Fat interview with Thomas Dolby
Excerpt from Drowned in Sound
Following the recent reissues of synthpop pioneer Thomas Dolby’s classic debut The Golden Age Of Wireless and its mini album successor The Flat Earth, journalist Joseph Stannard – Wire, Terrorizer, Plan B – spoke to Dolby for DiS, and discusses his own relationship with these seminal recordings, which oft reside in the shadow of Dolby’s 1982 hit ‘She Blinded Me With Science’.
I blame my brother. Although he generally viewed his younger sibling with disdain, he occasionally passed down an invaluable fragment of the magic that he was experiencing in his private world, between slinking out of the house to avoid another fight and saving up for white leather trousers he would never wear. One such artifact was a C90 cassette, the inlay of which was hand drawn and featured baffling mathematical etchings. I realise now that these were my brother’s ballpoint ‘n’ compass approximations of the inner sleeve artwork to The Flat Earth, Thomas Dolby‘s second album, which took up the second side of the tape. The first side comprised one version (there were many configurations) of Dolby’s 1982 debut album, The Golden Age Of Wireless, and it was this side that triggered a fascination lasting over 25 years. Appropriately, …Wireless feels like family, an active part of my personal history. Much of my youth was spent travelling from Middlesex, where I lived, to Berkshire, where I would stay with my grandmother during school holidays. Hurtling down the M4, often through sheets of grey drizzle, I would stare out of the car window at the wind-ruffled fields and isolated homesteads which would eventually form an immovable layer of my own internal landscape. I’d listen to my brother’s tape on those journeys, the washed out colours conferred by the brooding clouds matched by the shades of grey and green that emerged from Dolby’s synthesizers. If that makes …Wireless sound depressing, it isn’t. It’s just incredibly honest and all-encompassing in its Britishness. This is even reflected in ‘She Blinded Me With Science’, the song that made Dolby a temporary pop star, an almost cartoonishly English take on electro featuring the interjections of the BBC’s favourite Mad Scientist, the late Magnus Pyke. The thought of kids in the Bronx locking’n'popping to Pyke’s eccentric splutter, which is entirely likely (Dolby would later produce Whodini’s hip-hop classic, ‘Magic’s Wand’), fills my heart with joy. But that track, tacked on to later pressings in the wake of its success as a single, was an interloper on an album overwhelmingly concerned with loss, escape, heritage and war.