SEA OF MARVELS
Wilton’s – the world’s oldest surviving Grand Music Hall – had to be the best place to launch Gwyneth Herbert’s Sea Cabinet tour and CD.
Developed during a residency for Aldeburgh Music it is “a song-cycle ripened on the Suffolk coast, drawing – as Benjamin Britten did – from the area’s violent and beautiful coastline.”
Herbert opens with Sea Theme – a haunting vocalisation accompanied by a stacatto piano motif alluring like a benign siren’s seductive call into a world of wondrous anticipation.
For the next hour and a half Herbert delivers abundantly on that promise.
The set has as narrator Heidi James, who in between songs tells the story of a woman beachcomber who collects, day after day, objects cast up by the tides, meticulously cataloguing them and with each inspiring the following song.
The temptation to draw comparisons by invoking genres is as futile as it is detracting from the breathtaking originality of this music.
The melancholy of the waltzing The Regal paints tenderly a seen-better-times seaside hotel. Alderney bursts and then soars in an affectionate waltz that ebbs and flows beautifully between vibrant choruses.
Herbert’s vision comes complete with strong and immaculately timed composition, eloquent and complex instrumentation for diametric shifts of moods and wonderfully evocative lyrics.
Like the sea that inspired it the Cabinet disgorges melodic riches ranging from mere whispers and murmurs to gusts of ominous darkness and roars delivered by a voice that will render any emotion with commanding ease.
The King’s Shilling shanty pounces ferociously with marching rhythms and a warning plea of old-time navy ruthless recruitment methods and consequences.
Each of the songs is an impressively crafted, well-observed and engrossing vignette of life’s trying moments – I Still Hear The Bells, Promises or Drip will grab your attention return time and time again.
The tested and trusted trio of Al Cherry on guitar, Sam Burgess on bass and Dave Price – who also helped Herbert produce The Sea Cabinet – on percussion are dab hands at this game and never misplace a note, while, guided by Herbert’s sharp ear, the Rubber Wellies chip in with fiddles, accordion, melodica or clarinet and Fiona Bevan’s voice, guitar and piano augment the tidal shifts of sound. Simply, a triumph.