It’s Oxfordshire’s biggest party of the year – an intoxicating cocktail of music, dance, fancy dress and unbridled partying – and it’s all for free.

Cowley Road Carnival is the country’s second biggest free outdoor arts event, attracting 50,000 people – only Notting Hill Carnival is bigger.

It sees scores of schools, clubs, community groups, bands, dance groups, businesses, music-lovers and ordinary people coming together for a packed afternoon of fun.

This year’s extravaganza takes place on Sunday, and will see East Oxford’s principal thoroughfare closed off to traffic for a mile-long procession and a feast of music, dance, comedy, poetry, story-telling, dressing up and food from around the world.

“It’s going to be an amazing afternoon,” says Micaela Tuckwell, the event’s executive director.

“It’s a fantastic community arts festival of live music, dance, street art and food – with an amazing loud, colourful procession one-mile long.

“What I love about it is that it’s a true community event. I spend a lot of time talking to people taking part and I can’t believe how many groups participate. People really take it to their hearts.”

Among this year’s attractions are the procession, which starts at 12.30pm on The Plain. This year’s theme is ‘icons of art’ so expect to spot everyone from Salvador Dali to Frida Kahlo along with the odd Mona Lisa and Vermeer-style Girl with Pearl Earring.

It will also feature two Mini cars (itself a design icon), one of which has been custom designed by a team of apprentices working at the MINI Plant Oxford. Also look out for a pair of homages to Headington’s famous shark house, the piscine landmark designed by broadcaster and Oxford Mail columnist Bill Heine. Great whites will be paraded by pupils from Chilworth House Upper School in Wheatley and the Divinity Road Residents Association.

They will be joined by Palestinian, youth dance group Dabke who will perform traditional folk dance from the Holy Land. Members of the Cowley Road Works Freewheeling group will present a tribute to the suffragettes by parading in purple and green behind a banner made at workshops led by artist Nicola Donovan.

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Music comes from Oxford’s Sol Samba and Cheltenham’s Olá Samba bands and the Horns of Plenty and UDM (União da Mocidade).

Elsewhere, there will be DJ sets by carnival stalwarts ‘Count Skylarkin’ aka Aidan Larkin and Tony Nanton, DJ Binge and the ZAIA Soundsystem.

A Carnival Music Stage will be headlined by East African musician Seby Ntege, who describes his sound as a musical marriage between Uganda, the UK and West Africa. Also appearing are dub ska-punks Back to the Planet and wildly popular local band The Deadbeat Apostles playing stomping country-soul to make the heart sing and feet dance.

“The great thing about Carnival is that anybody and everybody can take part,” says Micaela – who lives in Oxford.

“You don’t need a grade eight in piano to get involved, you just join in. And we cater for everyone, whether they are aged one or 100.”

And she encouraged revellers to tuck in at the more than 90 food stalls and outlets. “That’s bigger than last year,” she says. “You can sample food from around the world, showcasing the wonderful food in East Oxford.”

Micaela urged people joining the fun to donate a £1 to help pay for the huge cost of running the event.

She said: “We are saying to people ‘pay a pound to keep carnival around’. It costs £130,000 to hold and even though the city council, the Arts Council and our wonderful business supporters help out, we still rely on the public. If every one of the 50,000 people who come gave £1 that would make a huge difference.”

She also appealed for volunteers to join the team, saying: “We need 100 volunteers to make it run every year. They help with setting-up, taking down, looking after lost children and making sure artists and performers are satisfied. We wouldn’t be able to manage without them.

“You’ll get free lunch, water and a T-shirt – and the satisfaction of supporting this fantastic community event – one of the best in the country!”

Once again the carnival warps up at 5pm. Micaela admitted that was earlier than she liked, but said staying open longer had steep cost implications both with clean-up bills and policing.

She said: “I’d love to see the carnival continue until late into the night but we have to be realistic. It is something I’m looking at though – and perhaps if people give more than £1 we’ll see what we can do!”

Oxford Mail:

Seby Ntege


  • Cowley Road Carnival runs from 11am-5pm, with the procession starting from The Plain at 12.30pm. Look for contributions from Palestinian dance group Dabke; MINI Plant Oxford, who have customised a car; Chilworth House Upper School, who have made their own version of the Headington Shark and the Olá Samba and Sol Samba bands, Horns of Plenty and União da Mocidade.
  • The Carnival Music Stage: Ugandan Afro-soul dance music artist Seby Ntege headlines the stage in Manzil Gardens from 4.15pm with the Mizike choir. He is joined by dub-ska punk band Back to the Planet and extraordinarily talented local heroes The Deadbeat Apostles.
  • Threshold Stage: The stage in Temple Street features pop artist Conan Mac, four-piece alternative dreampop band King Kuda, and Americana act Downtown Roundabout.
  • ROAR Stage: Also in Temple Street, this will feature an eclectic range of performances including from the ROARsomes Carnival project giving young disabled people the opportunity to perform, young singer songwriters, choirs and spoken word.
  • World Music: Head for the church of St Mary & St John for global sounds and a performance of The Littlemore Oratorio. Also check out the Discovery Zone for art, music and dance workshops and artefacts from the Pitt Rivers museum.
  • Pretty Young Things: This new disco area sets up shop in the Tesco car park.
  • The Bullingdon: Expect traditional DJ sets from Count Skylarkin, pictured, DJ Binge, ZAIA Soundsystem and Tony Nanton. The venue will also have an after party from 5pm.
  • Dingley Dell: Kids area with entertainment from the Story Museum and acoustic artists.
  • Global Dance Stage: The Asian Cultural Centre at the end of Manzil Way hosts a programme from Dancin’ Oxford.
  • Kampung Indonesia: Indonesian culture, cuisine, craft, music and dance.
  • Oxford Brookes zone: Find a juggling unicyclist, stalls, competitions and free blood pressure tests. And with a line-up as packed as this, you may need it!

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Pictures of Count Skylarkin, above, and Simple Events party, top, by Guy Henstock