Thomas Dolby | The Invisible Lighthouse


Thomas-Dolby 75When Dolby brings The Invisible Lighthouse to St. Louis, this will be his first time in the Gateway City in over 20 years.

Thomas-Dolby 500

It was there every day of Thomas Dolby’s young life, guiding ships safely to shore near his coastal home of St. Anglia, U.K. If childhood is the landscape of our imagination, having a mysterious lighthouse as its center point would certainly be something that would never quite find its way out of the subconscious mind.

Upon hearing the news that the lighthouse would soon be lost to the North Sea, Dolby was inspired to complete his first foray into film, The Invisible Lighthouse. “The film is about a lighthouse I have known since I was a child,” he says. “I was actually able to film the very last time a light flashed from the lighthouse.” Besides delving into the lighthouse’s sinister military and even UFO history, Dolby is exploring themes that point to a more personal story. He states that “the film is also about questioning your childhood memories, as well as the reliability of memories.”

In addition to screening the film at St. Louis’s Blueberry Hill on November 9, Dolby will perform a live narration and musical score along with it, accompanied by Foley artist/sound designer/musician/Blake Leyh. “What’s fun,” he says, “is I’m accompanying the film as it’s playing, in real time. You know how bands do live accompaniment to silent films? It’s kind of like that, except the actual filmmaker and composer are onstage accompanying it.”

The U.S. tour kicked off with a screening at the Mill Valley Film Festival on October 10, with guests such as Don Was and Narada Michael Walden. The film itself has been heaped with praise, winning two awards at the 2013 DIY festival in Los Angeles (Best Documentary and Best Director, respectively), and JamFest in New Orleans, where it won for Best Documentary Short. Even J.J. Abrams, director of the forthcoming Star Wars film, is getting in on the action, calling it “touching, evocative, and beautiful.” For those attending the show wanting to hear some classic Dolby tunes, he assures me that those folks will be satisfied, as well. “After the performance we do a Q&A, kind of an armchair chat sort of thing” he says. “Then we do another performance, playing the hits. So hopefully everyone leaves happy.”

Because the film deals with the themes of growing up and how we process our environment, I ask him what specifically led him to pursing the life of an artist. “I come from a very quiet, literary family,” he relates. “My father is a professor at Oxford and I was the youngest of six kids. Growing up in that quiet household, I guess I developed somewhat of an exhibitionist streak.” Explaining further, he says “When things would get too quiet, I’d jump up on the dining table and do a little dance. So I have that exhibitionist quality, but now I live in a little village, and enjoy walking on the beach, where I really see no one except my immediate family.”

Though he spent many years on the West Coast, he “wanted the kids to experience some of the same things I had when I was growing up. We still have a house in California, and I’m sure we’ll move back there someday.”

Outside of the desire to entertain, were there any other factors that contributed to his new status as a musician-turned-filmmaker? “I was born with a certain sympathy to music, and I had a good ear. I would listen to jazz music and slow down the turntable so I could get the parts. I always dabbled in other things, though. I was a projectionist for a film club in school, and I was even in a meteorology club. They were all factors, I think.”

When the talk turns toward tech [Dolby served as musical director of the TED Conferences], I ask how the constant advancing of technologies have affected creating his art. “The state of the music industry has forced artists to become DIY music makers. I think it’s a good thing. Thanks to the same technology that shuttered record companies, we no longer need a big studio, or even a record label to record and release music.” As he explains, that freedom isn’t limited to just musicians and songwriters. “I find that a parallel thing is happening with film, thanks to the evolution of digital technology. A lot of stories come to life that never would have seen the light of day.”

When Dolby brings The Invisible Lighthouse to St. Louis, this will be his first time in the Gateway City in over 20 years. “Sadly, the last time I was in St. Louis, it was to attend a funeral for Terry Jackson, a great guy who played bass on my album Aliens Ate My Buick.”

For many of us, our first exposure to Thomas Dolby’s music was the constantly-in-rotation video for “She Blinded Me with Science.” After speaking about how odd it is that MTV was actually a place to discover new music at one point in time, I ask what new music he is listening to. “I don’t really listen to a whole lot of new artists,” he admits. “I don’t have a particular playlist on my iPod filled with that stuff. I really like the artists I’ve always listened to, like Joni Mitchell [he produced her Dog Eat Dog album], and I love Björk.”

One thing that many music fans don’t realize is that Dolby did quite a bit of session work in the early ’80s. Besides co-writing and playing on “Magic’s Wand” by rap legend Whodini, he also played on Def Leppard’s multi-platinum album Pyromania. When this is brought up, he relates a funny anecdote involving his son. “I was passing by my son’s door, and he was listening to something that caught my ear. He said, ‘Oh, this is Def Leppard.’ I told him to look in his CD cover to check out who played keyboards on the album. He said, ‘Some guy named Booker T. Boffin played keyboards.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s your old man!’ He thought that was really cool, so I dug out my triple platinum Pyromania award, and he now hangs it proudly behind his drum kit in the practice room.” | Jim Ousley

Thomas Dolby will perform at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room on at Saturday, November 9. Tickets are $25 GA/$60 VIP. For more information, visit

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