THE River Thames winds a meandering course through Megan Henwood's life, shaping her thoughts, emotions and her music.

A constant companion since childhood, the river has never been far from view for the singer-songwriter. She grew up beside, on and in the Thames in Henley, where her father built boats, and now lives within spitting distance of the waterway in East Oxford.

So it seems reasonable then, that while searching for inspiration for her new album she should turn to the water.

Rivers is the third album from the artist who broke through after winning the BBC's Young Folk Musician of the Year along with her brother Joe.

It finds her at the top of her game, embracing her love of folk but branching out with electric guitar, drum samples and lyrics which take us upstream to the very source of her being.

"I grew up on the river," she says. "I spent a lot of time in it and on it as well as walking next to it – as I do now. I feel refreshed around it. It's always something that has calmed me down and because it runs through my family, it makes me feel safe.

"I also have family in Cornwall so spent a lot of time swimming in the sea there. I love the water."

But, she insists, the aquatic theme of the album developed organically. "I didn't instantly think 'I'm going to write a group of songs about the river' but instead whittled a bunch down to make the album – and it became a thing, with the narrative of the river running through it. It seems to crop up a lot."

Songs include Fresh Water, a love song using the river as a metaphor; and The Dolly, which she describes as an "ode to Oxford".

Its title refers to a former venue, now The Cellar in Frewen Court – recently the subject of a fierce battle to protect it from closure.

"It's about all the things I love about Oxford," she says.

"I've always loved Oxford. It's got the right balance of things to keep me inspired, entertained and awake – yet it's also a peaceful place, and the perfect place to take my little dog for a walk. And I love the people I know here."

River is the next step for a singer-songwriter using all the tools at her disposal.

Music has always been a part of Megan's life, starting with piano lessons at an early age and a debut public performance aged just nine at the Henley Youth Festival.

She got the bug and continued, playing solo and with a band at local gigs then busking her way across Asia, including Nepal – a country she has supported through the charity Child Action Nepal.

Closer to home, she helps out at music therapy sessions and is an ambassador for Sue Ryder Care, being awarded the charity's Woman of Achievement award as Performer of the Year.

"I started writing songs at 13 or 14 and went from there," she laughs.

It was winning that Young Folk Award in 2009 with her saxophonist brother, however, which sealed the deal.

"We just wanted to meet people but had never put ourselves in a folk bracket before," she recalls. "Winning came as a massive shock. It was overwhelming and completely unexpected – but led to some amazing opportunities."

They included sets at Cropredy, Glastonbury and Cambridge Folk Festival and saw her recording albums Making Waves, in 2011, and 2015's Head Heart Hand.

Her career has since taken her all the way to Nashville, busting out of the folk scene which has previously been her natural habitat. "The influences I draw upon have expanded," she says. "There are no barriers in terms of genre and I have grown more experimental."

That has seen her plug in, using electrical guitars and programmed drums while recording the album in her brother's studio – constructed from hay bales and timber – in the woods just outside Wallingford, with producer Tom Excell at the helm.

"It's still acoustic but there are also electronic elements," she says. "Having a drum 'library' means I can be incredibly quick in experimentation and opens up a world of possibilities. I always want my music to emulate the atmosphere of the songs, but not in an obvious way."

It all happened very quickly, being wrapped up in a very intensive month – accommodation provided in a converted shipping container on site.

On Tuesday, she sets up in more orthodox surroundings, for a show in Oxford's Holywell Music Room, one of the world's oldest purpose-built music venues.

"The Holywell is a really impressive space and is built for sound," she says.

"It allows for a dichotomy of really intimate gig , with no PA to act as a barrier but also an acoustic sound that feels grand and exciting.

"There are loads of great buildings but I didn't think twice about booking that."

It's a rare opportunity to see an artist who refuses to spread herself too thinly.

"I have always taken advantage of the opportunities out there," she says. "But since the last album I've become a bit more aware that in order to have people want to see me play, I don't want them to get bored. So apart from Catweazle Club [open mic night], Wood festival and a couple of other things, I'd rather just do a couple of special shows a year. I want people to be excited."

And, she lets slip, there's extra cause for celebration on Tuesday – with the show following hot on the heels of her 30th birthday. It also happens to be Halloween.

"It will be the antidote to Halloween," she laughs. "And I certainly won't be wearing a witch's outfit. There will be no spookiness!"

* Megan Henwood plays The Holywell Music Room, Oxford on Tuesday. Tickets from Her album River is out tomorrow on on Dharma Records.