Leslie "Teacher" Palmer

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Leslie Stephen "Teacher" Palmer, MBE[1] (born 21 August 1943),[2][3] is a Trinidadian community activist, writer and teacher, who migrated in the 1960s to the UK, where he became involved in music and the arts in West London. He is credited with developing a successful template for the Notting Hill Carnival, of which he was director from 1973 to 1975,[4] during which time he "completely revolutionised the event and transformed its structure and content almost beyond recognition."[5] He is also known by the name of "The Wounded Soldier" as a kaisonian.[6][7][8]

Background[edit]

Born in Tunapuna, Trinidad, in 1943, Leslie Palmer migrated to England in 1964 at the age of 21.[9] At first he settled in the Kensal Rise area of London, and helped to form the Blue Notes Steel Orchestra in Ladbroke Grove.[10] He trained as a teacher in Liverpool (thereafter acquiring the nickname by which he became affectionately known).[2]

Palmer participated in the annual Notting Hill Carnival street festivities since its inaugural event in 1966,[11] and had also been back to Trinidad to study the organisation and artistic forms of the carnival tradition there.[12][13] He had been thinking of how the London event could be improved, by broadening it to make it more inclusive of all the Caribbean islands as well as of British-born black youth, and he was given the opportunity to begin implementing his plans after taking on the role of carnival organiser in 1973.[9][10][14] Anthony Perry, former director of the North Kensington Amenity Trust,[15] who provided Palmer with premises from which to operate at 3 Acklam Road,[16][17][18][19] has said: "I don’t think there was a Notting Hill Carnival as the world knows it until 1973 when Leslie Palmer really put some juice into it and turned it into an all-island event".[20] In the words of Tom Vague: "Under the administration of Leslie Palmer, the Notting Hill Peoples Carnival was transformed into an urban festival of black music, incorporating all aspects of Trinidad’s Carnival... getting sponsorship, recruiting more steel bands, reggae groups and sound systems, introducing generators and extending the route. The attendance went up accordingly from 3,000 at the beginning of the 70's to 30–50,000."[21][22][23] Palmer encouraged traditional masquerade, and for the first time in 1973 costume bands and steel bands from the various islands took part in the street parade,[24] alongside the introduction of stationary sound systems, as distinct from those on moving floats,[25][26] which as Alex Pascall has explained: "created the bridge between the two cultures of carnival, reggae and calypso."[27] According to Claire Holder (Carnival organiser 1989–2002):

"Leslie Palmer brought the Caribbean community together because at the time when he became chairman of the carnival it was a purely Trinidadian thing. Leslie said, ‘there are so many aspects to Caribbean culture and it should all be represented.’ That act alone didn't just bring people into carnival; it actually impacted on our whole perception as Carnival people. His impact went beyond Carnival. It had an impact upon our existence as black people in this country."[28]

Palmer also arranged for photographs from the Carnival to be exhibited at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts.[2]

In late 1975, he took up a job working for Chris Blackwell's Island Records, promoting reggae worldwide and travelling with artists including Toots and the Maytals.[2][29][30] Palmer went on to start his own management agency, representing young British acts such as Aswad, Steel Pulse, Janet Kay and Alton Ellis. Then with assistance from the Ministry of Labour he founded the Brent Black Music Co-op (BBMC) to mentor young musicians on getting ahead in the music industry, with Geraldine Connor as head of education.[2] In the 1980s he had his own music career as an artist, performing and recording under the name Wounded Soldier.[31][32][33]

He subsequently returned to teaching, retiring in 1996, after which he began to divide his time between London and the Caribbean. From his base in Bon Accord, Tobago, he wrote about the island for visitors, producing a popular magazine and a website, What's On ... in Tobago, and eventually compiling eight years of this work into a book entitled Tobago Exposed – The Essential Fun Guide.[34][35]

Palmer heads the annual Notting Hill Carnival Pioneers (NHCP) Community Festival, established in 2013,[36][37] now held in Horniman’s Park, Kensal Road.[38]

Recognition and awards[edit]

On 24 August 2012, as part of a Notting Hill Carnival Weekend tribute,[39] the Nubian Jak Community Trust organised the unveiling of two blue plaques at the junction of Tavistock Road known as "Carnival Square", to honour the contributions to the development of Carnival by steelpan musician Russell Henderson and Leslie Palmer.[40][41] The plaque to Palmer states that he "Pioneered the template for the modern Notting Hill Carnival, Helped transform a local community carnival into a nationally recognised event."[3] Palmer remains the only living recipient so honoured.

His 70th birthday, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of "Carnival '73 Mas in the Ghetto", was celebrated on Portobello Green before the 2013 Carnival.[2][19]

His contributions are detailed in the 2014 book Carnival: A Photographic and Testimonial History of the Notting Hill Carnival,[4][42][43] which, as Kunle Olulode states in his review, "gives credit to many of the unsung heroes that brought the event together and provides a political and social context on its early days", noting that Palmer in his tenure as administrator of the Carnival "decided to expand its appeal by involving all the regional Caribbean communities.... Palmer's other innovation was encourage more masquerade elements which drew on the skills of Trinidad costume design legends Peter Minshall and Lawrence Noel."[44]

Leslie Palmer makes a cameo appearance at the end of "We the Generation", the single featuring Mahalia from Rudimental's 2015 album of the same name.[45][46]

In the 2017 New Year's Honours List, Palmer was honoured as an MBE "for services to Performance and the community in London".[1][47][48]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "New Year's Honours list 2017" (PDF). Government of the United Kingdom. 30 December 2016. p. 77. Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Mas In The Ghetto 40th Anniversary Celebrations | 1973 Remembered by Leslie Palmer", Carnival 73, Colville/Golborne Community History Project, issue 4, August 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Leslie Palmer blue plaque in London", BluePlaquePlaces.
  4. ^ a b Ishmahil Blagrove and Margaret Busby, Carnival: A Photographic and Testimonial History of the Notting Hill Carnival, Rice N Peas, 2014, p. 290.
  5. ^ Abner Cohen, Masquerade Politics: Explorations in the Structure of Urban Cultural Movements, University of California Press, 1993, p. 70. Quoted in Tony Moore, Policing Notting Hill: Fifty Years of Turbulence, Waterside Press, 2013, pp. 146–147.
  6. ^ "Carnival 2009", London Mission (Republic of Trinidad and Tobago), Volume 43, July – September 2009, p. 19.
  7. ^ "Bacchanal Mas explodes at Notting Hill", Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 9 September 2009.
  8. ^ Trinidad & Tobago Calypsonians.
  9. ^ a b "Leslie Palmer – Interviewed by Janet of trinisinlondon", YouTube.
  10. ^ a b Julian Mash, "Mas in the Ghetto: Carnival 1973", in Portobello Road: Lives of a Neighbourhood, London: Frances Lincoln, 2014.
  11. ^ Leslie Palmer, Samuel Fishwick, "Leslie Palmer: Notting Hill Carnival is for people to be whoever they want for the day", Evening Standard, 24 August 2018.
  12. ^ Pnina Werbner and Muhammad Anwar (eds), Black and Ethnic Leaderships in Britain: The Cultural Dimensions of Political Action, Taylor & Francis, 1991, p. 121.
  13. ^ Ashley Dawson, Mongrel Nation: Diasporic Culture and the Making of Postcolonial Britain, University of Michigan Press, 2007, p. 79.
  14. ^ Carnival (2014), pp. 17–18.
  15. ^ "A Message to the Community from Anthony Perry 1st Director of NKAT 1971 – 76", YouTube.
  16. ^ "Under the Flyover", Colville Community History Project, issue 10, February 2015.
  17. ^ Tom Vague, "Acklam Road and the Carnival", The Underground Map.
  18. ^ "A Day To Remember", Westway presents..., 9 June 2015.
  19. ^ a b "1973 Remembered Celebrating the Birth of the Notting Hill Carnival as we know it today...", Panpodium, 6 August 2013.
  20. ^ Carnival (2014), p. 100.
  21. ^ Peter Timothy, "Visionaries, Pioneers, Apostles and Healers: The Contribution of Migrants from Trinidad and Tobago to the Development of Black Britain, 1948 to 1986". European Conference on Arts & Humanities, 2013, Proceedings, p. 5. Quoting Tom Vague, 50 Years of Carnival 1959–2009, London: HISTORY talk, 2009, p. 22.
  22. ^ Bill Tuckey, "In the beginning...", The Independent, 23 August 2002.
  23. ^ Portobello Film Festival.
  24. ^ Natasha Ofosu, "Notting Hill Carnival pioneers to be honoured", Soca News, 17 August 2012.
  25. ^ Nabeel Zuberi and Jon Stratton (eds), Black Popular Music in Britain Since 1945, Ashgate Publishing, 2014, p. 141.
  26. ^ Jamie Clifton, "Things You Never Knew About Carnival, London's Best Street Party", Vice, 21 August 2014.
  27. ^ Carnival (2014), p. 290.
  28. ^ Carnival (2014), p. 117.
  29. ^ Phil Gregory, "In Celebration of the 2012 Notting Hill Carnival TWO Blue Plaques will be unveiled to honour the Pioneering Fathers of Europe's largest Street festival", The Black Presence in Britain, 14 August 2012.
  30. ^ "1968 – 1979", All Saints Road.
  31. ^ "Gayelle series One Programme #8", Caribbean Tales.
  32. ^ "Banyan Archive Database".
  33. ^ "Success Stars Pan Sounds (and) Wounded Soldier" [videorecording], University of the West Indies, Saint Augustine – Alma Jordan Library.
  34. ^ Donstan Bann, "Tobago Exposed – The Book", Daily Express (Trinidad Express Newspapers), 23 May 2012.
  35. ^ "Tobago fun guide set for 2012 launch in Germany, London", Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 30 November 2011.
  36. ^ Lynda Rosenior-Patten, "Notting Hill Carnival Pioneers Community Festival", NHCP website, August 2017.
  37. ^ "Notting Hill Carnival 2016 Pioneers Community Festival", Made in the Caribbean, 12 September 2016. YouTube video.
  38. ^ "The Notting Hill Carnival Pioneers Community Festival 2018", NHCP.
  39. ^ "Notting Hill Carnival Weekend Tribute to Leslie palmer and Russell Henderson", Panectar Steelband, 17 August 2012.
  40. ^ Lizzie Davies, "Notting Hill carnivalgoers hope to put seal on London's summer-long party", The Observer, Sunday, 26 August 2012.
  41. ^ Berny Torre, "Leslie Palmer and Russell Henderson to be honoured", Operation Black Vote, 23 August 2012.
  42. ^ "A Black History Month Special Oct 2014: Ishmahil Blagrove discusses his book ‘Carnival’", Flip the Script Book, 10 August 2014.
  43. ^ Tom Vague, "Getting it Straight in Notting Hill Gate", The Source.
  44. ^ Kunle Olulode, "Celebrating Carnival: a review of the recent photographic and testimonial history of Notting Hill Carnival by Ishmahil Blahgrove", Voice4Change, 24 August 2014.
  45. ^ "Rudimental – We The Generation feat. Mahalia", Official Video.
  46. ^ Cat Velez, "Rudimental 'We The Generation' by Yousef Eldin", Promo News, 1 October 2015.
  47. ^ Steve Hawkes and Tom Gillespie, "New Year’s honours list 2017 in full", The Sun, 30 December 2016.
  48. ^ Mary-Lu Bakker, "MBE For Carnival Organiser", Notting Hill Post, 26 January 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • "Leslie Palmer, Mas in the Ghetto 1973", in Ishmahil Blagrove and Margaret Busby, Carnival: A Photographic and Testimonial History of the Notting Hill Carnival, Rice N Peas, 2014, pp. 94–117.

External links[edit]