Aliens Ate My Buick

Donald Fagen's Kamakiriad anyone?
Donald Fagen’s Kamakiriad anyone?

Wasn’t sure there was going to be a blog this weekend.

I’ve been an admirer of Thomas Dolby for many years; as a former keyboard player I was powerless to resist the appeal of his gadgetry.  He is the ultimate geek muso, which of course is why he was in so much demand as a session musician in the 80’s, and indeed the royalties he earned from the sumptuous synthesiser intro to Foreigner’s Waiting For a Girl Like You provided Dolby with the resources to begin his solo recording career.

Astronauts & Heretics
Astronauts & Heretics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those unfamiliar with his albums may associate him with quirky dance numbers such as She Blinded Me With Science or Hyperactive but there is a far more sensitive side to his output too; and his fourth album Astronauts and Heretics  has some great examples.  True he is no Joni Mitchell (though he did co-produce her album Dog Eat Dog) but songs like I Love You Goodbye still have a poignancy to them.

After a spell away from recording during which time he established a technology company that put ringtones into most of the planet’s mobile phones, he has in the last few years returned to the UK and rediscovered his creativity, though in a typically Dolby steampunk way, creating a renewable energy powered recording studio in a converted 1930’s lifeboat at the bottom of his garden!

Thomas Dolby
Thomas Dolby (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He has been in the news recently for two reasons; one the death of Ray Dolby, the noise reduction system pioneer led to a few media interviews with the man who borrowed his name, and secondly because he is about to embark on tour with a very different project; The Invisible Lighthouse which is touring not concert halls, but art house cinemas.  The tour features a film made by Dolby about the lighthouse that he watched from his bedroom window as a child, its mysterious location on a military testing range, and it’s eventual decommissioning.  What makes it different is that the film is accompanied by live narration and soundtrack performance by Dolby who interacts with his work on-screen.  Should be fascinating when it gets to Newcastle in a week or so.

With many ear worms in his repertoire (at least as far as my ears are concerned) it was inevitable that one or two would get stuck in my head this week; the aforementioned I Love You Goodbye amongst them, but it was the lazy melancholia of To the Lifeboats that eventually took hold.

The superstitious sailors of old
Refused to learn to swim
But there’s no need to drown these days
Cause we’ve got lifeboats.
Where are the lifeboats?
There are no lifeboats.
There are no fucking lifeboats…

And so it proved, for when I went to South Shields to photograph the grade II listed vessel responsible for saving over 1000 lives during its sixty years of service it (The Tyne) was gone.

Sent for restoration.

I was left with a void.

Now I don’t actually own Dolby’s third album, but I had a stroke of luck when this vehicle turned it up.  Dolby describes Aliens Ate My Buick as being too brash for many of his fan’s tastes.  Hmmmmmm.



Fly the flag!

Unless you’ve been in the farthest reaches of the Hindu Kush recently, you can’t help but have noticed that apart from the hullabaloo about the impending Olympics, the country is having “a bit of do” to celebrate Queen Liz having been on the throne for the last 60 years.

Despite our British Reserve, this is one of those occasions when, with a lot of encouragement from the supermarkets, we hoist the flag and string out the bunting as if it’s V.E. Day once again.

On a stretch of coastline like ours however, flags are a common sight.  There are flags that promote the fact that our sea water and beaches reach cleanliness standards, flags that show that our beaches are well managed (though not last weekend!) and flags that show where it is safe to swim and where to use motorised offshore craft.

Whilst the award flags fly all year until the coastal winds and salt spray disintegrate them, the flags that provide guidance appear at the beginning of June and are placed on the beach every day for the next three months.  Between the red and yellow flags (where it is safe to swim) the areas is patrolled by those responsible for their deployment.  The lifeguards.  The flag above their observation point denotes their origin – they are seasonal employees of the RNLI – the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

I’ve always been familiar with the work of the RNLI (they’ve existed for best part of 200 years) both through growing up on the coast and being fascinated with the different vessels and launch methods they have adopted, and through the regular appeals that Blue Peter made over the years.  (It also helps that the first ever purpose-built lifeboat is still on display just up the road in South Shields.)  The RNLI are a charity, and for all they are seen as an essential element in saving lives around our shores, they would not exist without public donations, and the efforts of volunteers.

About ten years ago now they extended their operations beyond the famous orange lifeboats that they are associated with, and began to provide Lifeguard services initially on the surfing beaches of the South West, but this has rapidly grown to over 160 units spread around the country.  Last year the lifeguards alone saved more than 100 lives and went to the assistance of over 18,000 people.

So today being the first of June, the lifeguards are on patrol.  They’ve spent the last month honing their first aid and life saving skills and they’re ready for action.  Like their “Baywatch” equivalents they dress predominantly in red, but there the similarity stops.  Even at the height of summer, the North Sea is pretty cool, so rather than the Pamela Anderson swimsuit…

I met Thomas when I was out today – he was even sweeping sand off the promenade – what a public-spirited individual.  I’ve never needed his services or those of his colleagues, but I’m really glad they’re there, so if you have a pound or two left over after toasting Her Majesty this weekend, I know of a good cause.