My Carnival Story – Danny Friar

The following is an extended and updated version of the article first published in Community Highlights magazine in August 2018.

farm 65
My grandmother outside the farmhouse, mid-1960s.

My mother, Margaret, was the daughter of a farmer and had spent the early years of her life in Elvington, a village just outside of York. When my mother’s family first came to Leeds in 1965, my mother was still a toddler and had never seen a black person before. It was quite a shock for a little white girl to see a person with different coloured skin for the first time. She ran into the house to alert her mother. Since then, my family have become very diverse. I have two uncles from St. Kitts, one of whom was in the Carribbeans Steel Band and appeared on Opportunity Knocks in 1965, and one ‘uncle’ (actually my cousin’s husband) from Jamaica. These three men are just a small part of the ‘Caribbean side’ of our family, so Caribbean culture has never seemed ‘exotic’ to me, it was just another part of life.

Duncan and Margaret Friar on their wedding day, 1983.

I’ve never known life without Leeds West Indian Carnival. I was born in Leeds in 1986 and I attended my first carnival later that year but I like to tell people I’ve been attending Leeds West Indian Carnival since before I was born. My parents have been going to carnival together since 1983 and my mother even went to a couple before that. (Read their Carnival Story here.) She was pregnant with me in August 1985 but went to carnival regardless. She’s only missed one carnival since 1981. She was there for the 21st anniversary, the 25th anniversary, the 30th, 40th and 50th anniversaries. She lived in Harehills in the 1970s and grew up jammin’ to the sweet sounds of Reggae being played by sound systems like Maverick and dancing the night away in the Blues clubs held in people’s basements in the early 80s.

My father, Duncan, came to Leeds in 1983 and attended his first carnival with my mother that year. He was also a fan of Reggae music and collected Bob Marley’s singles and albums. Before attending Leeds West Indian Carnival for the first time he had only ever seen Steel Pans being played on television. He would help pull the floats along from Potternewton Park, around the entire route and then back to the park. Back in those days out family’s spot was on the corner of Shepherds Lane and Roundhay Road. My grandmother lived on Bankside Street, just one street away. It was at this spot in 1988 that the first photo of me at Leeds West Indian Carnival was taken. I’m sat on the railings waiting for the parade to pass by. My mother is holding me up and next to me are my cousins and aunty. Leeds West Indian Carnival has always been a family affair for us. Other aunties, uncles, cousins were present that day. Not to mention my grandmother and a bunch of close family friends. 1988 was the year Michael Jackson performed at Roundhay Park the day after the carnival and there were Michael Jackson t-shirts on sale in Potternewton Park. My aunty, Hilda, spent a fortune buying Michael Jackson t-shirts for her children. Down the road from where we were stood a film crew was filming scenes for the TV movie Girl From The South.

Me with family at Leeds West Indian Carnival, 1988.

In the 1990s and early 2000s our ‘spot’ changed to outside the Fforde Grene pub at the other end of Roundhay Road. My grandmother had passed away in December 1992 and we began watching the carnival parade from the Fforde Grene beginning in 1993. Most of my carnival memories come from this period. There was always a lot of West Indian men at the Fforde Grene pub. I enjoyed listening to them speak in patois and hearing some of the old sayings from the Caribbean.

Music has always been a big part of carnival for me. I’ve always been fascinated by the Steel Pans and I grew up with Soca in my blood. I remember hearing ‘Follow The Leader’, ‘Doggie’ and ‘Jump And Wave’ for the first time while dancing down Roundhay Road. Me and my sister Zoe were delighted when the Baha Men released ‘Who Let The Dogs Out?’ in 2000 because we had already known that song for a couple of years. We’d heard the Anslem Douglas version at carnival. We both loved Soca but we never really knew the names of the songs, they never got played on the radio and when we were really young we didn’t even know that this music was called Soca. We thought the line in ‘Follow The Leader’ was “we love soda” not “we love Soca”. I remember the first time my mum let me and my sister follow Godfather’s truck the entire route. I also remember how much my feet hurt by the time we reached Chapeltown Road. Before then we’d only been allow to go part of the way round. Sometimes as far as St. Aiden’s Church before having to turn around and head back down Roundhay Road, excited with tales of what we’d seen and heard on the road. Our favourite Soca songs were the ones that gave dance instructions in the lyrics – “Jump and wave, jump and wave. Everybody, jump, jump, jump,jump….” I remember my older cousins attending the first J’ouvert Morning in 1992. I remember them rushing over to us on Roundhay Road. “We’ve been up all night” they said. They’d been home to get dressed but had been partying in their pajamas. I remember when my sister and cousins, dressed as a pirates, were members of one of the troupes in 1995. That was also the first year I took my own photos of Leeds West Indian Carnival. I took photos of my sister and cousins in the parade and photos of my cousins in the car park at the Fforde Grene.

My cousin Michaela with her sons Leon and Tyrone in the Fforde Grene pub car park, carnival 1995.

I remember hearing Reggae coming from cars parked in the Fforde Grene car park: Shaggy, Rayvon, Buju Banton, Dawn Penn, Chaka Demus, Pilers, and Shabby Ranks to name but a few. I remember the smell of cannabis and rum in the air as I stood on the wall, looking down Harehills Lane to see how far away the parade was and calls of “It’s coming! It’s coming!” as it drew near. I remember sitting on the grass and eating curry goat and dumplings in the park, the smell of jerk chicken in the air. I remember buying foam toy airplanes from a stall in the park and seeing all the other objects on sale: Reggae CDs, posters, T-shirts, and carved wooden ornaments. I remember how the bass from the sound systems thumped you in the chest as the green tractors pulled the floats down the road. I blew my whistle until I was red in the face and when we got home it would return to the kitchen drawer until next year. I remember my little sister’s first ever carnival in 1995. She was 11-months old and slept in her pram the entire time. Nothing could wake her! We would always rush home, dumplings in a brown paper bag, to catch the carnival on Calendar News. We’d watch closely to see if we could spot anyone we knew, we never did. The next day either mum or dad would go out and come back with a copy of the Yorkshire Evening Post. Sometimes we’d get one on the way home or my mum would ring my uncle to see if he still had a copy of the Monday issue.

Over the years I’ve missed around five carnivals. One year in the 1990s my parents took us to the seaside on Bank Holiday Monday and me and my sister complained the entire day because we were missing the carnival. Another year I missed was 2004 when I was in Liverpool with my father. I had to work in 2007 and missed the big 40th anniversary parade and I was working again in 2014. I also missed the Carnival in 2011 but managed to make it to Manchester’s carnival. In my early twenties I encouraged as many of my friends to attend the carnival parade with me and while they enjoyed it they didn’t have the same passion for carnival as I did. In later years I found friends who already loved carnival and I gained some great carnival memories with those people. I remember partying outside Dutch Pot on Chapeltown Road late into the night or ending up at a party held at the house of a friend of a friend of a friend. Everybody was welcoming at carnival time. It always reminded me of the Bob Marley song ‘One Love’ – “let’s get together and feel alright”.

2009 carnival
With friends at Leeds West Indian Carnival 2009.

I’ve been attending Leeds West Indian Carnival for 32 years now. It is an annual event that I always look forward to and is up there with birthdays and Christmas. In recent years, Pop-Up Carnivals have been a highlight of the Carnival Season for me. Since the first one in July 2014 for the Tour de France Grand depart I’ve tried to get to as many as possible. I even attended the Rio Heroes homecoming parade in 2016 to support Leeds West Indian Carnival who were taking part in the parade. A personal highlight was the 2017 Leeds Light Night parade in October when I got to dance with Arthur France down Briggate. In 2015 I helped three University of Leeds students with their research collaboration project on Leeds West Indian Carnival. I provided information and photographs that were displayed at the West Indian Centre in April. In 2017 one of my carnival photos was featured in the e-book ‘Carnival At 50’.

With Arthur France, 2017

2017 was always going to be a big year for Leeds West Indian Carnival, the 50th Anniversary. In the spring I was part of the Carnival Chronicles team, researching carnival history and collecting oral histories. This work was used in a special exhibition at the Tetley in Leeds and was interwoven into the play ‘Carnival Chronicles’ written by Zodwa Nyoni. During the year, one phrase that kept cropping up was ‘half the story has never been told’. In September I set up a blog, Leeds Mas Media, as an attempt to tell the full story, a story I have known and loved all my life, a story I have lived. Since setting up my blog a year ago I’ve received love and support from across the community and beyond. Among those that have shown support for my blog are Leeds West Indian Carnival, Nottingham Carnival, Leeds Beckett University, Arts Council England, Heritage Corner Leeds, Community Highlights magazine,, the AAA Team and the Harrison Bundey Mama Dread Masqueraders. Leeds West Indian Carnival liked what I did so much that they asked me to write something for the Leeds Carnival website which can be read here.

In 2018, after watching the carnival parade for 31 years, I decided to join a troupe and became a last minute member of the Harrison Bundey Mama Dread Masqueraders. The troupe’s theme that year was Windrush Bacchanal, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in 1948. My costume was made on carnival day with the help of Grace Hickson and two hours later I was in the parade, blowing my horn the entire way. I hadn’t learnt any of the dance routines but I must have been doing something right because Ruth Bundey asked me to come back next year.

On the road with Mama Dread Masqueraders, 2018.

Leeds West Indian Carnival is about much more than just a weekend every August. It is about the Steel Pan Bands, the Calypso and Soca stars, the dancers and the costume makers. My story is just a part of a much larger story that spans 50+ years.

Do you have a carnival story to tell? Were you in a troupe? Did you play steel pans? Get in touch to share your carnival story!




Our Carnival Story – Margaret And Duncan Friar

As a couple, Margaret and Duncan Friar have been attending Leeds West Indian Carnival together for the past 35 years. Along the way they have married and have had three children together. Bad weather, pregnancy, and even living outside of Leeds has not stopped them attending the carnival every year.  I sat down with them one day in July 2018 to discuss Blues Clubs, Riots, Chapeltown and Leeds West Indian Carnival in the 80s and 90s. This is their carnival story.

Reggae And Blues
Margaret Friar (née Reid) first moved to Harehills with her family in 1976. Previously, her family had lived in Seacroft and her sister, Pat, had been friends with The Caribbeans Steel Band. She had known them during their heyday when they appeared on Opportunity Knocks in 1965. Margaret’s family lived on Shepherds Lane, not far from Roundhay Road. She began listening to Reggae music  around 1977 when she was 14-years-old. She heard hits like ‘Uptown Top Ranking’ by Althea & Donna on the radio as well as records being played by her older sisters Hilda and Pat, but there was another place to hear Reggae. “I started going to the Fforde Grene” she told me when I sat down with her and her husband, Duncan, in July 2018. The Fforde Grene pub once stood on the corner of Roundhay Road and Harehills Lane. The pub had once had a colour-bar system in place but Margaret doesn’t remember it that way. “90% of the people were Caribbean” she recalls. It was through friendships she made at the Fforde Grene that she first became involve in the Blues Club scene that was at its height in Harehills and Chapeltown at the time. But what was a Blues Club? “An illegal club in somebody’s cellar and illegal drinking, basically”. Margaret explained “All night drinking until 4 or 5 in the morning”. And of course there was non-stop Reggae played from “big blast-off speakers”. Margaret explained “you’d have three or four big ones on top of each other”.  Illegal drinking wasn’t the only illegal activity taking place in the Blues Clubs. “I wasn’t but people were smoking weed” Margaret informed me. One police officer was willing to take a bribe to turn a blind eye. Margaret laughs as she tells the story: “People would pay him so he wouldn’t say owt. He used to smoke weed so people would give him weed to keep him happy”.  Occasionally, Blues Clubs would be raided by the police. Margaret laughs as she fondly recalls one night when a Blue Club got raided by the police. “We heard the police coming and everyone just dived for the windows” she explained. “Luckily I was a little skinny thing and I got out of the window and just ran and ran until I got home”. “That was a good night” she laughs.  Margaret has been a Reggae fan for over 40 years now, but what does she think of modern Reggae? “I still enjoy it now but I personally prefer the older Reggae but that’s just my age group” she told me. “There’s more rapping now, I think” she added.

Reggae discs released in 1977.

Bin Lids For Shields 
Margaret will never forget the night she witnessed police and citizens battle it out in the streets during the Chapeltown Riots in July 1981. “I remember I lived at home with my mum and dad” she recalled. She watched the riots from her bedroom window. “My mum shouted ‘They’re here! They’re here! They’re here!’ and I said ‘who’s here?’” she remembered. “We watched them on Roundhay Road and Shepherds Lane and down the side streets”. she recalled “Police were running down the streets, holding bin lids as shields. People were running around all over”. “I remember bin lids all over the streets!” Margaret added “They were using bin lids because they didn’t have enough shields” she told me.  I asked her if the experience was frightening. “No, I wouldn’t say it was too frightening because I was inside the house” she said before adding “If somebody was outside it could have been but they wasn’t after you, they were running from the police”. The riots came close to home that night when a group of men tried hiding inside Margaret’s brother’s van, parked outside the house. “When we looked out the window they said they won’t hurt his van. They just wanted to hide under it” Margaret explained. “They tried the doors but they got underneath the van” she said. “It was my brother’s work van. It was full of carpets. They could have got a load of carpets out of it but they didn’t even bother it. They just wanted to hide from the police” she remembered. Margaret’s brother Kevin was lucky, looting did take place during the riots, as Margaret recalled “I can’t remember the name now, a little shoe shop on Roundhay Road, that got emptied. They just emptied it”.  Margaret explained what happened next : “The next day it went ’round that shoes were going cheap”. I had to ask if she bought any. “Yeah man” she laughed.

PULL! PULL! – Leeds West Indian Carnival in the 1980s
Margaret experienced Leeds West Indian Carnival for the first time in 1981. “I was with my sister Hilda and her kids” she remembers. “We were pulling it down Roundhay Road with ropes” she added.  “It was scaffolding with rope around and dancers in the middle” Margaret explained. “Arthur (France) would spray you with water as it was going around” she laughed “he always had his water gun. Always! Every year that man had his water gun.” “We didn’t know his name then” Margaret explained “we just knew he was the main man”. It is at this point that Margaret’s husband Duncan joins the conversation. He met Margaret in 1983 after moving in to the house next door to her mother. He experienced his first Leeds West Indian Carnival that year. “I pulled it all the way round” he said proudly “from where it started, down Roundhay Road, down Chapeltown Road and right down Harehills Avenue”. What was the experience like pulling the floats? “Knackering” he laughs before adding “hard work”. Duncan explained “If it was swaying one way, you had to pull really hard on one side to keep it in the centre”.  “People would shout ‘PULL! PULL!’” Margaret added. Duncan explained that it wasn’t always pulling it forward. “You had to drag it back” he explained “if it was catching up with the one in front, you had to slow it down”. The parade lasted around three hours but could take longer. Margaret recalled what would happen if a wheel came off the float. “It stopped and some big guys picked it up while others tried to get in and fix it” she explained. “When that happened, the carnival goers were asked to move back while they got on with it. It was the troupes and the organisers that would do that” she told me before adding “people respected them and stayed back. They wouldn’t do that today”. Helping to pull the floats gave Duncan a sense of pride and made him feel a part of the carnival. When not pulling the floats around the parade route, Margaret, Duncan and their family would watch the parade from Roundhay Road, outside Harehills Primary School. This was the family spot every year for over ten years.

Margaret Friar, her son Daniel and mother Doreen outside Harehills Primary School, Carnival Day 1988.

Margaret talked me through the family’s carnival routine of the 1980s. “We’d go to my mum’s house, kids and grandkids, everybody would meet at mum’s. We used to always have KFC. When we met at my mum’s everybody used to put in, on my mum’s table, she would add it up and pick two people, tell them to go to KFC and tell them what to get. And if there was any money left, that went on sweets for the kids. Then everybody would walk up to the park and as soon as the parade was setting off from the park we’d go to Roundhay Road and watch it pass there. After the parade had passed we’d go back to the park.” I asked Margaret what Potternewton Park was like. “Not as busy as it is now” she told me. “The stalls were not as big as they are now, there’s more stalls now. It was mainly food” she added. Then came the important question, what was the food like? “We’d have it later on, at tea time but we were on benefits” Margaret explained “it seemed like a lot of money”. Stalls in the park would sell curry goat with rice and pea, jerk chicken and as Margaret recalled “there was the odd stall that used to sell salt fish, some people used to get that as well”. It wasn’t the first time the couple had had West Indian food. As Margaret remembers “my sister Hilda had made it and she was taught by West Indians, Jamaicans”.

Margaret Friar (far right) with her sister Jackie (far left) and niece Margaret (centre) with police officers in Potternewton Park on Carnival Day 1988.  Margaret : These Police Officers had cans of larger under their helmets.

“Sometimes we’d go to a friend’s house who lived near the park” Duncan informed me “We’d pop in during the carnival to go to the toilet and afterwards for a bit of a get together.” They wouldn’t stay for long and would try and get home to see the evening news. “We realised after a while that it would be on the local news the next day more than the same day”. They would also try and pick up a copy of the Yorkshire Evening Post “just to see what pictures were in and to see if we were in any photographs ourselves…but we were never in any of the photos” Duncan said.

Life in Chapeltown, 1987
Margaret and Duncan married in December 1983 and after living at various addresses in Harehills, in 1987 they moved to Avenue Crescent and later Haminton Avenue in Chapeltown by which time they had two children, Zoe and Daniel. I asked them what life was like in Chapeltown in 1987, the year of the third Chapeltown Riot. Neither of them recalled the riots from that year. “We must have moved away by then” Margaret explained. “We lived in a nice big house” Duncan told me. “Everybody was alright” Margaret said “we never had any trouble, everybody would speak alright to you and acknowledge you and we had decent neighbours who were alright”. “It was a very multi-cultured area” Margaret told me. “West Indians, Africans, Pakistanis, Indians, English, Jews” all lived in Chapeltown she told me.  Both Margaret and Duncan don’t recall ever witnessing any racism. “We just got on with people” Margaret said.  I next asked them about Chapeltown’s bad reputation. The press had painted a picture of Chapeltown in the 80s as being riddled with crime, drugs, unemployment and prostitution. “It was like any other area” Margaret told me “but there was more drugs” she added. Both Margaret and Duncan remember times when they were offered cannabis but they never felt pressured into buying any. As Margaret put it “nobody bothered you”. Margaret recalled:  “I remember walking down one of the streets and somebody approached me and I said ‘I don’t do ‘em mate’ and he shouted down the street to someone else ‘she don’t do ‘em’ and nobody asked me anymore if I wanted owt.” Duncan has a similar story: “I’d go to Chapeltown Road to the shops and they used to say ‘do you want some black (Hashish)?’ I told them I don’t touch it and they said ‘we won’t ask you again.’” Was there ever a problem with prostitution? “Oh yeah” Margaret answered “there was one that lived over the road from us. The kids would watch from the window and say ‘She’s taking another mister in, mummy, she’s got another mister, mummy’ but it didn’t bother me. The drugs didn’t bother me, she didn’t bother me, I just let them get on with it.”

Daniel Friar on Avenue Crescent, September 1987.

Nice Noise – Leeds West Indian Carnival in the 1990s
After Margaret’s mother Doreen passed away in December 1992 the family spot changed to outside the Fforde Grene Pub beginning in 1993. “My mum died and the atmosphere wasn’t the same” Margaret explained “the atmosphere wasn’t there and she was missing”. Margaret described the atmosphere at the Fforde Grene as “party atmosphere”. “We used to drink and eat and play music” she explained.  “There was two cars there every year” she told me. “A guy with rice and curry and he’d be selling it out of his boot” but you’d have to be quick  because “once it was gone, it was gone” she said “he wasn’t going home for any more”.  Music would be provided in a similar fashion, played from cars parked in the car park. “Music would be playing all day” Margaret told me “it would stop when the carnival went passed and then it would be back on”.  There were never any complaints, as Margaret explained “The Fforde Grene staff used to join in with it”. “The police used to join in more back then too” she informed me.

For Margaret and Duncan, the best part of Leeds West Indian Carnival has always been the parade. The atmosphere, costumes and dancing brings them back every year.  I asked Margaret if she ever danced in the streets during the carnival parade. “Always. Every year. Still do” she told me. I asked what other ways the crowds would take part in the parade. “Whistles have always been a big part of it” Margaret told me “but we never saw it as noisy, it was a nice noise”.  It takes a lot to keep Margaret away from Leeds West Indian Carnival. Not even pregnancy has kept her away. She has been pregnant at carnival with all three of her children, in 1983, 1985, and 1994. In 1994, she was two weeks away from her due date. I asked her what it was like to be pregnant at carnival. “Tiring” she told me “exhausting and very hot” she added. So has there ever been a carnival day Margaret and Duncan have missed? Duncan has missed a couple of carnivals due to work commitments but Margaret has only ever missed one. “We went to Bridlington” she told me “and the kids complained all day because they weren’t at the carnival.” There was another year, 1988,when the family almost missed the carnival. “That was the year it rained” Margaret told me “and I was working nights but I took the kids to carnival”. Not even the rain could keep Margaret away “but we didn’t stay too long because it was heavy rain that year” she explained “that year the rain was really bad but we just got on with it, put umbrellas up, put your raincoats on and carry on”.

Margaret  and Daniel Friar at Leeds West Indian Carnival, 1988.

In 1995 the family moved to Castleford for a short time “but we still came over for Carnival” Margaret said. “That year we came on the bus” she informed me “we came over in the morning and went back at night” she added. 1995 was the year Margaret and Duncan’s daughter Zoe was part of a troupe dressed as pirates and organised by a youth club. Zoe’s cousin Sheryl was a member of the youth club and it was because of this connection that Zoe joined the troupe despite not being a member of the youth club. How much preparation went into the troupe before the big day? “Months and months” Margaret remembers “getting her head measured, getting her waist measured, how long was her hair so they knew how many beads to get” she recalls “It was silly to us but important to them.”  Living in Castleford meant Zoe missed most of the dance rehearsals but her cousin Sheryl was able to teach her the moves they had learnt. “They only had two or three dances all the way round” Margaret remembers “they didn’t want to make it too complicated”. Zoe stayed over at Sheryl’s house the day before the carnival parade to ensure she was there early the next morning to get ready. “We came over the next morning” Margaret told me “it was red hot that year.”

Zoe Friar and Sheryl Gentles on the road in 1995.

Margaret recalls the first time tractors were used to pull the floats. “It was like ‘what?! What’s going on?’ what are the tractors for?’ then more tractors came down and more tractors came down and it was like ‘what’s going on?’ You saw one tractor and you thought it was just one leading the parade but then it continued. For years afterwards people were saying ‘it’s not the same, it’s not the same’”.

I finished off asking the couple what their favourite memories of Leeds West Indian Carnival were and about their hopes for the future.

Margaret: My favourite one would be around ’88 when Daniel and Zoe were both old enough to stand and understand what it was and enjoy it. To see my kids enjoying the atmosphere and not just ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ but actually taking part in their own way and dancing and trying to do the moves.

Duncan: That as well but also ’85.Taking Zoe around the entire route on my shoulders. Margaret went mad. She said ‘you can’t be going around there with her all that time’.

Zoe and Duncan Friar, Carnival Day 1988.

What would they like to see in the future of Leeds West Indian Carnival? Margaret told me she’d like to see a longer event, two days of parades and added “It would be nice if we could get more (steel) bands”. She also feels it is very important not to forget Carnival’s roots. “Yeah it is a fun, free, family day out on the bank holiday but people need to remember what it is about” she said “people need reminding why it is here, what it’s about and to pass it down to the younger generations and let them know”.

Do you have a carnival story to tell? Were you in a troupe? Did you play steel pans? Get in touch to share your carnival story!


Duncan Friar at Leeds West Indian Carnival 2017.
Margaret Friar at Leeds West Indian Carnival 2017.