Ready to party: Notting Hill hub is back

A venue used by the Stones and Pink Floyd before it fell into disrepair is restored to its former glory in time to shine at the carnival.
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The Independent Culture

A victorious Muhammad Ali paraded Henry Cooper's bloodied shorts there; the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd used it as a rehearsal space and Lily Allen made her debut performance on its stage, dressed as a frog.

Some of the most illustrious names of the past 50 years have stood on the stage of the Tabernacle in west London. Now, after a tumultuous history and years of neglect, it is set to reopen its doors next weekend in time for Europe's biggest street carnival.

The former 19th-century Mormon church in Notting Hill, west London, has played a central role in the area's history: first providing a refuge for newcomers from the Caribbean in the Fifties, then serving as a headquarters for black power leaders in the Sixties. In the 1970s, bands including the Clash, influenced by the reggae DJs at the venue, infused that sound into their angst-ridden punk rock.

Now, having been passed between church, council and community hands, the Tabernacle will reopen, following a £1m refurbishment, as an arts venue for the local community and, its owners hope, beyond. A series of film, music and literary events throughout the rest of the summer promise to take the venue back to its former glory years.

James Mintern, director and partner of the Tabernacle, said: "We've got a whole list of things for the future to do with live performance. But we've also had a fantastic reception from locals. People are really pleased to see the building up and running."

By the late 1950s, over 7,000 immigrants had come to London from the West Indies and racial tensions were growing. The Tabernacle lay empty until a group of radical free-thinkers began squatting in it and later Michael X, a black power civil rights activist, delivered speeches there.

Shabaka Thompson, the chief executive of Carnival Village, a partner in the Tabernacle, recalls the time Muhammad Ali met Michael X at the Tabernacle: "Michael X was the man who knew everyone, from Leonard Cohen to William Burroughs, Malcolm X to John Lennon. Muhammad Ali met Michael X at the Tabernacle in 1966 and presented him with his bloodied shorts from the Henry Cooper fight the night before."

On Saturday, Grammy-award winning documentary maker Don Letts will preview his new film about the Notting Hill Carnival at the Tabernacle. Letts was instrumental in connecting punk and reggae music in the mid-1970s. The Independent on Sunday was given a sneak preview of Carnival!, still in its final stages of production. The film, which uses footage compiled from hundred of hours of archive material of the carnival throughout the years, is the first definitive film about the two-day celebration and the issues surrounding it.

"It felt like the right time to make this film – especially if you look at the cultural climate of today," said Letts. "The initial messages and motives from the instigation of the carnival are as important now, if not even more important."