing for this year’s Road March title it’s going to be extremely difficult to pick just one.  Could Machel Montano take the title again, giving him his tenth win? Or will Superblue beat all competition for the eleven time? Could Nailah Blackman or Destra become the first female  winner in ten years? Rising star Aaron Duncan stands a good chance too. Below is our list of the top ten Soca  tunes of 2019 (so far).

  1. Rag Storm – Superblue feat. 3 Canal
  2. Hookin’ Meh – Farmer Nappy
  3. Dr. Mashup – Machel Montano
  4. Doh Study People – Destra
  5. Famalay – Skinny Fabulous, Machel Montano, Bunji Garlin
  6. Games – Nailah Blackman
  7. So Long – Nadia Batson
  8. Back To Basics – Aaron Duncan
  9. Road March Bacchanal 2 – Iwer George
  10. Iron Love – Nailah Blackman