Why Notting Hill Carnival 2014 is missing some major soundsystems

DJ Norman Jay MBE tells us how he and others had no option but to pull out of this year’s event, what he feels about the decision, and what happens next

West Row, former Good Times Carnival dancefloor, as it stands today, with Norman Jay (inset)

West Row (formerly the annual Good Times Carnival dancefloor) as it stands today, with Norman Jay (inset). Main pic: Tom Kihl

It’s the biggest goddamn party weekend of the year, with the 1 million raver-strong Notting Hill Carnival leading the charge right here in the streets of the capital.

But this free event, steeped in over 50 years of peculiarly British history, won’t be quite the same in 2014. Fans of the legendary fixed soundsystems – arguably the element that make West London’s take on the Carnival tradition so unique – will notice the conspicuous absence of two major players.

Norman Jay’s iconic Good Times bus will not be rockin’ its usual corner, while the school yard frequented by house music heroes Sancho Panza for nearly two decades will remain silent too.

As you can no doubt guess, the double-edged spectre of urban regeneration has claimed them both, with a luxury flat development wiping out Norman’s spot and total demolition of the Victorian school ending a celebrated era for Sancho’s lovely duo Matt & Jim.

Scenes from Good Times: then and now

Scenes from Good Times: then and now. Pics: BBC & Tom Kihl

These photos are eerily reminiscent of the fate of London’s formerly world-beating nightclubs, while the failure in finding either soundsystem a new home in time for this year’s event raises the very same question too. Why do our so-called cultural arbiters not place higher value on this kind of musical heritage, one that brings unbridled, life-affirming joy to countless people?

We spoke to a surprisingly measured Norman Jay who, though he lives and breathes Carnival, is stoic about the way things have turned out.

“We’ve known about this eventually happening to our site for quite a while and explored every alternative we could to be able to play this year,” he says. “Ultimately this is a legacy decision. For 20 years we’ve had the perfect haven for our party – we’ve seen the saplings change into big trees we’ve been there that long. So we don’t want to make a decision that ultimately undermines all we’ve created.”

Norman says he’s not angry that rehousing his hugely important system clearly wasn’t much of a priority for the powers that be, although he does offer that “they could have made more effort.”

In fact he’s always worked closely with the police, to the point of studying crowd control videos of the streets around Good Times shot from the MPS helicopter, and fully understands the challenges of managing unlimited numbers of revellers at a ticketless free party.

Sancho Panza's spot on Middle Row: then and now

Sancho Panza’s spot on Middle Row: then and now. Pics: Tom Kihl

The relentless vibe-crushing pressures of health and safety rules have had a dramatic effect on Carnival in recent years, particularly in the area around Norman and Sancho Panza’s insanely popular rigs, and the veteran DJ admits that once a pitch is lost, the council are much more inclined to sit back and enjoy the reduction in their Carnival management tasks rather than push to preserve the event’s culturally significant attractions.

So instead, the first ever Good Times In The Park festival takes place in Wormwood Scrubs Park on 13-14 September, with Norman at the controls plus the likes of Chaka Khan, Groove Armada, Idris Elba and Ms Dynamite helping “bring a proper festival back to West London after years of these things going east,” says Norm.

Far from acting as a replacement for his usual Notting Hill dates, in fact the idea was to use Carnival as a major promotional tool for this inaugural event, many years in the planning. Therefore for those pining for the untouchable Good Times atmosphere, we strongly suggest you get yourselves ticketed up right now and support the cause.

Meanwhile, with the licensing screws being turned on the Channel One, Sir Lloyd and Killawatt sounds this year, 2014 has already been a difficult one for a lot of cherished Carnival institutions.

This weekend’s event will jump, whistle and boom as hard as ever, of course – it surely remains the most free fun you can have on the streets of London (here’s our guide on exactly how to make the most of it).

But it’s simply wrong that so many forces conspire against this hugely important musical tradition, while there are relatively few opportunities to nourish and protect it.

Still, fighting that constant battle is what makes dancing in the middle of the road and rattling the windows of £5m mansions so liberating, on the two days a year Londoners get to do it. Enjoy them fully. And blow your horn.

Notting Hill Carvnival, 12-7pm Sunday and Monday, free.
Good Times In The Park, Wormwood Scrubs Park, 13-14 September, tickets here

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7 Responses to Why Notting Hill Carnival 2014 is missing some major soundsystems

  1. julianblake Thursday 21 August 2014 at 5:32 pm #

    Nice piece Tom. Won’t see you down the front then!

    • Kentishtowner
      Kentishtowner Friday 22 August 2014 at 12:33 pm #

      Hope to see you somewhere, but not sure where to call ‘home’ now?!

  2. Matt Huntingford Friday 22 August 2014 at 6:56 pm #

    Damn! For me those are the two best sound systems. Was going to go this year after a couple of years off, but now I’m not so sure… what a shame.

  3. steven Saturday 23 August 2014 at 3:19 am #

    I think the Carnival has kind of had its day now so to speak… personally the parade on sunday is an integral part and traditional element… But it seems the bank holiday monday has always been marred by idiots spoiling it for the majority of decent people and families attending, Single day carnival is the way forward in order for this to remain and to be enjoyed by all!

  4. Dan Sunday 24 August 2014 at 3:25 am #

    Aba Shanti will be extra chocka block then!!!

  5. wiggy Monday 25 August 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    carnival is about roots music, not raving for middle class pill-heads. only good thing about those systems was they provided an easy to avoid home for carnival wannabes

    • sticky bun Thursday 4 September 2014 at 11:13 pm #

      @ wiggy
      So true ;)

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