The Jackal / Strathaven Cracking Service,
Scottish Cracking Crew
Added on February 8th, 2005 (7936 views)
Tell us something about yourself.
Barry Leitch, 34, born in Paisley, Scotland, and currently in Buffalo, New York. My current job is freelancing doing audio, and I'm helping out at my mates company doing some managing stuff. Interests: mostly IT stuff these days. I can give most seasoned certified IT guys a run for their money.
What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
The Jackal. All the local old skool hackers had cool names like Vulture and Demon. I chose Jackal cos I picked over their code to learn it, like a jackal picks meat off a freshly killed carcass.
What group(s) were you in?
Christ, I'm expected to remember all those stupid acronyms we came up with!? Erm, Strathaven Cracking Service or something like that. Fridge Freezers – that actually stood for something... Fast Research Into Development Game Exploration or something stupid like that (the Freeze Frame cartridge enabled you to stop the game code and edit stuff). Doofur Designs, Scottish Cracking Crew... I was 15, there was a new one every few hours, where some of them lasted days.
What roles have you fulfilled?
Musician, coder, trader, tea maker.
How long were you active for?
In the C64 scene? 1984-ish till 1990 probably, maybe 1991. I can't remember when the last C64 title was.
Tell us about those years and how you got into the scene in the first place.
Hell, we just wanted to make demos. We'd hammer those out at a ridiculous rate, one a day or so. I started by making lots of music, Alan Macfarlane my unfortunate compadre in crime just wanted to draw. He had to suffer thru all my dodgy renditions of tunes I was transposing from badly written sheet music as I learnt how music "works". We'd hang out, make a demo, shoot the shit... just another day. We weren't trying to seriously make cool demos, we were just having fun. In retrospect obviously I should have taken it more seriously and never released the crap stuff, but we were just two kids having a laugh.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
In the 80's? Well, there was no email, no Internet, no websites, you had to post games thru the mail to get copies. You had to wait five minutes to load stuff from tape, or two minutes if you had a disk drive. Christ you were so fucking bored by the time you loaded something you wanted to do something creative instead. ;)
Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
The art of Electrosound... Actually, I used to compose in Electrosound even when I had a proper music driver, and used two C64's side by side to transfer the data visually off Electrosound into source code data on the C64. It was fairly efficient. I eventually moved to composing on the Amiga in Soundtracker/Noisetracker/Octamed etc. I still use the method of composing in trackers for sample based music (cell phones, toys etc.) purely for speed. Compared to your average music student running Cakewalk and a sound font I can outperform him by about 800 percent.
When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
Getting a job writing music. I wasn't any good at it, and I don't know how I did it. I guess I just blagged my way in.
Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
Rob, Martin, more so Rob due to his coding skillz.
What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64?
The disk fast loader routine or Rob's audio driver data structure – simplicity and efficiency at its finest!
Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
Yeah, for years. We went to PCW every year, and we met everyone we wanted to meet. Tony Crowther, Martin, Rob. There were lots of freebies, stickers, disks and promo crap. Mostly we met other people we knew from Scotland and compared "who have you met" stories. We also went to events as late as the Anarchy copy-party where I entered the Amiga version of the TFX title music into the music competition. Some dude gave me his Ozric tentacles CD that day, and I still have it.
In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
Fun, gaming, working, and tryin new things.
What were the particular highlights for you?
For me, going to meet Rob and Martin when I was 16 and 17. It was a big thing for me to get to meet these guys. It allowed me to put a human face to it all, understand it all a bit better and see how they worked. Sometimes one can tend to romanticise things, like movies for example, it all seems very glamorous, but in reality, most poor schmo's are up at 6 AM, and there's always someone wandering around with a hammer having to fix stuff before he's even had his morning cuppa.
We arrived about 1 PM at Rob's. John Twiddy was there, I think Gary Liddon was there, and some other guy I can't remember who, when me and my dodgy Scottish mate showed up. Those guys were all smokin and shootin the shit, I was a wee 16 year old kid, and these guys were all way older. We sat and bullshitted, copied games, tools and stuff, and hit the pub at around three-ish. More bullshitting went on, someone talked Rob into playin a few bars on his Casio. Me and my mate ended up sleepin on the floor at Rob's as we missed the bus back home. I think he got the couch, and I got the floor. I remember thinking, "Rob's a nice guy, but man, he could use vacuuming once in a while." He also made very weak cups of tea so much so we accused him re-using teabags. We did post Rob some teabags every few days for a few weeks after that.
I was down in Wrexham in Wales for a few weeks with the JCS guys (Jason, Nigel, Aggy and some fuckwit kid that drank pinks blood so chicks would dig him). I was good friends with those guys and some guy had just tried to stab me in Paisley over some girl, so I bailed town and went and stayed with them for a few weeks to let the situation in Scotland cool down a bit. And then there's a horribly long story about me getting in a fist fight with a Welsh miner called Elvis over a another girl, so it was out of the frying pan and into the fire, but anyways, I'm getting off track.
Basically we turned up at Martin's front door at 11 AM on a Sunday morning. "Hi, is Martin in", with about five minutes advance notice (Martin had been vague about getting together so we forced the issue and just showed up). We talked about me never having had a Donner Kebab before, which meant that we ended up having Donner Kebab's for breakfast. After about half of it, it was too spicy for me and one of the Welsh-wanks, erm, JCS – probably Moto-x-man (fat Nigel who still emails me once in a while) – said "You need to have a few bevies in order to make a kebab palletable."
Any cool stories to share with us?
Me and my friends went to the YMCA computer club in Glasgow from an age where we were too young to even attend such events. We'd lie to our parents about where we were going and take a 90 minute bus ride into Glasgow and carry TV's and computers on buses through Glasgow's roughest neighbour hoods – such was the mighty draw of the whole computer scene. Even these days there are little pockets of people online in IRC and other places where its sort of the same, but back then it was more about the camaraderie, the competition, the freedom of information, trying to out do each other, bribing people with games or porn in order to get them to spill their guts as to how they got the sprites in the border working etc. Showing off your latest demo only to have some guy produce a disk with someone else's demo that totally pissed on yours, so you'd go home, take their demo apart and find out how they did it better than you, then you'd come back and do the same thing the next week. For me, it was an innocent time, and it will always be remembered and revered as such.
Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
From time to time. People email me, lots of the guys I knew went into the game industry, most are still struggling like me to continue to stay in it, and the rest are trying to get out of it. ;) I saw a bunch of people at BIT Live a couple of years back. It was good to see them all, but I wish I had more time to get to talk one on one with people. I'm still good friends with Robert Magowan (he coded Marauder). Robert and his wife came to stay last year and I almost injured her when I crashed into a tree with her riding on the back of my four-wheeler. Thankfully, her blow was cushioned by a large Scotsman between her and the tree.
When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
1984, I think, and I don't know what happened to it. I do have one that I picked up though and some disk drives. A buddy gave me a tricked out Amiga 3000 too, and this thing is loaded! I hadn't seen an Amiga in 10 years after coming to the States so it was really mind blowing to see one again and see just how far ahead of the PC it was at the time.
Was the C64 really as special as we like to think it was?
It's as special as it is to you personally. If you painted little stick figures in your bedroom, and one day 10 years from now someone got in touch with you wanting to ask you about those little stick figures you painted, you'd be kind of excited to tell him about them. :)
When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you? :)
When someone pays me to do a tune. :) Quote available on request – purchaser must supply a development kit, software, and a bottle of JD's.
Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
Several.... Rob – thanks. Martin – ooOOOOoo Martin, you are so awesome ! ;) Cheers mate. All the other guys I used to bug – sorry. Heatbeat – Scrambled Mind.mod still rocks so thanks for that. To anyone who signed the guestbook on my webpage – thanks. To anyone who took the time to email me about some of my music that they liked – thanks. Those emails are always appreciated, and they seem to have a knack of arriving just when you need them the most. The guy that remixed Mindsmear and put it on remix.kwed.org – thanks for not doing the chicken song! :) "The guy that stole my bike in 1973 – you'll get yours ya bastard!" And thanks to you for reading this, I like to write, I think I missed a calling there.
back to the list of available interviews