Track by Track: Gabi Garbutt takes us through her band The Illuminations’ new album ‘Cockerel’

Gabi Garbutt will be familiar to regular visitors to these pages, both for her excellent debut LP The Discredited Language of Angels and as a member of London space punk disruptors REAL(s), and as such are likely to greet the news of her sophomore album Cockerel with wide smiles.

Written during lockdown following UK tours in support of Edwin Collins and The Libertines, and recorded with her band The Illuminations (who include a couple of members of REAL(s) amongst their number), the record is full of the punk poetry that made her first album such a delight and draws on a broader palette of musical influences from scuzzy indie to bright alt pop and even the odd sprinkling of Motown soul.

We asked Gabi to guide us through the album track by track.

Bad Boy Bird
During the lockdown I was reading a lot of Federico Garcia Lorca, and got really into his idea of a ‘poetic fact,’ an internal coherence to a song/ poem that doesn’t need to be analogous to reality, a belief in the role of ambiguity and mystery in creating a poetic state of mind with which to face the world. This approach really influenced the verse lyrics to this song. There are themes of nature as an escape, liberator of the spirit in a world of unbound technology, staying true to your vision, and it’s an homage to the cockerel on the front cover of the record. As with all the songs, it started as a home demo that I then took to the band who brought it to life! Sean, Jimi, Ollie and Dan are all fantastic musicians full of ideas and together we turned this into rock n’ roll stomper. This and all the other tracks on the record were recorded at Sean Read’s Famous Times studio in Hackney.  

Subterranean Stars
The idea for this song came to me strolling around West London, looking at shapes on the ground made by leaves, chewing gum, and spilt paint. I was on a pretty desolate street and the shapes seemed to illuminate everything. I’ve always loved the William Blake idea ‘to see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower,’ the link to something divine in the mundane, and this song is very much written with this world view. I worked out the strings and brass arrangements using a Juno synth, there’s some call and response brass going on, and some cool interplay between the strings and brass. Basia Bartz then laid down the violin in the studio and Sean Read played about four different brass instruments on this track.

Genet’s Journey
I know you’re not meant to say this, but this is my favourite song on the album. This is mid-lockdown escapism, imagining one of my heroes Jean Genet guiding me through my arteries and veins as well as my memories. I’m proud of my dreamy synth lines but what makes it for me is Sean Read’s guttural sax and Jimi Scandal’s stratospheric 60’s guitar outro.

Never Never
I started writing this song soon after visiting the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. I wrote the first verse about him, then decided to write the second verse about Robert Quine – Richard Hell and Lou Reed’s guitar player – as I saw them as having something in common. They suffered terribly but were absolutely bursting with original untamed creativity that made phenomenal unique contributions to art. I played this song live acoustic a lot before working out how to arrange it with the band. Ollie Jones and Dan Fatel make a ferocious rhythm section that really drives this track. Listen out for Sean’s epic tambourine in the outro.

Your Blues
I’ve been re-writing this song since I was about 16. The chorus has stayed the same but it took some life experience for the verse lyrics to finally become what I wanted them to be. It’s set in an otherworldly dive bar, somewhere between heaven and hell, but really it’s about seeing each other through hard times, over a beer or a whiskey. Also check out the musical saw in the outro, played by Andy Heintz.

I Can’t Win
This is a song about how the creative process can make you very vulnerable. It’s about finding strength in the vulnerability to create something beautiful. We had a lot of fun recording this song. It features a healthy dose of MicroKORG synth, an electronic drum pad that sounds like a spaceship, I recorded the vocals through three different mics, including a vintage telefunken Dictaphone and a vocoder to create different vocal textures throughout the song, and it’s the only song on the record that features electronic drums mixed in with Ollie’s live drumming.

Habit of Sadness
When I originally demoed this song, it was a dreamy, melancholy track, so the title made sense. When I took it to the band, Jimi envisioned an upbeat soul number, came up with this killer riff and those dreamy synth lines were promptly sped up and turned into stomping brass parts. It draws on my experience of depression but ultimately it’s a song of solidarity, of human connection, an awareness that a lot of people are struggling.

Sea Organ
Another one of my escapist tracks written during lockdown, this track is inspired by a beautiful peninsula town in Croatia called Zadar where they have a sea organ – an instrument carved into the rocks that creates an eerie organ like sound when the sea crashes around. I came up with this story about a woman whose husband drowns, and she doesn’t feel able to articulate her grief, so it comes out in the wailing of the organ. I throw in a few more jazzy chords than usual in this song and it’s because I was learning a few crooner classics on the piano at the time.  

Angel of Third Avenue
This song is about someone who I knew a few years ago and cared very deeply about who died. She was suffering with end stage renal failure. She had such a fiery spirit, and this spirit wouldn’t let her stop and rest even when she was really ill, hence the line ‘your spirit dragging your body around and covering it in scars’. When she died, I was thinking where did this fiery spirit go? Tearing up the soil or up into the stratosphere?

Our Dying World
I started writing this song when I was sat at my desk at night with the window open and I heard bird song that felt out of place, like the bird song I’d usually hear in the morning. I found out about how birds sing at unusual times due to city lights throwing off their natural rhythms. The song just spiralled from there, thinking about all the animals and birds trying to make a life for themselves in the modern metropolis, then expanded to be more about climate change and the impact on wildlife. We’ve got a wide array of instruments on this song, but all really delicate and subtle. Jimi put his guitar through a Leslie rotating speaker to create that eerie high pitched sound, he’s also got an ebow guitar part, we’ve got trumpet, piano, acoustic guitar, a consistent synth drone and one that swells in the chorus, and a foreboding marching beat on drums.

Cockerel is out now on Trapped Animal Records – order on vinyl, CD or digital download from Bandcamp

Catch Gabi Garbutt & The Illuminations live at the following shows:
24th May – Album Launch at The Victoria, Dalston
30th June – Bristol O2 Academy w/ The Libertines
7th July – Spitalkirche, Pfarrkirchen Germany
8th July – Static Roots Festival, Oberhausen Germany

Find out more on Gabi Garbutt’s official website

Article by Paul Maps

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