© The Financial Times Ltd 2013 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
September 23, 2013 2:14 pm
Middle age does funny things to a man. If self-indulgent pottering is among the more benign side effects, Thomas Dolby has got it bad. The synth-pop pioneer is revered by those in the know for his 1982 album, The Golden Age of Wireless. Ancestor worship, local history and flying goggles were all evident in his latest project, The Invisible Lighthouse, an audio-visual memoir of a childhood illuminated by the sentinel beam stationed at Orford Ness, Suffolk. Occasionally, this screening with live music and narration felt rankly amateurish. On balance, that was part of its charm, and rather endearing.
The film was essentially a homemade Who Do You Think You Are? – crossed with something like a Dad’s Army version of The X Files when an infamous UFO sighting entered the story. Dolby did the laconic voiceover, weaving in snatches of old songs (“Europa and the Pirate Twins”, “Radio Silence”, “Cloudburst at Shingle Street”) and newer ones (“To the Lifeboats”, “Love Is a Loaded Pistol”, “Oceanea”), the latter from his comeback album, 2011’s A Map of the Floating City (worth investigating). The unreliability of memory was his theme – and the erosion of it and this “anxious coast” by the workings of Time.
He was joined by Foley artist Blake Leyh. Named after the originator of the craft, Foley is the technique for recreating background noises in films in post-production. While it was a nice idea to feature Leyh on stage, I can’t say that watching someone in semi-darkness shaking sand in a tray is a compelling spectacle. There was a false start, too, when sound and vision weren’t in sync. At least Leyh could wear a tin helmet as he cranked a second world war air-raid siren.
Ultimately, the piece was too personal to resonate poetically. While we learnt that one of Dolby’s relatives built the maltings at Snape that Benjamin Britten turned into a concert hall, the psycho-geographical insights didn’t really lead anywhere. Singing lines for Dolby’s late mother on “Oceanea”, a woman who transpired to be Eddi Reader brought the film to a mawkish end. In truth, it had already run out of steam, even though the sinuous Bollywood techno of “Spice Train” – with the image of a bellydancer projected on to the Sizewell B nuclear power station – was the grooviest moment.
After a pretty pointless Q&A, Dolby rebooted his systems and strapped his synth to his midriff for three further tracks, including his geeky classic “She Blinded Me with Science”. Their electro contours were surprisingly hard-edged. Enjoyment of this show, however, depended on you having a soft spot for the bloke emerging from his virtual shed.
‘The Invisible Lighthouse’ tours the UK until October 4, www.thomasdolby.com/tour
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.