The Invisible

We meet up with Dave Okumu, Tom Herbert and Leo Taylor after a tumultuous year of grief, accidents and great music


The Invisible had just finished their second album, and were playing a show in Nigeria, supporting legendary African musician King Sunny Adé. Singer-guitarist Dave Okumu and bassist Tom Herbert were switching instruments. When swapping, Okumu’s body completed a circuit and  he was seriously electrocuted: “I didn’t think I was actually going to survive” is how he bluntly explains it when Port meets the band. He fell of the stage and broke his leg in two places.

Okumu and Herbert, together with drummer Leo Taylor, had formed the band a few years earlier, three close friends starting their own group after years of hiring out their prodigious talents as writers and musicians (most recently they’ve worked with Adele, Jessie Ware and Grace Jones). They built up momentum; each single they released got successively more praise, their debut LP was unexpectedly nominated for the Mercury Prize.

Undaunted, though they didn’t win, they continued their upward trajectory, starting on a second record full of the optimism that comes from finally achieving success, instead of being weighed down by pressure for a following it up. “We wanted to represent the growth of the band,” Okumu states, “because we really became a band after that first record. Gigging and playing live, that process defined us and naturally grew into the second record,” Dave states, before Leo Taylor continues; “it was exciting, because it felt like we were beginning a new journey of writing together and being inspired by each other.”

Then Okumu’s mother died. He went to Kenya to spend time with his family, whilst Tom and Leo remained in England, recording. “We felt a huge responsibility,” Tom says, “it was pretty obvious to us all that we had to let the music dictate what happened next, so often in the studio you get clouded by insecurities, and ego, and it felt like we had to lay that to one side and just go with it.”


In Kenya, Okumu spent a lot of time unable to “experience” music, until he heard the sound of his grandmother singing traditional Kenyan music over his mother’s body. “I had a realisation listening to that music, of something spiritual, it felt like the universe was saying to me, that you shouldn’t give up on music.” He quickly made recordings of it, and the sounds punctuate the record that bears his mother’s name, Rispah. It’s a sombre, yet beautiful achievement; grief rips through the sonics, full of big, empty reverb, sparsely plucked guitar lines and ghostly vocals. The album stands as a great testament to “grief and what I’ve learnt about grieving,” Dave says. “There’s a clarity that comes out very difficult things, and there was a cost to it, it was difficult, but that clarity was very sustained. Certain things become unimportant, those hi-hat patterns, the radio single, you just focus on the larger picture.”

The process of recording, still dealing with the fact that his mother was “no longer in this universe” gradually led to playing these intensely personal songs live. A process made even harder by the accident on stage in Lagos. “Going through that” Okumu states, “on stage, with two of my best friends, doing the thing we love, and for them to have effectively saved my life, it’s a lot to process, but there was always this sense that we knew we were going to get back on stage.”

And The Invisible continue to be cheerful: “I thought that these gigs were just going to have be very profound, and maybe quite solemn, it’s not really been too much like that though. After the trauma of Lagos, it seems like every time I go to play there’s a possibility of something very positive and spiritual happening.”

Words Felix L Petty
Photography Nick Thompson