Half Man Half Music
Originally published in Vandalism News #68 - November 2018
What were your fondest memories of the c64?
The scene - getting blasted at a show then going back to Minter's for Star Wars.....etc.
It was a shock to us all - pioneer and hero to many, Ben Daglish, died aged 52.
I only had been chatting to him a few weeks ago about his work with Anthony on one of my favourite C64 games of all time, The Last Ninja.
Ben had composed the music for a large of games, including Cobra, Trap, The Last Ninja, Death Wish 3 and Deflektor, on all three major 8-bit computers: the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC.
I contacted Ben's wife, Sarah, to share some memories of the man...
"Ben was indeed a beautiful soul. The love being sent from so many people from so many different parts of his life is overwhelming. The thing about Ben is that he was intrigued by everything, never stopped learning, never stopped laughing. He was frantic, joyous, stubborn, opinionated, inspirational and charming and so much more. He loved the whole C64 scene, and would always come back from events with stories of wild times and good friends made. I think that he found something interesting about everyone he met, and that he treated everybody with the same generosity - friends from his schooldays, people he worked with, children and adults he inspired both with his computer music and his numerous schools projects and theatre work. He loved contact from everyone in the C64 world, and was delighted (and always slightly amazed) to receive and reply to random emails and messages from all over the world. He would have been astonished at the outpourings at the moment. Then after a bit he would have really revelled in it, telling us with great excitement about it all. Then after a coffee he would probably have grinned, said how silly everyone was being, that he was just a tunesmith and a bit of a faker, and gone back to normality (but with a bit more joy in his heart).
I cannot tell you how much he is going to be missed. We all loved that man - or half-man/half-music - as my friend referred to him, and he definitely leaves a big Ben-shaped hole in my life, Jake, Rhianna and Lottie's, and all his friends and the people he met along the way."
Ben was known to have embraced the modern chiptune community with many of his fans discovering his music without ever having played the games they were originally from. He was very humble and often downplayed his hero status ("I started writing music for computer games - something I'm still famous for among a very small hard-core male 25yr old fraternity (mainly Scandinavian for some reason, I never sussed why").
Looking around the net, various retrospectives are starting to emerge, one of those is from TMR/Cosine... he wrote a piece on Ben's work under "WE MUSIC" (We Make Use of Sound In Computers) which is from way back in the days of CompuNet (anyone remember Ratt and Benn!), a little journey back to those golden times:
"I was saddened to hear that Ben Daglish passed away last Monday; I'd only seen him play on a couple of occasions at Back In Time events and we'd met very much in passing at the same time. My own shyness prevented me from taking full advantage of those opportunities. But he, along with people like Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway was behind a significant chunk of the soundtrack from my formative years, composing for games I enjoyed including Krakout, Hades Nebula, Return Of The Mutant Camels and many more on the C64.
Ben also produced a number of demos with his friend and regular collaborator Tony Crowther under the We MUSIC banner, they put out a great cover of Stairway To Heaven amongst others, but there's one that always stands out for me personally; it's been known by a couple of names over the years including Space Gladiator but the filename on the version I received as a teenager was 10 Minute Trap. There are two flavours available with the sparser version hidden within the game Trap itself, the cassette inlay features a screenshot with the caption "hi scorers should enter re-arranged MODE" as a hint, as well as being available separately, but a retooled version also exists which added a couple of logos and an upscroller, this was released to promote UK online service Compunet and is the one I'm most familiar with personally.
The demo itself is very much built around the music, which is nearly ten minutes long and truly epic in scale, the burly, sometimes titular Space Gladiator at the bottom left of the screen accompanies parts of the music with his drum and will sometimes practise or just watch the action when not required, and there's a window looking out on a couple of barren planets where the story unfolds. As the music gets going a flying saucer arrives to beam down a spaceman, leaving him behind to witness what appears to be a pitched interstellar battle with multiple craft flying past, missiles smashing into one of the planets and occasional stroboscopic flashes which are all tied into the soundtrack. I've always felt sorry for that spaceman actually, he looks rather lonely stranded there and observing from his solitary platform and waving at the UFOs as they whiz past!
The Compunet version's scrolling text talks about the various online services available, sometimes punctuating events in the main window as it does so, the phrase "you're never alone with Compunet" rather ironically appears as the spaceman is dropped off for example, and I've always rather liked that integration, the advertising could just have been wedged in with absolutely no regard to the original demo but time and thought obviously went into this. It helps that 10 Minute Trap is already an engaging, unusual demo of course, which is also why I'll sit down and watch the Compunet version a couple of times a year just because I can... although subsequent viewings will be a little sadder knowing that one of its creators is no longer with us."
In an interview presented by Andrew 'Merman' Fisher to mark the launch of the book "The Story of the Commodore 64 in Pixels", Ben recalls the famous Trap demo when asked what his best achievement was on the C64, he responded: "I can't think of an earlier instance of 'the demo' other than the Trap demo. So I think mine and Tony Crowther's greatest achievement was inventing 'the demo', the Trap thing, basically it was, for anybody that doesn't know, a little movie we had at the end of the game, just as a reward for finishing the game. You finished the game and played through this kind of 7 minute piece of music, with this kind of little animated drummer, and this spaceship, and well, it was like a little film. And it was the first instance I can think of just having some music and animated graphics together without anything else going on, without any game behind it as it were. And yes, I think we invented the demo, so probably would be my most proudest moment."
Apart from a few conversations on Facebook, I did not know Ben personally or nor did I ever have the pleasure of sharing a brew with the man. Since his passing, there has been an outpouring of condolences from the community that show the immense impression he left upon us. Reaching out to some of Ben's colleagues, starting with Matt Gray, musician behind famous titles such as Last Ninja 2:
"The very first time I met Ben was shortly after I arrived at the Back In Time Live 2015 event in Brighton. I was arriving late, as usual, and I'd just ordered a pint as the Fastloaders were finishing their set and out of the blue I heard Ben call me up to the stage over the mic. From there he greeted me warmly along with Jarle from the Fastloaders and after rousing everyone to applause he carried on with his compering of the event with great enthusiasm and off the wall wit. So it's safe to say I liked Ben from the off.
The following year we both spent much of the Retrospillmessen weekend chatting to fans on the floor and amongst ourselves about everything and anything. We didn't always agree on all aspects of life, but we had a good time discussing them. I'd say Ben had a lot more energy than me on that event as I had an early dinner and fell asleep whilst Ben stayed up for a drink or several with the event's younger American guests. The whole hotel heard them all quietly retiring for the night around 3am.
On the Sunday we both sat for a Q&A and like myself Ben was surprised and amazed at the turn out and how interested they were to hear our background and stories on making music for the legendary C64. Ben clearly appreciated that people still loved his music and wanted to know more about the whole process.
From a musical perspective Ben had written some of the finest game soundtracks in history. As a teenager I compiled a cassette of my favourite SID tracks and in amongst that home mix tape was some of Ben's greatest work including The Last Ninja and my personal favourite Trap which displayed a great understanding of what makes an epic piece of music work. I lost count of how many times I listened to that tape and Trap was certainly one it's highlights.
Just last year on 30th September, I drove up to Leicester in the wind and rain for an event at the Retro Computer Museum. I was running late again, mainly because I'd been helping set up my twins' 7th birthday party which was happening the same day. As I arrived, I bumped into Ben in the midst of trying to find the owner of a car blocking him in. We only had a brief chat as he had to get back on the road home, but we said we'd have a proper catch up soon. He was his usual friendly and lively self.
Sadly that was the last time I saw Ben. A year and a day later I heard the news that shocked us all. Ben had passed.
You wouldn't have known Ben was ill. He found his way through the trauma of cancer with the same joviality he did through life.
I only knew Ben in person for a relatively short time. But what I knew about him was that he wasn't one of life's complainers. He was positive about so many aspects of life and never willing to see anything but good in people. I know he was devoted to his family. And I know he lived and breathed music. And he did it all rather well."
Robin Levy, graphician of titles such as Armalyte, Hawkeye and Last Ninja 3 writes...
"I'll always remember it's "'DER-AG-LEESH', not DER-AL-GER-LEESH'" (or words to that effect) from the Musician's Ball in Zzap! ... and listening to the Trap deno twenty times on the trot.
I didn't really know Ben. He was a guy who did music on a computer system I hadn't touched in over 20 years. I thought I had well and truly moved on from my c64 past so I was late to any real involvement in the retro scene until 2014-15 when I was having a particularly difficult time personally. I'd just finished the first pass at what became the "Far From Home" soundtrack and Andy Roberts knew I needed a pick-me-up so he gave me his ticket to Brighton's BIT Live2015.
After a hugely long walk into the suburbs of Brighton on a hot summers evening, I took a pew (literally) out of the way on the balcony, I'm actually quite shy and hadn't met anyone there in person before. Subsequently met Frank G and Andreas W later that evening
First thing that struck me was Fastloaders rendition of Wasteland... and it all came flooding back just how mind-meltingly intricately awesome the Ninja music was and how powerfully it sent me back to my teenage years in the room where we eventually developed Armalyte.
The second thing was Ben's intermission... he really was a funny guy with a razor sharp wit and an infectious energy. Extremely likeable and seemingly fearless.
The last thing was his performance with SID80's. I mean the whole band really were great, but Ben's, seemingly demented, prancing, perfectly appropriate flute improvisation over the top of PARALAX was an intensely emotional experience.
Fast forward to the Fastloaders gig in Camden. I took a date as well as John K, Armalyte's second coder.
Amazing gig. Ben looked tired standing to the side of the band but he still had a smile for anyone who caught his eye and utterly gave it his all on stage. The crowd loved him, a fantastic time was had by all, and my date, who is a gifted singer, was struck by Ben's performance and hugely impressed by the musical compositions. She and I are still together.
Chris A and I met and chatted and gossiped over the course of the next year, it was then when I first heard about his illness. Chris was visibly upset talking about it.
Later that year I trekked to Leicester for a get-together at the Retro Computer Museum. There I finally got to briefly chat and gossip with Ben, who was, despite everything else going on with his health and issues with the rights to his music, an utter delight.
I'm glad I met him but wish I'd met him earlier.
A lovely man and my heartfelt condolences to the family."
It is so moving when you read these quotes, I simply could not resist to capture more of them scattered over the internet or via private chat. Here are some that stuck out:
Jeroen Tel from the Dutch label Maniacs of Noise:
"My friend and Commodore 64 legendary music composer Ben Daglish passed away the 1st of October. He was a great man, always inspired, always challenging, always witty, down-to-earth and bloody brilliant in what he did. I will miss him dearly and I know for a fact many of you will too. RIP Benn! You were one of my legends and I'm honored to have met you in real life after being one of my childhood heroes. Your music will live on forever and your skills are passed through the children you taught!"
Jeff Minter, close friend and founder of Llamasoft, legend behind Hover Bover, Attack of the Mutant Camels and Iridis Alpha:
"Well fuck. RIP Ben Daglish. Amazing talent and an absolutely lovely bloke with it.
Chris Abbott, who has worked with Ben previously, has established 'Project Daglish', which is a Google Drive space to put remixes, photos and other stuff from the archives. He is also behind 8-bit-symphony.com which will have a concert special tribute to both Ben Daglish and Richard Joseph on the 15th of June 2019. Ben was going to conduct Trap at this concert. Now it's a tribute to both him and Richard Joseph (go check the site and make sure to visit if you can get to the Hull City Hall, Queen Victoria Square).
Chris wrote on Facebook:
"We all knew Ben. We all loved Ben. He was somehow at the heart of everything I did since 1997, and at the heart of people's C64 lives for as long as we can remember.
He was multi-talented, humorous, lovely, playful and one of the best human beings I've ever known.
I'm sure we're all crushed by his sudden departure: he beat lung cancer once, but the second time was too much, despite our hopes.
We knew he had lung cancer since 2015. Indeed, in 2016 he turned in a magical performance at The Underworld with FastLoaders despite suffering the after-effects of chemo! He looked half-dead, but he got on that stage and literally became the music. I've never seen anything like it.
Any place Ben went became better because he was there. We've all lost a mentor and a friend, along with a part of our personal history with the C64.
Ben is irreplaceable in our hearts. It hurts, but we have great video of him at his best, and all the music he created is still there. No musician could really ask for more.
They say you should never meet your heroes: but anyone who was lucky to have Ben as a hero invariably ended up even more in awe of him and his music than before, despite his best attempts to make fun of the hero worship!
Our hearts go out to Sarah, Jake, Rhianna and Lottie. They've lost more than we have, but they have more memories too. I hope that will sustain them in the years ahead."
Archmage, graphician in demo groups such as Andromeda and SHAPE:
"Saddened by the death of my all time favourite C64 musician, Ben Daglish. His music is etched into my soul"
Trevor 'Smila' Storey:
"On Monday we sadly lost the very talented Ben Daglish. We all have our own memories of him and his music. Cheers for everything fella, you will most certainly be missed."
Marcel 'Mad' Donne:
"To everybody who ever met him, even if it was for a chat at one occasion, be desperately sad, for my friend Ben Daglish has left spaceship Earth last Monday. How sad is it that a man of such amazing musical talent, such incredible capability and mischievous kindness, and of such wonderful intelligence should now be so suddenly spirited away from us all at the age of only 52, before he'd had enough fun. He was proud to announce back in 2003 that he'd taken my "stage virginity" as we played our first gig on stage together in Brighton, something I'll never forget. His music inspired and touched many people around the world and his charisma lit up every room he walked in to and his untimely departure is going to leave a huge void to many of us that's going to be impossible to fill."
Matt Furniss, musician behind Castle Master, Shadow Warriors and Chase HQ:
"Very sad to hear Ben Daglish has gone to the big SID chip in the sky. Ben was a huge inspiration to me as a young, aspiring game musician in the 80s. Listening to his amazing music in all those C64 games. What a talent."
Paul 'Sidman' Hesso:
"I am so gutted to hear of Ben's passing this week, a massive loss, a genius and genuinely funny and intriguing chap that I had the pleasure of meeting on many occasions over the past 15 years at various events, BIT Live etc, like everyone we all grew up listening to his amazing C64 SID work that I loved and he will be sadly missed... my heart felt condolences to all of Ben's family, R.I.P Genius xx"
"Can't believe another hero of mine passed away a couple of days ago. Ben was an accomplished musician who could play every instrument under the sun, but was known for writing music for Commodore 64 games such as Last Ninja and many more. I always find it sad when people with such talent are taken early from us. Condolences to his wife Sarah and family x"
"Ben thanks for being you and bringing us excitement and joy with your music and personality. You will be greatly missed but you will live forever in our memories and your music. Thanks for the crazy interview you gave us at the Retro Computer Museum last year. RIP buddy...."
Paul 'Sharkey' Chamberlain, Software Engineer at Riot Games, producer of Deliverance: Stormlord II/Hewson Software:
"Really sad to hear Ben Daglish has passed away recently. One of my genuine heroes and inspirations as a kid. Those early 8 bit guys made me determined to get into games and here I am today. So thank you Ben! May you rest in peace"
"I only met him once, but we didn't really know each other. Obviously a massive talent, and a huge inspiration. It's been said so many times already, but people like Ben paved the way for so many to have a life evolved around music. Be that from listening, creating, a hobby, or a full time job. He's certainly made a mark on the world."
"I'm actually crying about this, his music was a big part of my childhood, RIP Ben you magnificent bastard :("
Press Play On Tape, Danish revival band performing SID music on real instruments:
"We had the distinct pleasure to meet our childhood hero at the first of Chris Abbott's Back In Time events in 2001, and got to play on stage with Ben on several occasions. Having grown up with the Commodore 64 and starting a tribute band to revive the music of that era, it was truly amazing to be able to perform the music of our youth together with the composer himself.
Each time we met or made an album Ben showed a tremendous engagement in this next phase of the music, the interpretation --- of which he was a part of being a member of SID80's. He was a force of nature, an inspiration and always brutally honest being true to his love for the music."
I grew up with his music and over the years have got to know more and more about Ben, even sometimes beyond his music. He seemed like a very nice guy, passionate and a driving energy for anything he did. He also seemed to have had a mad sense of humour, something I absolutely love (give me that witty, mad humour any day! it is so infectious!).
Ben has left behind a legacy that has impacted so many people! Thank you Ben, your music and character lives on in all of us!
In closing, one of the many interviews with Ben closed out with the following question:
Is there any last words?
"Love one another. Often."