Archive for October, 2009

'Gig' announcement!

Monday, October 19th, 2009


THOMAS DOLBY AND FRIENDS: Circumnavigating ‘The Flat Earth.’
Union Chapel, Islington, London
Feb 28th, 2010

The other night I met up for a drink with my friends from the Flat Earth live band I took with me on my world tour in 1983-84–Justin Hildreth, Lyndon Connah, Matthew Seligman, and Lesley Fairbairn. We thought it would be fun to get back together and play for one night. It was great when Matthew and Kevin Armstrong joined me onstage at the Academy a couple of years ago, and this would be the full touring band. A quick email round to Chucho Merchan, Debra Barsha and Kevin confirmed that everyone was up for it.

But instead of a yet another 80s reunion, I thought we could do something a little more contemporary, a little more Reality TV. So here’s the plan. We won’t rehearse the show at all. Instead, we’ll meet up onstage, completely unrehearsed. We’ll re-learn songs like ‘Hyperactive’, ‘Windpower’, ‘I Scare Myself’ and ‘One Of Our Submarines’, chatting and telling stories as we go. It’ll be very interactive and the audience can chime in with questions, comments and requests, like a cross between a masterclass and a talk show. And I’ll try to arrange some cameo walk-on appearances from celebrated musicians I’ve worked with over the years. At the end of the evening we’ll play a short set of the songs we’ve practiced, back-to-back.

With the help of promoter Adrian Gibson, I have booked the Union Chapel in Islington for the evening of February 28th 2010. This is a lovely venue with seating for around 700 and a somewhat wrap-around stage which I feel will give a warm atmosphere for the show. It’ll be quite an early start, with 2 to 2.5 hrs for rehearsing and chat, followed by a break and then a short concert set.

The Union Chapel ‘gig’ will round out an exciting weekend for Dolby afficionados: the previous night, Feb 27th, there will be a show in Aldermaston by excellent duo The Pirate Twins, who could loosely be regarded as a ‘tribute band.’ I saw these guys play once before at a semi-secret 50th birthday bash, but since then they’ve expanded their repertoire and they will be performing The Golden Age Of Wireless in its entirety. They do an amazing job of re-creating my sounds and production, but many of their arrangements go beyond that as they explore ideas that my originals only hinted at. I decided to make my show the same weekend as theirs, because I know that a lot of fans and Forum members will be traveling specially for that show. Between the GAOW performance on Saturday and ‘Circumnavigating The Flat Earth’ on Sunday, it’ll be quite an action-packed 48 hrs. There’s more info about The Pirate Twins gig here.

I’m wide open to ideas for the show, so feel free to post your comments below!

Now THAT's what I call a birthday cake.

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009



Monday, October 12th, 2009

About fifteen years ago, a new song popped into my head. It had a title, a melody, and a handful of lyrics. It had a faintly Brazilian feel to the rhythm and the harmonies. The title was Simone. It seemed to be about a woman who left her partner and escaped to some exotic location.

But the chorus was lacking a punchline. If I was going to sing her name several times, I needed to tell Simone something. There was no message to give her. The atmosphere was certainly there; yet to keep it from lapsing into it ‘lounge’ territory, it needed an ironic twist. And every time I tried to sit at the piano and play it, I got lost in the chord sequence. It seemed that every few bars there were several different ways for the chords to modulate. I would pick a given key to start in, but when I got back to the next verse I’d be in a completely different key. It was a musical Rubik’s Cube, and it was frustrating me. So over the years, I never made progress with the song.

This happens from time to time. There are remnants of unfinished songs in my closet. Not many, maybe a dozen over the 35 years I’ve been a songwriter. Usually if they never get finished, it’s because there wasn’t enough substance to begin with. But in the case of Simone, it bothered me. A lot. There was something fantastic about the song, and it kept nagging me. It would come back to haunt me every couple of years; I’d sit at the piano and try to play it, but I’d end up just as confused.

This is not like me! I usually have a very good sense of orientation with melodies and chord sequences. I can bend music and lyrics until they make sense. But with this piece of fiction, it took a slice of real life to bring me to a place where I could complete the song. Someone I’m close to told me they have gender dysphoria. (S)he felt a transition was taking place. This news was astonishing, and more than a little frightening. I found it hard to process. Looking back, I realised I could have seen this coming.

But it brought me back to my song. What if Simone was previously Simon? She was running away from her former, male self? Suddenly I had unlocked the riddle, I’d found the ironic twist I was looking for. I went for a long walk across the marshes, which is where I usually come up with my best lyrics, and I found the punchline I was lacking for the chorus.

‘You’re like a timebomb in his blood.’

With its new ambiguity, the plot line opened up many possibilities for a backstory with lots of tasty lyrical details. The next missing piece was the chord sequence. I thought hard about why I was unable to get my head around it. I decided it was the malleable and jazzy nature of Brazillian chords that was throwing me. So finally I tried something I’ve never done before: I sang the melody unaccompanied, and added the chords afterwards, as if I was voicing someone’s instrumental solo. What I ended up with was very curious: each of the three verses, and each double part of the song’s three choruses, is in a different key. I wrote down a chart for the chords, but I still can’t play them straight through without referring to it. How am I ever going to do this song live?

Happily the musicians I worked with are able to read pretty fluently, so armed with the chord chart (and with editing help from my friend Chucho Merchan) I put down a version with acoustic guitar, drums, percussion and upright bass. They did a grand job of negotiating their way around the tricky chords. It took me a few weeks to sift through the performances, but last night I finished a version (still absent a lead vocal) that I can finally call a complete song. As I often do, I emailed myself an MP3 from the lifeboat studio, so I could listen to it on my laptop speakers this morning.

I woke up today, did some chores, returned a few emails, played a little online Scrabble with my friend Rachel, and gave the song a listen. It’s damn good! How satisfying to have finally brought it to life after all these years.

And as a final ironic twist, I turned on the TV as I ate my breakfast, and what did I find? a 2002 movie starring Al Pacino as a Hollywood mogul who invents a computer-generated female movie star called…. ? S1m()ne.