Barry Llewellyn: Singer and songwriter with the Heptones


In the mid-1960s, most Jamaican groups modelled themselves on the doo-wop, rhythm and blues and soul acts they heard on distant US radio stations. The Heptones were no exception, and certainly recorded rocksteady covers of "Sea Of Love", "Only Sixteen", "Suspicious Minds" and "Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da" which showcased the exquisite lead voice of Leroy Sibbles and the sweet, close harmonies of Barry Llewellyn and Earl Morgan. But the trio also transcended their influences and recorded a considerable amount of original material as the island's music evolved into reggae.

Indeed, Llewellyn penned and sang several of the Heptones' best-known tracks, including the bouncy "Nine Pounds Of Steel", the joyous "Pretty Looks" and the haunting "Serious Time", as well as the mystical "Book Of Rules", for which he and his bandmates adapted "A Bag Of Tools", the inspirational poem by RL Sharpe. "Pure hit songs. We had the golden touch," he said. Yet, despite signing to Chris Blackwell's Island label in 1976, collaborating with the visionary producer Lee "Scratch" Perry on the Party Time album, and touring with Toots & the Maytals, they didn't manage to follow in the footsteps of Bob Marley like Burning Spear and Third World.

Born in Kingston in 1947, he was one of nine children and grew up in Trench Town, the slum area immortalised in song by Marley. At school, he befriended Morgan and they spent many an evening listening to the radio and copying the vocal harmonies of the Ink Spots, the Platters, the Drifters and, most of all, The Impressions featuring Curtis Mayfield. By 1965, Llewellyn was working as a car mechanic when he and Morgan joined Sibbles to form the Hep Ones, soon renamed Heptones, after a popular Jamaican health tonic. According to Sibbles, "Hep mean lively and tone is music, so it sounded like lively music."

The organist Glen Adams of The Pioneers introduced them to the producer Ken Lack, and in 1966 they cut "Gunmen Coming To Town", a single whose anti-violence message was spoiled by the incongruous use of the William Tell Overture but got the Heptones noticed all the same. Later that year, they signed with Clement "Coxsone" Dodd and became mainstays of his Studio One operation. Sibbles played bass and served as musical director and talent scout, but all three Heptones provided harmonies for many acts including Delroy Wilson, Ken Boothe and Freddie McKay.

However, they made their mark with a series of infectious rocksteady singles starting with the playful "Fattie Fattie", which suffered from a radio ban but became a sound system favourite, and including the pleading "I've Got A Feeling", the irresistible "Get In The Groove", the sarcastic "Tripe Girl" and the yearning "Baby", co-written by Llewellyn. Unfortunately, as Sibbles reflected, Coxsone was "a wicked, wicked man", reluctant to pay his artists much in the way of royalties, and the Heptones quit Studio One in 1971. They exacted revenge with the barbed "Hypocrite", issued by Joe Gibbs, another cavalier producer they left for Harry J in 1973.

The following year, Sibbles moved to Canada, which afforded Llewellyn the opportunity to release "Meaning Of Life" under his own name, between sessions alongside Morgan. The Heptones reunited in 1976 but Sibbles left to go solo after the Island deal and the Better Days album in 1978. Llewellyn and Morgan soldiered on with Naggo Morris in his stead without quite recapturing the magic of their heyday.

In 1995, the original trio made the Pressure! album with Tappa Zukie. Llewellyn moved to New York but toured Europe with the Heptones this summer. He died of pneumonia visiting Jamaica, where he hoped to establish a learning centre for young people.

Barrington Llewellyn, singer and songwriter: born Kingston, Jamaica 24 December 1947; married (several children); died Kingston 23 November 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Recruitment Genius: Estimator

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a major supplier of buil...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£28000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Application Support Engineer with SQL skills

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas