Stu Taylor / XESS
Added on February 26th, 2013 (2464 views)
Tell us something about yourself.
My name is Stuart Taylor, I'm 43 (nearly 44) years young and I was born in Wolverhampton in the West Midlands. I grew up with my parents, mainly in pubs that they owned and ran. Nowadays, I live with my partner (soon to be wife) in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. I work in data migration for a company that provides software for the insurance industry.
What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
Just the one, Xei. I think it was the name of a Dungeons & Dragons character I saw in the window of Games Workshop once. I was never into Dungeons & Dragons but did have an interest in text-based adventures for the C64 from the likes of Level 9 and Infocom.
What group(s) were you in?
Just the one, really – XESS. There were three of us, Xei, El Stocko and Shandor. Take our initials and you get XESS! We each had our skills. Mine was to compose average music, usually with Electrosound.
What roles have you fulfilled?
Generally, I was the musician. Back when I lived in pubs with my parents, when pubs closed around 2:30 and opened again at 6:00, I would come home from school to what was essentially a massive house to play in. One of the rooms in the pub had an old electronic organ that was used to keep the elderly customers happy. I began tinkering on that, and thus began my musical career! I eventually upgraded to a synth and started learning more about the shapes of sounds and about compositions.
How long were you active for?
On the C64, I'd say from about 1982 to 1986. Unfortunately, the juggling clown converted me to the Amiga (at least I sort of stayed faithful to Commodore!)
Tell us about those years and how you got into the scene in the first place.
It stems from my school days, really, and playing games with my mates on a variety of games consoles including the Atari VCS, Intellivision, Philips (G7000?) and Kevin Keegan's Grandstand machine. Living in pubs didn't help, as we always had at least one arcade game in there, like Astro Blaster, Galaxians, Donkey Kong or Asteroids. I discovered that if you turned it off and on quickly at the mains, you could get 99 credits!
The natural progression at secondary school was to get one of those computer things and pretend to your parents that you were learning on it, when all you really wanted to do was play games. At the time, I'd narrowed my choice down to one of two machines which were both in their early stages of development and looked very business-like, namely the Dragon 32 and the Commodore 64. Thankfully, I chose the latter.
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
This changed as I progressed. My initial enthusiasm for it as a games console was soon diminished by having to wait 20 minutes for something to load, only to then get a ?Load error. I wanted to use my toy there and then! We'd started to program Commodore PETs at school, and the C64 used the same language, so I started tinkering with that, gradually learning more about things such as sprites and POKEs. It also had a sound chip that actually made noises, and you could play chords on it, so I started to mess around with the sounds (in BASIC).
A few of us at school began to enjoy programming so much that instead of spending our lunch hours in the bike shed or throwing mud at each other, we actually went to the Computer Room to do work! In a natural progression, we then really started messing around with our C64s and using (and learning) 6510 assembler language. Reading stories about teenagers getting rich helped our egos.
Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
Originally, no. Once I'd got to the stage where I was actually writing whole tunes on the C64, I relied on Electrosound from Orpheus. Then, the music scene on the C64 started to get a little crazy, and I started to listen really intently to stuff other people had done. It wasn't so much the tunes I was listening to, but rather how they had created certain sounds, or looped certain bits. It inspired me to write my own music routines, with a few utilities which I used to help make composing a little easier.
When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
The routines I'd developed, as mentioned above. I was never creative or good enough to develop anything graphical or playable, so that was my comfort zone!
Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
It's really boring to say Rob Hubbard, but he is the man! He gave me a lot of inspiration and was someone whose music I really listened to and digested, as I said above. Added to that, he was a very talented musician, you could tell by the harmonies and melodies he used. He gave me a lot of initial inspiration. A lot of my inspiration was musical, though, and I really admired Francis Monkman, Herbie Flowers, Giorgio Moroder and other like-minded musicians.
What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64?
My own music routines. Many people, including myself, were initially composing stuff – some of it great – in commercial packages. My frustration, however, was that you were restricted by what that package could do. What if I wanted to force one of the voices to alternate quickly between the 1st, 3rd and root 5th, to give the impression of a chord? What if I wanted to slide a note? What if I wanted to alternate voices while playing one note? You want to be able to do this sort of stuff, by yourself! My routine was fiddly to use, but it didn't matter since it wasn't a commercial tool, it was a tool for me!
Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
No, I enjoyed the music side of it, but I was no longer into games or socialising. I guess I was a bit of a recluse.
In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
I wasn't really into the scene, though I could understand it. Had I been, I'm sure I'd have learnt a lot from fellow enthusiasts, hackers, coders, developers and musicians. That said, there was never really a local C64 scene for me, other than me and my mate Rob (El Stocko) developing the odd demo to show off a few of our skills on CompuNet.
What were the particular highlights for you?
The Hobbit did it for me. It was quite a bad adventure game, actually, but some of those graphics were amazing for the time. I also enjoyed silly puzzle games and messing about on CompuNet, which I was fascinated by (this was pre-Internet). Demo-wise, I'm still proud of XESS' very own Rewind. Rob did some clever coding on that! I was also impressed when C64 games started to talk, as in Ghostbusters and Arabian Nights. A special mention should also go to Jeff Minter, his stuff was rather original!
Any cool stories to share with us?
There was a Defender game for the C64 by Alligator software, I think it was called Guardian. I thought I could change some of the sprites in that and release it commercially as my own game!
Also, the main coder at Superior Software, Ian Gray (I might have the wrong company there, I'm thinking of the company that released Siren City and China Miner, the hardest game ever), published a machine code monitor in BASIC. I just nicked it and submitted it as one of my school assignments. The teacher was well impressed!
Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
Social networking sites have revitalised some old friendships. I'm still in touch with Rob Stockton (El Stocko) who doesn't live that far away from me, and my old friend Cory Kin who does live a long way away. Both were great programmers.
When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
I got mine around 1982. I'm afraid to say, I sold it to my nephew, but then I got another one as I was asked to compose some music for a game, which I think Activision even released! Unfortunately, I sold that one as well.
Was the C64 really as special as we like to think it was?
Definitely. Just imagine if I'd got the Dragon 32, I'd probably have become an expert in word processing and spreadsheets! It was a powerful beast with a powerful following. The only thing that could touch it was the Atari 800, and that didn't really have the following that the C64 did. The BBC was a strange machine. It was quite a serious beast, even the games such as Revs and its flight simulators were very serious in nature.
Without the C64, I probably wouldn't have had the career I've had to date. It introduced me to technology, programming and sound and was way ahead of its time. It was also a fun machine. I never thought poking would be so much fun!
When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you? :)
I'm afraid that's unlikely. You never know, though, you might get to hear some more compositions from me one day!
Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
They were good days. Sorry if I upset you on CompuNet, but I'm far more mature nowadays! I'll just upset you on Facebook instead.
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