Farewell, Ben Daglish

by Paul Morrison

It’s enormously sad and quite a shock to us all to learn of the passing of one of 8-bit computer music’s biggest legends… Ben Daglish.

I don’t want to be maudlin about this, terrible though it undoubtedly is; rather, I want to focus on and celebrate what he brought to the world of computer games with his talent, which was considerable. An accomplished musician in his own right, he was probably equally beloved by fans of all three major 8-bit computers (Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC, for any BBC owners racking their brains as to what he might have written music for).

Ben was a huge character, certainly one of the more individual personalities out there. I never actually met him, but I did talk to him for the purposes of this book. He was always happy to talk to anyone about his games music, and that endeared him to the entire community. His generosity of spirit seemed to be simply a part of who he was and as a result you can find interviews with him all over the internet. Do take the time to look them up and read a few.

I feel that the best way to remember Ben is through his work, so I’m going to pilfer YouTube and post some videos below of some of my favourite Daglish tracks. They will be heavily C64-dominated, and your favourites might not be the same as mine, but do comment below with your recommendations.

Hades Nebula (C64, NEXUS)

Ben loved writing for games set in space, and for me, his Hades Nebula was one of his most enjoyable pieces. Just as well, because even though I loved games like this, it was soul-crushingly difficult. I ploughed on though, because I really liked the music. I actually got to be quite good at the game, but the game itself never became that good. The music most certainly is, though… stay with it for a surprising and excellent solo at 2:30.

Cobra (C64, Ocean Software)

Zach Townsend’s first game on the Commodore 64 was. shall we say, not received all that well. However, Ben’s moody theme tune fit very well and was a real highlight, inspiring many people to continue playing when they might otherwise have turned their attention elsewhere.

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Dark Fusion (ZX Spectrum, Gremlin Graphics)

The Spectrum was renowned for having a weaker sound chip and indeed, many of its early soundtracks were extremely limited. Once composers began to figure the machine out, though, they produced some work that could scarcely be believed by stunned Speccy fans. Probably Ben’s finest Spectrum hour, to my ears, was his title music for this Gremlin Graphics release. If you’ve never heard it before, give it a whirl and prepare to be surprised and amazed.

Firelord (C64, Hewson Consultants)

This is simply a lovely, beautiful piece of music. It’s quite simple, but wonderfully melodic and memorable. I could quite easily imagine Ben playing this on his flute.

The Last Ninja (C64, System 3)

The Last Ninja is one of the Commodore 64’s most famous games and it has one of its best-loved soundtracks. Ben split the music-writing duties with Anthony Lees and it therefore became arguably the most renowned work either or both of them produced. The game features twelve excellent pieces, but my favourite has always been the in-game track for the Wastelands level. It’s atmospheric, upbeat and very catchy and it just makes me feel happy to listen to it. So I will.

Trap (C64, Alligata)

When I talked to Ben, I asked him which of his pieces he was most proud of. He told me that although several sprang to mind, Trap was always the one of which he was proudest. It seems fitting, then, that I end this write-up with the epic and amazing piece from that game. Well, actually, it’s from the hidden demo within the game… so you have something to watch while you listen. A remarkable achievement for its time.

Ben’s body of computer games work is vast. I’m sure you have many memories to draw on, whether it’s of his themes for Krakout, Potty Pigeon, Thing Bounces Back or his collaboration with Rob Hubbard on Auf Widersehen Monty. Or perhaps it’s something else altogether. Feel free to share your memories below. I think the best way to end is with a video of Ben on stage with the Fastloaders, performing some of his Last Ninja music with real energy and personality. He may have been taken far too soon, but Ben Daglish has left an enormous legacy and an infinite and indelible mark on all of us, and for that, we are truly thankful.