"Gwyneth Herbert may be only 31, but the singer and songwriter had already lived several lives when she decamped from her Dalston flat for a week in a Suffolk cottage as part of an artistic residency with Aldeburgh Music. Evenings were dedicated to midnight seaside walks, including a trip to the drowned village of Dunwich, and befriending fishermen in the local tavern. Days, meanwhile, were spent at the piano, down the road in Snape Maltings. She was nursing a broken heart, and the finishing touch it was blowing such a gale that she was forced to play in fingerless gloves.
Gwyneth emerged from her week in Aldeburgh with a spectacular concept album: The Sea Cabinet. The songs weave themselves around the imagined story of a woman who walks the beach every day alone, she explains, picking up all the discarded and washed up objects and taking them home, logging them with archeological rigour. She keeps them in a shack: her ""sea cabinet."" These items are kind of semaphore signals and each one resonates with the memory of a secret sea-set story.
A full decade after her debut album First Songs, The Sea Cabinet finds Gwyneth at her most mature as a writer. The songs, inspired by the Suffolk coast, are timeless and immersive. And the album, knitted together by field recordings, is as unbroken as a shoreline. The Sea Cabinet calls to mind English folk artists from Jacqui McShee to Tunng. There are also touches of Joni Mitchell in Mingus mode, Edith Piaf and the leftfield pop of Psapp, not to mention Ray Davies and Mara Carlyle. Gwyneth herself says would put the record on the shelf marked bluesyfolkypoppyjazzystorysongs but, as on the album itself, she s only half-serious.
Album centrepiece Fishguard Ladies takes its inspiration from the late 18th century, when, legend has it, a handful of local Welsh women headed off an invading French fleet by flashing their red petticoats. They were apparently mistaken for British Grenadiers.Alderney, by contrast, tells the chilling story of the Channel Island following its occupancy by Nazis during World War Two. Elsewhere we have the tender chamber folk of The Regal and, in Drink, a rum-soaked sea shanty. Alongside pop artist Fiona Bevan who collaborates on I Still Hear the Bells and The King s Shilling, the album also features Gwyneth herself on piano and ukulele, multi-instrumentalist folk duo The Rubber Wellies and her regular band: Al Cherry (guitars), Sam Burgess (bass) and David Price (percussion, strings and co-production).
Gwyneth is relishing the fact that, in 2013, a musician s artistic remit can and should extend well beyond the music itself. Crowd-funded and self-released, with shows at Wilton s and Snape Maltings that feature prose, multiple voices and live cymatic projections, The Sea Cabinet is the most ambitious project she has ever attempted. And she is, she says, more creatively fulfilled than ever."