Thomas Dolby Robertson

Thomas Dolby

Thomas Dolby (born Thomas Morgan Robertson, on 14 October 1958) is an English musician, producer, and inventor.

Life and career

Contrary to the alluring story from most 80's UK press releases, Thomas 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.

Stage name

The "Dolby" nickname comes from the name Dolby Laboratories, and was given to him by school friends due to 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 and sued him, trying to stop him from using the name Dolby entirely. Dr. Ray Dolby incidentally has a son called 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 Synthpop, 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, although he describes this track as his least favorite. 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 synth 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. 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 synth intro to the mega-hit "Waiting For A Girl Like You". The fees from this work, including tour dates, bank-rolled the studio time for the recording of the 80's benchmark album 'The Golden Age Of Wireless' from which his solo career began.

In 1985 Dolby is shown in this news clip about synthesized music also featuring now world famous industrial musician, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame with Trent's early band The "Exotic Birds".

In 1985, Dolby appeared at the Grammy Awards, which was 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.

In the same year, Dolby appeared as co-producer on Joni Mitchell's album 'Dog Eat Dog.'

Dolby was also the producer for Prefab Sprout's albums 'Steve McQueen', 'From Langley Park to Memphis' and 'Jordan: The Comeback'.

Dolby continued to perform live in the late 80s and early 90s. 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.

Dolby returned to his musical career in 2006, completing a string of small dates in California and a single mall opening in Boulder, Colorado before receptive crowds. 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, 2006.

A club show at the 800 capacity Scala 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 a live DVD and a CD by UK indie label Invisible Hands Music, recorded on the US leg in 2006. The DVD also included a 30 minute interview, and a lecture by Dolby at the Berklee College Of Music.

Dolby is currently working on a new studio album which will include songs performed on the Sole Inhabitant tour called "My Karma Hit Your Dogma" and "Jealous Thing".

Other interests

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 did the score for the SegaCD interactive movie "Double Switch".

In July 1998, Thomas received a "Lifetime Achievement in Internet Music" award from Yahoo! Internet Life.

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.

New Material

In 2006, Thomas Dolby announced via his blog his intention to produce a new "live" concert CD and DVD covering the US leg of the "Sole Inhabitant Tour 2006". 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. 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. UK indie label Invisible Hands Music released a definitive edition, combining both discs in a lavish box set, distributed in the UK by Universal and throughout Europe via various independent distributors. A live EP recorded at Dolby's SXSW show was released digitally via iTunes and CD. He has also been in recent discussions with EMI over a possible DVD-release of his back-catalog of music videos.

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).

The 2007 UK Sole Inhabitant tour included two new songs previously played on the US tour, one called "Your Karma Hit My Dogma" and the other "Jealous Thing". My Karma Hit your Dogma was inspired by the unauthorised use of a sample from She Blinded Me With Science by Kevin Federline. That tag-line that became the title of the song 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 second song "Jealous Thing" was performed at least at The Graduate in Cambridge and Londons Islington Academy on the UK tour and features a Bossa-Nova type rhythm. The track is slated to appear on the forthcoming album which will be the first studio release in over 15 years.


Studio albums


  • Retrospectacle: The Best of Thomas Dolby (1994)
  • 12x12 Original Remixes (1999)
  • Forty: Live Limited Edition (2001)
  • The Sole Inhabitant (live concert CD & DVD) (2006)
  • Live in Chicago (live concert DVD) (2007)



  • (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)
  • The Dark Eye (inSCAPE) (1995)


Year Song UK singles U.S. Hot 100 U.S. MSR U.S. Dance Album
1981 "Europa And The Pirate Twins"1 48 67 37 - The Golden Age Of Wireless
1982 "Windpower" 31 - - -
1982 "She Blinded Me With Science"1 49 5 6 3
1982 "One Of Our Submarines" - - 17 -
1984 "Hyperactive"2 17 62 - - The Flat Earth
1984 "I Scare Myself" 46 - - -
1984 "Dissidents" 90 - - 17
1988 "Airhead" 53 - - 6 Aliens Ate My Buick
1989 "Hot Sauce" 80 - - -
1992 "Close But No Cigar" 22 - - - Astronauts & Heretics
1992 "I Love You Goodbye" 36 - - -
1992 "Silk Pyjamas" 62 - - -

  • 1 1983 releases in U.S.
  • 2 Re-released in UK in 1994; peaked at #23

Collaborations and connections

The following artists have worked with Thomas Dolby:


External links

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