Carnival attempted to emulate the Carnival tradition of Trinidad, providing the recently arrived Caribbean population with a social and creative outlet. As the Trinidadians paraded their Mas heritage around West London's streets, the Jamaicans quietly assembled their sound systems in the side streets and parks. The small scale of the event and the relaxed community atmosphere were reminiscent of a folk festival. It must have felt a thousand miles from the frequently dreary British summertime. With memories of home stirred by the music, food, smells, voices, dress and particularly the garish Mas tradition, thoughts of the oncoming long winter months would have been held at bay.

Trying Times

Carnival grew steadily over the next two decades, with attendance exceeding 100,000 and then approaching twice that. Tabloid front pages highlighted crimes such as pick pocketing and mugging and resented the growing resources needed to police the event. Complaints increasingly came from local residents fearing damage to their property or disruption caused by the crowds. Carnival repeatedly defied calls to ban, move or redefine the festival.

The Carnival of 1976 saw ten times the number of police on duty compared to the previous year. Crowds rioted as the celebrations drew into evening resulting in 100 police and almost as many Carnival goers needing hospital treatment. "This was supposed to be about fun and love - not violence", said Mr Selwyn Baptiste, a member of the Notting Hill Carnival Development Committee. The following year's Carnival saw smaller skirmishes, with riot police being deployed late on Monday night. A scene from these events is immortalised by local band The Clash's album 'Black Market Clash' featuring a picture of a Rasta facing a line of police. The band member's experiences at that year's Carnival were the inspiration for the song "White Riot".

A Local Touchstone

The pictures that accompany this article are from the Carnivals of 1976 and 1977 - a heyday for nationalism across Europe. They highlight that the festival is more than just a celebration of the end of summer, designed for the minority to let their hair down. It has always been an important event for mobilising and motivating local communities: with a year of preparation by the few providing just two days of celebration for the many. This event is important as an outlet for the freedom of cultural expression and as a cosmopolitan merging of cultures. It is a truly London experience having a special place in the hearts and minds of many.

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