Carnival Season is Almost Upon Us

Jungle Drums by Gremlins Carnival Club in portrait format. Winner of the Feature class and overall winner at the 2011 Glastonbury Chilkwell Guy Fawkes Carnival.

Jungle Drums by Gremlins Carnival Club at the 2011 Glastonbury Chilkwell Guy Fawkes Carnival.

When everyone thinks of the carnival, they inevitably think of Rio or Notting Hill. However, in the Southwest of England, we do things a little differently. Many towns in the Southwest hold a carnival and many more used to, until Health and Safety regulations made the cost prohibitive. There are a number of different circuits, where a group of towns hold overall competitions and the biggest of those is the Somerset County Circuit, which includes a number of towns in central and northern Somerset. Theere are six carnivals in the circuit, all of which can be entered, no matter where you live and in fact, there have been entries from as far away as Rio de Janeiro. The difference between the carnivals in the Southwest and the likes of Rio and Notting Hill is dramatic. The mainstay of carnivals in this neck of the woods, is the illuminated cart or float, although there are also much more modest entrants, each with their own class. It is nominally a competition, but one of the biggest aims of the carnivals is to collect money for local charities.

_F1A6588Many of the entrants are individuals, but there are also a large number of entrants from carnival clubs, many of which have been around for several years and spend large sums of money every year. In fact many of the best entries each year, started from an idea initiated just weeks after the dust had settled from the previous year. They also light up the sky for miles around and result in many road closures, to enable the events to take place. Crowds number into the tens of thousands fo some of the events, with the largest crowds usually appearing at the Bridgwater carnival, often called the home of carnival. There is also an association with Guy Fawkes, one of the members of the catholic group, set to blow up the Houses of Parliament and the Bridgwater Guy Fawkes Carnival is closed with “Squibbing”. This is a line of participants, who hold large fireworks called squibs at arms length, before lighting them. While it is a spectacular sight, it isn’t the place to wear your ball gown or Sunday Best, as sparks can fly.

So if you happen to be in the area around the beginning to middle of November, then why not pay one of the carnivals a visit. With a choice of six around North Petherton, Bridgwater, Burnham on Sea, Glastonbury, Weston Super Mare and Wells, there are a few places to choose from. Bridgwater tends to have the biggest crowds and the most entrants, but the main clubs enter all of the carnivals, then you can say that you’ve been to the largest illuminated carnival in the world.

The Countdown to Bridgwater Carnival has Started

Remember, remember the 5th 4th of November. ThBurlesque Cabaret - 2009is friday, is carnival day in Bridgwater. Festivities start in the morning and carry through to the squibbing display after the carnival ends, some time after 11.00pm. At times, it seems like the whole world descends on the town, with bars being full hours before the start of the carnival. In fact, it is probably the third largest carnival in the world after Rio de Janeiro and Notting Hill carnivals, which is pretty impressive for a town with a population of around 30,000 (two different sources quoting the same 2001 census put it at 33,698 and 36,563).

As usual, I will be attending (I can’t really escape, having to take at least the afternoon off to get home) and it is one of the few times where I shoot people (not literally of course). Notwithstanding my lack of portrait photography, from a commercial point of view, it has my highest success rate, so it is certainly worth my while attending (even in the pouring rain). Weather permitting, I will again be using flash, although that won’t be possible in heavy rain. The flash helps to fill in the deep shadows from the strong lights, but is very unsightly when it freezes the falling rain drops.

Gremlins Carnival ClubLast year, the carnival was again won by the Gremlins Carnival Club, with their entry Runaway Train. They are in fact regular winners, having shared the overall title in 2009 with To the Trees, the winner of the Tableau class, by the Gemini Carnival Club. There are usually around 120 entries, comprising of a mixture of large carts or floats down to individual performers or masqueraders. The participants spend alot of time, effort and money on prearing their entries and the whole carnival is about collecting money for local charities.

If you haven’t been before, then it is definitely something that everyone should experience at least once. Until you’ve seen Bridgwater Carnival, you haven’t seen what can be achieved and most other illuminated carnivals are just pale imitations in comparison.

Wick Carnival Club