Tim Hughes gets set for this weekend’s Cowley Road Carnival

THE drums are out, the trumpets polished and sparkly outfits gleaming for a garish riot of feathers and sequins.

In three days' time, one of Oxford's busiest thoroughfares shuts out the traffic and becomes the scene of the county's biggest free public event.

Cowley Road Carnival has been a feature of Oxford life since 2001, when the first fledgling event took place in Manzil Way to a crowd of 5,000 party-goers.

Since then it has been through ups and downs, cancellations, and at one point was shunted into South Park. But it is now back in full swing – and this year's is expected to be the busiest yet, with more than 50,000 revellers expected at Sunday's event – which has been given the theme of industry and technology.

For the first time this year's spectacular stretches over two days, with a large, free pyrotechnic extravaganza launch, dubbed Colossus Awakes, on Saturday night in South Park.

Carnival itself has been extended by an hour this year, with music going from 11am to 5pm. Last year's started at noon.

Music takes place up and down the road, with sound systems and stages blasting out a mix of uplifting tunes, with the focus on tunes you can dance to – whether that be soca, samba, reggae and dancehall or house, drum & bass and indie-rock.

"Everybody looks forward to carnival," says Sarah Airey, a spokeswoman for Cowley Road Works, the charity which runs the event.

"It's such an exciting event in the calendar. The community comes together and has a really great time.

"There is something for everyone – with different types of music, plus spoken word entertainment and food. You just need to head to the bits that interest you."

Music takes place at venues along the road, with bands at the Cape of Good Hope, reggae, soca, dancehall, ska, calypso, rocksteady at HiLo, country & western, and blues at Music Box, hip-hop at 420 Skates, a showcase of artists from Liverpool and the North West at The Threshold Stage.

There are traditional carnival vibes at The East Oxford Community Centre, DJs, playing Caribbean music, SOCA and reggae outside, and Cari-fest with food, music & community bar.

There will be funky, progressive, deep and tech house music plus disco and trance in the Tesco car park at the end of Union Street and East Street; live bands, DJs and Irish dancing at The Black Swan; bass heavy sounds of reggae, dancehall and more at The Bullingdon; bands and DJs in the Cowley Retreat Car Park; funk, soul, hip-hop, dance and electro in The Library's garden party; and a programme put together by Oxford’s Young Women’s Music Project on The Kate Garrett stage.

A Carnival Village green in Manzil Gardens features family games and activities – including a ferris wheel, fairground attractions, climbing wall and football while the Carnival Music Stage features its own programme of live music and dance, with a tropical slant – with Zaia, Alexander D Great, and carnival faves Sol Samba and Ran Kan Kan on the line-up.

Oxford Mail: Cowley Road Carnival 2014

Then there is a Science Zone, from Temple Street to Stockmore Street, featuring world-leading science from Harwell Campus and the European Space Agency; a Discovery Zone at At St Mary and St John’s church, with world music and dance and drum making sessions by The Pitt Rivers museum, and flag making with iCreate.

At the church hall, there's an Old Curiosity Shop of fun activities and digital workshops, run by Age UK, and stalls and food in Manzil Way – which will be transformed into Market Street for the day.

Those intrigued by east Oxford's colourful past can head to the Cowleyroad.org history project outside Truck Store, while arty types will enjoy an exhibition by the city's Fusion Arts, and the completion of a 30ft- mural in Moberly Close by Oxford Street Art Collective.

Young families can head to Dingley Dell, a secluded spot where they can enjoy family music, crafts for toddlers, a merry-go-round and bouncy castle – and a gin bar for the gown-ups.

If dance is your thing, Dancin’ Oxford will be showcasing everything from Bollywood to Burlesque on the Global Dance Stage at the Asian Cultural Centre.

Then, of course, there's the ever-popular mile-long procession, with 600-elaborately attired carnival-goers from about 30 community groups and schools. Look out for the Bin Bot at the head of the procession and Artie and Martie the robots – made specially for the procession by Oxford Brookes University, which also runs its own sporty Brookes Zone. Brookes will also have an F1 car.

Money comes from partners and backers – including the Arts Council, which has supported Saturday's Colossus Awakes event, and, bizarrely the Indonesian Embassy – the event features a Little Indonesia zone dedicated to Indonesian culture, crafts and food (though the country's questionable environmental record and civil and human rights abuses are likely to be glossed over).

Revellers are encouraged to play their part to ensure the event continues by 'giving a pound to keep carnival around'.

"It would be great if everyone gave a quid or more," says Sarah. "It's a fantastic day's entertainment. It would be worth that to get into a garden fete let alone a festival – which is what this is – with loads of artists and events."

Aidan Larkin was this week selecting tunes for his set at The Bully. He said: “The team running carnival are the best people to have run it in a long time and have really good intentions. The fact it is is still taking place on the road is incredible. Everyone knows the reason it stops early is down to the police. The thing needs to be on ‘til 7pm. The fact it is so short means you can’t see people.

“If they stretched it out, everybody would have a better time and it would be good for crowd control.

“We need sensible event management and to allow people to enjoy it at the pace they want to. 

“Still, all credit goes to the organisers who run this against a backdrop of similar events going downhill across the country.

“Now I just have to find that killer tune that’ll do it for carnival!”

Carnival has been criticised by some for finishing too early, though Sarah welcomed the 5pm curfew saying: "It's good to get a longer day and we are starting an hour earlier, but it's a family event and finishing at 5pm is fine. Anyone that wants to carry on partying can do just that in a number of bars and venues."

Johannnah Aynsley, the Executive Director of Cowley Road Works, the charity behind the organisation of the carnival, encouraged revellers to get into the carnival spirit by joining Saturday's event.

“This is a totally free event we are putting on for the community, and it is going to be a totally awesome pyrotechnic extravaganza," he says.

"Come to South Park, bring your family and friends, and let’s kick off carnival weekend with a big bang!"

Cowley Road Carnival runs from 11am-5pm on Sunday.


Oxford Mail:

Flights of Helios are at The City Arms

What’s on Where

  • Colossus Awakes - South Park, 9pm, Saturday and on Carnival Day,
  • Procession: 12.30 pm from The Plain
  • Science Zone: Temple Street to Stockmore Street.
  • Discovery Zone: St Mary and St John’s church
  • Old Curiosity Shop: Church Hall
  • Cape of Good Hope: Paul Davies, Nikki Petherick, Al Jenkins, Invisible Vegas and The Shapes
  • Hi Lo: Reggae, soca, dancehall, ska, calypso, rocksteady throughout the day.
  • Music Box: Country & western, and blues from the Headington Hillbillies and Howlin’ Taildraggers.
  • 420 Skates: Hip-hop and open mic – Morals Over Money, Thosethatknow cypher hosted by erbz, Inner Peace Records, Marcus b2b Haka Zulu, DJ Shunt, Line runners b2b evade.
  • The Threshold Stage: Ray Wills, Nányë, Sycopax, Emilio Pinchi, Simeon Hammond-Dallas, Mardhys, Science of the Lamps
  • The East Oxford Community Centre: Outside: DJs, playing Caribbean music, SOCA and reggae; Inside: Cari-fest with food, music and bar; Fusion Arts: Exhibition Don’t Ever Leave (No Te Vayas Nunca).
  • Moberly Close: Oxford Street Art Collective
  • Tesco Car Park: Music, food, bar
  • The Black Swan: Radio Black Swan, Keith & John, Irish Dancing Display, The Mighty Redox, Dan Gill Roadshow
  • The Bullingdon: Count Skylarkin, Matt Bartlett, Scholar Tee, Nanton
  • The Cowley Retreat: Bands and DJs
  • Garden party at The Library: funk & soul, hip hop, dance and electro
  • The Kate Garrett stage with Oxford’s Young Women’s Music Project: Team Drum, Jen Berkova, Suzy Bowtell ft YWMP band, Ally Guppy, Death of the Maiden, Destiny Shore, The Kites, Lyrical Leigh, Chukie, Kourtney & Christina
  • The Carnival Music Stage with Cheap Date in conjunction with Ark T youth music group: Dance, Melodians steel pan orchestra, Tropical Storm, 1 Afro Fusion, Zaia, Sol Samba, Alexander D Great, Drum and Steel pan jam, Ran Kan Kan Cubanista big band, Sol Samba
  • Global Dance Stage: Stagecoach Abingdon Dance Troupe Musical Theatre, Ragasudha Vinjamuri, Mims Bellydance, Expression School of Ballet & Theatre Arts, Samba masterclass, Messy Jam Dance Company, Ashnah Dance, Implexa Dance Company, Pegasus Street Dance Crew, Mini Professionals Dance Academy, Bollywood masterclass, Deva / OXONIS, Deddington Youth Dance Company, Cream Tease & Attitude Dance School, Sol Samba
  • Simple Stage: Em williams, James Weston, Tim Gore, Djg-inspirationalsoulfulhouse
  • The City Arms: Self Help, Desert Storm, Switch Out, Holy Moments, The Quentins, The String Project, Flights Of Helios, Kid Parret
  • Oxford Mail: