Thomas Dolby’s uncle, Stephen Spring-Rice, died in World War II as the second in command onboard a British Navy WWII submarine P48. According to family folklore, the submarine ran aground during a training mission, and all hands were lost at sea.
Inspired by the tale, Thomas wrote “One of Our Submarines,” which appeared as the B-side to his famous single “She Blinded Me With Science.” In an evening of storytelling and music at The Birchmere on Monday, however, Thomas revealed the story didn’t quite end there.
Apparently, a representative of British intelligence eventually approached Thomas after a show to inform him that recently declassified information revealed that the P48 was actually sunk off the coast of Tunisia by Italian forces, and that the sub was engaged in a covert operation to track an enemy ship convoy.
New details were added to the tale when Italian authorities informed Thomas that divers may have located the P48 and could visit it as early as this summer.
It’s a remarkable tale of revelations relating to a song much revered among Mr. Dolby’s fanbase, dating back to the earliest days of his solo career. Thomas shared the tale over several hours of warm reflections on that career, collaborations with other artists, and his life as a businessman-inventor in a very well-received show at The Birchmere.
After telling the story, Thomas performed “One of Our Submarines,” which can be found on his debut solo album, The Golden Age of Wireless, in 1982. And that’s by and large how the evening worked. Thomas would tell a fascinating story of his life as a young musician supporting the likes of Foreigner or a middle-aged businessman running the Internet startup company Beatnik, accompanied by slides or synthesizer samples, and then he would play a related song.
The songs for the evening were drawn somewhat randomly by the audience. Twice over the course of the evening, Thomas selected a volunteer who drew three or four ping pong balls out of a hat. Those ping pong balls bore names of songs by Thomas Dolby, who dutifully told the tales about the songs and then played them in two sets divided by an intermission.
Each set of course, contained only three or four songs. And thanks to the format, every evening on the resulting An Evening of Music and Storytelling with Thomas Dolby is different because different songs are selected each time.
At The Birchmere Monday, we were treated to a welcome and eclectic mix:
- From his 2011 album, A Map of the Floating City: “Oceana” and “Evil Twin Brother”
- From his 1992 album, Astronauts & Heretics: “I Love You Goodbye”
- From his 1988 album, Aliens Ate My Buick: “Budapest by Blimp”
- From his 1982 album, The Golden Age of Wireless: “One of Our Submarines,” “Europa and the Pirate Twins,” and “She Blinded Me with Science”
After a standing ovation, Thomas played an extended encore of two more welcome songs, “Hyperactive!” from 1984’s The Flat Earth and “Airwaves” from that 1982 debut record. Speaking of “Hyperactive!,” BMG released a new double-disc album of Thomas’s greatest hits bearing that song’s name to coincide with his tour on July 27. Pick it up if you haven’t yet filled in your Dolby catalog!
The very full house at The Birchmere was mesmerized by Thomas’ rich and expressive voice, which will surely similarly enthrall students at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where Thomas will hold court as a professor this fall.
To our good fortune, Baltimore is not at all far from DC, which suggests we might see more of Thomas Dolby active in our region as a musician, professor, inventor, public figure, savant, and all-around interesting fellow. Catch him on his current tour for a fascinating and entertaining evening of stories and music. Here are a few pictures of Thomas Dolby performing at The Birchmere on July 30, 2018.