Live Review – Notting Hill Carnival, 2023 

A photo of my first ever Notting Hill Carnival, 1995, age 0. Steve Eason, Hulton Archive, Getty Images

The biggest street party in Europe came round once again last bank holiday, an annual tradition that started in 1966, with the Windrush Generation. Despite hardships, poor living conditions and much racial adversity, they wanted to bring communities together and celebrate the West Indian and African traditions. The Notting Hill area was a very culturally diverse region of London, with Caribbean, African, and Irish populations flocking from their homelands from the 1950s. The Carnival was a huge success, and has been a cornerstone of a Londoner’s calendar ever since. 

The Carnival kicks off early on Sunday, with parades from about 7am. More than 80 bands in spectacular outfits on vast floats and lorries parade the streets for the next two days. Although West London gets a reputation for being rich and snooty (pretty fair enough for the SW in this reporter’s opinion – has anything interesting ever happened in Fulham? I don’t think so) Notting Hill, Ladbroke Grove, and NW London generally is home to some serious musical history. 

Joe Strummer was from there. AJ Tracey, General Levy, Chrissie Hynde and Lily Allen still live there. The Rolling Stones and the Who studied there. Freddie Mercury lived there. Bob Marley recorded Jamming, arguably one of the best records of all time, on Ladbroke Grove. Jimi Hendrix died there – on my old street, I might add. Abbey Road. Warwick Avenue. Et cetera. It’s steeped in musical history, music is in its soul, and the annual Carnival reminds us of that. 

Spread across the Sunday and Monday bank holiday, Sunday is the family day, steel pan bands, traditional African or Caribbean food and music. The stages all open and the crowds gather. Reggae, dub, techno, drum and bass and a sprinkling of other eclectic genres are heard thudding through the streets from the top of Notting Hill to the Big Sainsbury’s by the Harrow Road. It’s a nice day out, with or without the family. 

Monday is the main day, more music, more of the big names come to town, more people, and, if you stay around after the sun goes down, more violence. But just don’t stay around after the sun goes down. Easy. 


Family day. In the mid 1980s my mother, along with half of Ireland, moved to London for work. As such I grew up for a spell in Ladbroke Grove. Although I haven’t lived in London properly since I was 18, the Carnival still holds a special place in my heart. Over the probably 20 odd ones I’ve attended, Carnival ‘23 was maybe the best one to date. 

It’s hard to record what I saw and what went on properly, there isn’t a proper set list for the Carnival as much as you wander about and hope to catch some big names in between the rum & Tings and the cans of Red Stripe. Walking around, making friends, listening to a DJ playing reggae and dub in Powis Square, saying he’d been coming to Carnival since 1976. All ages were together, bopping to the thundering beat. Warm cans of Red Stripe were passed around. Bottles of homemade rum cocktails, bits of fruit swimming in them. 

Stage to stage, ending up in an afterparty somewhere off of Ladbroke Grove, seeing old friends and making new ones. Vague memories of four of us balancing precariously on one bicycle, looking for a squat rave (I was on the pedaller’s shoulders giving directions from Google Maps). A hugely successful feat of engineering that obviously ended in a pile of bodies and broken BMW wing mirrors.

This (location not available) squat rave we were chasing, in my mind was a dream – I knew it didn’t really exist. All part of the fun. So imagine my surprise, after crawling under a heavy chain through a piss-smelling puddle, to find myself crammed into a room of people. A wave of sound, an orgy of noise. A rebellion against the silence. Lights, strobes, dub, bass. Sweat. The soft burning glow of a spliff in an otherwise dark subway. The crowds, hands up, praying to the beat, all turned to the decks, in veneration of these music gods who refused to let the night end. Fantastic. 


Understandably, I was feeling somewhat worse for wear after the evening before (the toils of being a music journalist). We started the day at Jay Dee’s; jerk chicken, goat curry, cocktails drank out of coconuts and pineapples, snacks of deep fried plantain. Cans of warm Red Stripe and Guinness. We started walking from the top of the Hill, around where Hugh Grant had his bookshop, and worked our way down through Ladbroke Grove Tube where Noel Clarke moulded a generation with Kidulthood. 

Then onto Gaz’s stage for a bop. We would make our way through the throng to past Trellick and Grenfell, down to the Golborne Road and the Drum and Bass stage – the living legend Randall was said to be spinning some 180s. The walk was punctuated by a constant rhythm of reggae, dub and jungle (musical evolution at its absolute peak). 

The music is more of a factor on Monday, but it’s just as necessary on family day; walk around, soak it in. Dance with the feathered up Pharaohs, the giant birds in golden thongs. Go to a stage, have a bop, move along to the next one. Get stuck into being stuck. Make friends with some locals, get into their flat for a quick break to use the bathroom and get your strength up again. 

At one point we got stuck by a small stage and just as we tried to voice our annoyance, the word that is almost gospel to every fan of ragga, reggae, jungle or drum and bass rang out across the crowd: Incredible

General Levy, alive and well, sending the crowds wild. 

From there we continued onto Randall and spent the afternoon skanking like it was 2009, lost in the love for the Carnival. All ages, all races, people dressed in everything from an all black Trapstar tracksuit to nothing at all but six foot angel feathers and a Pharaoh mask. In a world where knowing your neighbour is becoming less and less common, the Carnival is a necessary reminder of humanity, and the importance of music in our lives.

Photo: Londonworld