An Interview with Warren Pilkington

by Neil Carr

Well what can ya say about Warren..... Famous for the HVSC and for his writings in the Back In Time and Nexus booklets. He was also a contributor with Hints and Pokes for Zzap64 and Commodore Format. His devotion and time that he has given to the c64 is admirable. Let's see what he has to say....

Real name: Warren Pilkington
Handle: Waz/Padua
Born: 1972
Nationality: English


Who were your favourite c64 composers?

Many C64 composers are still making quality tunes even in 2001 so I consider favourites to be of a generation of SID composers. Of the 1980s, I would definitely go for Rob Hubbard of course, along with Martin Galway, Matt Gray, Fred Gray, Ben Daglish, Reyn Ouwehand, Tim Follin, Jeroen Tel, Chris Hülsbeck etc. As for the 1990s, demo composers such as Volker Meitz (PRI/Oxyron), Kalle Norrman (Jadawin/Padua, now retired), Søren Lund (Jeff/Camelot), Dwayne Bakwell, Glenn Gallefoss, Johan Åstrand (Zyron) and Antti Hannula spring to mind.

Warren Pilkington (Waz)
What are your favourite sids?

My top 10 are already listed in my personal website (see http://home.freeuk.net/wazzaw/c64music/faves.html) but for the benefit of your readers, here they are:

1. Sanxion (Rob Hubbard)
2. Wizball (Martin Galway)
3. Mutants (Fred Gray)
4. Ghouls and Ghosts (Tim Follin)
5. Last Ninja II (Matt Gray)
6. Armalyte (Martin Walker)
7. The Great Giana Sisters (Chris Hülsbeck)
8. Cybernoid (Jeroen Tel)
9. Platoon (Jonathan Dunn)
10. Draconus (Adam Gilmore)


So why did you create the High Voltage Sid Collection?

Actually, I didn’t, and I won’t take credit for that. The full credit has to go to The Shark, whose brainchild it was to start HVSC back in 1996. From small beginnings and recruiting initially some members, including Sidplay author Michael Schwendt and Sidplay/Windows port programmer Adam Lorentzon and ex-C64 scener Jan Harries (he was rambones/The Supply Team back then), the collection started to take shape. I joined the team in June 1997, and at that time there was about ten of us. As time developed, The Shark noticed I had put a lot of time and effort into credit fixes in particular, and no one was more surprised than me when he asked if I wanted to take over the running. It was voted on by the whole team and I took over the administrator reins from May 1998. I have to say I felt very happy to be asked and flattered too, and hopefully we’ll still be here in five years time. The main thing is that the amount of teamwork that both HVSC team members and contributors show, and that is definitely a big plus point.

Has the site been as popular as you had expected it to be?

Well, the collection has surprised us in that how many people have memories of the 1980s and playing C64 game themes for example, and indeed in general the interest taken in the collection is something very much appreciated, it is a good motivator to carry on. Some time ago now, Slaygon/Censor kindly gave us http://www.hvsc.c64.org/ and it has proven useful not just for the simple URL either - it also means it means that we retain the C64 roots from which all of the team have been brought up with. And indeed, I always urge people to dig out their C64s once in a while and play their tunes on the real thing. Can’t beat it.


How difficult is it becoming to find sids for HVSC?

Naturally as we have just passed the 15,000 mark, it is difficult for both the HVSC team and its many contributors to find more tunes to rip. We do still have about 2,000 SIDs archived to be added, so that should see us right for three updates at least. A fair number of those are by two or three composers, and we have to add those gradually to be fair to other composers too and include their work. It’s a fair compromise. What still impresses me is how contributors can find SIDs to be ripped, and that shows how much in depth the C64 reached people too.

What are your fondest memories of the c64?

There are many of them, but a lot of them have to be down to the games played over the years. I always feel nostalgic when I load up Wizball: it’s my favourite game on any format, ever. The beautiful surrealness of the whole thing, how darkness changes to light and colour, and a rather lovely soundtrack, excellent playability. It all adds up. Impossible Mission is another one - clocking that was a really good memory, hearing the speech at the end made you punch fist in the air and proclaim how good you were at this computer gaming lark. Also, seeing my name in the Zzap! 64 tips section did make me feel happy too, knowing my tips and POKEs were helping others out there, and one of my music demos appearing on Commodore Format’s covermount was also very nice. I would say also that the C64 has been with me in the same place in the house I live in for the last fifteen years, and it still works fine. Amazing how well the 6581 R4 SID in there has lasted considering how many tunes I have listened to through it. But I think the fondest memory of all has been looking at a game disassembly with the Action Replay monitor, trying to find infinite lives for a game that was simply either too hard or bugged, and then feeling contented when I located something useful which other C64 lovers would appreciate.

So you still design music on the c64, why?

Simply because the C64 is the machine I first made music on, and you don’t let go so easily of your roots and where you came from. The sound of the SID is unique and special, and trying to cram all the feelings you wish into a tune with the three channels is a pleasant challenge. In modern times too many people waste time with expansive tracks where everything is lost with too much layering, overdubbing etc. The SID sound is more raw, more analogue and definitely more emotive, and the best C64 music out there certainly backs up this view. And I can think of new ideas and new music to make all the time with it. It probably helps having a large real music collection, too.

What are your likes/dislikes about the sid chip?

I love the warm analogue sound, it seems to have that quality which is indescribable, but you know it’s there. I love the 6581 R4 variant, that’s probably cos it is what I have in my C64C (technical note: not many C64Cs have R4s in, most have 8580 R5). There is also the functionality in that you can make many sounds and effects that have the warm feeling. I even like the filter variations in various SID chips. My main dislike (and it’s only a minor one) is the fact that the 8580 R5 cannot play some sample tunes due to the changes they made in the revision. A lot of 1990s composers only had C64s with 8580 in though: so you can understand why they like it so much. I prefer the 6581 SID (R4 variant).

What are your likes/dislikes about the Scene?

Generally old sceners will tell you that the 1980s was more competitive, but also there was generally more slagging off of other groups, so that would be my dislike. However in the 1990s that changed to be more friendly to each other. In a way it mirrored the fact the C64 game scene was dying rather fast, and so people started to realise that everyone needed to pull together a bit for the scene to survive. It’s nice to see such projects as Album of the Year, and the Anti-Nazi anti-fascist demo that was released about 1993 which showed the new direction. I think now people are more realistic and know they’re part of a real movement who love their C64s and making demos, music etc with them. So generally the like is that the whole thing feels more like a real community, more than ever. Sure, there’s competition, but it’s friendly rivalry now.

So you now work with the group ‘Padua’. How come after so many years after the c64’s demise do such group remain?

Easy: the same reason people still listen to SID music. Many people love their C64s and they won’t let it go. I certainly won’t.

How come you got involved in writing in the Booklets for the Back In Time and Nexus CD’s?

I suppose people had taken note of the articles I’d contributed for Commodore Zone magazine and indeed the tips and POKEs I’d done for Commodore Format and Zzap! 64 over the years. But also I feel the HVSC role I had had helped. What was nice was I went down to see Chris Abbott himself a few months before the release of Back In Time 1. I can distinctly remember the two of us on a Sunday morning tweaking Mutants for about four to five hours eventually creating the ethnic feel that was on the track. Some like it, some hate it, but it definitely was different and I was glad to have been some help to Chris at least input-wise and artistically. It was certainly a different experience, and some time after Chris approached me to see if I’d write some liner notes for the CD to give the user the more C64-esque background to the CD. I was more than happy to do so, and they were generally appreciated. The next time I went to Chris’ place during the making of BIT2, I actually wrote the liner notes for it live on one of his PCs whilst him and his wife Tanya kindly looked after me again (brainstorming session then ensued whilst I whacked out the notes on Wordpad). I also got to hear his Supernova making some great vibes, and we spent some time tweaking Batman: The Caped Crusader as well, which was nice. Anyway, as for Nexus, I’d been emailing Reyn for some time about his SID tunes as it happened, and Reyn asked Chris who he’d recommend to do the booklet information. Chris put my name forward and I duly delivered in a very tight deadline! As it happened, both Chris and Reyn had to edit the notes to fit in the booklet (I wrote a lot) but it was nice to see how it turned out. And I’m more than happy to do the notes for any future BIT and Nexus too: my little way of helping out and giving the C64 scene something back.

How do you manage to juggle so many interests… After all there are only so many hours in a day?

Don’t forget I work full time too you know.. it’s a good job though, working in one of the Universities in Manchester offering IT support to staff and students. The team I work with (four of us) are a great bunch and you really feel at home there. As for time juggling, I manage pretty well: I do try to see my football team Manchester City as often as I can, my friend supports Everton so I go and see them occasionally too, I am a mean air hockey player, I love the odd game of tenpin bowling, and the odd game of pool doesn’t go amiss. I made sure from November 1999 onwards after some negative criticism which I felt was directed at me personally from some SID fans (my real low point) that my interests were more prioritised. Sure, I am still as passionate about SID music, but we’ve slowed down the frequency of HVSC Updates so that all of the HVSC team can enjoy their lives a bit more - and indeed take our time and use it to make the collection better. After all it is a freeware project, we give our time for nothing, and it’s important we can all have time for ourselves as well. But it’s a good balance now, I get time to do everything, and I have some really special friends in real life who I have a whale of a time with.

While submitting pokes/hints for Zzap 64! and Commodore Format was you made to feel as part of the team, and did you get paid for your work?

Well, that’s one question and a half. As for the Zzap! Era, I hardly spoke to the Zzap! 64 team at first, just contributed. I think that all changed when Robin Hogg took over the tips section, and gradually he and I realised things would work better if we could talk about games, what to hack next etc. During 1991 that really worked well and RH was a great guy too (see http://home.freeuk.net/wazzaw/c64/zzaptips.html for the full story). And in the Commodore Format era, I was really lucky as I already knew of Andy Roberts’ excellent tip work anyway, so he spoke my language when we chatted and discussed stuff for CF. Plus we have the same warped sense of humour and even today we still recite classic History Today sketches from the cool BBC2 TV show The Mary Whitehouse Experience. As for pay, well Zzap! 64 did send me a few software vouchers and occasionally I was allowed to keep the odd game too. CF sent me the odd game as well as one prize for the top tipster, and occasionally Andy would allow me to keep some of the games. So that was nice, although it was more the feeling of helping C64 gamers out rather than seeing my name in lights that made it special for me.

Why did you start submitting pokes to these magazines?

Well I don’t know if I ever mentioned this, but back in 1986 I used to own a Plus/4. I guess when I saw the POKEs for that machine in Commodore User, I started looking at code via the built in monitor (not exactly Action Replay 5, but still good). And eventually I understood some of what was going on, and managed several (and unpublished) POKEs for that format. And once I got my first Action Replay cart for the C64 in 1988, I had the tools I need to start POKEing around. And I wanted from the start to help other gamers from smashing their Competition Pros in frustration. Once I had stuff published I knew I was getting somewhere and so from then I continued to do what I could. One thing I was proud of early on was getting the world’s first complete Last Ninja 2 solution published in Computer Gamesweek (weekly computer mag), a mere 2-3 weeks after the game’s release (you should note that unlike now where programmers write games guide books and these are in the shops the same time as the game, back then you were on your own!). That I know helped a lot of people out with the more difficult parts of that game.

What are your thoughts on the Bitlive project, and will you be attending?

I think it is an excellent idea, and with the recent upshot of interest in SID music following the (ab)use of a C64 tune by Zombie Nation in their Kernkraft 400 track, I would imagine more would want to hear the genuine SID sound. Plus don’t forget that usually music scenes often go back 20 years in circles. Hence around 1995-6ish we had new wave of new wave bands like SMASH in the pop industry. So when you think the C64 came out in 1982, it’s around time and especially next year that the retro age will come around where interest grows again, and with today’s modern technology and tools, who knows. And yes, I will be there. Chris has made sure of that.

It’s incredible that Chris has managed to convince so many c64 composers to work with him on his Cd’s and in attending the Bitlive event. Why do you think that they still have so much interest in C64 music?

I think it’s partly due to the reaction and positive feeling they get from knowing how much their soundtracks touched a generation. Although fan worship can and does go too far sometimes - the legendary C64 programmer Andrew Braybrook told me he was very very careful who he spoke to because of several over-obsessed fans pestering him all the time, note - provided the musicians are respected then that is paid back. I think also as Chris has negotiated payments for them for their work, they too can see it as a worthwhile project for them to undertake. And of course, the more people relive their C64 memories and when they discover who made their favourite game themes, more people appreciate them for being the pioneers they were back then. And indeed most of them are generally very friendly and helpful provided you speak to them maturely and sensibly.

So Warren Pilkington Creates Sid tunes, but have you got any plans to remix c64 music using modern sounds?

I have made a few XM modules which remixed C64 tunes (mainly demo themes), although I definitely don’t have the professional equipment to do a remix real justice. The XMs include a piano rendition of Jinks, Laxity and Kaze’s classic tune from the C64 demo New Limits and a rendition of JCH’s Hitsong, which in itself is a cover. You can obtain these at http://home.freeuk.net/wazzaw/aurals/ if you are interested.

Sids are still essentially copyrighted material have you had any complaints regarding this and the High Voltage Sid Collection, and if you did would you remove them from the site?

It’s a grey area generally. On the plus side we do have contact with a lot of the C64 composers, and I think if they had any objections they would kindly ask me to remove their music. But most understand what we do and appreciate the work we put in. To give you an idea, Gavin Raeburn mailed me his own personal original C64 copy of Pro Tennis Simulator so that I could rip his music for him out of it, and Fred Gray via Chris Abbott sent me his work disks in the hope of us finding any unreleased gems, and with his kind permission, we released Sled into the world. Generally such requests to delete SIDs are handled in the next available HVSC Update so that the collection can be handled efficiently. And as it is a free collection, no one is making any money which would otherwise go to the original composers. Many of the SIDs are from public domain C64 demos which are freely available, and it would make sense for those to be released in HVSC under the same non-profit free ethos. We have also got implicit or explicit permission from the composers involved for the majority of named SIDs. For example, a lot of the SID composers we are in touch with support us and indeed use HVSC as an archive for their work. Some of them actually maintained the copyright for a game tune for themselves as they worked freelance for a software company  :-) Also too please note that each SID file where known respects the copyright of the game publisher. We do extensive background work into checking this is so. In a game’s case, the SID is technically only a small part of the original game, and since the SIDs are correctly credited, their use can be argued to function as a promotion for the original game and/or author at the same time. It can come in handy when the said SID composer is looking for work and they can demonstrate to their prospective employers what they can do. We distribute HVSC as non-profit for the reason that it keeps everyone happy, composers included.

As the Internet grows, so does the c64 community. Do you think the genre will continue to grow, or indeed do you think it has a limited life span?

It will remin stable: as some people leave, some come back or start new and I would say it should continue for a fair few number of years yet. And when we consider how many C64s were actually sold (a heck of a lot if my memory serves me correct) then there will always be some of us out there putting the heart and soul into the machine. Well, I will anyway.

What does the future hold for Warren and his websites?

No one knows what the future holds, but I hope the sites are still there in a few years time for people to enjoy. As for my personal future, a house and the love of a special woman would be nice, but the main thing is to be happy.


Along with his many Website interests. Warren somehow finds time to compose c64 music, and actually work full-time. Does he sleep!?!?!. A busy person who I have a great deal of respect for. If i had been asked who gives the scene the biggest boost?, then Warren would be one of the many i'd put there. Respect!!!

- Neil

Interview date: 13.04.2001