The Very Visible Lighthouse

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View from the Black Beacon to Orfordness Light

A couple of years ago my daughter Holly and I attended an unusual screening at Tyneside Cinema in which a film director was premiering his latest (and only) film.

The evening was in three parts. Firstly the film was shown, though soundtrack and narration were performed live from a spot to the left of the screen, then a leather armchair was manoeuvred to centre stage for the director to answer questions. Finally he returned to his console, strapped on a small keyboard and performed a short set of his greatest hits.

Thomas Dolby, Boulder Colorado 2006
Thomas Dolby, Boulder Colorado 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The director/writer/performer was Thomas Dolby, and the film was The Invisible Lighthouse, a tale of the role that this landscape had played in his childhood, replete with war heroes, UFO’s, an undercover operation, and in particular the Orfordness Light which was being decommissioned due to the increasing risk of it being swept away like so much of that coastline had before. Whilst the building itself was being left to the forces of time and tide, the light and ancillary equipment was to be removed because of the toxic impact it might have on the environment. Orford Ness is a nature reserve._MG_2615

So here we are a couple of years later and that encroaching sea has yet to deal the fatal blow. The lighthouse is clearly visible from many directions, largely due to the otherwise unused land that surrounds it. There are reasons that so much of that land is unused and I will explore them in the next posting about the Ness but for now lets concentrate on the light.

Dolby’s tribute wasn’t the only expression of sadness at the passing of a local landmark (there has been a lighthouse here since 1792). An association was formed to look into ways to temporarily defend the structure from the sea until more detailed plans for its preservation could be agreed.

They needed to act swiftly as it was only expected to survive a further 6 or 7 years after decommissioning in 2013. An article in the Daily Telegraph in January 2013 pointed out that the tower was only 11 metres from the sea, and that four metres had been lost in the previous month alone.

18 months later and the building still stands.

So far so good.

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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.

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