After dizzying early successes, Wales’ The Hepburns dropped out of sight, till now.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
At the end of the ‘80s, the Welsh band The Hepburns were making significant inroads into the fickle English music scene. The group had been signed to their favorite label, Cherry Red Records, a London-based company that was putting out music by a wide range of renowned artists from legendary krautrock outfit Can to the San Francisco punk band the Dead Kennedys. They also had released their debut album. The Hepburns performed on BBC1 radio’s Peel Sessions, an influential show that reached a national audience and featured live performances by everyone from Pink Floyd in the ‘60s to the White Stripes at the turn of the century.
The Hepburns’ initial successes were even more impressive because they hailed from the rough-and-tumble Welsh mining city of Llanelli. The band started out in the mid-‘80s and spent two years rehearsing in a local church before recording their first album on a cassette tape and sending it to Cherry Red. They were immediately signed and released The Magic of the Hepburns, an eclectic album that includes “(In Pursuit of A) Running Buffet,” a song that veers from a Hendrix-like riff into lounge music, and “Matchless,” a number that recalls the English rock band The Smiths at their jazziest.
Though they had achieved their wildest dreams by the end of the ‘80s, The Hepburns’ luck faded with the dawn of the ‘90s. In 1991, Cherry Red Records decided to quit releasing albums. This forced The Hepburns to start putting out their own albums. “It really led us into obscurity for 10 years,” The Hepburns’ bandleader Matt Jones tells the Weekly by telephone from Wales.
Also, tragedy struck as The Hepburns were finishing up work on their second album, Road Movie. Jones says the band’s manager at the time, Brian Longley, was killed in a traffic accident, which led to the disappearance of the master tapes for Road Movie.
Jones also sees the band’s decision to remain, in Wales as a factor in The Hepburns’ failure to reach an international audience. But although the band was getting less ink by staying in Llanelli, the city provided Jones with a wealth of interesting material as a songwriter. Jones says that a lot of the songs he wrote during the ‘90s dealt with “ghosts that hover around you” living in an economically depressed city. “For me, the instability of those years kept me going artistically,” he says.
After toiling in obscurity for a decade, The Hepburns got a break when one of their friends contacted Alexander Bailey, owner of the Berkeley-based label Radio Khartoum. Bailey spent his college years at the University of California, Berkeley listening to The Hepburns.
Since hooking up with Radio Khartoum in 2000, The Hepburns have recorded 90 new songs including Something Worth Stealing, which comes out this Tuesday, Nov. 6. The 12-track CD features “During British Winters,” which sounds like ska done by a lounge act. There’s also an intriguing mix of ska rhythms and flute on the number “Heavyweight Bohemians.” In “The Last Thing I Saw Before I Said Goodbye,” Jones’ voice comes on like Morrissey over jazzy acoustic pop with coils of electric guitar on the chorus.
With The Hepburns finally getting their music out to a larger audience and the band’s first ever-American tour kicking off at Monterey Live this Thursday, Jones is finally reaping the rewards of making music for over two decades.
The Hepburns and Anthony Rochester perform 9:30pm, Thursday, Nov. 1 at Monterey Live, 414 Alvarado St., Monterey. $5. 646-1415.