As St Paul’s Carnival returns to the city, Bristol24/7 speaks to two people that live and breathe Carnival.
‘It was a risk, but it was a risk worth taking’
Roy Hackett, 90, was one of four individuals who founded, set up and led the St Paul’s Festival (later renamed St Paul’s Carnival) between 1968 and 1979.
A member of the Windrush generation, Roy travelled from Jamaica to the UK in 1952. Upon his arrival to Bristol a few years later, Roy faced harassment and hostility. The festival was founded in response.
“Once, I took a taxi from the city centre to go to Royate Hill where I lived. We came to the traffic lights in the middle of St Paul’s, and the taxi driver had a phone call”, Roy recalls. “The person said ‘where are you now?’ He said ‘I’m in the ghetto’. And I stopped him. I came out of the taxi and I paid him – there and then.”
In response to these recurring experiences, Roy and three other members of the Commonwealth Co-Ordinated Committee (CCC) – an association he and a close friend founded six -years prior – decided to take action.
It was over fish tea at Speedy Bird Café on Grosvenor Road that the group first envision the St Paul’s Festival, which would later take place in the summer of 1968.
“It rained all day,” Roy laughs, “but in our opinion, it was a success. We enjoyed it. Ever since we made the St Paul’s Festival, we became part of the community.”
The CCC, now known as the Bristol West Indian Parents and Friends Association, was co-founded by Roy to unite Bristol’s Caribbean community.
The association continues today, and enjoys a rich history of activism; in 1963, the association took part in the Bristol Bus Boycott, in which Roy and others protested the racially discriminatory actions of Bristol Omnibus Company.
Roy relays the first festival in more detail, including the mayor’s attendance. He agrees that the festival helped to unite Bristol communities, and believes that it made the neighbourhood “much friendlier”.
“We were very proud and thankful. It was a risk, but it was a risk worth taking.”
Music is my calling and carnival is the burning light of that’
Ivor Anderson (DJ Bunjy) is a producer and the founder of Bristol-based, reggae-dub collective Laid Blak. Formed in 2002 and with four albums under their belt, the collective headlined St Paul’s Carnival last summer. This year, Bunjy returns for a DJ set.
“I’m honoured to be part of the carnival – it’s a blessing. It’s always a vibrant and colourful crowd,” Bunjy said.
At the age of 16, Bunjy first got the chance to play at the carnival. “I knew I loved DJing. It kept me out of trouble. I was a little ragamuffin youth, I did all kinds of stupid things,” he laughs. “Music was my positive focus, which I’ve held tightly ever since.”
But Bunjy’s connection with the carnival stretches back even further. As a teenager, Bunjy would watch “legendary” sound systems play meters away from his Dad’s doorstep on City Road.
Reflecting on an early carnival experience, Bunjy remembers the performances of Bristol artists DJ Milo and Nellee Hooper, describing them as “positive, male role-models”.
“Just talking about it takes me back like it was yesterday,” he says. “They were playing to thousands of people in the street, and they were just cool, not even egotistical about it. Just being Bristol, really laid-back and chill.
“People going up to them, giving them high-fives and hugs. And they were just embracing the love; pushing the music and educating the audience – the likes of me – in front of them,” he continues.
“For me, it was like going to a mecca, or a mosque or a church. Music is my calling and carnival is the burning light of that.”
Looking to this year’s event, Bunjy believes the carnival continues to capture the same ethos as it did when he was a teenager.
“Some people say that St Paul’s has been gentrified, but on this one day – you wouldn’t know. For me, it’s as colourful as ever. It’s the same thing, just a different year.”
Main photo by Colin Raynor