30. In Visible Cities

2018 was the year I discovered Italo Calvino – If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller, and latterly, Invisible Cities. I would encourage you to read Invisible Cities without reading a precis first. There is a conceptual spoiler that is only revealed half way through the book, and having heard what it is when I started reading the book, I scoured the first half for clues and foreshadowing of that reveal. This is not a good way to read Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino – and once I let go of my sleuthing and enjoyed it at face value, it was a much more enjoyable book. Thanks to Eleanor McDowell for both introducing me to the book, and for spoilering it for me.

I had been in London for about a month, for the first time in a year, and was about to leave to start a tour with The Allusionist. As we sat in the back of an airport taxi (a perk of age), I found myself looking at the front doors of the Georgian townhouses and Victorian terraces of north London, shiny and impervious. I started to wonder how old those doors were – how long do doors last? As long as the houses they’re part of? – whether the owners can just layer paint on those things and neglect other parts of the house, so they look impervious and fancy but are falling apart behind the facade. Somewhere in the attic of that house, is there a painting of a damp, rotten door? I hadn’t realised my brain had done a “Picture of Door-ian Gray” pun. This idea took root and spread out and became a song about London, a creative and cosmopolitan city defined by waves of migration, cast adrift culturally from the country around it by the UK’s rejection of these values, and finally physically separating into its own island through force of will.

I didn’t write or record the accompanying music until we reached our destination, Chicago – where we were staying with Jen Brandel and Aaron Wickenden, the proud owners of a double bass* and a dobro guitar. I’ve always struggled with double bass, but this one was a beaut to play, and those two instruments became the core of In Visible Cities. As ever, listen to the accompanying podcast to hear more about how this track was recorded, and the sounds and instruments used. And you can hear some of that beautiful upright bass in isolation.

So, we’re at the end of Volume 3 of Year of The Bird! Which means Volume 3 is out, available to buy on Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and all your favourite places. I’ll be back in a few weeks to begin the final batch (Volume 4).

*which they accidentally (?) bought when they travelled miles to try to buy a vintage banjo (?)