Thomas Dolby and Friends

Union Chapel, London - 28 February 2010

"An inspired concept"


Photos (left to right): Tour logo, Dolby, Trevor Horn, Dolby

I'll forgive being kept waiting out in the cold for half an hour when the evening is as entertaining as this was. Keeping up his approach of doing anything but the obvious, Thomas Dolby took it upon himself to book the glorious Union Chapel (a working church in London's Highbury and Islington), invite a few old industry friends for a live jam session in a combination of what he described as part masterclass, part talk show! There were no rehearsals prior to this evening, the plan being that Dolby's friends turned up prepared to recall, practice, and then perform all on stage in front of a paying audience. This was either going to be a terrific scam: pay £25 to watch rusty musicians rehearse(!) or it would be a fascinating insight into seeing how artists and old colleagues can apply years of technique and memory to thrilling effect.

First thing that struck you as Dolby took to the stage in his trademark eccentric explorer gentleman clobber was the less than ideal stage set up that saw him pushed to one side of the stage facing away from the audience, largely hidden behind one of the two speaker stacks placed either side of the stage. An odd and disappointing choice particularly for a significant number of hardcore fans who arrived early, grabbed seats in the front few rows… and frequetly still couldn't actually see his face.

The format of the evening revolved around a structured 'live remembering' of songs of old, with Dolby calling up on stage a variety of musicians with whom he has collaborated down the years. The first hour and a half would be given over to a practice interspersed with Dolby recounting tales of creative youthful adventures in writing and recording, travels and half-remembered annecdotes. There was a short interval giving attendees the chance to grab a whisky or G&T in the venue's wonderfully vaulted hall adjoining the chapel, now converted into a very civilised bar; or a mug of tea and a Kitkat from the café at the rear (we sampled both flavoursome and comforting extremes during the course of the evening). The final half hour was dedicated to the assembled band performing the rehearsed songs in one straight run through (you know, like at a proper gig). Finally, the really die-hards who had no issues about getting home, could join Thomas and friends in the bar afterwards for a general chat and one expects a not inconsiderable amount of hero worshipping. Cleverly, the only proviso on attendance in this august company was entry being restricted only to those who had the required entry token - one of the Dolby T-shirt's on sale at the merchandise stall. Nice piece of marketing ;-).

My gig buddy Tim and I couldn't stop for the final play-through but, in many respects, that was the least interesting part of the night. Songs revisited in various shades of competency (though it was always entertaining) in rehearsal included The Flat Earth, Hyperactive, I Scare Myself, Commercial Breakup, Airwaves, White City, Europa and The Pirate Twins. A whole gang of guests who appeared on Dolby's past releases had jetted in from across the globe to be here tonight. A wearing well Trevor Horn popped up to chew the cud for ten minutes and then play bass guitar on Airwaves, Martin McAloon and Wendy Smith of Prefab Sprout (Dolby produced three of the band's albums) also performed. It was an inspired concept and one that loads of other bigger name or artists attracting a cult following should seriously consider as an alternative to the standard, predictable gig format. Music aside, a highlight for many fans will have been Dolby's announcement that he will be releasing a series of three EPs over the next few months containing all new material. These will be followed by an album that will incorporate the three EPs plus additional material. The album will be entitled A Map of The Floating City. The eyes, ears and intellects of many around the world will be tuning in with interest. 8/10

Rob Dyer