THE BUNDERBLUSS FILE: We sent our intrepid interviewer Leslie B. Bunder into the depths of Virgin’s HQ. Shooting straight from the hip, he sent us this Chris Sievey interview typed on orange paper...
Chris Sievey has been involved as a performer and musician within ‘the business’ for nearly a decade starting out during the heyday of Punk in the mid seventies. These years of constant involvement with the music industry prompted Chris to devise a board game based on his experiences in the vein of Monopoly — something everyone could join in with and enjoy. The idea of the board game based on the music business came to him when he was a youngster, ‘I used to play my game with pen and paper with friends of mine and they told me it would be a great idea for a board game,’ Chris told me when I met up with him at Virgin’s HQ in London’s Portobello Road. He continued, ‘So ever since those days it’s been an ambition of mine to devise a game about the music business.’
It was fine thinking up the basic idea, but to sit down and actually devise the game was another. Games designing takes months of work and at the time Chris and his band The Freshies were busy writing, rehearsing, recording and playing concerts — so plans for the game were shelved for a while. ‘Trying to get into the Top 40 was much more important,’ Chris said. And they were rewarded for this hard work as I’m in love with the girl on the Virgin Manchester megastore checkout desk and I can’t get bouncing babies by the teardrop explodes both managed to get in the Top 40 and are today hailed as classic singles. So just like any other successful act The Freshies were enjoying their fame. It was a case of Top of the Pops one day, off to Paris another and back to London the following day. But unfortunately for the band, difficulties were encountered with their record company which resulted in Chris resting The Freshies for a while he concentrated on his solo career, and decided to look for another deal.
During this period between deals Chris decided he wanted something to occupy his mind and, so the game idea he had shelved was dusted off and rethought. Early in 1982 he saw the first seeds of the Computer industry being planted; the ZX81 had been firmly established as the first low cost home computer. ‘That’s when I decided to make The Biz into a Computer game and not a board game.’ he said. ‘I saw the potential of these machines and said to myself ‘I must get one’ — so I did.’ After a few months of playing around with the ZX81 to get acquainted with it, Chris set about writing The Biz. First he wrote a game called The Flying Train which was on the B side of his Camouflage single released by EMI records — the first rock single to have a computer game on the B side.
Chris pointed out that The Flying Train was the first budget game! ‘The single only cost a pound and included the game while computer games at that time were £5 and up.’
With The Flying Train behind him Chris set about writing The Biz. Having gained considerable knowledge through programming his first game, writing The Biz was a comparatively easy task. He encountered a major problem however, which lay not in programming, but in the ZX81 and its minimal memory. ‘I even had a 16K Ram Pack but that wasn’t good enough as I kept on running out of memory. There was so much information and detail I wanted to put in, that I had to look around for a machine with a larger memory.’
Luckily for Chris and his plans for The Biz the 48K Spectrum came out: ‘They’ve both got similar BASICs so converting programs isn’t that difficult. The Spectrum had enough memory and it was encouraging to see that there was a huge market for Spectrum programs. A friend of mine had a Spectrum, and I asked if I could borrow it as I was anxious to complete The Biz properly. He agreed so I took it home with me. At the start it took me a bit of time to get used to, but within a couple of weeks I had started programming The Biz and at long last it was beginning to take shape.’
Eighteen months passed before the final version hit the shops. Why did it take so long?
‘Firstly, I wanted to make the program as challenging and interesting as I could which meant I was adding new bits of information to the program all the time. Also I was still busy with music, playing small concerts here and there; and finally I had to sort out the legal rights to the music tracks which are recorded on the game tape. All the tracks were released on various different labels so that took time.’
How important are the singles included with the The Biz?
‘The music side is very important to me; the computer games are done just for a bit of fun and for a change. The tracks that come with the game are not just old records, they’re special recordings and remixes I did to go with the game. I’ve just spent some time recording tracks for my next game.’
‘Next game?’ I asked.
‘Yeah, I’ve written another 3 machine code games and Virgin have got another eight music tracks of mine.’
‘Why did you sign to Virgin?’
‘Probably because everyone else would have turned the game down!! Only joking, it’s because of my involvement in the music business and because I know Virgin as a record company and how they operate. Virgin know how to market music as well as computer games, whereas if I signed to a games company they wouldn’t know how to market the music. Virgin know how to market both at the same time and do a good job.’
I asked Chris what his music contemporaries think of The Biz.
‘They all say “Oh No, not Sievey again!! What is he up to now?” People I know who have played it have found it quite realistic — my road manager said if you do this, that will happen, and it did. Most people who’ve played have enjoyed it.’
‘Why did you include the music on the cassette with the game?’
‘To make it a complete package, and good value for money. You’ve got a game, some music and an exclusive interview with me. I think games costing £5 or so are far too expensive — these new budget games are a great idea.’
‘Do you play many games?’
‘Not really, I’ve got Space Invaders and the like which my children love to play, but about the only game I play is Football Manager. I enjoy watching the highlights of the match, it’s such an addictive game. Oh yes, (laughing) I love all the Virgin Games!!’
‘Any tips for CRASH readers on how to succeed in the music business?’
‘If I knew that, I wouldn’t still be trying to get to number one. Would you believe that even though I know how the program works I can’t even get into the top 10.’
As the last drops were being drunk I ask Chris how he would feel if The Biz was sold as a bootleg (pirate copy).
‘It would only add to the cult thing, it wouldn’t bother me that much. I suppose I would think ‘I’m losing money here’ but at the same time there’s the satisfaction gained from knowing that people are playing the game, and they should want a copy, if they like it.’