An Interview with Mark Cooksey

by Neil Carr

Mark Cooksey of Ghosts and Goblins fame was a recognised musician who worked mainly for Elite. During this time he was responsable for many great tunes some of which are: Bomb Jack, Space Harrier, Paperboy. Within This interview Mark reveals the amount Rob Hubbard got paid for his work for commando.

Real name: Mark Cooksey
Born: 1966
Nationality: British

Which other c64 composers did you like?

Rob Hubbard, Martin Galway

Mark Cooksey
What other c64 sids did you like?

Thing On A Spring was the 1st Rob Hubbard tune I heard and it really impressed me at the time.
Others I liked were Wizball, Sanxion and Crazy Comets.

Why did you start making music for games?

By chance! I'll explain fully in question 12

What were your likes/dislikes regarding the sid chip?

The sid was a great sound chip for the time. I liked the fact that you could assign different waveforms
to different channels, and that the square wave had a variable pulse width register that you could
change to create modulated type sounds. On the down side the filters were a bit dodgy on some of the
C64s and a tune that sounded good on a normal C64 sounded totally different on one of the
dodgy ones. Of course an extra channel would have been great, and a better implementation of
ring modulation would have been useful.

Much of your music was made for Elite. What could you tell our readers about the experience?

There were some real characters at Elite, its a wonder any work ever got done. I remember
and incident where one chap was restrained by the others, a red crash helmet was put on his head
and then he was locked up in a filing cabinet, this was then turned upside down much to the
amusement of everyone else. Another time, a chap who had long hair and resembled the general
appearance of Jesus was pseudo crucified on a hastily errected wooden cross.
These are just a couple the many incidents that occured, we did do some work in between.....honest!

You probably did more covers of music than any other c64 composer, was you happy to cover music, or would you have prefered to compose your own?

I think I would have preferred to compose my own music most of the time, however the programmers reigned
supreme when it came to many of the decisions especially where it concerned the lowly musician. A lot of the
games were arcade conversions or licensed titles and hence the music was copied from the original source,
when an original product was produced the programmer would often want some of their favourite music in the
game (such as J.M.Jarre). At the time the copyright law was a bit of a grey area as far as computer music was
concerned and we got a way with doing cover versions.

Your music for commando 86 features a beginning clip of what sounds like a snippet Tubular Bells, is this correct, and how come you added this to the tune.

Yes the snippit is a slightly altered version of Tubular Bells. I liked the tune and thought it was quite
atmospheric, so I thought I'd use it in one of my tunes.

The Elite loading music is amongst one of my favourite’s. The only problem for me was that the tune was so short. Was there a reason for this, and in hindsight would you have made it longer?

The loading tunes were implemented using a proprietary fast loader called Novaload. The data format
was somewhat bulky and time consuming to enter into the package, and I think we were on a tight
time schedule. I think one of the loading tunes was a cover of Living on Video which the programmer of
one of the games had heard and liked.

The Famous Bomb Jack tunes has possibly become your most popular tunes, why do you think this is?

I think because the main tune is a version of one of J.M. Jarres's tunes. I think it was one of the equinox
tunes, and the game was quite addictive of course, which could have brain washed people into liking the
music as well.

Ghost’s and Goblin’s became probably your best piece, would you agree with this sentiment, and would this be your personal favourite?

I think G&G was my best implemented tune up to that point. I think some of the later tunes were more
complex and had more variety of sounds. Felix is one of my favourites because its got a bizzare melody
and sound to it. I also like Storm Warrior which has a classical type tune and a tune which uses the
filters to good effect (on a proper C64). G&G has to be up there in the favourites list of course, as this
is the tune most people remember and mention when they meet me.

Has there ever been a tune that you released to a software house that you knew just wasn’t up to scratch?

Oh yes, quite a few! But given the amount of money being paid (a pitance) I wasn't too bothered.

Why did you start writing c64 music, and how come you became part of Elite?

I did'nt deliberately set out to write games music it happened more or less by accident.
When I first left school I was looking for a job in electronics or something affiliated with
physics, which was my favourite subject at school, after many rejected application letters I decided
to go to the local job centre and see what they had on offer. Elite were advertising for programmers
in the job centre and I thought 'thats quite close to electronics'. When I got home I wrote a letter to
them applying for a job as a trainee games programmer. The next day I got a phone call asking me
to go in for an interview with the boss, Brian Wilcox. I turned up for the interview and went through
the normal sequence of events. At the end of the interview, to prove that I could do rudimentary
assembler programming, I was asked to go away and write some music on my own home computer
(an Oric Atmos). The tune that they wanted was the theme to Airwolf, and when I went back with
the music, they gave me a job more or less on the spot. I thought I was going to be a trainee programmer
but the first thing they gave me to do was to recreate the Airwolf music on the C64. From that point
onwards I was roped in to doing the music!

What did you do after the c64’s demise?

After the C64 I worked on music for Gameboy, SNES, PC and Playstation both self employed and
working for a company called NMS which has since been liquidated.

I hear that you are still to this day writing music for games, what could you tell our readers about this?

Yes indeed, for my sins, I still am writing music for computer games. I do music for the PC, Gameboy (Colour),
Gameboy Advance. Also I am getting into Digital Video editing, titling and fx using a real time
PC based video editor that I bought.

Why did you leave Elite?

I worked as an employee twice for Elite, the 1st time 1985-1986 and the 2nd time around 1989-1990.
The 1st time I was removed as an employee and taken on as a freelance musician earning a fixed fee
per project, this cost them less but gave me the freedom to work for other people as well.
I was taken on again in 1989 or there abouts, and things were much better, they got me some decent
kit including an AKAI S950 sampler and a Korg M1 keyboard a long with Notator on the Atari ST.
I produced music for Amiga, PC, Atari ST and NES machines.
Later on Elite decided they were going to start publishing their own games and this required a lot of money.
To this end they streamlined the company and made redundant a large portion of the staff, including me.

What other projects have you done, away from the games music buisiness?

Not a lot really. I've composed quite a few tunes for my own pleasure, and even sent off some
demos to music publishers and other companies. However there are so many people out there
wanting to get into TV and film music that the market is swamped. A lot of these people are really
talented but there are so many of them that only a minority make it.

How come you became part of the Back In Time 2 cd?

I was contacted by Chris Abott who asked me if I was interested in doing a remixed version of the
Ghost N Goblins music.

Your mix of Ghost’s and Goblin’s for Bit2 was mighty impressive, will you be doing any more work for the future Bit CD’s?

I've done a version of the Storm Warrior Music which I have passed on to Chris. He is hopefully going
to use his vast array of synths and equipment to make it sound really good. Whether it will appear on
future Bit CD's is up to Chris as I know he's got more than enough material to fill several CD's.

How different is it composing on today’s machines as to the c64?

Composing on the Gameboy is similar to composing for the C64 except that it is more limited in its
range of sounds. Composing tunes on PC CD Rom allows the composer to use his full complement
of synths and sound modules, this is good in one respect because it allows the user to create full range
CD type tracks. On the down side sometimes the sounds used become more important than the music
itself and even a poor composer can create something that sounds (superficially) good. Not due to the
expressive melody or excellent arrangement but due to the exotic sounds on their sound module(s).

What other formats have you composed on, and in your opinion which format musically was you most impressed with, and which you was not so impressed?

Oric Atmos: Average
Amstrad CPC: Poor
Spectrum: Very Poor
Spectrum : Poor
NES: Average
SNES: Quite Good
PlayStation: Quite Good
Gameboy: Average
Advance Gameboy: Quite Good
PC CD-Rom: Only limited by the composer and his sound sources.
PC Sound Card GM: Good

What are your fondest memories of the c64?

1) The fact that some turbo tape loaders were faster than the disk drive at loading games.
2) My power supply that used to buzz quietely at first then get louder and louder and LOUDER the longer
it was swithced on.
3) Staring at a low resolution TV screen with light blue writing on an intense royal blue background
until my eyes popped and my head exploded.

Did you ever meet any of the other c64 composers?

I met Rob Hubbard when he came to Elite to do the Commando music. He worked overnight
and got the whole lot completed in less than 24 hours. I think he got paid about £200 pounds
and maybe his train fare as well.
I've also met Martin Walker, I may have met others but I can't remember as time has jaded my

What are your thoughts on the Bitlive event?

Should be good. I'd like to hear the re-mixes played on a loud and massive PA in the night club.
I'm not sure whether it should be a one off event or perhaps repeated every couple of years or so.
I suppose it depends on how the acutal night goes.

What was the last thing you composed?

An in-game tune for a gameboy version of Gremlins.

Are you working on anything at present?

Yes. I am currently working on a couple of Advance Gameboy projects.

What does the future hold for you and your music?

I don't like to look too far ahead. Most of the consoles that I work on have a limited life span
and when the work stops coming in then I'll consider moving on to something else. But I'll
cross that bridge when I come to it.

How surprised are you that the c64 music scene still lives on to the current day?

Quite suprised really considering its been a considerable time since the C64 was at its peak.
However a lot of the tunes were really well composed and arranged and lend themselves to
being redone using modern tech stuff.

What are your thoughts on people remixing your music on modern sounding instruments?

Go for it. If somone can make the tunes sound half decent by using modern synths etc
and actually get some enjoyment out of it then who am I to object.

Did it annoy you when you created a tune for a game, only to find out the game was so poor?

I suppose so in a way, if I knew the game was going to be so crap I would have spent even less
time creating the music.

Lastly an open question…What would you like to say to the remix scene?

Keep buying those BIT CDs and perhaps I'll be able to arrange another tune for one of the next
releases, thereby getting me a bit of extra dosh to pay for my bad habits.

It's sad that Mark was made redundant from Elite. Fortunately this seems to have opened doors for Mark giving him the chance to work more at what he does best; creating great soundtracks. It seems that Elite's policy to publish their own work backfired. If i remember correctly, about 2 years ago they announced they were to go back to their roots. We Have not seen a great deal from them since.

- Neil

Interview date: 17.05.2001