Music · Notes from West London · Word of the week

Word of the week: Harlesdon

Harlesdon is a mis-spelling of Harlesden, an area of North West London a few miles from where we live. The correct spelling ends in “den”, like its neighbour Willesden. Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, and Wimbledon in South West London, on the other hand, end in “don”.

If you approach the junction known as Savoy Circus from the south and west, along East Acton Lane, either to cross the A40 or join it heading out of London or into town, you will see a road sign with the incorrect spelling of Harlesden. It puts me off every time I see it, and makes me wonder how it happened. This is a sign that is read by hundreds of thousands of drivers every year. At some point in the process of designing, creating and erecting it surely someone would have spotted the error. Willesden is spelt correctly and so is every other destination, but Harlesdon stands out. Maybe it was down to constraints of time or budget. Maybe they just didn’t have the resources for that extra bit of proof-reading.

A few years back I heard someone on a TV panel show (I think it was David Mitchell, on “QI”) discussing the levels of service you might get from sign-writers. The most basic package (cheapest and quickest) would be the one that leaves you with a sign reading “Fish and Chip’s”, for instance, with its bogus apostrophe. If you want something that reads “Fish and Chips” you’ll have to pay more, and wait a little longer.

This piece has been triggered, like many before it, by multiple references and memories in the preceding days. I have driven past the “Harlesdon” sign regularly in recent months but not thought too much about the place it refers to. Last week, in the “Tracks of my years” slot on Ken Bruce’s BBC Radio 2 show, John Motson mentioned the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden, where he saw Kirsty McColl perform in the 1980s. She was his favourite female singer and he chose her recording of Ray Davies’s “Days” as one of his favourite tracks. He suggested that it might be one to play at a funeral, giving thanks for the life you have led and the people who were close to you.

The Mean Fiddler was one of many fine London music venues that we have lost in the last 30 years. I only ever went there by car, and despite the venue’s High Street location I was always able to park nearby. I saw Andy White there at least twice in the 1980s. Recently a friend claimed that I could remember the date of every gig that I’ve been to and the names of every band I’ve seen, but it’s not true. The last time I went to the Mean Fiddler, early in 1998, there were three acts on the bill and we were there to see some friends of friends in one of the bands. They had travelled up from Brighton, as I recall. My 1998 pocket diary tells me that it was Tuesday 20 January, and the band was called The Rains, but I never knew the names of other two acts who played that night.

The next time I went to the Mean Fiddler it was no longer in Harlesden. At some point early in this century the smaller of the two Astoria venues on Charing Cross Road was renamed as The Mean Fiddler. At other times it was called LA2 and Bang. It’s where I met Joe Strummer and Mick Jones of The Clash together, at a Poetry Olympics Event. The Astoria, and the LA2 / Mean Fiddler were both pulled down long ago, as part of the expansion of Tottenham Court Road station. And I haven’t passed through Harlesden (or Harlesdon) for over 20 years.




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