Back in 2018, InExile Entertainment released The Bard’s Tale IV: Barrows Deep.
After a 30 year hibernation, the dungeon crawling franchise had finally been given a revival.
The game saw its player lead a band of heroes through a mysterious celtic land. True to the series’ form, these heroes were guided through their journey by songs and melodies of elder days. When stumbling upon a town called Skara Brae, however, a haunting Gaelic tune would start to play.
Despite being completely unknown to video game culture, ancient pieces of traditional Scottish music had a major impact upon the game thanks to a studio based on the other side of the planet, and the publisher’s wisdom in recruiting a Scotsman to arrange their game’s soundtrack.
Ged Grimes, best known for his work with bands Danny Wilson, and more recently Simple Minds, has been arranging video game soundtracks since the late 90s. Initially scoring Earthworm Jim 3D, he was later approached by InExile and was asked to help with their return to the Bard’s Tale series.
A couple of years and lockdowns later, Ged has returned to his work on the game and given it an entirely new lease of life.
“I’d dabbled a wee bit in orchestration on some of the other work that I did for games”, he told us.
“There was so much music that I produced for The Bard’s Tale. Some of the stuff that appears in the game only really had the voice with no instrumentation behind it. So I started thinking, right, how would I orchestrate this just around the vocals.”
Grimes has had a hugely successful career as a musician. As one of the founders of Dundee’s Danny Wilson, he found chart success with ‘Mary’s Prayer in 1987, before entering the games industry as a composer, musician, and producer. In recent years he’s joined the legendary Scottish band Simple Minds as their bass player. Simple Minds have released many hit singles, with “Don’t You” topping the Billboard Hot 100 in the USA when it released in 1985.
Scara Brae Revisited
However, when lockdown hit, Ged decided that he would revisit his work with the latest orchestration and sampling tools to bring the ancient Gaelic songs from The Bard’s Tale into the modern era.
“It was quite a challenge to start with because there was no time signature, there was nothing to hang yourself on when you’re composing apart from the emotion that’s in the voices. And that’s kind of where I went. So I ended up just writing stuff around the vocals and trying to make the orchestration feel that it was kind of ebbing and flowing with the emotion of the vocal so it’s been a real eye-opener for me.”
This self-funded project proved to be a love letter to Scottish traditional music. The three re-orchestrated tracks feature many Scottish influences like the clarsach, fiddle, and of course, Gaelic vocals. Iain Ghlinn Cuaich, Am Braigh Uige, and Cha D’ Fhuair mi’n Cadal feature Eilidh Cormack on vocals, Ali Hutton on whistle, and Brian McAlpine on Harmonium.
Getting Gaelic Into Games
Somehow more incredible than Ged’s ability to re-arrange these songs during a pandemic, is his story of how these pieces ended up in the game in the first place.
He began, “One of the really special things that happened on that game was that I played InExile some Gaelic Psalm singing from the highlands, just as a way of getting them in the vibe, and the guys went, ‘this is amazing! We’ve got to have this in the game!'”
From there, Ged contacted a friend of his in Inverness who he calls his “Gaelic Guru” – a woman named Eilidh Mackenzie, who helped to get the ball rolling. Eilidh contacted her local minister, a Canadian who’s fluent in Gaelic, who then arranged a meeting with choirs in Inverness. Word of mouth started to spread, and within just two weeks, an evening session was booked with a total of 40 Gaelic psalm singers for Ged to record.
“That was just one of the most special experiences I’ve had in music. And you know, all the people that came that night, 90% of them aren’t gamers, but it was great to see in terms of the Gaelic language.”
Ged told us representing this traditional music is so important to him, and that it’s been amazing to receive responses from listeners:
“The Gaelic language is in an Xbox game, and there are kids all over the world playing that game and they’re hearing Gaelic, which is a lot of the response I’ve been getting. There have been people in South America and Japan going, ‘where can we hear more of this language and this music?'”
It’s clear that Ged relished his chance to work with these Gaelic musicians, and noted how special it was to be invited into that community.
“When you step into the Gaelic world, for me as an outsider, I don’t mean to romanticise it, but it was so refreshing for me. It was like going back to when I first got involved in music in the first place because there’s this kind of community thing,” he said.
“On a regular basis, all the young creative musicians that are just coming through, young 15-16 year olds, they all go away for the weekend and make music together. There’s mentors there, and those older people from the Gaelic community that are well respected musicians, and there’s this kind of passing the baton that goes on, which is just unlike anything else I’ve really experienced.”
Ged even proudly admitted, “I was in tears when we were making the thing at times because it’s such a special thing that you don’t come across every day.”
For The Future
Ged’s passion project and the reception he’s seen from it shows us just how important it is for this tradition of Scottish music to see more representation. Without a doubt, the Gaelic community will continue to pass down its talents for generations to come. But what shouldn’t remain unknown is the power that Gaelic music possesses to transform games, films, and TV shows. Yoko Shimomura, Jeremy Soule, and Austin Wintory are just a few composers who have shown how easy it is to transport players to different worlds by creating original video game scores. Perhaps, however, Mr. Grimes and InExile were onto something when they had the vision to look back at Scotland’s rich heritage and use music that will outlive us all.
You can find the entire soundtrack, including the remastered tracks on Bandcamp, Apple Music, and Spotify. All of the links, as well as Ged Grimes’ social media channels can be found on his Flow page.