Access catches up with Notting Hill Carnival director Matthew Phillip ahead of the series of live shows that are taking place from 19-21 August in the absence of this year’s main Carnival event.

Following Carnival’s cancellation for the second consecutive year, the sold-out ticketed shows will be held at the 1,000-capacity open-air opera house in Holland Park as part of Carnival Culture in the Park. There will also be several free events taking place at The Tabernacle (cap. 500) in Notting Hill. 

Phillip was recently on stage at The O2 Arena as part of the Mangrove Steel Band representing Carnival at Gorillaz’ two concerts on 11-12 August. The show’s stunning visuals briefly transformed the stage into a Notting Hill setting as Damon Albarn’s band debuted their new carnival-themed material. The first concert was held exclusively for NHS workers and was the first full-capacity show at the arena in over 500 days.

Firstly, how did it feel to be on stage in front of 20,000 people?

It was good, it’s been a long time since there’s been any real performances and it was a really good show. Damon is a local guy from Ladbroke Grove and Carnival means a lot to him. It was nice that he gave Carnival that moment.

We’ve been talking for quite a few weeks. I first met Damon a couple of months ago and he told me about his plans and what he was doing musically. He played some of the songs that he’s written which are all about the community and different aspects of the local area. There’s a few nods in particular to Carnival.

Are you concerned about the impact of having to cancel the carnival on the local community and how confident are you it will be able to bounce back next year?

We’ll bounce back next year. What we’re focusing on at the moment is the financial resources for the bands because there’s a lot that goes in financially as well as through volunteer hours and producing the costumes for example. Our focus is to try to help those bands come back stronger next year. The Carnival community is and always has been very resilient but they also need support.

We have a number of initiatives to try to support that – we’ve got a Carnival Development Fund and we’ve got the book [‘Carnival: a Photographic and Testimonial History of the Notting Hill Carnival’ edited by Ishmahil Blagrove Jr with a preface by Margaret Busby], which is going to be available later on in the year online for people to purchase. The proceeds of that will go towards the fund.

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What has the reaction to it been like so far and has it raised much yet?

I’m not sure what the exact figure is at the moment but it’s been very positive. We’ve only just launched it and began the sale of the books. The next few weeks, especially bank holiday weekend, are going to be key in driving support for the fund.

What is the goal of the fund and how much are you aiming to raise overall?

We don’t really have a target but we need to raise a lot of money. Even if we raised a million and a half that would only really be about £10,000 for each participant. Each band often spends a lot more than that every year in producing their costumes, preparing for Carnival, safety and all of the sound systems. Each element has their own security and stewarding that they have to provide and they’ve got to put in safe infrastructure. Carnival is free to the public but it costs the carnival community a lot to put on and we’re hoping that the wider public that usually come and enjoy it for free, will contribute in some way on top of our efforts as an organisation.

What will the capacity of the upcoming events be?

At Opera Holland Park we’ll have 400 for all three shows. We’ve got a similar capacity for the Tabernacle on the 21st and then we have our usual steelband competition Panorama the week after in Horniman’s Pleasance. The capacity for that will be around 4,000.

Do you expect to attract the same audience as usual?

Panorama normally has an audience of about 5,000 and we think the audience for that will be similar. On the Sunday and Monday we’ll be broadcasting via our partner YouTube and that will be available globally and we hope there will be as many people as possible tuning in to see what’s going on in terms of the performances and what we’ve been doing. The shows at Opera Holland Park will be filmed and available on that weekend as well so people that couldn’t make it in person can see it. There will also be interviews with pioneers and people that have put on Carnival for years. Similar to what we did last year with our livestream, people will get an idea of what it takes to put on Carnival and get an insight into everyone behind it.

How much of a role will streaming have in the future of Carnival?

I think we’re in a halfway state this year, where we’re able to do a bit more and stream it. Our hope is that in the future when we’re back on the streets, it can be live-streamed around the world. As good as it was last year and what we’re doing this year, the ultimate thing for us is to have cameras on the real parade and visiting the sound systems and the stages we have at Carnival. 

What Covid mitigation measures will you have in place?

Everybody working on the shows will be wearing masks and we’ll be advising people not to come if they’re feeling unwell or have received a positive test. It’s just about people being sensible. At the moment there’s going to be a lot of requirements for people to take their own risk assessments on what they’re comfortable in doing. But we’ll be providing things like hand sanitisation points on entry and at various places around all the events.

Do you have any other Carnival off-shoot events planned?

In September we have some steel band concerts at the Tabernacle. Starting from mid-September every Sunday for three weeks, we’ll have a couple of the Notting Hill Carnival steel bands performing in concerts. At the moment we’re doing something called Soca Fridays at the Tabernacle, which are free events with DJs who normally perform at the parade. We’re doing another free event at the same venue called Sound System Sundays where we have less formal DJ sets from the sound systems playing from 2-6pm. People can come to experience the sounds that they normally hear from a distance at Carnival and be up close and possibly get a chance to talk to the DJs and operators.

Do you have anything confirmed for next year’s Carnival? 

No, we’ll begin working on that earnestly in September. The bands will start to think about their themes et cetera and we’ll begin to talk to partners about what we have in terms of staging and the all rest of it.