An Interview with Fred Gray
Which other C64 composers did you respect?
Everybody was in awe of Rob Hubbard and I was no exception. The quality of his compositions was only surpassed by the techinical ingenuity of his software. He set a new level of excellence for both musicians and programmers alike. God I hated him lolol
What non Fred Gray sids did you like?
If you mean which C64 music impressed me the most, then I have to say the Iridium music, Rob's rendition of Romeo and Juliet. How he managed to make a full orchestral piece sound so big using just three synth voices amazed me.
I was also mezmerized by Martin Galway's Parallax music - it was so psychodelic and atmospeheric, like LSD for the ears lol
The reggae tune in the Giana Sisters game was also a big favourite of mine. My kids played that game over and over but I never go tired of hearing the music.
Your work with the Back In time CD's could you explain what you did, how you came about to doing it, and other aspects that our readers may find interesting?
I guess you would call it a reawakening lol The guy responsible is of course Chris Abbott. Chris had tracked down on the ICQ network. Anyway, he told me his idea to make a synth CD of C64 covers, and I agreed that it was long overdue.
It seems it needed someone with both the passion and talent to do the job lol Chris was that man. I didn't get that involved in the the first BIT CD, Chris did a brilliant job on mutants and I let him have full control of reins.
The Batman music on the 2nd CD was a combined effort, it started out as a ska, reggie like midi that I arranged lol. But Chris sugeested adding guitar and it ended up a lot funkier.
The forthcoming BIT3 Shadowfire music is the work of a lot of people, but I still had my say. Chris and I actually played and discussed it over the phone lol That's how I get Chris to make any final tweeks. I insisted on a heavier bass sound for instance... Chirs did this Doctor Who thing to it and sent me a MP3 - I was well impressed lol - the final mix should be mega!
Probably your most popular tunes were Mutants, Shadow Fire, and Enigma Force. Would you agree with this, and why do you think that they have become favourites?
Mutants was exceptional - the lead line was originally the bass line till I took it up and octave as an experiment, I guess it just evolved as an almost live piece of music. I rarely spent that much time on a tune, I think that is why it stands out so much in my reportoir.
As for SF and EF? I guess they were ground breakers too in their time, games rarely featured 12/8 tunes like SF or full chords like EF. EF came about as an accident, I was waiting for some code to assemble and played those opening chords as a kind of musical doodle and one of my most popular tunes was born lol
Why did you start making music for the c64, and how did it come about?
Tim Best - where are you now? It was all his fault lol Tim was a friend of mine who was given the job of recruitment officer at Imagine Software. I had previously asked him to assess some VIC20 games I had written (he had his own little software business planned but as fate would have it, he was offered the recruitment job at imagine - as a result we both moved on to better things lol)
Anyway, Tim told me he was really impressed with he way I had used sound on the VIC20 and offered me the post as in-house composer at Imagine - a one man music department lol - was that a shock! In the beginning I put some pretty awful tunes to some pretty aweful games lol. I think the real inovation was the way we all worked together to convert the games for the different machines and processors. I made some great friends there - Hi to you all! The directors at Imagine were kewl too... so generous... they would take all the staff out to eat and sip cocktails at glitzy night clubs lol... those were the days :O)
By the time Imagine went bust, I had enough contacts in the business to make a go on my own, working freelance... and so on and so on.
Is there a cover of one of your tunes that has impressed you?
NO, my tunes are too personal to be covered, nobody could ever hear what I hear in my head, unless they can read minds lol
How did you feel when you first saw your name on the credits to a game?
The first actual game I had published was a VIC20 conversion for a company named Thor... I included a scrolling banner with a dedication to my kids... that was a very proud moment, my name on the packaging was secondary.
What were your likes/dislikes about the sid chip?
The big dislike at that time was obvious... no real-time input like today's MIDI software. Then there were filters of course, they varied from chip to chip grrrrrr! That's why I didn't bother using them, I only ever used them the once in the FGTH game.
The likes? Well it has got to be the ring modulation - it made for some wonderfully rich sound effects lol But the chip was nothing without some really nifty programming. I so envy Rob Hubbard's driver - Wow did he get the most out our friend Sid.
In your opinion what was your own favourite sid?
The MADBALLS title music, kind of whacky don't you think - or the title thing I did for Mario - Mozart meets reggae lolol
Are you still making music for computer games, if not why did you stop?
I stopped when I ran out of ideas, a long time ago lol
What are your thoughts about the Bitlive idea, and will you be attending?
I love the idea, it is a chance for everybody involved to meet, I haven't even met Chris yet - I am so looking forward to that as well as Rob Hubbard of course! The latest BIT is a massive project and everybody concerned needs to be counted. I expect to be entertained too lol, I believe a few of the guys are going to play in the VIP suite, and there is a light show too, curtasy of Geoff Minter. I am a little nervous of the fans and in awe of the other musicians... but that's nothing a few beers wont cure lol
Are you planning on doing some work for future BIT cd's?
Havent really been that involved to date, but the next BIT CD is posiibly going to be orchestrated later and I want to get involved in the orchestral arrangement. Like I said, my music is personal - I want it to sound like I hear it in my head if that's possible lol
What are you thoughts about arrangers remixing your sids to modern day equivalents?
The whole idea of remixing SIDs is great, but not all SID music lends itself to MIDI. I would rather hear a good rock band play some of my SIDs and maybe even add vocals lol This is one area that Chris seems to have no interest in - he takes a much more instrumental and orchestral approach, but I am sure the idea of adding vocals and guitars has crossed the minds of other SID composers lol I would love to hear their opinion on that lololol
What were your fondest memories of the C64, and do you miss that chapter in your life?
Working at Imagine WOW - the C64 was a brand new concept then, not just the SID chip but the graphics capabilities too. It was really advanced for its time - well compared to the humble Spectrum and the VIC20 with its miniscule 3k of memory lol The C64 was a vertiable giant of a machine then lolol Everbody was so excited and optimistic at Imagine, the enthusiasm was infectuous. I guess we have seen a lot of bigger innovations since then, but none have inspired people as much as the C64 with its huge cult following. I guess I do miss some of the pop star acclaim we all had then, but I am also enjoying this resurgance in interest that Chris and others have worked so hard at to bring about - it feels a little like the good old days hehe.
Will we ever hear anything else from Fred Gray regarding computer game music?
No, not that I am aware of lol Does anybody out there think differently? I'd love to have one last fling with the ideas I have accrued over the years while away from the games business.
So, What is Fred Gray doing now, and what does the future hold?
I teach adults to use computers in a run down area of Liverpool. I have just set up a computer club for the local kids there and it feels a lot like the halcion C64 days of computer clubs and shared enthusiasm. I enjoy working with people, it's a far cry from the days when I would lock myself in the spare bedroom for days on end with just a synthesiser and C64 lol
Fred brought some amazing sounds and tunes to the humble c64. Some of these were revolutionary and for it's time was one of the first people to introduce full chords and 12/8 tunes. If some of you second generation sid fans don't know his music then do check out his work.