8-Bit Symphony - a Symphonic Celebration of Home Microcomputer Gaming - previewed!

Posted by Chris Abbott on


The London Symphony Orchestra ("Star Wars") playing Commodore 64, Spectrum, Amstrad and BBC Micro music. It's once-in-a-lifetime.

We're saving for the deposit to hire the London Symphony Orchestra and the Barbican. When we have that, we can book them and we're on our way. We have the scores and the talent. LSO and Barbican are on standby.

To register your interest to get involved, sponsor, help out, or just keep informed if/when tickets get put on sale...


Home microcomputer music of the 1980s was once regarded as the best game music in the world. It reached millions of people, many of whom still hold it close to their hearts. The composers were pioneers, defining game music for a decade.

In an era where symphonic video game music is popular and successful, the hits of the 8-bit micros such as the Commodore 64 and even the ZX Spectrum have been unfairly maligned and overlooked.

We're going to hire the Orchestra behind Star Wars and Harry Potter to play the greatest 8-bit hits.

We're going to honour the Commodore 64, the ZX Spectrum, the Amstrad CPC and the BBC Micro, and by doing so, honour the UK computer industry of the 1980s and the personalities that made it possible. It's an industry event!

Rob Hubbard and Ben Daglish are also involved directly in the concert.

We have entirely self-funded the arrangements through crowdfunding (the project "Symphony 64", which offered full-length CDs of the arrangements).

They are home-grown labours of love, much like the tunes they cover, and are done with the blessing of the original composers who will hopefully be in the audience. 

But they are also world-class, and designed to bring tingles to the spine, tears to the eye, and bursting joy to the heart.

This amazing array of video game scores is one that we would like to see performed worldwide, once we have proved them in concert.

This is our planned track listing, but it may changed or be altered as circumstances change.

It is also planned that it will be a massive 70 piece version of the London Symphony Orchestra with a choir if funds permit. The concert will be between 100 and 105 minutes.

Each piece played at the concert will be accompanied by a video that explains or enhances the music.

Most pieces are medleys in order to fit as much as we can into the limited time we have. 

We will now go through the concert programme, and illustrate each track with the original tune, and a sample of the orchestration we currently have.

NOTE: this samples are of varying render quality and are all WIP, but give you the spirit of the event.


Wondering what to expect? Read on, and listen!



First Half

1. Barbarillax - a medley of Barbarian 2 and Parallax High Score.

Arranged in rousing John Williams style, this opening piece also accompanies the opening credits video. It is a combination of two magnificent pieces:

Barbarian 2 by Richard Joseph

and Parallax High Score, by Martin Galway.

The hidden link here is Sensible Software, of which Martin and Richard were members at different points in their career. Richard is sadly no longer with us, but his colleague, friend, video-game legend and band-mate Jon Hare will introduce this as a tribute to him.

Here's what the orchestration will sounds like. Just imagine, if you will, hearing this for the live premiere by one of the best orchestras in the world.

2. Fires of Lore

Another medley, the common thread being composer and orchestrator Glyn R. Brown.

The tunes are are Ben Daglish's classic Firelord, and Martin Galway's Times of Lore. 

Firelord was obviously written as a folk tune:

... so Ben was fairly surprised that it came out like this: 

... and Times of Lore, by Martin Galway:

... which was packed full of subtunes, expertly arranged and augmented by composer Glyn R. Brown. Here's a preview (WIP).

3. Forbidden Forest and Beyond

Forbidden Forest and its sequel Beyond the Forbidden Forest were the earliest polyphonic original tunes of any note on the Commodore 64, and were always meant as orchestral pieces. Forbidden Forest was first orchestrated by Peter Connelly in 1999 as part of the Commodore 64 Remix CD "Back in Time 2".

Here's a short rendered preview.


4.  Mission Fred

A medley of three of composer Fred Gray's favourite tunes: Mission AD, Nodes of Yesod  and Shadowfire done in a romping sci-fi style by Chris Abbott, Gari Biasillo and Manganoid.

Here's the original tunes. First, Mission AD:

Then Nodes of Yesod.


Then Shadowfire, of which Nodes of Yesod has always been regarded as kind of a remix.

So, how will it sound when you're sitting there in your comfy seat?

There's a unique Fred-Gray-pulsing string line going on in Mission AD, and Shadowfire is replete with bounciness.

5. IK

The game was called "World Karate Championship" in the US and "International Karate" here. Here's the original tune:

The composer Rob Hubbard himself arranged this for orchestra, and it was performed in Leipzig in 2005. Now extended and in full for the first time, and boasting more of a Kung-Fu Movie vibe, this is showcase of orchestration techniques, albeit taking advantage of the composer's own right to re-interpret his own work!


6. Delta

A rollicking Rob Hubbard title track on the Commodore 64 (here seen in oscilloscope view for the tecnically curious)...

 ... becomes by turns reflective then heroic in Gari Biasillo's treatment, which is based partially on Rob's own ensemble arrangement for "The C64 Orchestra".

7. Kentilla

Originally written as an interactive soundtrack for an adventure game, and was always meant to be performed orchestrally. This is one of Rob Hubbard's favourite works and one of the first Commodore 64 tunes to be actually orchestrated, Rob doing that himself in the mid-90s. That orchestration provided a spark to this concert.

The original tune is very long, and Rob edited it for his orchestration. 

Obviously the renders here are WIP:

8. Back at the Beeb

We're honouring the venerable BBC Microcomputer: home of many a game developer's career thanks to meeting them at school, with a special medley including jingles from Acornsoft's Zalaga and Arcadians, a quick visit to Granny's Garden, Frak, Superior Software's Repton 3, and a homage to "Cold Tea": one of the BBC's most cherished demo tunes, which every BBC owner seems to have fallen in love with. If we can get the original composer over here to accompany the orchestra on the piano, we will!

9. Storm Warrior

When you have an original piece of music channeling Bach, and an arrangement from the original composed Mark Cooksey that evokes Russians marching to war against Napoleon, it would be silly not to put it in a concert 

And here's a sample: it's not yet rendered using the top quality samples, but it gives you an idea. Imagine how that piccolo trumpet and key change would sound for real!

10. Tales of the Arabian SID

This is a 9 minute epic medley consisting of parts from four of Rob Hubbard's most treasured works (with acknowledgements to Larry Fast of Synergy for Zoids and Master of Magic). This will be developed later into a 25 minute work, but initially will be scored to fit this concert.

We don't have a sample of this, but here's the story:

Arabian Marketplace ("Spellbound"):

Zoids ("March across the desert to the palace of the King")

Master of Magic ("The King's Palace")

And Nemesis the Warlock ("Marching on the Mountain Fortress")

11. Stifflip and Co.

Another tribute to the much missed Richard Joseph, this is a fun piece with a drunk bit in the middle that's just begging for some play-acting from the orchestra!

 There are no surprises in the interpretation, which is a great happy way to send people off to the bar! Another work in progress of course.

Second half

Ready in your seat?

1. War of the 64

An epic 8-minute celebration of two military 8-bit classics: Green Beret (known in the US as Rush 'n Attack) and Rambo - First Blood Part 2, both featuring soundtracks from Martin Galway that didn't feature in the arcade machine nor the film, respectively.

The Green Beret original sounds like this:

The Rambo Loader is one of Martin's most popular tunes, and is a favourite of Rob Hubbard.

And here's where we are so far (Rambo will be added and this will have to be edited down for an 8:00 concert track).


2. Defender of the Crown

This is a classic of the era, and appeared on multiple platforms. Written by Jim Cuomo, and released by Cinemaware, the amazing Richard Joseph ported the tunes to the Commodore 64, adding even more bounce and flair. But this truly is a medley that can be enjoyed by all. Here's Richard's work:

... and here's our full-length medley: the concert version this time will feature the tournament theme, the main theme, the love theme, and the ending theme.

Appears courtesy of Cinemaware.

3. AY-Up

A tribute to the AY soundchip in the ZX Spectrum, the Amstrad CPC and (less exploited) the Oric 1.

This is a medley of some of the most treasured tunes, including three that are specific to the AY: Savage (David Whittaker), Hydrofool (Rob Hubbard), Saboteur 2 (Rob Hubbard) and Where Time Stands Stll (Fred Gray).

Many of the other tunes in this concert would be familiar to ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC owners, but this is a special medley tribute. If it proves successful, maybe a Spectrum/Amstrad concert?

First, what could programmers do with a simple beeper? Many ZX Spectrum musicians knew exactly what to do! Here's Savage:

... and Rob Hubbard's "Hydrofool", which was never made into a Commodore 64 tune.

Rob Hubbard's Saboteur 2 is a chase scene all by itself!

... and Fred Gray's "When Time Stands Still" is regarded as an all-time classic. You can actually taste the epic.

4. Aztec Huey

A medley of the impressive "Aztec Challenge" (as seen on "Go 8-Bit") and an extended version of the helicopter simulator "Super Huey" (both composed by pioneering US composer Paul Norman). 

... and Super Huey...


The orchestration (by Chris Abbott, Peter Connelly and Paul Norman himself) juxtaposes Aztecs vs the Spanish Imperial Army. Here's a WIP preview: 



5. Tel de Force

There's a lot of epic in this concert, but once in a while we need to chip it up a bit.

This track will be a medley of music from Dutch genius Jeroen Tel, and the idea here is for orchestrator David Aylmer to use advanced orchestration techniques to use the orchestra to replicate chip sounds, chords and effects. A nice change of pace, and a nice homage to the source material.


6. Trap

This epic sci-fi piece by Ben Daglish started off as... an epic Sci-fi piece: an easter egg inside a game, showing that composers in their prime hid the most amazing music in the most unlikely places, and created quality even when they didn't need to.

The Easter egg was a sci-fi film, realised on the Commodore 64.

The orchestration is equally epic in scope, orchestrated by Chris Abbott and Ben himself. We want choirs. We need choirs. This doesn't yet have choirs. And it's still a WIP.

7. Monty's Journey

Monty Mole is an iconic Commodore 64 character, and Monty on the Run was one of the most iconic pieces of 8-bit music: not only on the Commodore 64, but also on the Amstrad CPC.

Monty's Journey is a combination of two pieces: Monty on the Run, reflecting Monty escaping from peril..

... and Monty on the Run High Score, a moving account of his journey onwards and his realisation that he was running from himself.

In the concert, none of the frantic pace of the original has been lost, with nods to Rossini, and Khatchturian. Here we present the Sabre-dance inspired main part of the tune.

.. and the John-Williams flavoured version of the high score tune (both WIPs).

 This would be a pretty reflective end to the concert without...

8. Thing Wobbler

Rob Hubbard's first piece to make jaws drop was the incredibly happy "Thing on a Spring". Meanwhile, Ben Daglish was making hearts happy with tunes such as "William Wobbler", which we'll look at first.

... and how the iconic Thing on a Spring.

These will be medleyed together, but here's William Wobbler in full:

... and here's an excerpt from Thing on a Spring... which is crying out for audience participation, clapping and a chap on the stage making the Thing on a Spring boings.



We want to run this concert in Q1 2019.

How can you help?

We are now trying to fund the deposit for the concert and venue (London Symphony Orchestra/Barbican) through the Project Hubbard Kickstarter. You can help at the moment by backing that: we need to raise enough spare funds to get this started. Or you could pre-order from the associated Symphony 64 Collection which is a massive box-set and sheet music of full-length orchestrations.

If nothing else, you can internally decide right now that you'll buy tickets when they go on sale!

Why can't you raise the money with pre-sales?

What we can't do to raise the deposit money is to pre-sell recordings of the concert (the clearance fees are way too expensive), or sell tickets to the concert (because all ticket sales have to go through the proper booking systems). 

Only this financial step is standing in the way of a concert. The LSO and Barbican are on standby to help us give a shining life highlight for every single person attending. We have got this far on crowdfunding, enthusiasm, teamwork and talent. We're hoping that similar qualities will allow us to go the rest of the way.

It is very doubtful that it will be recorded unless a broadcast company steps in, so it will be genuinely unmissable.

An amazing night out, to celebrate over 30 years of British talent.

This event is a genuine opportunity for the industry to get together and celebrate its past: it will be a reunion of massive proportions, and a brilliant night out.

There are genuinely valuable sponsorship opportunities for the gaming industry here, so please contact chris@c64audio.com or even comment below (moderated) if you want to join in.