Rob Hubbard - 1985 on the run

Posted by Chris Abbott on

Rob Hubbard - 1985 on the run

At the beginning of 1985, Rob Hubbard found brimming with creativity and with a new, greatly expanded sound driver. Yet following an apparently unsuccessful mailshot (and lots of phone calls) in October 1984, he was at the bottom of an apparently infinitely deep well of disinterest in his talents, trying to look up. With the new driver now complete, a new demo cassette was his last throw of the dice before giving up and getting another job in computers - possibly any job in computers, because he was as fascinated by microcomputing as he was by music.

Commodore 64 music examples

And so it was that, finally, opportunity came knocking in the form of Mastertronic and Incentive, who needed someone to do justice to their new game “Confuzion”.

This was a game heavy on the music because it had an 80s pop single on the B-side, one which needed converting cost-effectively to a home micro version. Of course, the combination of Rob Hubbard and C64 was (almost) the only one available and up to the task at that point. Fun fact: Confuzion was started and finished first, even though Incentive were the second people to contact Rob.


Mastertronic were slower getting Rob off the mark with their new spanky high-profile license “Action Biker”, based on the “Clumsy Colin” character from the KP Skips crisps ads.

Action Biker

Delivering the Action Biker music in February, it wasn’t until May that Mastertronic delivered a heap of new jobs.

Meanwhile one of his October mailshots had made its way into the hands of Jason Perkins of Micro Projects. It was a fortuitous time because they had a new game just itching for boingy music: Thing on a Spring. One train journey later to play Micro Projects his demos and Rob was commissioned for his first really big break, producing a tune that ZZAP! 64 gave its highest ever music rating to. 

Striking while the composer was hot, Gremlin followed up quickly with the job for Monty on the Run, Rob producing an iconic original tune out of Peter Harrap’s choice for the game: “Devil’s Galop”.

Into May and Mastertronic were getting ambitious. Knowing that they had a raft of multi-platform tunes coming up, they were keen to get ahead of the game, so they had Rob compose five title tunes for forthcoming (or possibly forthcoming) games: Space Game (became “One Man and his Droid”, Racing Game (became “Formula 1 Simulator”), Locomotion (not used until 1988’s “Train Robbers”), Short Title tune (A version of Finders Keepers, used in some versions of that and also some versions of “One Man and his Droid”), and “Educational” (which was never used). To ensure they could implement the music on other platforms, Rob’s delivered sheet music.

They also asked for Hunter Patrol, a piece Rob is still enormously fond of. It was a happy time.

Rob kept busy through June with Gremlins and Battle of Britain as Thing on a Spring and Monty on the Run started to turn up, pre-release at magazines and computer shows: in particular one Simon Nicol saw Monty on the Run early and headed straight off in Rob’s direction for “Crazy Comets” which was eventually programmed at the end of July at the same time as he was pulled down to Birmingham for his legendary overnight composition “Commando”. 

July was a huge month for Rob as the first reviews of Thing on a Spring hit and suddenly he was a bona-fide star: something compounded when the Monty on the Run ZZAP! 64 review hit the news stands in mid-August (in their September issue).

While much of the world was experiencing Rob for the first time in July and August, Rob was undergoing a creative journey of his own. Until now Rob’s work had been happy and stylised. But two incoming jobs demanded more: “Zoids” and “Master of Magic”. Both of these were inspired by the tracks “Ancestors” and “Shibolet” from Synergy’s 1981 LP “Audion”.

Larry Fast, the musician behind them had a sound that Rob badly wanted, and he was prepared to abuse the SID chip to get it! It’s pretty dramatic how this changed Rob and gave him the confidence to produce works such as Spellbound only a couple of months later (and the epic Kentilla by Christmas). It turned Rob from a video game musician into a genuine soundtrack composer, and he never looked back.

The rest of the year was a sprint through a ton of classics: August saw him working on The Human Race and The Last V8.

(cover image touched up by Paul Hughes)

In September Rob worked on Chimera, Phantoms of the Asteroid, Game Killer and Rasputin.

(cover image touched up by Paul Hughes)

In October the work continued with Proteus, Showjumping, Formula 1 Simulator and Spellbound. Rob uploaded the unreleased Showjumping to Compunet once he had a membership, but it had existed for a while before that.

The fireworks continued in November with International Karate, Warhawk and the two poker games (Sam Fox and Las Vegas Video). Some of this work that didn’t hit the public until late in 1986!

In fact, everything done in the “classic” Rob Hubbard driver was finished by March 1986, and by April 1986 he had already composed on the Atari and was rewriting his drivers for W.A.R and starting the second phase of his composing career.

I wish we could all have as good a 1985 as Rob Hubbard had. Starting the year at the bottom, he very much ended it at the top and having the time of his life. His funky take on the Commando theme was at the top of the games charts (with a game attached!).

“Commando” was also competing with another stellar soundtrack: “Rambo First Blood Part 2” by another composer who had a great 1985 and who would produce some of the best work of his life in 1986: Martin Galway, who had begun earlier than Rob in mid-1984 with “Daley Thompson’s Decathlon” (released August 1984) and who had spent the first part of 1985 upgrading his driver to make a big splash in mid-1985 with Roland’s Rat Race (released in May) and Hyper Sports (released in July). For my money, there wasn’t ever a more exciting time in British computer music history than the last six months of 1985.

Find out much more about Rob’s games and history in the official illustrated 350-page softography “Master of Magic”, available from Fusion Retro Books for a limited time as a first-edition hardback.


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