Is it a gig? Is it a film? Er...no...it’s both. Welcome to the fertile imagination of synth pop pioneer, steampunk icon, ringtone godfather, record producer etc etc (you get the idea...he does a lot of stuff) Thomas Dolby. When Dolby decamped to the US to fiddle about with music downloading software and ‘invent’ the Nokia ringtone (you know it...the der der der der der der der der derrrrrrr one) it seemed that his days as a recording artist and performer were as sadly dead and buried as the ZX Spectrum. This was a huge shame. Back in the early 80s he came out with some truly incredible records, from the madcap pop of She Blinded Me With Science through to the criminally underrated thinking person’s MOR of Airwaves and then on to the glossy funk of Airhead (if you’ve not heard the album that spawned it, Aliens Ate My Buick, add it to your Christmas list). Nearly 20 years separated his last studio album Astronauts and Heretics and his most recent release, A Map Of The Floating City which was, much against the odds, an impressive return to form. He’s toured the UK a couple of times since his ‘comeback’ but not content with touting a standard show again he squirreled himself away and made a movie...as you do. Again he could’ve just shown it but hell, where’s the fun in that eh? Nope, he decided to narrate and play along with the film in real time too. Of course people did this back at the start of cinema before the talkies, playing along on a piano or organ, but that was all pretty basic stuff. Would it...could it...work in today’s Hi-Def, BluRay, SurroundSound world?
The film itself, The Invisible Lighthouse, is part Who Do You Think You Are, part conspiracy theory and part eco warning, telling as it does the story of Thomas’ family on the Suffolk coast, his own childhood and the almost supernatural presence of the Orfordness Lighthouse which is now, sadly, slowing disappearing beneath the sea. It’s a beautifully put together piece which, with the addition of Dolby’s live soundtrack, comes across like a hi-tech version of those slideshow that you might have seen at church halls in the 50s. That’s a very good thing by the way, lending it an intimacy and warmth that I really wasn’t expecting.
There are the odd snatches of songs, notably Europa and the Pirate Twins, Windpower and Oceanea together with some suitably mood setting instrumental pieces. At times Thomas provides live narration that then seamlessly links in with his filmed version picking up the thread. It’s a clever bit of timing that blurs the two worlds (the live and the pre recorded) pretty neatly so that when the moment comes for the lighthouse to be switched off for the very last time it actually feels like it’s happening right now, something that I found surprisingly poignant. As ‘home movies’ go this one’s got a hell of a lot of heart.
Straight after the screening Thomas takes questions. It’s clear (in fact he says as much himself) that he’s not really comfortable being centre stage so when one of the questions comes from a lady who’d kissed Dolby back when she was 16 and involved a request for a second helping (she’s now 44) I feared he might run for the hills. He took it all in good spirit though, even when she came back for a third kiss and...er...sat on his lap. What a trooper. He’s an intelligent chap and I could’ve listened to him talk all night but after around 20 minutes or so he swapped hats once again and became Dolby the pop star with a trio of songs, the Jacko-esque Evil Twin Brother, a moving dive into One Of Our Submarines and...well...he had to really...She Blinded Me With Science. This evening Thomas revealed that none other than Buzz Aldrin (yep...THE Buzz Aldrin) is a bit of a fan of this tune too – good man – and whilst this evening’s version of the tune still featured the ghost of the great Magnus Pyke on “SCIENCE!” duties you really do have to see this clip...genius.
The light may have gone out in Dolby’s lighthouse but on the strength of this evening his creative flame’s still well and truly burning bright. An unmissable evening with a true original.