Thomas's lighthouse memories shine brightly in a unique stage production
He was one of the pioneers of his generation, firmly on the front line as technology carried music into another realm. Thomas Dolby is probably best known for his synth-pop hits of the early Eighties, She Blinded Me with Science, Windpower and Hyperactive! and the accompanying videos – the most memorable featuring eccentric TV boffin Magnus Pike.
Over the years he has established himself, not only as a respected solo artist, but also as a record producer and session musician. But his latest project encompasses all his creative experience, adding award-winning independent film-maker to the list.
Thomas filmed and edited The Invisible Lighthouse himself – a quest he admits was a very steep learning curve. But it concerns a subject that is very close to his heart, and he didn't want it to, literally, slip away unnoticed.
He is now presenting it as a unique atmospheric transmedia performance, where he accompanies the screening with live narration and musical soundtrack linking songs from his career, from Cloudburst At Shingle Street through to Oceanea and beyond.
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And he's bringing the whole experience to the Eden Project in Cornwall on Wednesday, September 11, as part of a tour that is otherwise being played out in historic arthouse cinemas around the UK.
In Thomas's native Suffolk, where he grew up known as Tom Robertson, there's a mysterious island off the coast that, during its chequered history, has been an airfield, a military testing ground for experimental weapons and home to the main transmission network for the BBC World Service. On the tip of the island sat the beautiful lighthouse whose periodic soothing flash of light he had watched dancing on the wall of his childhood bedroom. But it was about to be closed down.
Like many lighthouses around the world, it became obsolete as more ships adopted satellite navigation. With global warming and beach erosion threatening its very foundations, it was about to become a pile of rubble left to fall into the North Sea. And Thomas couldn't bear to just let it go.
He admits he's actually not sure any more whether it's a true memory or one that his imagination invented. Either way it left a powerful mark that he felt compelled to share.
"It's a documentary, but not one where everything is explained; it's like a tone poem, quite impressionistic. I am kind of examining my roots, and the history of the place and all the threads that lead back to the lighthouse.
"In a way the film is an investigation of what parts of memory are real and which parts are implanted," adds Thomas, 54, who spent 20 years living and working in California; for 12 years he was musical director of the innovative TED before its inspiring talks rolled out across the world.
Returning home to his mother's East Anglian roots with his wife to bring up his own three children – now aged 22, 20 and 17 – he felt the beam of the lighthouse was much dimmer compared to his childhood impression.
"It turns out that it used to be 30 times brighter, but it was gradually turned down over the years until it was finally shut off completely two months ago," says Thomas. He observes that maybe as you get older you tend to develop a stronger attachment to the place you grew up in, even though he describes it as having an "odd atmosphere".
His sister, meanwhile, lives in North Cornwall with her husband. He's looking forward to seeing them and making his first visit to the Eden Project.
"I've read a lot about it, but I haven't been; I already admire the whole space and I thought it would be a great place for a live performance," he says.
Tickets for the show at the Eden Project – including VIP packages – are available direct from Thomas's website, thomasdolby.com/tour.