Hey Barry! Feel warmly welcomed to this interview. How are things?
Thank you very much Andreas. Things are pretty good right now. Just finished a Gameboy Advance title and built myself a PVR system. :)

What was your first computer and when did you get it?
My first computer was a Sinclair ZX81. I got it in 1982, but we'd been using my friend's ZX81 since 1981 and we'd been programming Basic programs.

And when did you get the C64?

Sometime in 1985 I think.

Did you immediately start to make demos or were you like me, a game playing maniac for the first years?

Well, I guess with the ZX81 we spent most of our time typing in Basic programs from magazines. When I got my ZX Spectrum about a year later, we started hacking the games. I hacked the protection out of Jet Set Willy (didn't everybody). Remember Kokotoni Wilf from Elite? They had a prize for the people that completed the game and sent in the message from the game completion screen. Of course we hacked it, copied down the message and sent it in. We got $5 off of Lee Majors The Stuntman.

I guess we didn't start doing proper demos until we got Commodore 64s about 18 months later and flooded Compunet with them (we were churning them out at a rate of about one every day or so).

Did you hang around Compunet a lot?
We didn't hang around that much. It was too damn expensive to stay online (remember phone calls in the UK are really expensive). But it was great because everybody was on there.

How big was it? How was the atmosphere? Who talked to who about what?
It seemed huge at the time, but by today's standard it was nothing more than a glorified BBS. There was a chat system which was cool, because you could chat with your pals on there, and you could vote on peoples demos.

As many of us, you were a great fan of musicians like Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway. I guess the relationship between you and them has changed into a friendly respect for each other. Back then, people were making fun of you but today both Rob and Martin want to put you in a favourable light by telling that you now have become successful on your own. What's your comment on this?
I was a stupid wee boy who had nothing better to do than pester these poor people. Rob and Martin gave me good advice. Rob was always telling me to write different styles and to experiment. They all made fun of me because I asked for it basically. Anyone who was as obnoxious and persistent as I was, really was asking to be ridiculed. I wanted to write music for video games, but I really wasn't that good. I thought I was good, and hell I wanted to be good, but it just wasn't happening. I was working as an apprentice engineer and I really didn't want a career in the engineering business. I was trying too hard to get my foot in the door when all I needed to do was to step back and concentrate on writing good music, as opposed to trying to get everyone to believe that I was good. Which is what I did I suppose after all the Chicken Songs and that. I fucked around at college and stuff and spent some time just writing music which got me a job at Catalyst Coders.

As for Rob and Martin putting me in a favourable light, I guess I'm not the annoying wee boy that I used to be, and I appreciate that they took the time to see that.

It may be that you bugged a lot of people, but at the same time it gave you important contacts which has led you to where you are today. Agree?
Yes it helped a lot, but at the same time it's kinda annoying every time that someone who has been in the industry a while is introduced to me with the line: "And this is our Audio Director Barry Leitch. You remember him, he did the Chicken Song on the C64!". Working at Imagitec and doing music through them for lots of different companies helped also. I guess over the years I have worked with a shit load of development teams. And programmers go on to be producers and producers get to be presidents of startups, so I guess there are a lot of them in important positions.

You did quite a few demos together with Gryphon and Grover. How did you three know each other?
Grover was Alan Macfarlane's first nickname. He changed it to Gryphon when he decided it wasn't arty enough. Alan had a Commodore 64 and could draw and I needed an artist. We got together doing demos and then by strange coincidence, my folks ended up buying a house right behind his, so we just churned out those demos.

Who were your best work pals in the old days?
Alan Macfarlane (Grover/Gryphon) - What a great artist! I got him a job at Imagitec and we got to work together there for a while. He's still in Scotland and is doing graphic design.

Rob Hubbard/The Messiah - Rob took the time to give me advice and tips which got me started.

Martin Galway - Gave me good advice too.

Axel Brown - I've worked with Axel on more games than any other programmer.

Mark Kelley (producer of Marauder) - I have many fond memories of working away in Mark's tiny office in Glasgow on Marauder and Captain Courageous.

Colin Gordon - He wrote New Zealand Story for Ocean, and for 20 geek points, can you remember the cheat mode for that? Motherfuckingkiwibastard. :)

Dean Evans - Ocean musician. If ever I need another musician here, Dean gets first offer.

Dave Chiles/Omega Man - Dave was TCS, the Teeside Cracking Service. I have all his old C64 disks. There wasn't a piece of software that he didn't crack. He knew the C64 inside out and could code purely by typing in the hex codes. A total geek. But a fucking cool one at that. :)

Darren Melbourne - Now he's president of Phoenix Productions or something like that. Darren could sell you your own shirt and make you feel good about buying it, and then drink you under the table just to prove why you should have bought it from him.

You used both your name and handle when you produced demos. Was it that you used The Jackal in the beginning and then switched over to Barry Leitch to be taken serious by the game companies?
Yes, it's not very professional to use an alias when you are trying to get a job.

Did you think it was possible to make a living out of making computer music?
Yes, there were others doing it (Hubbard/Galway/Grey/Daglish/Whittaker), so why shouldn't I...

Was it hard to compete over the contracts with those guys?
I was only ever freelance for a few months, and Daglish and Galway were never really freelance (well, Galway was, but only for a very short time). Rob was always busy as hell and quite expensive, so when I needed to pick up some freelance work, it was quite easy, but it didn't pay too well. We wrote a whole game in three days once just to make some quick cash - Battlefield by Atlantis on the C64. 300 pounds for a whole game.

Which game companies did you work for? How did you get in touch with them?
Catalyst Coders were coming to Scotland to interview one of my pals. I managed to blag my way into getting them to interview me as well (basically I tagged along). At Catalyst, there were a load of us who were not getting paid, so we teamed up with Darren Melbourne at Sales Curve. Sales Curve didn't need a development team but Darren was trying to create some kind of sister company deal up with Imagitec. Of course none of it ever came to light, but we did get an offer from Imagitec. So when we failed at running our own company, we called up Imagitec and told them: "Hey, if you guys still want to employ us, send a van down to London to pick us up and we'll come work for ya". And they did! Boy were we grateful. When I was at Imagitec and Ben Daglish left Gremlin, Gremlin contracted Imagitec (me) to do all the music for their games. So suddenly I had like 30 games a year to score for. It was a busy time.

Getting a job the way you got the Imagitec gig must have been like: "WOW! They really want us!".
It was more like "Cool! We don't have to live on the streets", but we were very glad to be working there.

How could a typical day at the office look like?
That's hard to say. You come into work, start working on a tune, take breaks when you're hungry or out of ideas, go home when you're tired.

What were the worst working conditions you had?
I've had a few. :) Let's see... Working in the upstairs of a bed shop without sleep for three days (that company later went on to become Climax, which is now one of the largest if not the largest independent developers in the world). Working in a bedsit in London with nothing to eat but cornflakes (this was right before several of us joined Imagitec). We were on the verge of breaking up and going our separate ways. The landlords were literally gangsters. If we didn't pay them rent, we'd get concrete wellies. Very dodgy.

Working in the kitchen at Imagitec with Ian Howe in the same room. Not that there's anything wrong with Howie, just having two of us trying to compose at the same time was a nightmare. Working at Imagitec with no amplifier for the Amiga, no keyboard, and no way to get samples except to rip them out of other peoples mod files. No sound proofing between audio offices. Programmers banging on the doors telling you to turn it down. Having to physically threaten a programmer in order to get your job done. Having to apologise to programmer after he's complained to the boss because you threatened to hit him if he touched your mixing desk. Working in a cubicle. Working in cubicles with other audio guys in the next cubicles. Having to deal with marketing people.

Actually, it's quite funny, the only place I haven't had much to complain about was Origin. They had a very hands off attitude and it was very condusive to creativity, although it's very probable that the other ex-EA guys would say the exact opposite.

Generally then, what were the highlights?
I dunno, the shows in London were always a big event for us. We just took it as it came. It's hard to pick a highlight, we just had fun. From the computer shows in Glasgow that we went to every week, filling peoples car up with garbage for a laugh, going to visit Rob and going into a pub for the very first time (Rob bought alcohol for a minor - me!). Turning up at Martin Galways doorstep on a Sunday morning with the welshwanks (the JCS guys). Getting hired by Catalyst Coders and living in the dodgy office they rented. Alan Macfarlane fedexing a box of bricks to Dave Wainwright instead of the TV he was supposed to send back because he hadn't been paid. Gary Bracey telling me he loved my music.

Also, getting about a dozen pieces of mail a day. Getting phone calls from Australia at 3 a.m. Basically, there was a camaraderie, people shared their ideas and technology. It was fun!

Do you have any fun stories to tell?
There's a good story... Okey, so Gary had been by Imagitec a couple of times and had heard the Amiga stuff I was doing and he liked it. A couple of years later when I got canned from Imagitec, I called Ocean and got an interview right away. I came out of the interview with an offer for a job which was for more money than I'd been on, and I told my mate that: "I can't believe Ocean want to hire me and pay me xxxxx quid a year". Years later, I found out that Gary had gone into his mates office, and said: "I can't believe we just hired Barry Leitch and for only xxxxx quid a year". :)

Imagitec hired this guy called Sean Connolly for a bit. When he came for the interview, one of the first things he started talking about was his bloody dog. Thankfully his friend who was with him mentioned to him quietly that the man interviewing probably wasn't that interested in his dog. Imagitec went through some hard times financially every few months, which meant most of us wouldn't get paid. So after getting kicked out of one place I ended up in a house the company rented, and of course that meant sharing with whoever else was living there. I got lumped with living with Sean. Sean was deaf in one ear, and everytime someone would phone up Sean, he would hold the phone to his deaf ear and shout "HULLO? HULLO???". He had extremely smelly feet, and as if that didn't make him a bad enough housemate, he'd masturbate loudly in his room every morning over the TV-AM weather girl.

Anyways... We were working on Prophecy the Viking Child, and I'd given Sean the job of recording the sound effects for the game. Somehow we'd blagged a sampler to use at work and we needed a sound for the player falling off-screen. I told Sean just to record himself going "Aaaaaaahhhh" and fade it out like he was falling off into the distance. Sean crossed his arms and shook his head: "No way! Ahm no recording maself. Ah sound stupid." — "Sean, just do it!" — "Nope!" — "You have to, it's part of yer job, just record yerself, it'll take two seconds." — "No way, I don't like how ma voice sounds." and so it went on for about an hour. In the end I threatened to throw him out the window and record him as he fell. And I'll always remember his reply. He just crossed his arms again and said: "But I'll just not make any sound", all smug. I snapped at this point and told him to fuck off. He quit a few weeks later after one of the infamous Imagitec parties because "Everyone is trying to change ma personality". He wasn't happy when we pointed out that you had to have a personality to change to start with. A few years later his career in the industry ended abruptly when he accused his employer of internationally kidnapping him. But that's another story, and not mine to tell. :)

In what way were the Imagitec parties infamous?
Everybody would get really drunk, the boss would usually physically assault someone, my band played a gig at one of them, there were usually fireworks, people getting injured with fireworks, people hitting on other peoples girlfriends, people hitting people who hit on their girlfriends... Erm, pretty much yer average party. Generally they were a lot of fun but not for the weak of heart or stomach.
Tell us about the Gremlin days.
Gremlin would contract Imagitec to do their music. I'd either write all the music and post it down to them, or from time to time go down there, either crash at some programmer's flat or shitty hotel and work with the programmers on stuff. We did Impossamole on the TurboGrafix in five days, two to write the driver, and three to do the music. Other than that, we went out and got drunk a lot.

And the Ocean days...
I was at Ocean for just over a year. There were three musicians at Ocean, Dean Evans was one of them, Keith Tinman the other. Ocean churned out a lot of products, so we worked on a lot of titles. Not only did they have a massive in house development team but a shit load of out of house work going on too.

How did you later end up at Origin?
Origin hired me to be musician for a certain producer group (their console development team), unfortunately the console development team were breaking up, so I got switched initially into Warren Spector's group. And from there into Andy Hollis' group. Each producer group had at least one other musician, sometimes two or three. As a result, some people were busy all the time while others had hardly anything to do. Origin had a horribly overstaffed audio department. They had 12 or so musicians, and as a result of that I didn't feel too secure in my position there.

Galway's SNES driver was probably the most powerful music driver ever written. Unfortunately it was sooo complex and un-user friendly, nobody wanted to use it. I got to do two products with it. Wasn't I lucky...

Tell us about Boss Game.
Startup Sister Company of Boss Film Studios who did special effects for movies like Batman, Cliffhanger, Species, etc.

How did the work-offer come around?
I knew the President (Colin Gordon) from when we worked at Ocean in England together. He needed an audio director who had experience of cartridge work.

You were the Audio Director. What does an Audio Director do exactly?
Basically I was in charge of all the audio that went in our games, I composed all the music, I created all the sound effects, and if necessary, programmed it all in. I was in charge of hiring voice actors if we needed voice work for our products and hired other musicians if we needed them.

That's quite a heavy responsibility.
Yeah, but it was nice to be able to have the control over what we needed to do for a game to make it sound its best instead of being dictated to by a programmer who doesn't give a damn about the audio.

Where do you work these days?
Working for the man. Well, Corporate America. Fisher Price Toys near Buffalo.

How did the job offer come around?
The job came around very strangely (as most jobs do). My old boss at Atari had been at E3 and had sat down for a break and got talking to a couple of guys sitting next to him. The guys introduced themselves and mentioned they were looking for an "audio guy". My boss didn't fancy living out in the frozen wilderness here, so he passed the lead onto me. The rest is history. Actually, I'm quite enjoying it. It's very different to games in some ways and almost identical in others, it's a challenge trying to get audio into some of these wee IC's let alone something that resembles a soundtrack. It's challenging like it was in the "bad old days" so I enjoy that. Pushing technology as far as it can go and then just that wee bit further.

From your point of view, how does the game market look today?
Evolving... Development costs have hit a critical point where companies can't simply sustain a 20-40 man team for two+ years to bring a product to market that may only sell 50k units. Hence publishers are being more cautious and developers are getting shafted. I saw a list the other day of 30+ british game developers that had gone bust in this past year. That's horrendous, think of all those people out of work, people with familes etc. It's very worrying.

Lets take care of some personal things before we move on to talk about compositions and things concerning the games you worked on.

Paisley, Scotland.

Reside in: Out in the sticks near Buffalo, NY.

Hobbies: Writing music, gaming, 4-wheeling, tormenting dumb animals (I had kittens recently).

Music taste: While writing this, my playlist has gone from techno, to opera, to punk. So all sorts.

The things that make you happy: Nothing beats the high of writing something, cranking it right up and just knowing "yeah, that bit works". That and watching my kids grow up. Pulling into my driveway and seeing deer and rabbits usually makes me pretty happy too.

Goal in life: Tough one... I used to think I'd like to have a number one single, but more people hear my music these days than most number one singles. I'll have to come up with some new goals. For now I'm pretty content.

What do you do in your spare time?
Potter around with my computers and synths. I have a forest on my land so I tear around that on my 4-wheeler and cut down a lot of trees.

Would you recommend people to visit Buffalo? Any parts you should avoid?
Buffalo is affectionately called the armpit of America, and they are not far wrong. It was a great city hundred years ago, but since then, all the industry moved away. Hence, I don't live anywhere near the city. Lots of houses with wooden curtains. My friends in the city hate that I won't visit them. The snow sucks around here, they got seven foot in 24 hours last year.

Has it been hard to adjust yourself to the new changes a move to another country can bring?
The only thing that's been hard is getting used to the bland American humour. That and they drive too damned slow.

» Continue to the second part of the interview

» Get his music - from C64 to Atari to Amiga and more.

Softography - not only the C64 stuff.

» BarryLeitch.com - Visit his homepage.

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