From Converted Lifeboats to an Invisible Lighthouse. Thomas Dolby interview

From Converted Lifeboats to an Invisible Lighthouse. Thomas Dolby interview

Thomas Dolby, the electric pop visionary known for such eighties classics as “She Blinded me with Science” and “Hyperactive” has embarked upon a tour entitled The Invisible Lighthouse, guaranteed to be an experience different from traditional music performances. Thomas Dolby talks to Inquire about how his tour which J.J Abrams described it as “touching, evocative and beautiful” is different from mainstream music.

Caroline: Firstly are there any past influences which made you want to get interested in music?

dolbyThomas Dolby: When I was a teenager some of the early innovators like Brian Eno who you know was sort of the Leonardo Davinci of the music world who invented ambient music who produced world class acts like Talking Heads and Bowie and U2 and so on, his unusual approach to sound was very inspiring to me. He also used to play in Roxy Music and when I was about 13 years old and I saw him on latenight tv. It was great because he just stood there in his leopard skin gloves and high heels with makeup on his face and he folded his arms and every now and then he just leaned forward and a twiddled a knob and I just thought wow that’s really the life for me get rich and famous by twiddling a knob.

C: That sounds really interesting. Is there a specific process that you follow or are you quite laid back approach to doing music?

TD: I do my work now in a coverted 1930s lifeboat in my garden in Suffolk which is overlooking the North Sea and the marshes on the other and its powered by the wind and the sun and its called the Nutmeg of Consolation, and I get a lot of inspiration from my environment, the weather and from watching container ships coming in and out of the port and that’s really how I do my work.

C: I noticed that your tour has been described as an interactive experience would you say that this is the way that music is going now or what you are doing is quite unique and it will be just a one-off thing ?

TD: I’ve always been quite contrary in my approach and I think this project is no different. A lot of pop music today is in the moment. You have a loop frame you add in a rift here and there, you sing words about text messages, it’s very in the moments and that’s great but there are loads of other people doing that type of music. They don’t do what I do which I think I do best is to write a story which has an intro a chorus a middle-eight and arc to it and I think that that is becoming a lost art and its not a protest against current music, I’d rather be an unusual individual and have a devoted cult following than try and compete in the mainstream.

C: Are there any artists that have a similar approach to music that you do, or any artist that you can relate to?

TD: Imogen Heap I admire a great deal, she focuses on musical engineering and programming. I love the way she is so close to her audience and she will tweet about what she had on her salad at lunchtime and in the middle of the night she will put up Mp3s with two alternative baselines to ask her fans which of the baselines they prefer. She’s very much a one-woman band and she won a Grammy for her engineering which I think is remarkable because she is a really interesting songwriter and performer as well.

C: Your tour is called the invisible lighthouse and is about a lighthouse which you grew up near, would you say that events in your life influence your work?

TD: I remember the lighthouse flashing up on my wall since I was a little boy and that is symbolic to me, my relationship with the East Anglian coast. Where it is sited is quite mysterious as the Ministry of Defence used to test environmental weapons there and there are signs leading up the Island stopping people from going because there are unexploded bombs there. It’s definitely got a few secrets and it is very hush, hush during both world wars.

C: How does the lighthouse influence the tour?

TD: Well, the film is very impressionistic, what you’ll see at the Gulbenkian is myself and a sound artist doing what is called Foley which is live sound effects to picture and his name is Blake Leyh. Our aim is create the soundtrack live and I’m going to do the narration. It’s is very impressional and emotional and while it is about the lighthouse, it is really about the memories, about being a child ,about how you amplify a childhood and how those memories seem a lot bigger.

C: I see what you mean that’s it interactive experience

TD: Yes it is similar to a live soundtrack to a silent movie except it is not usually not the film maker there on stage that is doing the soundtrack and telling the story

C: Thank you very much for taking time out to do the interview.

TD: You are very welcome


Thomas Dolby is playing at the Gulbenkian on Thursday 19th September for more information and to book tickets visit


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