She started out wanting to be a concert pianist, but almost by accident became a singer and has been one of the leading lights in Welsh music for the past 40 years. We met up with Heather in a tea shop in Roath and she shared with us her memories of the past, her thoughts on Welsh music and her plans for the future.
It was during a competition at Cathays High School for girls that Heather’s ability to sing first emerged. With a surfeit of pianists lined up to compete she was asked if she could sing a song. Having blown her piano piece she went out to sing thinking ‘what the hell’ and ended up stealing the show and won the competition outright. This led her to join the Betty Wyn choir and to become a regular at the Eisteddfod. During one such solo spot she was spotted by Dr Meredith Evans from the BBC who offered her an audition which lead to her first TV appearances.
In the middle of all this activity including studying at college her life took a dramatic turn she became pregnant with her boyfriend Geraint Jarman.
“We got married very quickly. In those days you were expected to give up everything and stay at home.”
Although she used this time productively to bring up her child and write songs she was far from happy.
“Meic Stevens came around to see me he said he was going to see the BBC. The story goes he went to the BBC canteen and shouted out ‘someone get Heather Jones a job, she’s miserable!’ Within a week I got a spot on the Bryn Williams show and eventually my own series in 1972.”
Although increasingly well known amongst the Welsh language music scene Heather had yet to make an impression outside of Wales. In an attempt to rectify this she became something of a regular on Pebble Mill at One and also joined a Jazz rock band in London called Redbrass.
“That was where I met Annie Lennox. I was part of the audition panel and she came along. It was 1977 and she had just finished college. She was a lovely, lovely person. Annie had a stall at Camden market and ended up giving me loads of size 6 clothes saying you may as well have these, I can’t sell them and no one is as small as you!”
In 1979 Heather formed a rock band but this didn’t go down too well with her regular audience.
“I wanted to shake up the scene because everything was so parochial, so narrow. Even today there aren’t that many Welsh female rock singers.”
In 1980 she eventually formed Hin Deg a traditional Welsh band which has been going ever since. Their music has been welcomed all over the world, although not so warmly at the Cambridge Folk Festival.
“Hin Deg had played the Cambridge Folk Festival for free one year as a kind of audition. They were impressed and asked us back the next year, but asked us to translate all our Welsh songs into English. We refused. Why shouldn’t we sing in Welsh? This was before bands like Catatonia came along.”
Heather has been performing for over 40 years and recently won a lifetime achievement award from the BBC however, she shows no sign of slowing down. Her current plans include an exciting project which manages to cross the generations and include some of the key people in Welsh musical history. Heather recently met up with Mary Hopkin who she knew from her student days when they shared a singing teacher. Mary has given Heather 7 of her own compositions to record. These are being translated into Welsh by Geraint Jarman and she is planning to record these with Alun Tan Lan.
Heather Jones has had a long career and has made a significant contribution to music in Wales. She has helped inspire a younger generation to have the confidence to sing in Welsh and as she says herself she has so much more she wants to achieve.
“Gwyneth Glyn has said I inspired her to sing. To think I have inspired someone I feel is a great achievement. We are so lucky in the Welsh language music scene. We can write our own songs, record them, go on TV to promote them and perform gigs all over the country. I have been lucky to sing and perform since I was very young. The award from the BBC was great, but I haven’t finished yet!”