An Interview with Fred Gray

by Neil Carr

Shadowfire, Mutants, and Engima Force, yet surprisingly these an not his favourite piece, though he admits to them being groundbreakers. His favourite piece suprisingly is the whacky MADBALLS or the music from Mario Bros.

Real name: Fred Gray
Born: 0
Nationality: English

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

Fred Gray
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!

Fred inside the heart of a power station... or inside the SID chip?
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

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

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.

Fred with a friend: Ali Gator
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

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

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.

Fat Gray? ;-)
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.

- Neil

Interview date: 20.04.2001