When musician Thomas Dolby was a little Suffolk boy, the light from the iconic Orfordness lighthouse, shone reassuringly upon his bedroom walls. 'This lighthouse was part of my childhood' says Dolby,' It was an integral part of this corner of the world's landscape and in a sense defined the local community for as long as anyone can remember'.
Recent news of the iconic lighthouse's imminent closure naturally evoked sadness but also inspired local man Dolby to make the film The Invisible Lighthouse, documenting the last few months of the 1792 lighthouse in the run up to the very last switch off.
'New technology means that there is simply no need for lighthouses any longer' he explains, 'it is a symbolic end of an era as technology takes over.. the building itself is left to erode and will fall into the sea in eight or so years time'.
I catch up with Thomas Dolby for a chat about the making of The Invisible Lighthouse and the tour of the same title. We discuss the She Blinded me With Science musician's life long fascination with technology, working with Joni Mitchell and how the 'free jukebox of everything in the world' has forever changed the face of music.
I start by telling Thomas of musician friends of mine describing him as a 'genius of sound'
Q Musician friends speak of you as the creator of sound that was completely new and innovative.
A I always had an individual approach to sound, using quite rare instruments in a way that they were not designed to. I remember programming drums on a synthesizer as there were no drum machines at the time, necessity is indeed the mother of invention. I am just open minded and don't follow a set of rules about how things should sound, too much of music you hear is based on preconceptions about how things should work where I have no stylistic affiliation.
Q Have you carried this approach though to the making and editing of The Invisible Lighthouse?
A Yes I did. I edited the shot film on Final Cut Pro and experimented a great deal. While filming I left cameras running so often didn't know what I had captured until I got home. The film documents the last few weeks in the life of an iconic lighthouse and quite remarkably, one of these surprise shots turned out to be its very last flash..
Q You were a witness to the lighthouse's life and death
A This lighthouse was part of my childhood. I grew up with its light flashing on my bedroom walls. It has in a sense defined the local community for as long as anyone can remember. This is a personal project for me that I hope conveys the sadness and grief the community felt at the loss of the lighthouse.
Q Lighthouses' death is poignantly symbolic of the passing of old ways as new technology takes over
A With new technology lighthouses are no longer needed. It obviously echoes what has happened within the music industry, now the affordable technology on the street is first class and you no longer need a studio to create music. Prices are at starting level and you can create your own thing.
In the old days you needed the industry and once you had its support you were part of an elite club. technology is an empowering gift to artists and is far better than the blocked industry that once reined. Now you are on the same starting point with millions of others. This is the way the world is going, it is now happening in film and it is exciting to be on the cusp of that. I was able make my film independently but there is nothing to stop a guy waiting tables at restaurants to do the same.
Q I understand the filming was quite eventful
A I had a hard time with the authorities, they understandably do not want people wondering around the area so I went for a 'commando raid' on the island and used a drone camera that I could remote control. I used spy cameras as well to capture the lighthouse's last few days as as mentioned before, captured the Lighthouse's very last flash.
Q You are off on an extensive tour with this project, are you excited about the positive response so far?
A The performance has an unusual format where I combine music and storytelling. I screen the film and narrate it myself.
Q As a creative myself I appreciate your versatility and artistic growth, you have had top charting hits, designed sounds used daily by many worldwide, was Ted's MD and collaborated with Joni Mitchell among others.
A Joni was one of my heroes when I was a teenager. The collaboration happened in the mid 80s when I burst into the US scene with a fresh high tech sound and she wanted to do something different. As you probably know she has collaborated with Jack Pastorius and other greats so the request to work together came as a massive compliment. I made a name within the US scene as an arranger and keyboard player at the time and certainly had an interesting time making the album. There was a lot of banter about how we went about the album, I played keyboard and she would play a piano part using a sound I have just designed.. Joni knows exactly what she wants and works like a painter, speaking in colours.
Q I recently interviewed Larry Klein, have you worked with him?
A klein was just starting to learn technology at the time and besides being married to Joni, has collaborated extensively with her. To me Impossible Dreamer was particularly great and Hejira was my favourite period of hers.
Q McCartney and Brian May among others, have spoken about how popular music used to be young people's connection to the world where every new release was a true celebration. Would you say that in pre internet days music played a more prominent part in people's lives?
A You have to accept that the world keeps changing, the constant to me is that a hit is a hit. Once a song 'makes it' you hear people whistling it and it becomes a part of the public conciseness. I think we are still moved and still relate to music and great songs but the actual consumption of music has changed. The Internet is in fact a free jukebox of everything in the world so music is no longer rare and precious.
In the film 'the boat that rocked', about Radio Caroline, there is a scene where you see people crowding over radio to share a new release coming out, you will not see this happening now..kids were actually enjoying things together, not separately as they do now.
I think this is part of the reason music festivals and live music have become so huge recently, they bring people together and offer the opportunity to experience music with others.
For tour dates visit www.thomasdolby.com