On 9 September, Oval House witnessed a wonderful celebration of the life of Ros Price, who passed away on 28 May (as we reported here: socanews.com/news/ros-price).
Artists, theatre people, musicians, designers, local residents and of course carnivalists flocked to pay tribute to, and share memories of, this modest yet hugely influential lady who was a guiding spirit for so many people.
For the mas community, Ros will always be associated with South Connections Carnival Band, and the event attracted many members, past members and designers, including Joan Francis, Avion Mookram and Ray Mahabir. It was a marvellous occasion to catch up with old friends amid much banter and laughter, with Charles Beauchamp of Mandinga Arts entertainingly reminding us of past triumphs – and a few brushes with disaster.
Charles regaled us with the story of a certain mas designer found lying flat out on the floor at the Costume Gala, totally intoxicated. The Arts Council’s representative was nearby; what to do? Unfazed, Ros calmly suggested covering up the heap on the floor with one of the band’s beautifully painted banners until the danger had passed! The story appeared in her supposedly fictional ‘Olivia’s Diary’ column in Soca News in fact, the incidents were far closer to reality than most readers probably realised.
Ros’s influence touched far more than Carnival mas, as became clear during the celebration in Oval House’s theatre. Her quiet and persuasive encouragement gave hope and direction equally to artists and musicians fleeing the apartheid regime in South Africa and to young people escaping the surrounding estates. As one member of the audience said, she was a giant in a small woman’s body, whose voice was a whisper – but the loudest whisper! Organising a mas band is as impossible a task as herding cats, but Ros somehow managed it, and all without raising her voice.
Bringing out the best in everyone was at the core of Ros’s life and under her care Oval House became a sanctuary where all were accepted, whatever their age and background. She was adept at planting seeds of creativity in people, and over the decades those seeds have borne fruit far beyond SE11. As someone noted, she had a way of putting an idea in your head in such a way that it became your own.
Oval House’s role as a creative hub under Ros and her partner Alfie Pritchard (who was present at Saturday’s event) was demonstrated by illustrations of spectacular costumes that wowed the crowds on the streets at Notting Hill and in cities around the UK – some of them made in that same theatre. We heard it too in the beautiful and uplifting music that was played, all of it composed in this unique artistic oasis in south-east London.
And as we prepared to leave, we felt Ros’s spirit hovering nearby, probably with broom and dustpan in hand, ready to gently but firmly chastise those tempted to rush out without clearing away their rubbish from the table!