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18 mars 2008

Gwyneth Herbert

Clattering noisily about the wooden floors of the recording studio where she is making her new album, Gwyneth Herbert sounds a happy woman.

Six months ago, she was in the midst of a turbulent period of change. After three years of being marketed as the latest "nu-jazz" diva to put a modern spin on old standards, she had left label Universal and was bravely going it alone on third album Between Me And The Wardrobe, a collection of songs written solely by her.

Understated, poignant and witty, it caught the attention of legendary jazz label Blue Note, which, on the basis of a shared understanding of each other, made the 25-year-old its first signing in 30 years.

The new-found freedom, paired with the critical acclaim heaped on her last effort, has changed Herbert. Her new work is distinctly more upbeat, "a bit less reflective and more ballsy".

"I think I'm probably feeling a lot happier in myself at the moment, so I'm having more fun in my writing.Before, it was more of a need to express myself'," she says, vocalising the speech marks self-deprecatingly. "But now I'm finding my voice."

She hadn't intended to record another album but had been invited to do a few tracks at the studio Peter Gabriel's Real World, in Wiltshire and had somehow fallen into it, thus avoiding the anxiety that follow-ups usually prompt.

It was completed in two days, beating her previous personal best by a day.

"By the next one, we'll have it done in 24 hours," she laughs It is, she says, another album of "story-songs", this time about everything from a Russian prostitute (Natalia) to her "very camp" boyfriend (Narrow Man).
"There are definitely dark bits to it, but the dark bits are really stormy and loud, with more belly and oomph," she says. "It's more hooky and singalong-y. You couldn't have called the last album singalong-y."

After being left jaded by her experiences with Universal - "The marketing always came first and the music second" - Herbert was apprehensive about signing to another record label.

But she realised it would have been "madness" to turn down Blue Note.
"It was a bit ridiculous, quite scary and an amazing privilege," she says, of the signing, "They have this musical history and lineage of amazing jazz players - it was also a bit bizarre because I didn't think Between Me And The Wardrobe was a jazz album. But they're amazing. It's a breath of fresh air."

It has now been four years since Herbert's first album, for much of which she has been hailed as the next big thing. "If Gwyneth Herbert is not a star before long, I'll eat my CD player," wrote a Sunday Times reviewer.

Does she hope this will be the year she finally gets that widespread recognition?
"There have been so many times when people have said, Oh, she's going to be a huge star,' but it's never been my aim," Herbert says nonchalantly.

"I'm signed to a label I love and playing my own stuff. I feel like this is my year already."

By Nione Meakin /the Argus

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