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Gwyneth Herbert

Picture courtesy Pete Williams
Picture courtesy Pete Williams

WEARING a smart dress, dark overcoat, large funky beads and a fetching cravat, Gwyneth Herbert looks every inch the jazz star.

Though it's been a winding journey to arrive at that point, her status as one of London's most respected young artists is one she truly deserves.

It seems everyone from Prince Charles to Paul McCartney appear to be singing her praises, recognising a winning talent a mile away.

While the stratospheric record sales predicted by some may have eluded her as yet, she seems perfectly satisfied with the run of events.

As we settle for a coffee in a trendy Soho coffee shop, Gwyn has plenty of intriguing tales from the road to share.

Three years on from her major label debut with Universal Records, she is still the same elegant yet endearingly clumsy girl who remains prone to mishaps on stage.

From tripping over microphone stands and breaking a finger in a New York lift to mispronouncing in French that she was exciting herself rather than excited to be at the Montreal Jazz Festival - there’s rarely a dull moment when Gwyn’s around.

Since parting company with her former label, she has been snapped up by Blue Note, home to some of the most famous names in her genre.

"I just got a phone call from them saying they wanted to sign me which was amazing," says the down to earth vocalist in her twinkly Surrey tones.

"It was so good that they were interested in me and the music I had recorded myself rather than thinking purely of marketing me with songs which Radio 2 or Michael Parkinson would like," she added of her experiences.

Few singers would have had the spirit to pull through the disappointment of events turning sour with a recording contract.

As the silky songstress explains, the period recording her third album, Between Me and The Wardrobe last year with her own finances left her on the point of near breakdown.

But the 26 year-old is made of sturdier stuff than most and having started out singing and playing French horn as a teenager, she wasn't about to give up in a hurry on the profession she clearly loves.

By nature she comes across as an optimistic soul with a fun-loving streak, who values interaction with those at her shows.

Playing at some of the coolest venues around the UK, including a residency at the legendary Ronnie Scott's club, has seen her range of fans increase at a genuinely impressive rate.

"It has been a massive adventure since I first handed my demo tapes in at the Pizza Express music club here in Soho. It's been a total rollercoaster and feel I've really discovered my voice and played with some incredible musicians who continue to inspire me.

"I have never thought of myself as being a star. It matters to me but it matters to me that people are enjoying my music and I would say I’m musically ambitious."

Underlining this, she's quite willing to take risks with her work and recently began playing piano with several gorgeous ballads. There's also more than a hint of Dolly Parton style county to one of her latest tracks, Jane into a Beauty Queen.

What undoubtedly makes her music stand out from the crowd is a songwriting craft that's second to none. Be it tales of teenage love downing cider at the local bus stop (Young Love Is Cheap) to the tale of an Irish woman whose gambling brother was murdered over his debts (Slow Down Brother), Gwyn has a captivating perspective on the world.

Continues to evolve from her jazz roots that began with former songwritng partner Will Rutter (whom she met at University at Durham), her music is a true breath of fresh air.

Along the way so far there have been many poignant moments. Not least of these was the suggestion of her boyfriend Nathan, who is a poet magician, to do a "Gwynagram" in which she made a surprise valentines performance to one of her songs for three couples who were fans of her music.

"That was definitely one of the most moving things I've done, I was in tears singing on that day," she recalls of the experience.

No stranger to Kent, she has previously played the Pizza Express in Maidstone several times and is making a welcome return to the Mick Jagger Centre.

There will be plenty of he familiar material on show and a smattering of new material from her next album which she intends to record in the spring.

"The most exciting thing for me at the moment is to be able to write songs and play them in front of audiences. I love recording too but as a singer it's getting out on stage which is the biggest buzz ever.

"I love coming to Kent and the gig at Dartford should be great night as I'm being supported by an amazing young singer called Charly Flynn. I have some great friends in Rochester who I shall be staying with too and they really look after us."

Busying herself with new material for the upcoming album, one of her biggest tasks at the moment is keeping her cat Monkey's ego in check. "He seems to be getting more fan mail than me", she laughs of her pet who even has his own song penned by his mistress.

Though Gwyneth may be going out with a magician, she's more than capable of conjuring up a highly memorable gig.

Gwyneth Herbert plays The Mick Jagger Centre on Friday, November 30. Tickets £14 - £16. Box office 01322 291100.

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