AS ONE of the country’s finest purveyors of ska, reggae, R&B and soul, Count Skylarkin’ is used to life on the move.

A regular everywhere from Glastonbury to our very own Cornbury Festival, and from the bars of Brixton to Bristol, the dapper and debonair DJ behind the cult Disco Shed, is rarely in the same place for more than one night. So more than three months of lockdown have hit him hard.

But the eloquent Irishman, who in normal life goes by the name Aidan Larkin, has not let a small matter of the clubs closing and festivals being cancelled to keep him away from his decks.

Armed to the teeth with classic Jamaican cuts, he has been keeping the masses entertained on lockdown – most notably with a killer set for Lockdown Festival organised by Oxford’s Lorraine Baker, which raised £3,000 for charity back in May. And he will do the same this Sunday when he takes his rightful place as the king of Cowley Road Carnival.

Like everything else, carnival has gone virtual – and so has Aidan, who will be spinning tunes from his home to ours.

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“We’re planning one last throwdown for lockdown,” he says.

“I know everyone is bound to be gagging for a pint, but we’re asking people to swerve the carnage of Boris and his brigands reopening the boozers on a sunny weekend and stay home one more time.

Banbury Cake:

“Let’s avoid being part of Bournemouth beach mk2 and let the lemmings do their thing. Plug your laptop into your telly, plug the telly into the hi-fi and hold tight. OX4’s finest are here for you.”

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If one place defines Count Skylarkin, it is Cowley Road Carnival. He has played every year and is its fiercest defender. Over the years he has taken on anyone who threatens to water down the county’s biggest free public event – one of the best carnivals of its kind outside London – or cut it short.

“Everyone knows it’s my favourite day of the year,” he says. “For the people who live here – the people who have become the best friends I’ve ever known – we know how special the Cowley Road and its community is, and it’s such a thrill to see 50,000 people out there and enjoying it with us.”

And such is the rich tapestry of the area, those people represent almost every conceivable community.

“The multicultural mix of OX4 was one of the main reasons I moved here, 20 years ago,” he says. “Everyone’s together with a smile on their face. That’s good enough for me.”

A fervent believer in extending the annual party into the evening, this year, at least, he can break curfew without getting into trouble.

“You’ve said it!” he laughs. “The carnival organisers have got sick of me banging on about the 5pm curfew that the police imposed on us a few years back and said they’ll keep the meter running till sundown. So we’re having a socially-distant soiree round at my place; after my set at 4pm we’ll be streaming selections from John Dash, Trol23 and Sarah Lamptey from the Disco Shed, Bear from Musical Medicine, DJ Binge from Dutty Moonshine and maybe a few more surprises thrown in.”

And while this Sunday will be a blast, he is determined to be back in his rightful place on Oxford’s most colourful and independently-minded road in a year’s time.

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“We want to be back on the street next year,” he insists. “If they cut the money we’ll just do what the DestaNation crew did in the 90s and block the road ourselves. Virtual Carnival is the right thing to do right now, but 2021 is our 20th anniversary and we’re gonna make sure it goes off.

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And the people watching at home can help by pledging a few bob using the links onscreen. Lockdown Festival raised £3k for charity. If we can do the same or better for carnival it gives them a fighting chance of ploughing in the face of whatever the future might hold.”

How does it feel to have played at them all?

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“It should probably make me feel quite old, but it doesn’t, strangely enough,” he says wistfully. “I feel proud, but mostly I feel lucky. Carnival puts the widest of smiles on my face and I’ve been lucky enough to wear that smile, time and time again. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who keeps showing up when I’m on! It genuinely means the world.”

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But he shrugs off any attempt to label him Mr Carnival.

“Nah!” he says. “Gary Smith is Mr Carnival. Paul Williams, Autumn Neagle, Henrietta Gill, Micaela Tuckwell, Nick Gladwin, Anya Fox, Andy and Jan Anderson. David Norland. The list goes on. The old guy selling samosas and smashing out a bit of bhangra outside the greengrocers at 152. Everybody is Mr – or Mrs – Carnival. That’s what makes it so good.

And how should we get in the mood?

“I don’t need to tell the people of Cowley Road how to party. Just tune in on the day via cowleyroadworks.co.uk, donate a fiver and turn it up!”