Life and career
Contrary to the alluring story from most 1980s United Kingdom press releases, Dolby was not born in Cairo, Egypt; he was born in London, England, UK. His father, Martin Robertson, was an internationally distinguished professor of classical Greek art and archaeology at the University of London and Oxford University, and in his youth Thomas lived or worked in Greece and France. Dolby married actress Kathleen Beller in 1988; the couple have three children together.
The "Dolby" nickname comes from the name Dolby Laboratories, and was given to him by school friends for his seemingly inseparable relationship with his cassette machine. Dolby Laboratories was reportedly very displeased with Robertson using the company name as his own stage name (especially for his "Dolby's Cube" moniker in 1985-86) and sued him, trying to stop him from using the name Dolby entirely. (Ironically, inventor Dr. Ray Dolby has a son named Thomas.) Eventually, the case was settled out of court and it was agreed that he would refrain from using the word Dolby in any context other than with the name Thomas.
Dolby is associated with New Wave, a form of pop music incorporating electronic instruments. Most of Dolby's work covers a wide range of musical styles and moods distinct from the high-energy pop sound of his few, better known commercial successes. His most recognized song is "She Blinded Me With Science" with sound samples from Magnus Pyke. The song reached #5 on the U.S. Hot 100. It was featured very shortly in the "Treehouse of Horror XIV" episode of The Simpsons, where Professor Frink was winning an award at a science convention. It was also sampled at a slower speed by the group Mobb Deep in the song Got it Twisted.
Early in his career, he played keyboards with Bruce Woolley and the Camera Club and is credited on their debut album. The instrumental track WW9 in the album 'English Garden' is the first recorded example of Thomas's writing. Dolby played some synthesizer parts on the Thompson Twins album Set. He is also the author of Lene Lovich's hit single "New Toy," and co-wrote "Magic's Wand" with Whodini. He also formed a short-lived band called The Fallout Club.
Thomas worked as keyboard player on Def Leppard's 1983 Pyromania album. Dolby appeared on Pyromania using the alias Booker T. Boffin as his affiliation to another label restricted the use of his real name.
By far the most significant session relationship for Thomas in the early days was when he contributed the signature synthesizer sound on the track "Urgent" on Foreigner's 1981 album 4. On the same album he played the atmospheric synthesizer intro to the mega-hit "Waiting for a Girl Like You". The fees from this work, including tour dates, bankrolled the studio time for the recording of the 1980s benchmark album The Golden Age of Wireless from which his solo career began.
In 1985, Dolby appeared at the Grammy Awards, which were televised, along with Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, and Howard Jones. All four musicians were successful in the mid-1980s music scene, and they were also all keyboard and synthesizer experts. That same year, Dolby performed at the Live Aid concert in London as part of David Bowie's band.
Dolby continued to perform live in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He supported Depeche Mode in their Rose Bowl concert on June 18, 1988. In 1990, he appeared in the huge Roger Waters charity concert performance of Pink Floyd's rock opera The Wall in Berlin. Dolby played keyboards in "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)" (sung by Cyndi Lauper), and then played the Teacher's role in the sequence "The Trial".
He appeared on-stage with the reunited Soft Boys in San Francisco on April 7, 2001 and played synthesizer on "You'll Have To Go Sideways", "Evil Guy" and Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine". "Evil Guy", from that evening's sound-check, wound up on the Soft Boys' 2002 EP Side Three. It was not the first time Dolby and members of the Soft Boys appeared on record together. Dolby played keyboards on Robyn Hitchcock's first solo album, Black Snake Diamond Role. Meanwhile Hitchcock appeared on Dolby's The Flat Earth, performing the role of Keith on "White City." Soft Boys bassist Matthew Seligman recorded and toured with Dolby in the 1980s, including the Live Aid performance.
2006 musical return
Dolby returned to his musical career in 2006. He performed his first solo public show in 25 years at the Red Devil Lounge in San Francisco, California on January 21, 2006, surprising the crowd who were there to see local band Notorious. He then launched an American tour, the Sole Inhabitant Tour, on April 12, comprising a string of small dates in California, a mall opening in Boulder, Colorado, and gigs across America before receptive crowds.
The US leg of the "Sole Inhabitant Tour 2006" was captured on a "live" CD and DVD. The CD represents a recording of two gigs played by Dolby at Martyrs in Chicago, while the DVD was filmed at the Berklee Performance Center at Berklee College of Music. The DVD also includes a 30-minute interview, and a lecture by Dolby at the Berklee College Of Music. Both the CD and DVD were released in November 2006, and are distributed through CD Baby and iTunes. Dolby autographed and numbered the first 1,000 copies of the CD and DVD.
A show at the 800 capacity Scala club in London was booked for July 3, 2006 as a warm-up for Dolby's Hyde Park set opening for Depeche Mode. The show sold out in a matter of days and prompted Dolby to reprioritise the UK, resulting in him moving with his family from California back to England, and a nine-date Sole Inhabitant tour of the UK in October 2007, coinciding with the release of a lavish box set of the Sole Inhabitant CD and DVD by UK independent label Invisible Hands Music.
Thomas toured throughout the months of November and December 2006 with electronic musician BT. This tour included a version of "Airwaves" that BT added his own technique to, which was the opening song on the UK leg of the Sole Inhabitant tour (sans BT).
Thomas Dolby's March 15, 2007 performance at the SxSW festival was released as the live EP "Thomas Dolby & The Jazz Mafia Horns, Live at SxSW" (with musicians from San Francisco's Jazz Mafia collective, through iTunes and on CD Baby.
The 2007 UK Sole Inhabitant tour included three new songs previously played on the US tour, one called "Your Karma Hit My Dogma" another called "Jealous Thing" and a cover version of The Special AKA's "What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend". "Your Karma Hit My Dogma" was inspired by Kevin Federline' unauthorised use of a sample from Mobb Deep's Got It Twisted which in turn had used an authorised sample of She Blinded Me With Science. The tag-line from that story became the title of the song. The wording was lifted by Thomas from a bumper sticker on a car that he saw whilst living in the San Francisco Bay area. In a move close to performance art, Dolby tried to post a 'cease and desist' legal letter on Kevin Federline's MySpace page when other attempts to contact him proved fruitless. The song is on the Live at SxSW EP.
The second new song, "Jealous Thing" was performed at least at The Graduate in Cambridge and London's Islington Academy on the UK tour in Summer 2007 and features a Bossa-Nova type rhythm.
A CD + DVD set entitled 'The Singular Thomas Dolby' has been released by EMI on May 18, 2009. As the name suggests it is a digitally remastered compilation of previously released singles. The DVD contains all the video singles which were available on the original VHS/BETA/LASERDISC release of The Golden Age Of Video, as well as the videos for the songs Silk Pyjamas, I Love You Goodbye and Close But No Cigar. These three missing videos are for the singles taken from the 1992 album 'Astronauts & Heretics', which received critical acclaim but which garnered unimpressive sales.
Dolby is currently working on a new studio album which will include songs performed on the Sole Inhabitant tour called "Your Karma Hit My Dogma" and "Jealous Thing". Known contributors to the album so far include Kevin Armstrong, Mathew Seligman (both had played together with him as part of David Bowie's Live Aid appearance), Bruce Woolley, drummer Liam Genockey and Imogen Heap. Thomas stated in October 2008 that the latest estimate for the release of the new album was, "when it's finished". It will be his first studio album since 1994 and is being recorded in his 1920s lifeboat studio powered entirely by renewable energy.
In 1993, Dolby successfully established the Headspace company. Headspace developed a new downloadable file format designed specifically for Internet usage called Rich Music Format with the RMF file extension. It had the advantage of small file size like MIDI but allowed recorded sampled sounds to be included at a higher bitrate for better overall reproduction. RMF music files could be played in a browser using the free Beatnik Player plug-in. Later versions of RMF permitted artists to place an encrypted watermark in their files that were supposed to prevent unauthorized duplication.   Beatnik Inc. now specializes in software synthesisers for mobile phones , which it has licensed to mobile phone manufacturers including Nokia.
While still remaining on the company board, Dolby stepped down from his position as CEO of Beatnik Inc. to pursue other technologically innovative interests, such as founding Retro Ringtones LLC in 2002, which produces the RetroFolio ringtone asset management software suite for companies involved in the mobile phone ringtone business. At the second annual Mobile Music Awards, Miami, Florida, in 2004 RetroFolio won "Best of Show" and "Best New Technology" awards.
Dolby's musical talents have also been put to use recently creating hundreds of digital polyphonic ringtones now found on mobile phones everywhere (including the polyphonic version of the infamous Nokia signature theme). He is often a major speaker at technology conferences such as Comdex, Websphere and Nokia.
He has also worked as a producer and a soundtrack composer for both films and video games, most notably the third installment of the CGI collection, the Mind's Eye (series). The song "Hyperactive!" is featured in the 2002 PlayStation 2 videogame Grand Theft Auto: Vice City as part of the New Wave radio station Wave 103. Thomas Dolby also created the score for the SegaCD interactive movie "Double Switch".
Since 2001 Dolby has acted as Musical Director of The TED Conference , an annual event in Monterey California that attracts some of the world's foremost thinkers, inventors, and speakers. In this capacity he provides live musical introductions to sessions, sometimes with an eclectic TED House Band, as well as helping secure guest musicians and entertainers for the event.
|Year||Album||UK albums||U.S. Hot 200|
|1982||The Golden Age of Wireless 1||65||13|
|1983||Blinded by Science (EP) 1||-||20|
|1984||The Flat Earth||14||35|
|1988||Aliens Ate My Buick||30||70|
|1992||Astronauts & Heretics||35||-|
|1994||The Gate to the Mind's Eye (OST)||-||-|
|2006||The Sole Inhabitant (Live Album)||-||-|
|2009||A Map of the Floating City||-||-|
- 1 1983 released in U.S.
- Retrospectacle: The Best of Thomas Dolby (1994)
- 12x12 Original Remixes (1999)
- Live in Chicago (live concert DVD) (2007)
- The Singular Thomas Dolby (EMI singles CD re-release with DVD of videos) (2009)
- Blinded by Science (1982)
- (as Dolby's Cube) May The Cube Be With You (1985) (Produced by Thomas Dolby and François Kevorkian with Lene Lovich and George Clinton)
- One of Our Submarines (2003)
- Live at SxSW (2007) (featuring the Jazz Mafia Horns)
- (as Dolby's Cube) Howard The Duck Soundtrack (split LP, one side by Dolby, the other by John Barry) (1986)
- Music From The Film 'Gothic' (1987)
- "The Mirror Song" (from Toys soundtrack) (1992)
- "Roll Back the Rock (To the Dawn of Time)": written by James Horner and Thomas Dolby (from We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story soundtrack) (1993)
- The Dark Eye (inSCAPE) (1995)
|Year||Single||Peak chart positions||Album|
|UK||US||US Main Rock||US Dance|
|"Europa and the Pirate Twins"||48||67||37||—||The Golden Age of Wireless|
|"She Blinded Me With Science"||49||5||6||3|
|"One Of Our Submarines"||—||—||17||—|
|1984||"Hyperactive"||17||62||—||—||The Flat Earth|
|"I Scare Myself"||46||—||—||—|
|1986||"Field Work" (with Ryuichi Sakamoto)||98||—||—||—||Illustrated Musical Encyclopaedia|
|1988||"Airhead"||53||—||—||6||Aliens Ate My Buick|
|"My Brain Is Like a Sieve"||89||—||—||—|
|1992||"Close But No Cigar"||22||—||—||—||Astronauts & Heretics|
|"I Love You Goodbye"||36||—||—||—|
|"—" denotes the single failed to chart or not released|
Collaborations and connections
The following artists have worked with Thomas Dolby:
- Akiko Yano
- Andy Partridge
- Belinda Carlisle
- Bob Weir
- Brian Salter
- Brian Transeau
- Bruce Woolley
- Chris Braide
- Clif Brigden
- David Bowie
- Def Leppard
- Eddi Reader
- Eddie Van Halen
- Dr. Fiorella Terenzi
- François Kevorkian
- George Clinton
- Herbie Hancock
- Howard Jones
- Jerry Garcia
- Jimmy Breaux
- Joan Armatrading
- Joe Walsh
- John E. Love
- Joni Mitchell
- Lene Lovich
- Little Richard
- Malcolm McLaren
- Mark Beer
- Michael Doucet
- Natalie MacMaster
- Ofra Haza
- Peter Gabriel
- Prefab Sprout
- Robyn Hitchcock
- Roger Waters
- Ryuichi Sakamoto
- Stevie Wonder
- Tata Vega
- Tim Curry
- The Thompson Twins
- Thomas Guz Sanchez
- Trevor Herion
Biography from Wikipedia