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Michael’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 30 Aug 2007

Location: Notting Hill, London, England

MapNotting Hill Carnival, Monday 27th August

The last day of the 'Summer' Bank Holiday weekend, and I jumped the train into London to make my way to Notting Hill Carnival. Having missed it last year due to a lack of invite [you know who you are :-) ] I decided it was all or nothing this year. On top of that I had read about it in the 'Rough Guide to World Parties' and figured if it made it into there it must be worth a visit. I was asked an interesting question whilst trying to convince people to come along to the Carnival; “What is it with you and crowds?” My response was reasonably simple; “There are usually a crowds for a reason – if it is advertised, it is for a good reason, if it is unadvertised, chances are it is a crowd you may not want (need) to be a part of”.

Anyway, I dragged myself out bed (doesn't matter how much sleep I get anymore, I always seem to be 'dragging' myself out of bed) Monday morning and jumped the 1030 am train into London. It wasn't long before my suspicions were confirmed, and no-one else was headed in for the day. By about 1230 pm I was in Notting Hill, dodging through police barricades checking for drugs (something Andrew Johns should have tried) and following the crowd to the festival. Despite reading bits and pieces about the carnival, I really didn't have much idea what to expect.

Well it didn't take long to figure out this wasn't your regular carnival. As I wandered the streets, rather aimlessly, I couldn't help but notice immediately that the shops in the direct vicinity of the 'party' were all boarded up with ply wood for the weekend, presumably to keep from any damage to the front windows. Either that or the outskirts of Notting Hill is quickly turning into a Ghost Town...

Anyway, I quickly came across the first 'sound system' and couldn't believe my eyes, or ears. A sound system is essentially a few stacks of speakers, sitting on the side walk, attached to the mixing deck that a DJ is spinning records on. Some of them are a couple of stacks, ten feet high, then others are as much as a dozen speaker sets ten feet high. It was incredible. I grabbed a Red Stripe, the official sponsor, from one of the bars along the street and headed further into the masses.

After passing a number of other sound systems, I managed to find the parade and wandered along it whilst it was moving nowhere in gridlock. Eventually I found myself a decent spot to watch the parade slowly dribble by, and took some photos from there. Just as the parade finished coming past, Andy and his mate Mark rocked up and we headed back to find some more of the sound systems. They were everywhere, and I mean it. Sometimes there would be one on a four way intersection, one half way to the next, and another one at the next intersection.... MUSIC EVERYWHERE. And LOUD. All in all, there were 44 sound systems in the space of about 10 square city blocks.

The first one we stopped at was the Rampage sound system that was perched on two massive scaffolds either side of the road, and were starting to broadcast live over Radio 1 Extra all over the UK. And the crowd went nuts. Straight hip-hop blazing out of the stereos just after 1 pm in the quiet residential area. We stayed there for a while and enjoyed the tunes, before deciding to head off to see what other sound systems were out there. We passed systems playing hip-hop, R&B, Latin, reggae, salsa, soca, old skool, raga... man it was incredible.

Eventually I got hungry and decided to grab myself some lunch – curried goat. That was an experience. A plate of rice, with curried goat smacked on top. It looked like the goat had been taken to with an axe or chainsaw and dumped into a hug pot of curry. When the curry was on the rice, the meat was still attached to jagged bones, and it made for interesting eating. Not the best meal I had ever had, but not the worst by far.

During the feed we had a few people ask us if we knew where Norman Jay's Good Times sound system was, and I had read a bit about it as being one of the more famous, so we headed for it after lunch. Again we found ourselves caught in the traffic jam of the parade as it reached the finishing area, though I was under the impression that it finished around 1 pm. We wound away through the crowd and made it to the Good Times sound system, that was actually a bus with some decks and a mixer set up in the top of the bus, and speakers everywhere. The crowd was packed around the bus, and we slowly wound our way into the middle, listening to the commercial urban music that was ripping through the speakers. Everyone there was in a great mood, but that may have been the substance abuse that was under-way. I had doubts that we made it to the Good Times sounds system and figured perhaps we were in fact at the High Times sponsored event!

We partied there for a while, at least until we needed to go to the toilet and got thirsty. Eventually we pushed off from the bus after a couple hours of grooving and made our way to look for a feed around 6 pm. The obvious, and almost only choice, was to head to some of the traditional jerk chicken. We sat down in a park, along with half of London it looked like, and ate our chicken and grilled corn relaxing in the setting Monday sun. Grabbing another beer and slowly making our way back towards the Notting Hill tube station where the day began, I got split up with Andy and Mark whilst most likely taking photos.

Slowly I wandered back the way I came, passing even more parade after 7 pm (I'm sure I read that it was supposed to be done at 1 pm) and watched as the sound systems started being dismantled. Eventually I made my way through the barriers of police officers and made it all the way to the train station, jumping into the first thing headed to Waterloo, and then back to Southampton. What a crazy day... I haven't ever been to an event like it, and again have to say, I can't imagine that it could ever happen in Melbourne.

Imagine South Yarra, or St. Kilda, or Fitzroy being totally closed off to traffic for two days, a massive parade going round the outskirts, and everything inside the parade route just being pedestrian area for dancing with sound systems that would make the loudest night clubs look ordinary. And to top it all off, despite the law enforcement trying their hardest to crack down on drugs, there was a haze of smoke in the air, more people buzzing on E than at an all night rave, and beers being sold on street corners and drunk on the roads. Bizarre...

Anyway, had an absolute ball, will being going again next year if I am still in the area and would strongly suggest to everyone to get down there... but as a last word of warning, if you want to party, go on the Monday.... Sunday is the 'children's' day, Monday is 'adults' day.

I'm off to Newquay, (in the Cottswolds?) this weekend, hoping to catch some sun, so a report and pics will likely follow some time next week.

Take care and have a great weekend!