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Gabi Garbutt and the Illuminations - Cockerel

  by Steev Burgess

published: 21 / 6 / 2022

Gabi Garbutt and the Illuminations - Cockerel
Label: Trapped Animal
Format: LP


Emotively powerful and thought-challenging yet uplifting second album from poetic London-based singer-songwriter Gabi Garbutt and her band The Illuminations

The cover of Gab Garbutt’s new album on the Trapped Animal label, features the singer holding a resplendent silkie chicken, its plumage a mix of blonde and black, like the singer’s hair, with its green tail feathers echoing the rose bush behind them. This is a good metaphor for the album, a Blake-ian journey where wild nature, humanity and the spirit intersect in ways good and disturbing. The album opens with the powerful explosion of sound that is 'Bad Boy Bird', where Gabi’s song is fired up by Jimi Scandal’s guitar licks, with a style reminiscent of Steve Cropper or a hyped-up Brooker T. The rhythm section of Oliver Jones on drums and Dan Fatel on bass with seasoned multi-instrumentalist Sean Read (Dexy’s, the Manics, Pretenders, Beth Orton to name but a few) on keys, sax and trumpet gives it a Stax feel, but this is an album which has more texture and variations in pace than their euphoric debut album, 'The Discredited language of Angels'. 'Bad Boy Bird' reminds me of two different movies, 'Miracle in Milan;, where a dove with magical powers descends onto an Italian shanty town, and the Australian cult classic, 'Bad Boy Bubby', where a well-meaning, unhinged force of nature runs rampant through a town. The track is a double metaphor too, with the Garbutt mind and the IIluminations going straight into overdrive, referencing Mayakovski, and Duende with nature rescuing humanity from “unbound technology”. The second track 'Subterranean Stars' opens with a lighter sound, where guitar licks shimmer around Gabi’s trippy lyrics and kinetic rhymes which tell of seeing an alternative universe in the paving stones and tarmac, ",a constellation under my feet” made of discarded bubble gum and trodden debris, with the journey’s lyrical musings leading to brass refrains and a string arrangement written by Gabi and played by Barbara Bartz. Next comes 'Genet’s Journey', with Read’s baritone sax introducing you to a lyric part inspired by the French writer Jean Genet, that moves through the arteries of innocence, through the physicality and memories of the songwriter’s body and ends musing on the changing world (“Look up at that clocktower/See how it chimes away all these obsolete ideas of how we move through the day”), amounting to a most beautiful song. 'Never Never' (not the Peter Doherty song of the same name) blasts into being and is a celebration of two artists who died early.I feel the song like many on this album, very much represents many compulsive creatives for whom the work in the extremes of an emotional life “feel too much”, finding release in their art and music. The first is Vincent Van Gogh - Little introduction is needed to the Absinthe-sodden painter with his unique, delirious yet beautiful paintings - and the second is the lesser known New York guitarist Robert Quine (Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Lou Reed, Tom Waits), who is known for his angular, fractured guitar solos. Yet, as ever with Gabi’s work, the music is never as bleak as say Joy Division, or despairing as Nirvana. It is as though by writing these songs she remains buoyant. The pace is taken right down for the next number, a reworking of an early Garbutt composition and favourite of the lonesome souls in the Camden audience. 'Your Blues'. This song transports you to the kind of late night Bohemian piano bar on the east side of poverty and just north of despair, where those who are “hiding from their lightning minds and trying to stay free” and those that live in the margins blend and look after each other in the darkness of night. The song is augmented by a haunting, theramin -like solo on the saw by Andy Heintz of Steampunk band The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing. The second side of the album opens with ;I Can’t Win', which has an urgent medium tempo, yet takes us on a dark emotional journey, leading to a “euphoric breakdown” that in interview Gabi said “is about drawing from your own vulnerabilities as part of the creative process to try to achieve some kind of brutal honesty, and how potentially destructive this process can be.” The song. and indeed album, fully explores the studio equipment of Sean Read’s Analogue Famous Times studio, with it’s exciting blend of the modern and retro. Vocals on this track are, for example, sung through both a Neumann U67 valve mic, a hand-held 1960’s Telefunken Dictaphone mic and a Microkorg vocoder. 'Habit of Sadness' follows and will seem very poignant to those of us isolated by years of Covid lockdown or because of other reasons when “it feels like I’m the only one who’s not out there having fun.” The subjects of isolation, mental angst, sadness and introspection are very much to the fore on this album, but they are not self-indulgent and call for solidarity and an awareness for people that Gabi states “are going through a hard time”. Musically, the lonely landscape is invoked with Scandal’s spacious solos and a fizzing clashing of notes in the pedal board, yet the song moves on at a jaunty pace regardless. It ends with the repeated plea “make sure we’re not the ones, who didn’t understand, who didn’t take you home, who didn’t understand.” 'Sea Organ' takes us on a gentle trip to the Adriatic island of Zadar, where a water organ carved into the rocks produces an ethereal melancholy sound as the tide pours in and out. The island provides the backdrop of a tale of a love lost to the sea, where once again the landscape of nature and the human heart harmonise. Gabi and bass player Dan visited the island but resisted recording the organ, preferring to sing of it in the usual Illuminations style. 'The Angel of Third Avenue'. like 'Bad Boy Bird', gives full reign to a band of two guitars, bass, sax, drums and keys with the powerful concoction sounding at times, like Bruce Springsteen’s E Street band. The third avenue here though is not that of Manhattan but Kilburn and a spirited character Gabi was close to that died, causing the songwriter to wonder where the spirit that was “pulling your body around and covering it in scars” and raging against the darkness went to after death, tearing up the soil or blasting into the stratosphere. The final track on the album, 'This Dying World', couldn’t be more different, a quiet acoustic guitar lead number with the singer’s plaintive voice reflecting on sleepless city nights where dawn birds are “so unwound from Nature, they sing through the night” or turtles who mistake the sodium lights of cars for that of the moon. Starting as a song about those particular animals and birds, it becomes clear that it is a metaphor for the bigger picture and the industrialised world stumbling toward climate change disaster. This new album is more guitar lead than their debut LP, more like the live sound. and it’s great these days, to see an album that’s not just top loaded with catchy singles. Everything takes you on a carefully mapped journey, allowing you to play this album from start to finish with it’s undulating rhythms and pace or just ponder long on any particular favourites that all sound instantly accessible, but have a poetry of lyric that takes you to deeper places, while somehow almost always leaving you feeling represented and uplifted. With her songs, lyrics and arrangement, Gabi Garbutt is surely one of the brightest rising stars.

Track Listing:-
1 Bad Boy Bird
2 Subterranean Stars
3 Genet's Journey
4 Never Never
5 Your Blues
6 I Can't Win
7 Habit Of Sadness
8 Sea Organ
9 Angel of 3rd Avenue
10 Our Dying World

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