Leeds West Indian Carnival celebrates 50 remarkable years in 2017.
The first in the UK to incorporate all three essential elements of authentic West Indian carnival – costumes, music and a masquerade procession – it is Europe’s longest running Caribbean carnival parade.
With humble beginnings as an antidote to the yearning for the culture and heritage of a group of young Caribbeans studying in Leeds and led by Arthur France, the first Leeds West Indian Carnival Committee was formed at 3 Cowper Street, in Chapeltown in 1967.
Here, we share images of just a few of the countless dedicated heroes and pioneers who have or continue to take Leeds West Indian Carnival ever forward.
THE STEEL BANDS
Ever since Birmingham’s St Christopher Steel Band won the first Leeds Carnival Steel Band Competition, pan has been dear to Leeds. Many talented musicians have played pan on Carnival Day including Rex Watley who was a member of the runners up in the first contest, Gay Carnival Steel Band (set up by Courtland Carter and Arthur France). Rex went on to form Wilberforce Steel Band / Photo: Courtesy of Rex Watley
The first parade was held after Arthur invited West Yorkshire Police Chief Inspector Exley, to his tiny flat to discuss arrangements. With police backing and community support (despite some doubters), the group of friends banded together to organise the first parade, which made its way from Potternewton Park into Leeds city centre.
They also held the first Carnival Queen show at Jubilee Hall. The show was compered by pioneering journalist Clyde Alleyne, one of the few Black faces on British television at that time.
The Carnival Queen title was won by Vicky Cielto as The Sun Goddess designed by Veronica and Irwin Samlalsingh. Amongst other firsts that year were Lord Silky winning the first Calypso King contest with St Kitts is my Borning Land and Birmingham’s St Christopher Steel Band winning the first steel pan competition with their Elizabethan Serenade performance.
Since then, an army of volunteers, contributors and generations of artists in music, costume making and other carnival forms have driven the growth of Leeds West Indian Carnival to the phenomenon it is today as the city’s largest annual event, attracting crowds of over 160,000 people in 2016.
The Carnival has gone from strength to strength staging year round carnival arts workshops and masterclasses, Pop Up Carnival events, the popular Prince & Princess and Soca Monarch Shows, the traditional crack of dawn J’Ouvert Morning parade and spectacular King & Queen Show which made its home at West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2014 and continues to be a highlight of the annual events programme.
See The Sun Goddess and more on the Carnival’s history at the 50 Years of Leeds West Indian Carnival Exhibition at The Tetley from August 12th – October 29th.
Carnival Committee Members Past and Present
FOUNDING COMMITTEE MEMBERS
• George Archibald
• Calvin Beach
• Arthur France (Chairman)
• Tony Lewis
• Rose McAllister (Secretary)
• Willie Robinson
• Ansell Shepherd
• Ken Thomas
OTHER FOUNDING PIONEERS
• Courtland Carter
• Ian Charles
• Alice Gordon
• Rasheeda Robinson
• Irwin and Veronica Samlalsingh
• Eddie Vanterpool
• Cleve Watkins
The ‘Honour Roll’ of Leeds Steel Bands
• Boscoe Steel Band
• Caribbeans Steel Band
• Esso Steel Band
• Gay Carnival Steel Band
• Invaders Steel Band
• Paradise Steel Band
• New World Steel Orchestra
• Wilberforce Steel Band