THOMAS DOLBY is a man with many strings to his bow. You may know him as the Eighties synth pioneer with hits such as She Blinded Me With Science and Hyperactive!
He was also the much sought-after producer behind Prefab Sprout's run of influential albums, from Steve McQueen to Jordan: The Comeback. As a session musician he played with everyone from Roger Waters and Robyn Hitchcock to Foreigner and Def Leppard.
Then he dropped out of music for almost 20 years, moved to Silicon Valley in California and patented the polyphonic ringtone. As you do.
Now he's back in this country - I wanted my children to have a British education - and touring a unique show, The Invisible Lighthouse, which comes to the Eden Project on Wednesday, September 11.
He spoke to me from his home on the Suffolk coast, a place which held special memories for him as a child and has informed his new project.
There is a beautiful lighthouse, whose light, shining on my bedroom wall, always used to send me to sleep as a child. Now it's being decommissioned as it's falling into the sea due to coastal erosion. Imagine the sense of loss I felt, which was shared by a lot of other people in the area. I decided to make a piece of work about it. I'd never been a photographer or film-maker but these days you can buy the sort of kit that a few years ago you'd need an entire film crew to produce. It reminds me of when I started and you could get your hands on synthesisers and make music yourself.
I dove in and started filming and following up on the myths of the lighthouse and the surrounding area which was used by the Ministry of Defence for secret experiments. It's said they developed a death ray which could shoot planes out of the sky. The area's now got a very bleak, desert-like appearance.
The result is a touching and poetic film, which Thomas is touring across the UK and US in a multimedia performance which weaves in songs from across his career (I was pleased to hear he plays the fantastic early single Europa And The Pirate Twins as part of the show), new music and live narration.
He added: I condense a lot of my songs into the performance as so many of them, like Europa, were concerned with my childhood and my view of the future, which was rather dystopian. There's a strong fictional element to my work, which looks at a parallel universe where steam and brass won out over the computer chip.
It's not surprising that Thomas has been described as being to the steampunk movement what Iggy Pop was to punk.
He may have eschewed the idea of computer chips in his songs, but they were a very real factor during his time in America when he was part of the team that patented polyphonic ringtone technology and developed the downloadable Rich Music File format.
Surely, he doesn't have to worry about making music now? As you know if you watch Dragon's Den there are lots of pitfalls in business. I started losing interest when it all became about engineering. I enjoyed it when it started as a bunch of mavericks working in a shed. I moved to Silicon Valley at the beginning of the Nineties, when music wasn't really considered to be part of the computer age, which many of us felt was absurd. Gradually the mood changed and, of course, Apple made it the centre of their business.
My company made synthesisers small enough to work in mobile phones. We wrote the software for the Nokia ringtones, for instance.
He kept his musical hand in by becoming MD for the house band of the TED conferences, an annual event which attracts the world's leading thinkers, inventors and speakers. On moving back to England five years ago, Thomas started his ever-growing Map Of The Floating City project, a series of songs and even an online multiplayer game featuring characters from his back catalogue.
I had to end our chat by thanking him for a personal epiphany. It was July 13, 1985, I was 15 and as soon as I saw David Bowie performing TVC-15 at Live Aid it started a lifelong obsession with the man and his music. Wasn't Dolby, who played keyboards as part of Bowie's band at the concert, responsible for getting him to play the Station To Station track? I really can't remember now. I do remember though that he wanted it to be an opportunity to play his new single but as the enormity of the event became apparent he realised it wouldn't be appropriate. He kept changing his mind about which songs to play and only settled on the final four the night before.
I was expecting this cold, removed Thin White Duke character but he was very civil, friendly and encouraging. The only time the Thin White Duke emerged was when we were in the helicopter on the way to Wembley. He hates flying and pulled his homburg hat over his face and chain smoked much to the pilot's annoyance. It was like a scene out of Cracked Actor.
None of us realised at the time just how important that concert would be. For tickets to Thomas Dolby's performance at the Eden Project and a special VIP package see www.thomasdolby.com/tour/
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