Thomas Dolby

Thomas Dolby is an English keyboardist, songwriter, producer, and arranger who first appeared on the 1979 album English Garden by Bruce Woolley and The Camera Club. After working for two years as a session musician (Foreigner, Jane Kennaway, Joan Armatrading, Thompson Twins), Lene Lovich charted with his song “New Toy.”

Dolby launched his solo career with the 1981 electro-pop single “Urges,” followed by the hits “Europa and the Pirate Twins,” “Radio Silence,” “Airwaves,” and the 1982 album The Golden Age of Wireless. Aided by rotation on a then-fledgling MTV, he charted stateside with “She Blinded Me With Science,” an evergreen of the Second British Invasion.

His 1984 album, The Flat Earth, spawned the hits “Hyperactive!” and “I Scare Myself.” He performed at the 1985 Grammy Awards in a medley with fellow keyboard stars Howard Jones, Stevie Wonder, and Herbie Hancock. After recording a pair of soundtracks (Howard the Duck, Gothic), he branched into salsa and swing music on his 1988 third album Aliens Ate My Buick.


Background

Dolby was born Thomas Morgan Robertson on October 14, 1958, in London to Greek art professor and archaeologist Martin Robertson (1911–2004) and Theodosia Cecil (née Spring Rice, 1921–1984). His older brother, Stephen Robertson (b. 1946), became an award-winning computer scientist.

As a tween, Thomas sang in a choir and learned to sightread. He first played guitar, then piano, inspired by jazz players like Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, and Dave Brubeck. When affordable synthesizers hit the market during the mid-seventies, he turned his attention to electronic music. As he experimented with keyboards and tapes, his friends nicknamed him Dolby after the namesake noise-reduction process of Dolby Laboratories.

By the time new wave took hold in Britain, Dolby identified as an “arty jazz-rocker” and gravitated to bands like Talking Heads.[1] In late 1978, he almost replaced keyboardist Barry Andrews in XTC. Soon after, Buggles co-founder Bruce Woolley recruited Dolby for the Camera Club. In 1979, they released the album English Garden on Epic (UK) and Columbia (US). It spawned multiple singles, including “Video Killed the Radio Star,” issued concurrently with the Buggles’ international hit version.

In 1980, Dolby joined the post-punk/dub band Local Heroes SW9, which released the album Drip Dry Zone on Oval Music. That project also involved musician Tom Bailey of the just-emerging Thompson Twins. (Dolby would play on the Twins’ 1982 second album Set.)

“Urges” / “Leipzig”
Released: 18 February 1981


The Golden Age of Wireless

Thomas Dolby released his debut album, The Golden Age of Wireless, on May 13, 1982, on EMI.

1. “Flying North” (3:50)
2. “Commercial Breakup” (4:15)
3. “Weightless” (3:45)
4. “Europa and the Pirate Twins” (3:18)
5. “Windpower” (4:20)

6. “The Wreck of the Fairchild” (3:30)
7. “Airwaves” (5:12)
8. “Radio Silence” (3:46)
9. “Cloudburst at Shingle Street” (5:45)

Thomas Dolby – vocals, drum programs, wave computer, backing vocals, synthesizer, piano, monk voice, kalimba
James Allen – backing vocals
Kevin Armstrong – guitar, backing vocals
Dave Birch – guitar, monk voice
Bosco – percussion
Les Chappel – backing vocals
Judy Evans – backing vocals
Lesley Fairbairn – backing vocals
Mark Heyward-Chaplin – bass guitar
Justin Hildreth – drums
Simon House – violin
Tim Kerr – violin
Mutt Lange – backing vocals
Simon Lloyd – leadline brass, flute
Lene Lovich, Les Chappell – backing vocals on “Weightless” and “Radio Silence”
John Marsh – shipping forecast
Daniel Miller – synthesizer
Guido Orlando – Chilean translations, distress, grace
Andy Partridge – harmonica, percussion on “Europa and the Pirate Twins
Akiko Yano – backing vocals on “Radio Silence”
Dr. Magnus Pyke – voiceover
Matthew Seligman – bass guitar, Moog bass
Miriam Stockley – backing vocals
Bruce Woolley – backing vocals, monk voice on “Weightless” and “Radio Silence”
Billy Solee – saxophone solo on “Cloudburst at Shingle Street”

“Europa and the Pirate Twins” / “Therapy / Growth”
Released: 15 September 1981

“Airwaves” / “The Wreck of the Fairchild”
Released: 30 January 1982

“Radio Silence”
Released: 25 March 1982

“Windpower” / “Flying North”
Released: 26 July 1982

“She Blinded Me with Science/One of Our Submarines”
Released: 23 October 198


The Flat Earth

Thomas Dolby released his second album, The Flat Earth, on February 6, 1984, on EMI.

1. “Dissidents” (Thomas Dolby, Kevin Armstrong, Matthew Seligman) – 4:56)
2. “The Flat Earth” (6:41)
3. “Screen Kiss” (5:33)

4. “White City” (5:19)
5. “Mulu the Rain Forest” (5:00)
6. “I Scare Myself” (Dan Hicks) – 5:40)
7. “Hyperactive!” (4:13)

Thomas Dolby – keyboards, piano, programming, sampling, effects, vocals
Matthew Seligman – bass guitar
Kevin Armstrong – guitar, backing vocals, trumpet, “The Analyst”
Clif Brigden – percussion, computer drums
Adele Bertei – backing vocals (1, 2, 7)
Lesley Fairbairn – backing vocals (2, 3, 6, 14, 15)
Bruce Woolley – backing vocals (5)
Matthew Salt – tins, thunder sheet (7)
Peter Thoms – trombone (6, 7)
Justin Hildreth – drums (7, 14, 15)
Robyn Hitchcock – “Keith” (4)
Louise Ulfstedt – “The Analyst” (7)
Stevie Wonder – harmonica (12)
Chucho Merchán – guitar (14, 15)
Debra Barsha – keyboards, backing vocals (14, 15)
Lyndon Connah – keyboards, backing vocals (14, 15)

Technical
Dan Lacksman – engineer
Mike Shipley – mixing (1–6)
Alan Douglas – mixing (7)
Thomas Dolby – producer; mixing (8–15); album design
Ryuichi Sakamoto – producer (11)
Wally Traugott – mastering
Richard Haughton – photography
Assorted iMAGes – graphics, album design

“Hyperactive!”
Released: January 1984

“I Scare Myself”
Released: 1984

“Dissidents”
Released: 1984

The Flat Earth peaked at No. 14 on the UK Albums Chart. The first single from the album was “Hyperactive!”, which peaked at No. 17 in the UK Singles Chart


Howard the Duck (OST, 1986 • Thomas Dolby / John Barry)

Gothic (OST, 1987)


Aliens Ate My Buick

Thomas Dolby released his third proper studio album, Aliens Ate My Buick, on April 13, 1988, on EMI.

1. “The Key to Her Ferrari” (4:39)
2. “Airhead” (Dolby, Grant Morris) – 5:07)
3. “Hot Sauce” (George Clinton) – 5:03)
4. “Pulp Culture” (5:35)
5. “My Brain Is Like a Sieve” (4:52)
6. “The Ability to Swing” (Dolby, Matthew Seligman) – 4:30)
7. “Budapest by Blimp” (8:40)
8. “May the Cube Be With You” (6:49 (CD/cassette bonus track)

Studio Soundcastle (Los Angeles), Smoketree (Los Angeles)

Thomas Dolby – vocals, keyboards

The Lost Toy People
Larry Treadwell – guitar
Mike Kapitan – synthesizer
Terry Jackson – bass
David Owens – drums
Laura Creamer – vocals, percussion

Additional musicians
Robin Leach – voiceover (1)
Ed Asner – voiceover (5)
Edie Lehmann – backing vocals (1)
Donny Geraldo – backing vocals (1)
Mendy Lee – backing vocals (1)
Bruce Woolley – backing vocals (2)
Colin Crabtree – backing vocals (2)
Rose Banks Stone – backing vocals (3–5)
Jean Johnson McRath – backing vocals (3–5)
Lesley Fairbairn – backing vocals (7)
Bill Watrous – trombone
Arno Lucas – congas, timbales
Bill Bottrell – spaghetti western guitar (3)
Csilla Kecskesi – Hungarian aria (7)
Erica Kiss – Hungarian translation (7)
Gueysel Tejada – domestic cleaning and outburst (3)

Technical
Thomas Dolby – co-producer, arrangements
Bill Bottrell – co-producer, engineer
The Lost Toy People – arrangements
Steve Vance – artwork, typography
Leslie Burke – front cover and inner sleeve photography
Dennis Keeley – back cover photography
Kathleen Beller – front cover model
Mike Tacci – second engineer
Daryl Koutnik – second engineer

“Airhead”
Released: 1988

“Hot Sauce”
Released: 1989

“My Brain Is Like a Sieve”
Released: 1989


Discography:

  • The Golden Age of Wireless (1982)
  • The Flat Earth (1984)
  • Howard the Duck (OST, 1986 • Thomas Dolby / John Barry)
  • Gothic (OST, 1987)
  • Aliens Ate My Buick (1988)

Sources:


References:

  1. Chicago Tribune: “SERIOUSLY, FOLKS, THOMAS DOLBY`S ACTUALLY A TYPICAL ENGLISHMAN–LOONY” (June 23, 1985)

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