Delving into the archives of Harrow’s past and present residents, Lewis Hingston uncovers a wealth of talents who have helped put Middlesex on the musical map. This list counts down Harrow’s 20 finest purveyors of song and sound, with a selection from each appearing on the accompanying playlist for your listening pleasure.
Have a favourite track from any of those featured, a local connection or a memory of any of the artists? Harrow Online would love to hear your thoughts on the comments section.
So without further ado, from the ‘3rd Earl of Harrow’ to punk pioneers and viola virtuosos, we bring you… The Harrow Sound:
20. Michelle Gayle (featured track: Sweetness)
Although perhaps best known for her sterling TV work on Eastenders and Loose Women, Michelle Gayle’s biggest solo hit (reaching U.K. number 4 in 1994) is a perfect early ‘90s time capsule. ‘Sweetness’ offers a soul-pop sugar rush with crisp, doo-wop-inspired harmonies and mid-tempo beats backing Gayle’s paean to an irresistible lover’s addiction.
19. Alan Donohoe (featured track: The Rakes – 22 Grand Job)
Emerging out of the NME-sponsored gold rush of the mid-2000s post-punk and indie scene, The Rakes boasted Harrow-raised Donohoe’s deadpan delivery as a vehicle for their wry, well observed vignettes of life in the city at the beginning of a new millennium.
18. Yama Buddha (featured track: Yo Prasanga)
Raised in Nepal but living in Harrow during the period where his career achieved its greatest successes (and until his tragic death in 2017), Buddha was christened the ‘King of NepHop’ for his impassioned rap style. Tackling hard-hitting tales across his discography, ‘Yo Prasanga’s Sting-sampling, socially conscious raps earned Buddha many millions of views across streaming services and a devoted, loyal fanbase.
17. Screaming Lord Sutch (featured track: Screaming Lord Sutch & the Savages – Jack the Ripper)
Christening himself the ‘3rd Earl of Harrow’, in his pre-Monster Raving Loony Party political days Screaming Lord Sutch achieved minor chart hits with a string of Joe Meek-produced shock rockers, such as this 1963 novelty classic, later covered by The White Stripes, Black Lips and The Horrors. Sutch may also be amongst the only musicians to have played with members of The Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Yardbirds AND The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
16. Loick Essien (featured track: How We Roll featuring Tanya Lacey)
Achieving prominence via appearances with Richard Blackwood and various high profile grime artists (including singing the hook on Bashy’s iconic ‘Black Boys’) the stage was set for Loick Essien to make a splash with his lazer-focused R&B sound. Essien’s biggest hit to date was the U.K. number two ‘How We Roll’ but tracks such as 2020’s Afrobeats-flavoured ‘Whatever You Like’ have kept his name in the conversations around hot hit-makers and home-grown talent.
15. Peter André (featured track: Mysterious Girl featuring Bubbler Ranx)
Born and raised until the age of six in Harrow, André found fame in Australia initially before becoming a U.K. tabloid fixture following his relationship with Katie Price. At times cruelly dubbed cod-reggae, ‘Mysterious Girl’ was inescapable for a fair chunk of 1996, with toaster Bubbler Ranx featuring alongside André in the Caribbean beach-set video. Slotting in alongside the pop-reggae sound popularised by Chaka Demus & Pliers and Shaggy, ‘Mysterious Girl’ still fills dancefloors at many a summer wedding for couples of a certain age.
14. James Blunt (featured track: So Long, Jimmy)
Old Harrovian and one-time British Army captain during the Kosovo war, Blunt hit the big time in 2004 with his debut album ‘Back To Bedlam’, spurred on by the ubiquity of monster hit and songwriting albatross ‘You’re Beautiful’. Look beyond this polarising pop confection however and Blunt’s discography has a few gems which (almost, OK not at all) match his now legendary social media witticisms (sample Twitter post: “My real name is James Blount, but I changed it as people teased me that it rhymed with ‘Count’”).
13. Jamie Stewart (featured track: The Cult – She Sells Sanctuary)
Bass player in anthemic rockers The Cult, Stewart was responsible for the rock-solid underpinning of such era classics as ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ and ‘Rain’. Whilst many of the alt-rock plaudits in the mid ‘80s may have been bestowed upon early REM and U2 and Simple Minds bagged the sales, The Cult will certainly be long remembered by their following, which can only be described as well… cult of course.
12. Gavin Harrison (featured track: Porcupine Tree – Shallow)
Previously a hugely talented session player who has accompanied talents as disparate as Lisa Stansfield, Iggy Pop, Level 42 and Artful Dodger, Harrow-bred drum maestro Harrison found his true calling through becoming a full-time member of the endlessly underrated prog-metallers Porcupine Tree. This was in addition to a stint in the original Canterbury progressives King Crimson. Harrison’s propulsive and inventive sticks-work powers Porcupine Tree stand-out tracks such as 2005’s ‘Shallow’.
11. Kate Nash (featured track: Foundations)
Few sounds recall the halcyon days of early 2007 quite like the North-West London twang of Kate Nash, born and raised in Harrow borough and championed by Lily Allen via the now defunct MySpace. Lauded for her more recent feminist activism and increasingly impressive acting CV, for a while in the late noughties, Nash looked like a contender to dominate indie charts for the foreseeable future, bagging a BRIT award for best female in 2008 to boot.
10. Tom Fletcher (featured track: McFly – All About You)
Whilst punk purists might sneer, in terms of successful modern pop writers, McFly’s multi-instrumentalist Fletcher is almost without peer, penning an unprecedented ten number one hits and 21(!) that made the top ten for his main band as well as Busted, Five Seconds of Summer and The Vamps. Talent clearly runs in the family too, with sister Carrie Hope achieving rave reviews in the West End.
9. Dave Vanian (featured track: The Damned – New Rose)
Few bands have occupied such an iconic status within the hallowed halls of British pop history as The Damned. Widely recognised as the first punk single released in the U.K., ‘New Rose’ made waves amongst audiences hungry for the new sound of three chords and the truth, ushering in the era of safety pins, bondage trousers and glorious noise. Vanian and original bandmates Captain Sensible, Rat Scabies, and Brian James influenced the goth and New Romantic movements too with their bold fashion choices and singular sound.
8. Jay Sean (featured track: Down featuring Lil Wayne)
Blazing a trail for British Asian hitmakers, Kamaljit Singh Jhooti (better known by his stage name Jay Sean) is one of the most successful exports of the 21st century, clocking up hundreds of millions of streams and being, at various points, signed to legendary labels including Def Jam, Cash Money, and Motown. Collaborations such as the Lil Wayne-featuring ‘Down’ led to the North Harrow-raised, former member of the Rishi Rich Project becoming the most successful Non-North American male urban artist in US chart history at the time (with a staggering six million sales of his biggest hit alone).
7. Billy Idol (featured track: Rebel Yell)
The erstwhile frontman of first wave punk sensations Generation X went on to become one of the MTV era’s defining superstars, with his instantly recognizable peroxide-blonde look and powerfully belted rock classics such as ‘White Wedding’ and ‘Rebel Yell’. Stanmore’s finest is a veteran of award ceremonies, ranging from the Grammys (for which he was three-times nominated) to the BRITS and MTV Video Music Awards, at which he was finally triumphant at the sixth time of asking (in 1990, for ‘Cradle of Love’).
6. Rebecca Clarke (featured track: Viola Sonata: I. Impetuoso)
The pleasure in doing this kind of article and the involved research is the potential for stumbling across something truly inspirational and groundbreaking in the process. A viola virtuoso and one of the first female professional orchestral players in London, Rebecca Clarke was a trailblazer for women in classical music. Born in 1886, her work was so accomplished that she was often mentioned in relation to some of the greats of 20th century classical such as Ravel and Debussy. The Rebecca Clarke Society was established in the year 2000 to promote the study and performance of her inimitable work.
5. Gregory Isaacs (featured track: Same Old Me)
Settling in Weald Rise, Harrow Weald towards the end of his illustrious career and life, the ‘Cool Ruler’ of Kingston town can truly lay claim to being one of reggae music’s finest and most impactful voices. Acting in the cult classic ‘Rockers’, producing one of reggae’s most well-known, quiet storm masterpieces in ‘Night Nurse’, and generally inspiring awe in audiences worldwide, Isaacs produced the Grammy-nominated comeback LP ‘Brand New Me’ whilst based in Harrow Weald, one of over 500(!) albums and collections of his recordings released to date.
4. Simon Le Bon (featured track: Duran Duran -Hungry Like the Wolf)
While debate will likely rage in the comments section over the finest selection from the mighty ‘80s synth-rockers, there can be no doubt that smashes such as ‘Hungry Like the Wolf’, ‘Save a Prayer’, and ‘The Reflex’ changed the course of popular music in the U.K. Le Bon’s consummate frontman persona and powerful vocals set the blueprint for what a new wave of bands in the late 20th century would aspire to achieve. The band is still recording and collaborating with a plethora of the biggest hit-makers going, well into their fifth decade as Duran Duran.
3. Rick Wright (featured track: Pink Floyd – The Great Gig in the Sky)
Spending his early years in Hatch End, few might have supposed that a local lad would go on to help form one of the most successful acts in the history of recorded music. With album sales exceeding 250 million, Pink Floyd is a behemoth of the recording industry, and keyboardist and songwriter Rick Wright contributed some of their very finest moments. While these contributions began on albums such as ‘Ummagumma’ as original frontman Syd Barrett strayed from the group, it was on the globe-conquering ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ where Wright truly soared, contributing cornerstones ‘Us and Them’ and ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’, where his beautiful chord progression entwined with Clare Torry’s magical wordless vocal to propel the album into another dimension. Reuniting to perform at Live 8, this became Wright’s farewell performance with the Floyd, passing away aged 65 after a battle with cancer and a truly inspirational life.
2. Ian Dury (featured track: Ian Dury & the Blockheads – Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll)
Born in Harrow Weald and frequently referenced as one of the finest songwriters to emerge from these shores, Ian Dury famously contracted polio as a child, later leading pub rock sensations Kilburn & the High Roads before finding fame and adulation with the Blockheads. Combining bawdy wit and cleverly constructed characters with a melting pot of musical reference points including funk, music-hall, jazz, and good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, Dury was a true artist. With a personality and presence that stood out even in an era of punk extroverts, Dury albums such as ‘New Boots and Panties!!’ are still unmatched to this day for sheer originality.
1. Elton John (featured track: Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’ featuring George Michael)
What more can be said about the Rocket Man born Reginald Kenneth Dwight and brought up on Pinner Hill Road? While topping the ‘Harrow Sound’ chart may perhaps not rank amongst Sir Elton Hercules John’s most illustrious accomplishments, it’s a fine reminder of his roots and the love that Harrow has for one of its most famous sons. Selecting one track to pick was a tricky task but we decided to plump for one of his finest duets (alongside the fabulous and greatly missed George Michael, another artist with links to the area). Performing the track solo in his great friend’s honor at his final U.K. gig, Sir Elton signed off into semi-retirement in some style. A true icon and worthy winner. We hope you enjoy listening to the selected tracks and look forward to your thoughts!