Guardian 2007

Concorde 2, Brighton / Alexis Petridis / Monday October 8, 2007 / The Guardian

There are a number of anomalous sights on offer tonight, among them a man in his 50s wearing a Sigue Sigue Sputnik T-shirt. There are people here for whom, to paraphrase Homer Simpson, it is a scientific fact that rock music attained perfection in the mid-1980s.

But most anomalous of all may be Thomas Dolby himself. He stands alone on stage, surrounded by banks of synthesisers, wearing a futuristic headset. You got a lot of this sort of thing around the time Howard Jones threw off his mental chains, but, in 2007, it looks terribly arcane. He might as well be playing a psaltery in a doublet.

During synthpop’s heyday, Dolby’s contrived nutty professor image won him a couple of novelty hits, but obscured his depth. His second album, The Flat Earth, is a great lost classic of weird 80s pop: like Kate Bush’s The Dreaming, it captures a moment where emergent technology collided with an overactive imagination to staggering effect. Dolby moved to America, married actress Kathleen Beller and made a pile from mobile phone technology: turns out he was not just pretending to be a boffin after all. A synthpop wizard who married Kirby from Dynasty – it is no wonder that Dolby’s image is fixed in the 80s.

The surprise tonight is how well his early work has weathered. The Flat Earth’s title track is still mesmeric, while Airwaves offers evidence that beneath the electronics and the mad scientist gurning lurked a fantastic and highly original songwriter. Your Karma Hit My Dogma, inspired by a recent legal battle with, of all people, Britney Spears’ ex-husband Kevin Federline, is richly witty. As is Dolby himself. “I haven’t played here in 30 years,” he says, acknowledging the wild applause. “I’m going to make a point of coming back every 30 years.”