Based on Kwaku’s ‘Brent Black Music History Project’ 2007 (BTWSC)
This A-Z is largely a republishing of Kwaku’s research for the ‘Brent Black Music History Project’ published by BTWSC in 2007. Kwaku’s work is a testament to Brent’s contribution to the evolution of British black music and the commercial infrastructure to support it.
His research contained separate sections on labels, shops, artists, radio stations and sound systems. In this version we have amalgamated these into a single ‘encyclopedia’ and added entries that cover the period between 2007-2020.
The process of gathering Brent’s musical heritage is an ongoing task - there are many incomplete entries and gaps. If you would like to add to, or alter, an entry please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below are some highlights. Download The A-Z of Brent's Black Music History here.
A IS FOR...
Adrian Sherwood: Reggae producer and boss of the On-U Sound record label who used to work in the Pama Shop. Adrian went on to partner Chips Richards on the Carib Gem shop.
Akabu: Arguably the world's first all women reggae band comprising Vyris Edghill, Barbara Grossett, Paulette Coke, Shelomi Coke, Diane White, Caroline Williams, and Valerie 'Vibes' Skeete who released their debut album 'African Woman Abroad' in 1982. In 1983, Adrian Sherwood produced singer-guitarist Valerie and Vyris on a soul single called 'Watch Yourself', which was released under the Akabu name. The following year a remixed version, featuring hip-hop mixing/mash-up pioneers Double Dee & Steinski, was released in the US by the legendary hip-hop label Tommy Boy. After the publicity generated by the single, the band adopted the Akabu name. In 1998 they released a self-titled album on the band's own Viva label. They played at Bridge Park Community Centre's opening ceremony in London, which was attended by Prince Charles.
Alton Ellis: The Jamaican reggae icon spent much time in Brent, performing, and recording for many Brent labels including Pama, Venture and Lord Koos. Aswad member Tony Gad first met Janet Kay at the Gangsterville record shop , where Aswad used to rehearse, and recommended her to Alton Ellis, who provided Janet with her first recording with the 1977 cover of ‘Loving You’. She later duetted with Alton on ‘Still in Love’.
Aswad: The first British reggae band to be signed by Island Records. Their underground favourite 'Warrior Charge', is one of reggae's best instrumentals. The band was awarded the MOBO Awards 2000 Outstanding Contribution To Black Music gong. Although the longest and most commercial phase of this reggae band has been represented by vocalist/guitarist Brinsley Forde, drummer/vocalist Drummie Zeb, and bassist Tony Gad, the others that formed the quintet launched by Island Records in the mid-1970s were bassist George Oban, guitarist Donald Griffiths and keyboardist Courtney Hemmings. If you lived in Brent at the time, you knew that they brought pride to the area, and must have given strength to many african youth at the butt end of Sus laws, which seemingly gave the police powers to disproportionately stop and search african youth. One's only gripe is that Island did not add the socio-conscious ‘Three Babylon' to their debut album. Today, Aswad are known more for their crossover hits 'Shine' and 'Give A Little Love' and the 1988 chart-topping 'Don't Turn Around', rather than rootsy stuff like 'Back To Africa'.
B IS FOR...
Baby D: Baby D is both the name of the group and the female singer known as Dorothy or Dee, the front of this chart-topping group on the Production House label. During the early 1990s they blended pop, soul and rave music sensibilities. The hits from the 1996 top 5 album 'Deliverance' contained the chart-topping 'Let Me Be Your Fantasy', and 'So Pure' and (Everybody's Got To Learn Sometime) I Need Your Loving', both of which reached no. 3. They still tour.
Bob Marley & The Wailers: They were invited to London in February 1972 by their manager Danny Sims to work with Johnny Nash. By the summer, they had literally been abandoned as the CBS record deal yielded poor results following the release of the 'Reggae On Broadway' single. Bob lived at 34 Ridgmount Gardens in Camden (where a blue plaque was unveiled in October 2006) in February and March, and April to early June in a Bayswater hotel, before relocating to a house in The Circle, NW10 in Neasden. It was during their stay here that their career boosting Island Records deal was negotiated. The deal was signed in September and the band returned to Jamaica later that year, where they recorded the 1973 albums 'Catch A Fire' and 'Burnin", which launched them to international superstardom.
Bridge Park: Known as Bridge Park Community Centre, New Bridge Park Complex, and Bridge Park Community Leisure Centre, ‘Bridge Park’ is located at 8 Brentfield, Harrow Road and was opened by the Harlesden People’s Community Council with support from the Princes Trust in 1987. In its 33 year history Bridge Park has been a music venue, small business incubator and leisure centre. Bridge Park is subject to a controversial redevelopment deal between Brent Council and General Meditteranean Holdings, a Luxembourg registered holding company with several offshore subsidiaries.
C IS FOR...
Carl Douglas: Jamaican-born artist who had a 1974 international hit single with 'Kung Fu Fighting', which topped the British and US charts. The record was produced by Biddu, who produced some tracks for Beacon Records in the 1960s.
Carroll Thompson: She shares the Queen Of Lovers Rock crown with her friend Janet Kay, on account of her genre-breaking album, 'Hopelessly In Love' (1980), which included the title track and 'I'm So Sorry', two lovers rock classics. In addition to releasing lovers rock and reggae albums over the years, including three Japan-only albums on Toshiba/EMI, Carroll has worked in the R&B and dance music genres. She was signed to Virgin, where she recorded with Floy Joy, and Paul Oakenfold associated Movement 98, which scored a 1990 top 30 hit ‘Joy and Heartbreak’. She provided vocals on Courntey Pine’s ‘Closer to Home’ album, resulting in a minor 1990 hit single ‘I’m still waiting’. She’s a songwriter, composer, producer, and voice coach. She continues to perform, often with Janey on the lovers rock circuit.
Chris Blackwell: This English-born, Jamaican-raised entrepreneur was at the beginning of the Jamaican music industry, where he sold American R&B records to sound system operators, before launching Island Records in 1959. He moved to London in 1962, and again he was at the forefront of Britain's black music development. He initially set up Island Records UK from his flat, and distributed Jamaican ska records from his car. With Dave Batteridge and Lee Gopthal in the Trojan record company and Musicland/Muzik City enterprises, Blackwell helped develop the British black music infrastructure in the 1960s, something for which they were all recognised by the Black Music Congress in 2003. The London-recorded, Island leased 'My Boy Lollipop' was the first ska record to reach the top 5 in Britain. Island enjoyed huge crossover success with blues and rock acts, although Chris' crowning glory was developing Bob Marley & The Wailers as an album-selling act.
Courtney Pine: He is undoubtedly one of Britain's best-known and innovative jazz musicians. A relative of 1950s and 1960s British jazz tenor saxophonist and composer Joe Harriott, Courtney was one of the leading lights of the Jazz Warriors collective, which featured flautist Phillip Bent, vocalist Cleveland Watkiss and double bassist Gary Crosby and had countless alumni. Their only album, ‘Out of Many, One People’ was released in 1987. Courtney's tenor and soprano sax work on cuts like 'Zaire' and 'A Raggamuffin's Tale', both from the 1991 Delfeayo Marsalis-produced 'Within The Realms Of Our Dream', helped cement his reputation within the British jazz scene. However, it was when he moved to Talkin Loud/Phonogram where his experimentations of straight-ahead jazz blended with soul, hip-hop and drum & bass influences on albums like 1996 Mercury Music Prize nominated 'Modern Day Jazz Stories' and 'Underground', that his reputation truly transcended the jazz specialist market. He continued to widen the musical envelope when he went the indie route with the 2004 released 'Devotion' album by adding reggae, and African music - 'Osibisa' was an ode to the Afro-fusionists, whose members Mac Tontoh and Teddy Osei, guided the then young musician and his Kingsbury High School mate drummer Frank Tontoh. Courtney, who has enjoyed a measure of critical and commercial success in the US, won the 1996 and 1997 MOBO Award best jazz artist gongs, was awarded the OBE for services to jazz music in 2000 and a CBE in 2009. He received the Black Music Congress' BBM/BMC 2003 Artist award at Africa Centre "for boldly fusing contemporary styles and giving jazz a decidedly contemporary British identity.”
D IS FOR...
Damage: Signed to Big Life Records, they launched as a boy band with smooth soul hits such as 'Love II Love', and the top 10s 'Forever' and ‘Love Guaranteed' from their 1997 top 15 album 'Forever'. After their label closed down, they returned with a harder R&B sound on their 2001 top 20 Cooltempo/EMI album 'Since You've Been Gone', which generated the 2000 top 10 hit 'Ghetto Romance' and two top 15s 'Still Be Loving You' and 'So What If'.
Dandy Livingstone: Jamaian-British reggae singer and producer, best known for his 1972 Rocksteady hit ‘Suzanne Beware of the Devil’ and as the writer of ‘Rudy, A Message to You’ which would later become a bigger hit for The Specials in 1979. Both tracks were released by Trojan. In 1963 Dandy Livingstone cut two tracks at Sonny Roberts’ studios at 108a Cambridge Road, Kilburn which Roberts released on his Planetone Label as ‘In the Valley’ and ‘I’m in Love’ by ‘The Keynotes’. These are some of the earliest Ska recordings made in the UK.
Dave Barker: A reggae and rocksteady singer initially known as David Crooks. His career began in Jamaica where he recorded with Duke Reid, Harry J, Coxone Dodd and Lee Perry. Dave moved to the UK after receiving a phone call from Trojan Records informing him that “Double Barrel’, his Winston Riley produced track with Ansell Collins was heading to number 1. It became the second reggae single to top the charts in the UK for two consecutive weeks. It was also Trojan’s first number 1 record. Ansell Collins returned to Jamaica several years later but Dave Barker continued to live in Brent recording and performing.
Delroy Washington: A highly talented Rasta-imbued singer-songwriter and guitarist, whose mid-1970s Virgin albums 'I Sus' and 'Rasta', showed an accessible, funk-infused reggae akin to Bob Marley & The Wailers' version of reggae. The musician’s lineup featured members of Aswad. Jamaican-born, he lived in Brent from the early 1960s. Whilst working in the Pama record shop he met Bob Marley, and a friendship developed. Delroy sang harmonies on The Wailers’ Catch a Fire album and in several subsequent sessions. Delroy released a 1973 Lord Koos single entitled 'Jah Man A Come', and an earlier version of 'Freedom Fighters' as a 1975 single on his Axum label. Delroy passed away in March 2020.
Doc Brown: Rapper turned comedian and actor. Former member of the Poisonous Poets, who had a non-productive time signed to a major record company. He is the brother of the author Zadie Smith.
Don Letts: A DJ, musician and film-maker who was born in south London and now lives in Kensal Rise. Don Letts is credited with taking reggae music to the punk scene, at The Roxy club in Covent Garden, during the late 1970s. He presents ‘The Culture Clash’ on Sunday evenings on BBC 6Music.
Dread Broadcasting Corporation: Popularly known as DBC, it was the very first black owned, black music pirate station in Britain. It was founded by, the recently departed, Lepke, a music fan, and broadcast on medium wave for a few hours at weekends from his house on Aboyne Road, NW10 in Neasden. In addition to presenting, Lepke’s Sister Miss P, became an integral part of running the station. Despite poor strength and reception, due to the topography of its Neasden location, the station achieved a legendary status due to its strong brand image and musical menu of reggae, R&B, soca, calypso, jazz and African music, which could not be heard elsewhere. It also offered accessible radio advertising for small businesses. Miss P was soon poached to work on BBC Radio 1. Other notable names that worked on DBC include Neneh Cherry and the author Lloyd Bradley.
E IS FOR...
Elite Records: This fondly remembered record label grew out of the need for an outlet to release the recordings of shop owner Andy Sojka's jazz-funk band Atmosfear, which used to rehearse in the premises situated at 3 Library Parade, Craven Park Road, NW10 in Harlesden. Although Atmosfear released several records right into the mid-1980s, only the first single made the charts, upon being licensed by major company MCA. The futuristic instrumental 'Dancing In Outer Space' reached no. 46 in 1979. Elite released the earliest records by Level 42, Max LX & Dave VJ's Hardrock Soul Movement, Danny D and Beverley Skeete. The label moved out to Harrow Road, where it added the Jam Today label, whose roster included Harlesden R&B/dance duo Dazzle.
Eusebe: They featured on the vocals of The Sound Of Shoom's 1990 dance single 'I Hate Hate'. Hailing from the Willesden/Harlesden area, this family trio - Steve (Saybe), Sharon (Fatcat) and Alison (Noddy), wove an interesting musical cocktail of pop, R&B, funk and a tinge of rock sensibilities. Despite the enthusiasm of their then A&R man, their only commercial success was 1995 catchy single 'Summertime Healing', which reached no. 32. Steve went to collaborate with Shaun Ryder's Black Grape, before forming the four-piece rock band Bond who released the 1998 Sony album 'Bang Out Of Order'.
'F' IS FOR...
Fay Simpson: Sister of jazz guitarist Ronny Jordan, Fay was one of the singers in the one-time leading British contemporary gospel group Nu Colours, whose 1990s hits on the major label Polydor included ‘Power’ and ‘Desire’, which respectively reached no. 40 and 31.
Faze One: This Harlesden duo, Slepski and Genia, is reputed to have released the first British hip-hop album - ‘Heroes' which was released in 1987 on the Westside label that popularised electro, hip hop and rap in Britain. It was owned by Morgan Khan of Street Sounds fame. Their first single, ‘Layin’ Down A Beat’, was released in the US in 1986 on rap label Sutra.
Flava Radio: This reggae-specialist online radio station, is one of a handful still broadcasting from Harlesden.
'G' IS FOR...
Gappy Ranks: The young MC, much admired around the streets of Harlesbridge, used to be part of the local Sun Cycle crew. Since going solo, he’s formed his own Vice Law crew and label, on which he released his ‘English Weather’ mix CD. He gained wider recognition as one of the featured artists along with US rapper Twista and UK grime artist Lethal B, on producers Kray Twinz’s 2005 top 25 hit and underground tune ‘What we Do’.
General Levy: A reggae-cum-jungle DJ born in Central Middlesex Hospital in Park Royal, he scored hits on the reggae scene, such as 'Heat' and The Wig', and major label ffrr/London released a re-jigged version of his second album entitled 'Wickedness Increase'. He's best known for one of jungle music's first crossover singles, 'Incredible', which made the top 10 in 1994.
Goldie: Before he found fame as a leading light on the drum & bass scene, he worked for the Reinforced label, and honed his recording skills working on Reinforced's productions and remixes.
'H' IS FOR...
Hawkeye Sounds: A sound system associated with the eponymous shop and label, it still delivers big people sessions.
Hi: An early 1970s multi-racial soul/funk band that caused some local buzz before Hi-Tension came on the scene. The members included Raj Malkani, who became Production House's label manager. Band later changed its name to The Antilles.
Hott Wax: A mid-1970s funk band, it included Phil Fearon, Ken and David Joseph and members of Feedback. The band split into pioneering Brit-Funk band Hi-Tension, and pop/soul band Kandidate.
'I' IS FOR...
Innocence: A short-lived early 1990s act fronted by vocalist Gee Morris, and backed by Kilburn based pop/soul writing/producing trio Jolley/Harris/Jolley. They released two albums, of which 'Belief' was a 1990 top 25 hit, as were the singles 'Natural Thing' and 'Let's Push It'.
Island Records: This major record company is now famed for its pop and rock acts from the 1960s such as the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Cat Stevens, Spooky Tooth to current acts like U2, and of course Bob Marley. However Island, which was founded by Jamaican-raised English man Chris Blackwell, really started going from a residential house in Kilburn: 108 Cambridge Road, NW6. The landlord was Lee Gopthal, who went on to form the Trojan record company and Musicland record store chain with Chris as an equity partner. The label moved in 1968 with Trojan and Gopthal's B&C music business to Music House, 12 Neasden Lane, NW10 in Neasden. It operated from Music House until 1972, when Chris liquidated his Trojan equity and moved the rock music focused Island company to just outside the borough border at Ladbroke Grove. In the mid-1970s, Island signed Aswad and Hi-Tension, the leading lights on the reggae and jazz-funk scenes.
'J' IS FOR...
Janet Kay: More than forty years on, Janet is the only British female reggae artist to have reached the national top 5. Best known for her 1979 no. 2 hit 'Silly Games' (in 1990, her re recorded version made no. 22, and a Lindy Layton version featuring Janet made no. 62), her other Dennis Bovell produced tracks like 'Rock The Rhythm' are lovers rock favourites. She shares the ‘Queen Of Lovers Rock’ title with her friend Carroll Thompson, with whom she regularly works with on the lovers rock circuit. Janet has released several albums on Sony in Japan, where she's a major artist. In British Black Music Month 2007 Janet Kay, Paul Dawkins and Carroll Thompson were recognised at Brent Civic Centre with BBM/BMC (BritishBlackMusic.com/BlackMusicCongress) Awards for five decades of promoting the British reggae genre known as lovers rock and for putting the borough on the musical map.
Jazwad: A prolific reggae musician, producer, and remixer, who used to work with the Undivided Roots/Ruff Cutt camp. This well-respected Ghanaian, born Paul Yebuah, has successfully worked in the Jamaican reggae market.
Jet Star: One of the world’s biggest distributors of reggae music. Operated from the Pama Records address, 78 Craven Park Road, NW10 in Harlesden from 1978. It then moved to the premises vacated by the Lightning business, at 841 Harrow Road, NW10 near Scrubs Lane. Jet Star moved in 1989 to 155 Acton Lane, NW10 in Park Royal, where it acted as a wholesaler/distributor of all forms of black music. The company folded in 2008 and was bought by Phoenix Music International.
'K' IS FOR...
Kanya King: In 1996, she started Music Of Black Origin (MOBO), Britain's most prestigious and longest-running black music awards show. The show, which has been staged in different venues in and outside of London, will return in 2020 to Wembley Arena during Brent, London Borough Of Culture. Incidentally, the first such awards was the Black Music Awards, started in 1992 by Harlesden-based record label and community radio owner Mark King. The third BMA was staged in 1994 at the now defunct Wembley Centre, where winners included M Beat ft General Levy, Don Campbell and Omar.
K-Koke: Rapper from Stonebridge active since 2010. Real name Kevin Georgiou. Best known for his appearance on Charlie Sloth’s ‘Fire in the Booth’ in 2011 which has 16m views on youtube. Has since collaborated on tracks with numerous artists including Rina, Rita Ora and Maverick Sabre.
'L' IS FOR...
Lady Sovereign: A much-touted white female grime rapper from Chalk Hill signed by major label Island-Universal in the UK, and in 2006 by Jay-Z to Def Jam US. Lady Sovereign’s star burned brightly - she opened for The Streets, Dizzee Rascal, Gwen Stefani and appeared on the David Letterman Show, but has not released any material since 2009.
Lepke: Brother of Miss P and Rita Marley, Lepke started Rebel Radio, which changed its name to Dread Broadcasting Corporation (DBC), in 1979 by broadcasting on Sundays from his Aboyne Road, NW10 back garden. The initial menu of reggae was soon broadened to include a wide range of black music. Lepke was the founder of the first African-owned black music pirate station in Britain.
Liz Mitchell: Lead singer of Boney M, a hugely successful euro-carribean, disco-reggae group created by German record producer Frank Farian in 1975. Formed in Berlin, the four original members were Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barrett from Jamaica, Maizie Williams from Montserrat and Bobby Farrell, a performing-artist from Aruba. Mitchell attended Chamberlayne Road School, now called Kensal Rise Primary School. Boney M had numerous hits in the late 1970s including ‘Rivers of Babylon’, ‘Daddy Cool’, ‘Rasputin’ and ‘Mary’s Boy Child’.
'M' IS FOR...
Manny Norte: A DJ. Manny DJed on BBC 1Xtra for four years, before moving to DJing on Kiss 100 FM. Manny won the MOBO Award 2004 gong for best DJ. Currently DJs on Capital Xtra. He's been repping his Ghanaian heritage by wearing kente at events, such as the MOBO Awards.
Mis-teeq: A commercially successful female trio which included Harlesden girl Sabrina Washington. Mis-Teeq started off with 'Why', originally an R&B track, which, with a UK garage remould, reached the top 10 at the start of 2001. They enjoyed six further top 10 hit singles and two top 5 albums. Curiously, soon after Reprise Records released their first US album, which was culled material from the British albums, Mis-teeq announced the group's split in 2005.
Morgan Studios: Morgan Studios was situated in Willesden at 169 High Road, NW10. It started in the 1960s, and became known as Power Plant in the 1980s and then Battery Studios in the 1990s, when it was owned by Zomba, which operated from offices across the road, and also ran the locally-based Dreamhire studio equipment hire business. Delroy Washington's mid-1970s albums 'I Sus' and 'Rasta' were recorded there, as was Omar's 1992 'Music' album. Incidentally, in 1975, two Morgan studio engineers going under the name Typically Tropical scored a no. 1 with the pop-reggae novelty hit 'Barbados'. Today the studios go by the name of ‘Assault and Battery’ and are part of the international Miloco chain of recording studios.
'N' IS FOR...
Nines: One of the biggest figures in British rap. Signed to XL Recordings with two top-five albums to his name. Relatively elusive for the last two years. His real name is Courtney Freckleton
Nyanisis: A 1980s reggae act.
'O' IS FOR...
Omar: A classically trained multi-instrumentalist, Omar started releasing records in his teens on his father Byron Lye-Fook's Kongo label. He's best known for the 1990 classic soul single and album 'There's Nothing Like This'.
Osibisa: The pioneering African music band was formed in 1969 by three Ghanaians, Teddy Osei (saxophone), Sol Amarfio (drums) and Mac Tontoh (trumpet), a Nigerian Lasisi Arnao (percussionist/tenor sax), and three Caribbean musicians Wendel Richardson (lead guitar), Robert Bailey (keyboards) and Spartacus R (bass). Group leader Teddy had been in a number of highlife bands in his native Ghana from the late 1950s, such as The Comets, which included Teddy's brother Mac. Teddy arrived in London in 1962 planning to study music. In 1964 he formed an African-fusion band called Cat's Paw, before further developing the highlife, soul and R&B fusion to good effect with Osibisa, which was formed in 1969. Signed to MCA Records, they broke through the rock market with their self-titled album, which reached no. 11 in 1971. The same position was reached with the 1972 follow up 'Woyaya'. During the throes of the disco era, they scored a couple of hit singles, of which 'Sunshine Day' made the top 20 in 1976. However, their first performance on BBC TV's Top Of The Pops was on account of an album feature slot, and they performed the brass and percussion driven 'Music For Gong Gong', which although released as a single did not chart. Osibisa was a great live band that toured extensively across the world particularly in the 1970s and '80s. Teddy has recruited new members with whom he occasionally performs. One of the early band members, percussionist Kofi Ayivor produced Hi-Tension's self-titled debut album, which made a brief appearance at the bottom of the top 75. Having delivered two hit records including the 1978 top 10 hit 'British Hustle', Kofi also worked on the mixes of one of Tradition's albums, ‘Alternative Routes’.
'P' IS FOR...
Pama Records: The shop opened in 1968 at 78 Craven Park Road, NW10 in Harlesden, from where the Pama labels operated. It stocked ska/blue beat, rock steady, reggae, in addition to some R&B, soul and gospel material.
People Sound: A sound system.
Planetone/Orbitone: British black music pioneer Sonny Roberts opened Planetone record company in 1962. It operated from 108 Cambridge Road, NW6 in Kilburn. It released ska material by the likes of Rico Rodriquez and the Marvels. Sonny resurfaced in the music business around 1973 after Planetone closed down in the early 1960s. He ran his group of labels, mainly Orbitone and Tackle, from the same premises as his record shop, initially at 2 Station Offices, Station Road, London NW10, and then when Jet Star moved out, 78 Craven Park Road, NW10. Its successes include African music by jazz tinged hornsman Peter King, and Nigerian Afro-funk group Nkengas. The latter released two 1973 albums, 'Destruction' and 'Nkengas In London'. Middle of the road soul artist Tim Chandell sold loads of his albums without even breaching the bottom end of the national charts due to sales going overwhelmingly through niche and non-chart returning stores. Tim is reputed to have sold over 50,000 copies of his 1977 album 'Loving Moods'. However Orbitone label tasted chart success with two hit singles by Judy Boucher, of which 'Can't Be Without You Tonight' reached no.2 in 1987.
'R' IS FOR...
Ronny Jordan: A well-respected and melodic jazz guitarist in the George Benson vein, he had a hit single in 1992 with 'So What!'. He started his musical career in Harlesden performing gospel music. He was the brother of former Nu Colours member Fay Simpson.
Roots FM: This award-winning reggae-specialist community radio station has been operating from Harlesden since 1999.
'S' IS FOR...
Shola Ama: Although her famous discovery story locates her at Hammersmith tube station, she lived with her grandmother in Kensal Green throughout the beginning of her recording career. Her first single, a cover of 'You Might Need Somebody', finally got a commercial release in 1997 by major record company Warner Music, and went straight into the top 5. A feat achieved by the followup single 'You Are The One That I Love'. The 'Much Love' album, released in the same year went into the top 10. Several top 30 singles followed, including the top 10 Glamma Kid collaboration 'Taboo'. Surprisingly, the richly produced 1999 follow up album did not chart, and plans to release it in the US were scrapped when the artist went through some personal problems. Shola Ama won the Brit Awards for best female and MOBO Awards' best newcomer and R&B gongs in 1998.
Silver Star Sound: A Soundsystem. Silver Star Sound provided youth-orientated dancehall reggae in the clubs. They have generated a growing fan base all over the world, performing in Sweden, Italy, Germany and Finland plus others. Silver Star’s Gussy Young (son of DJ Gussy) presents a show on The Beat 103.4 FM.
Sugababes: This group is perhaps the most commercially successful to come out of Brent. The original pop-R&B group was formed when 13 year old Kingsbury friends Kiesha Buchanan and Mutya Buena mooted the idea of forming a band with Siobhan Donaghy in 1998. They were signed by major label London Records, and their first single, 'Overload', was a top 5 hit. But although they had three further top 30 hits, the no. 26 chart placing of their debut album 'Overload' did not impress London, who subsequently dropped the act. The lesson from the Sugababes story is that A&R and record company folks are not infallible. Another major label, Island Records, signed up the band, and despite several lineup changes, which left Kiesha the only original group member, they became a mega-selling act. Their tally of four chart-topping singles include 'Freak Like Me' in 2002 and 'Push The Button' in 2005, plus a 2002 no. 2 album, 'Angels With Dirty Faces', a 2003 no. 3 album, 'Three', and a 2005 no. 1 album Taller In More Ways'. Sugababes won best dance act at the 2003 Brit Awards.
Sweetie Irie: British reggae singer, DJ and television presenter. Briefly signed to Mango, a subsidiary of Island Records, Sweetie Irie released his debut album ‘DJ of the future’ in 1991. In the early 00’s he collaborated on several UK garage tracks and presented Channel Four’s ‘Flava’ show with Ms Dynamite. Sweetie is still performing and recording - in 2019 he collaborated on ‘N.R.G.’, a track with Canadian house producer Neon Steve.
'T' IS FOR...
Taio Cruz: British singer, songwriter and record label owner raised in Kensal Rise and best known for 'Dynamite' - one of 2010’s most successful tracks. Among others Cruz has written for Olly Murs, David Guetta, Will Young and Cheryl Cole and Usher.
The Cimarons: Reputed to be the first self-contained British reggae band. The band formed in the mid-1960s around the Harlesden and Queens Park areas. For many years they were the backing band of choice for many visiting Jamaican reggae acts touring Britain. Although their 1974 Trojan debut album ‘In Time' was recorded in Chalk Farm, it was remixed at Morgan Studios in Willesden. Their albums 'On The Rock', released on Vulcan in 1976 and 'Live', released two years later on Polydor, are examples of some of British reggae's finest moments.
'U' IS FOR...
Undivided Roots: A 1980s lovers/reggae band which featured Don Campbell on vocals, and musicians Carlton 'Bubblers' Ogilvie, Tony 'Ruffcutt' Phillips, and Fish Brown, who became members of the Ruff Cutt band. Undivided Roots released an eponymous album on Island in 1990.
Unique FM: Pirate Radio Station. It used to operate from a Harlesden building with reinforced doors to thwart raids, but it has later moved to a different location in the borough. Although illegal, their service was called upon by the police and Council agencies when they wanted to appeal directly to the community.
'V' IS FOR...
Vigilante: A sound system.
Vivian Jones: Well respected veteran lovers rock and roots singer-songwriter. Coming to London from Jamaica as a pre-teen in 1968, he first lived in Willesden, before moving to Alperton. From the mid-1970s, he started his musical career with a number of Brent-based bands – the Spartans and Mighty Vibes, labels such as Virgo Stomach and Cha Cha, and the Undivided Roots, later to become Ruff Cutt, produced and released Vivian's debut album 'Bank Robbery' in in 1983. Vivian has been releasing his material on his own Imperial House label since the early 1990s.
'W' IS FOR...
What’s Your Flavour: A restaurant-cum-club located further down the road at 135-137 High Street, NW10. Sadly, although there was a community campaign to keep it going, it has closed down.
Winston Francis: This Jamaican-born singer had established his name back home before settling in England. Winston became popular in the UK with his first album, 'Mr Fix It', and his cover of the pop classic 'California Dreaming'. He credits UB40 for receiving substantial publishing royalties only after the band covered his 'Mr Fix It' song, which he first recorded for Coxsone.
'Z' IS FOR...
Zomba: Zomba was a giant in the music industry and operated quietly from its blue and white painted two-story head office on 1 Maybury Garden, NW10 in Willesden. It operated from this base for over twenty years, and grew to become the world’s largest independent music company, covering all areas of music - rap, R&B, gospel, pop, and rock and operated across industry sectors - recording, publishing, management, distribution, studio and recording equipment hire, not to mention having its own operations across all key international territories. Started by two white South Africans, Clive Calder and Ralph Simon, the Zomba company was named after a city in Malawi, while the premier label, Jive, was named after South Africa’s popular music style called township jive. Soon after setting up Jive in 1982, the label opened the year with its first British chart-topping single Tight Fit’s cover of ‘The Lion sleeps Tonight’, a song based on an old South African song called ‘Wimoweh’. Zomba released important records by Billy Ocean, Wee Papa Girl Rappers and scored the first big UK Garage crossover hit with Shanks & Bigfoot, who reached no.1 in 1999 with ‘Sweet like chocolate’.