Julian Breeze (English interview)

In May 2015, musician Julian Breeze graciously agreed to answer some of my questions. Here’s what he had to say:

How did you start with music, computers, and music in computers? Did you take inspiration from other artists or people?

I suppose I started composing music at my primary school – aged 9-10 ish. I have a recorder piece that I wrote then and also composed songs for some class productions. My Mum and dad were teachers at the little village school in Devon (SW England) and gave me much encouragement. At Secondary School (11 – 18) I learned clarinet and piano and played in local groups and the County Youth Orchestra. However my “A” levels (16-18) were all in maths and science. I went on to take a degree in “Music and Mathematics” at London University but spent much more time on music than maths!

Whilst at school I went on a couple of computer programming courses – using BASIC and FORTRAN but I have never been too interested in how computers work – rather I like to be able to exploit what they do in order to facilitate my music making, teaching and composing.

Did you do all the music programming yourself? How did you compose the music? Where was your music used? Did you compose more music which was never used?

The Durrell software tunes were written because I answered an ad in a local paper and saw a chance to earn a bit of extra money. Durrell had had success with a couple of games – one about fighter jets and I think the other may have been “Critical Mass”- and wanted a musician to give their next productions a new look. My experience in programming music was absolute zero but I knew Mike Richardson as our kids had both started at the same primary school and he really did most of the programming work. It was a real challenge making the tunes work on the Spectrum with such limited sound but we hit on a way of implying harmony without the means of actually producing it. I remember having to reduce my tunes to a series of figures – my experience in maths helped a lot here!

Sigma 7 Amstrad titleFor “Sigma Seven” the guy at Durrell said he wanted “something like “Pinball Wizard” as he saw the game as a kind of computerised pinball. I listened to the Elton John track and tried to use the basic patterns whilst making my own tune – I think mine is better that the original by “The Who”!

I really can’t remember all the tunes that I gave to Durrell but I’m sure that some were not used. There was always a quick turnaround. On one occasion they wanted something quickly and I was busy and my wife wrote something for a car chase game for me – don’t tell Durrell!

(He also added in an email that he wrote a tune for a game which probably was ”Fat Worm Blows A Sparky”.)

How was your music received back then?

I have to say that I don’t really know. Durrell were always happy with my work.
I teach music at an 11-16 school and the kids who were into computer games were amazed that I was writing the tunes for some of their favourites. They certainly loved it!

Thanatos main screen”Thanatos” and ”Sigma Seven” were converted to the Commodore 64 by revered musician Rob Hubbard. These tunes are as I hope you know beloved by us old gamers. I think many C64 users with me didn’t even know you were the original composer, instead thinking it was all Rob Hubbard. Hubbard has said about Thanatos that you ”gave me a music sketch and I implemented it… Never met or spoke with the chap.” What do you think of Hubbards versions?

“Thanatos” was always my favourite and existed in a fully scored version so I don’t quite understand the “musical sketch” quote. However this may have been prepared by a programmer – maybe Mike R. or Ron Jeffs. I never met or discussed any of the music with Rob Hubbard but I really like what he did with the tunes. He brings out some of the accompaniment ideas and highlights them as main melodies. This gave me quite a surprise when I heard it but it was a good move!

Were you aware of the lasting popularity of your tunes? The remixes and covers in particular of Thanatos are numerous. Have you been listening to them, and what do you think?

The more recent popularity of the tunes was a real surprise and I am genuinely flattered by the affection in which the melodies are held. Some of the people who have produced piano, guitar, orchestral and even vocal versions of “Thanatos” have probably spent far more time working on their arrangements than I spent on the original – well done, guys – I love them all and really appreciate your work. I particularly enjoy the “orchestral” mixes. I’m very much an “orchestral” person and spend a lot of time listening to, composing and studying orchestral music. I was manager of the Somerset County Youth Orchestra for several years – taking them on tours around Europe. We were the first orchestra to play in the European Parliament building in Brussels! I now tutor the woodwind section in the school holidays and we have a great time!

Thanatos frontHave you been ”updating” your own tunes?

The answer to this is : No.
However I am now inspired to make my own version of “Thanatos” – about time too!

However you might be astounded to learn that at the time of composition both “Sigma Seven” and “Thanatos” ended up as songs in a school show based on the story of the “Children’s Crusade” of the 13th Century ! Thanatos was used as an introduction to a song about hardship and suffering and also as a “leitmotif” for the Crusaders. “Sigma Seven” turned into an up-beat song about opposition to privileged authority figures and “fat-cats” bankers – quite modern for a show set in 1211 !

You are now working as a music teacher in a school for 11-6 year olds in Taunton, Somerset. Are you teaching them to play Thanatos? 🙂

I’ve taught at the school for over 30 years now and we’ve never played “Thanatos”, although I have used some of the versions for a comparative listening exercise for students studying for “GCSE Music”. When I complete my new version it will be for the kids to play.

What have you been doing since? Music for other computers, other types of music, bands, performances, composing, producing? Of course, anything not music related might be of interest as well!

I compose and arrange music for all types of ensemble but most of it is intended for performance by the students in my school or by local groups in Somerset. I do many arrangements of current pop songs for the choirs at the school and also write songs for shows. These include “The Big Blue and Green Machine” which is an environmental musical with songs that embrace all styles including Reggae, Rap, R and B, Comedy and….80s synth pop! I suppose my biggest “hit” here is a Christmas song called “Where were you at Christmas” which has been performed on TV and in several huge performances at the local Wells Cathedral. I’ve also composed a “concept” musical based on the “Alice” stories of Lewis Carroll. I’ve just arranged a touring version of this for a local theatre group.

I love conducting and musical directing and I lead many concerts and shows locally.

I was also closely involved in the music for a project called “Peace Child” which brought together children from all around the world (Eg Russia, USA, Japan, South Africa, Norway, Kenya, Ireland, Poland and many other European countries) to work together for a month and produce a musical about understanding each other. I wrote a song in 24 different languages for the kids to sing and I also musically directed the show which was produced in Taunton and then transferred for two nights to the West end in London. We will be celebrating this event in a couple of weeks in Taunton with some performances of the original songs from the show.

So, there you are. I hope that this helps and if anyone asks about me you can say “I never met or spoke with the chap, but I do know that he…”

/Julian Breeze.