The Story of "Task Force" - the SID that wasn't. Then was.

Posted by Chris Abbott on

There are a lot of stories in Project Hubbard. This one is about one of Rob's favourite pieces that never got out to play: Task Force.

The story begins at the Opera. In 1982, Rob worked in the studio with a musician called Steve Daggett.

(From the Lindesfarne Wikipedia page): "During the second half of the 1980s they played annual Christmas tours and released Dance Your Life Away (1986) and C'mon Everybody (1987) – the latter made up of covers of old rock and roll standards and reworkings of some of the band's most popular songs. Keyboardist Steve Daggett, formerly of new wave band Stiletto, produced both these albums and augmented the onstage line-up for two tours."

Working on a 4-track recorder and with all the synths they could muster, and mostly played/mixed live with Rob running around the studio keeping everything moving, they produced a rock opera about the world of work, with cheeky vocals and guitar performed by Steve, with vocal help from Bren Laidler.

Here's Rob, talking about the process.

How we wrote? Well some of it we jammed, and then set about refining. I'd write down bits on paper so we didn't forget. Some of these then became more structured. We hooked up our synths with CV and triggers (I remember building electronic trigger converts), and sometimes this led to some interesting sounds and textures.

We recorded onto a revox, and wrote out recording scripts, so that we knew when to set levels, change synth knobs during the recording.

Very low analogue tech indeed.

Some of the gear we used (from what I recall):
Roland TR808
Sequential Circuits Pro One
Roland TB303
My old Casio
Some Roland organ/string keyboard.

This was all part of my learning process....


In the Newcastle of the time, unemployment was a big social issue, given the decline of the North-East in the early 1980s, and the unemployment it brought with it.

They did nothing with the rock opera, until...

An interview with the Newcastle Chronicle (featured in full in Rob Hubbard - the official reference) interviewed Rob about his burgeoning SID career, and happened to mention that the work opera (a shortened version of it at least), had been shown as part of a TV programme that same week: "Work... A Four Letter Word" as part of the TV Company Tyne Tees' "The Works" programme. This would not have been seen outside of the Tyne Tees area (the North-east of England centred on Rob's home of Newcastle).

The full version of the Rock Opera was never screened or released. However, correcting this kind of historical injustice is the sort of thing this Kickstarter is trying to achieve.

The full version of this Rock Opera, which is the most 80s thing I've heard and is packed full of delightful Rob Hubbard touches, will appear in full on "The Rob Hubbard Archive" in the Kickstarter. 

Now, there is one song that is particularly important here: Task Force, one of the few instrumentals on the album, and of which Rob says "Task Force is about the option of joining the army - and has  a certain darkness to it.".

Task Force

Task Force started, as virtually all of Rob's compositions do, as a sketch. Did you know Rob has a list of composing rules? They will be reproduced in the book too.

It's very easy when you're using sequencers to build a tune off of a cool effect: but most of Rob's pieces started off as doodles on the keyboard, and a tune painstakingly constructed on paper.

This ensures that Rob's pieces have a certain portability musically: they can be converted to other forms relatively easily, all the way from SID to Score, and aren't reliant on any given sound or sonic environment. In many ways, this is a lost skill: even many symphonic composers don't read or write musical notation these days.

So, Task Force in the Work Opera started off like this (remember, in 1980/1981 there was no MIDI, so much of this was performed "live").

At some point in the 1990s while at EA, Rob converted this to Voyetra Sequencer on the PC as a SNG file (kind of a proprietary MIDI file) for the MT32. If Task Force becomes an orchestration, this is what it will be based on.

Even in a MIDI rendition, the overall mood remained inexorable, dark and gloomy: like some kind of Lair. A Dragon's Lair II, maybe?

The whole point of Alt-SIDs on the Project Hubbard project is to convert to SID pieces which might have been converted, but which weren't. This one, with its Dragon's Lair II vibe was an ideal candidate (and it's also a personal favourite of Rob's).

And so, Jason Page got to work, taking Rob's original composition, and matching it seamlessly with the Dragon's Lair II sounds, initially developing in Sidtracker 64 for the iPad (the plan being to release it in a form using Rob's original driver).


So, it will appear on the archive CD (in its original recorded form), on Alt-SIDs (as a new SID), and also might even appear on Hubbard '80, brought to life as it was meant to be in the first place, and would have been if Rob and Steve had much bigger budget in 1980. The Hubbard '80 track listing is still in flux, so this track may not appear.

However, this gives you an idea of how one track might flow through the project: being a subject of interesting anecdotes in the book, being in the archive, becoming a SID, and then maybe becoming a modular synth track.

That's the story of Task Force. The SID that wasn't, then was.

Now support Project Hubbard. 15 year old you is counting on it!