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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 August, 2004, 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK
Keeping carnival in the family
By Emma Griffiths
BBC News Online, London

Vernon Williams 'king' costume for 2004 carnival
The 'King' costume's head was created from a clay sculpture

Notting Hill Carnival regulars Genesis will perform in the shadow of a 16ft costume tribute to its late founder Vernon Williams as the event celebrates 40 years in west London this weekend.

It is the end of a busy year for Symone Williams-Watson who has just got married, moved house and been decorating as well as being a full-time student.

But she has also had her hands full with another important role.

As band leader for one of carnival's most-established bands, she has spent six months preparing for the 40th Notting Hill Carnival.

Genesis is one of scores of bands whose costumed "mas" [masquerade] dancers, musicians, DJs and trucks roll down the four-mile carnival route each year.

Since the end of term the 27-year-old has been spending seven hours a day at the "mas camp" she has set up in a school hall near Paddington.

Each evening she is joined by a band of volunteers, on a busy night up to 20, who create the scores of sailor-themed costumes now hung over the school's climbing frame.

As well as learning to sew, applying for funding and motivating the band - she has also had to smooth over parking issues and deal with an outbreak of mice unearthed by builders.

Symone Williams-Watson at work
Just another 30 costumes to go...
By last Monday she had lost her voice and still had another 30 costumes to make.

"I finished my studies at the end of May and since then I've been sewing and organising - it's like a full-time job," she told BBC News Online.

"My brother's co-designer and mum is an all-rounder - she helps with everything.

"I think my dad was preparing me for this, he used to leave me in charge of all the section costumes and say: 'Get on with it'."

The Williams family are one of several who have a long history with the carnival.

Vernon "Fellows" Williams was one of a group of Trinidad musicians who frequented The Colerne pub in Earl's Court in the 60s and was at the first carnival in 1964.

Clay sculpture created

A well-known figure locally, he ran restaurant and fashion businesses, worked on local YTS schemes and was involved in administrative groups that pre-dated the Notting Hill Mas Bands Association (NHMBA).

But he was best-known for his mas costumes, designing for other bands before setting up Genesis in 1980, with about 20 members.

When he died, aged 77, two years ago, there were nearly 200 Genesis performers on the road at the Notting Hill Carnival.

Mrs Williams-Watson and her brother Kevin, 25, wanted to remember their father at the 40th anniversary.

So they went about creating a 16ft costume in his image to lead the band down the carnival route.

A clay sculpture of his head was commissioned, from which a fibreglass version was moulded to sit on top of the huge structure, which will be worn by Mr Williams' son on the day.

Many of the pioneers of carnival, both in [steel] pan and a lot in mas, have died
Gloria Cummins, NHMBA
"As it is the anniversary, and he was there from the beginning, we wanted to keep something in his memory," said Mrs Williams-Watson.

"His legacy will always live on through me, my mum, Kevin and his daughter. He's always around as far as I'm concerned."

The family are not the only ones working to keep the memories of carnival's old hands alive.

The NHMBA plans to name carnival trophies after pioneers such as Mr Williams and Stardust founder Randolph Baptiste.

Spokeswoman Gloria Cummins told BBC News Online: "Within the association we recognise that many of the pioneers of carnival, both in [steel] pan and a lot in mas, have died.

"The history of our forefathers is quite oral, and it gets lost in translation. So what we are trying to do by striking trophies is to keep the memories alive."

In the meantime the knowledge of the original mas makers from Trinidad is being passed down through workshops run by carnival hands who teach its history, costume making and steel pan across the UK and abroad.

And in families such as the Williamses, the skills are also being handed down through the generations.




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