Publisher: Organ Grinder's Monkey
Compatibility: BBC B, B+, Master 128 & Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #67

About this time in 2006, the Organ Grinder's Monkey (OGM) released You're Alan Partridge, the first and only disc to utilise the Millsgrade Voxbox expansion (That is, if you don't count the Voxbox Demonstration Disc!). A year later and they are back with another disc for the buffs with real Electrons equipped with specialist peripherals - Daniel Pugh's BBC Music Demo World. "Why, after all this time?" might be the obvious question. And, considering you need an Electron with either a Turbo or Master RAM Board, a Plus 1, a DFS E00 disc system and either the Complex Sound Systems/Project Expansions Sound Expansion Cartridge, one might inevitably question whether more than two or three people will ever see it in action anyway.

The response from OGM naturally is the same as for their previous release - that the original demonstration disc rather underused the interface itself. We at Acorn Electron World have never seen Complex Sound Systems' effort - but the Sound Expansion Demonstration Disc bundled with Project Expansions' product featured only a single tune to demonstrate its capabilities! And whether anyone would ever want to listen to The Twelve Days Of Christmas at any other time of year is itself questionable!

If you're lucky enough to have the necessary equipment therefore, Daniel Pugh's BBC Music Demo World is what it's been crying out for, for the past two decades. Despite its name, it is a disc designed solely for the Electron (with necessary expansions) and, as with the previous OGM release, it is graphically lavish, highly customisable and ultimately quite a breathtaking achievement.

Daniel Pugh, part of the demo scene for the Beeb for a number of years in the late Eighties, programmed a large number of thumping renditions of the modern pop songs of the era. He originally uploaded his music demos onto the CCL4 bulletin boards, the precursors to the internet, which could be accessed by anyone with the combination of a BBC computer, a RS423 connection, a modem and a telephone line. These were the days when that little setup would retail at around £800 alone, but those rich enough to afford it did, naturally enough, save Mr. Pugh's masterpieces to disc. When the disc-based PD libraries made their appearance later on in time, several compilations of BBC music demos, originally downloaded from CCL4, became available (Sometimes for as little as £1 each). Eventually, all the different libraries of tunes were consolidated into six or seven discs by 8 Bit Software. Although every now and then, new demos of this ilk are 're-discovered' on some obscure disc in a collection looted from eBay, as of the present day about 300 or so BBC music demos have been preserved in total. Mr. Pugh had a hand in about 50 of those preserved; along with one Ashley Frieze and James Lawson (aka 'The Admiral') he was one of the most prolific BBC music demo programmers that there ever was.

On this disc you get 26 of his best compositions, all completely rewritten with accurate timings and new display routines to allow them to work on the expanded Elk. The original demos, you see, were invariably tagged onto Mode 7 displays. With the conspicuous lack of Mode 7 on the Acorn Electron, this has called for some clever conversion work and the method OGM has employed is to sort the demos into two distinct types: 'karaoke-style' and 'instrumental'. For the 'karaoke-style' demos, the Mode 7 screen has been converted into two-colour Mode 4 using new emulation tool release Image2BBC (reviewed this issue). A middle section is left clear for lyrics to appear in, and the code has been overhauled so that they do not scroll. For the 'instrumentals', the original Mode 7 display has been retained, but converted to a Mode 5 one. These latter demos therefore appear almost identically to the BBC originals.

The different methods of conversion clearly show the thought that has gone into the disc's production. Better still for demonstration purposes, the menu system employed operates a sophisticated 'Play All Demos of a Particular Genre' option as well as an option to play one particular demo alone. So, for example, all of the Eighties hits conversions (including Stop by Erasure, Take On Me by A-ha and Shake Your Love by Debbie Gibson) are kept separated from Dan's seasonal Funky Yuletide suite, the awesome Addicts' Anthem Mixes and the two Peruvian Jungle theme tunes to Mr. Pugh's abandoned PD game Paranoid.

The compositions themselves are awesome. Written entirely in BASIC, they work the processor hard and the extra 'kick' of a 'turboed' Elk, as the disc informs you on start-up, is not optional but mandatory. Our personal favourite is the Pet Shop Boys' mesmerising pop classic It's A Sin, which plays complete with lyrics not only of the song but even the original Latin finale. Connecting a pair of modern PC speakers to the earphone socket of the sound cartridge should also be considered mandatory; again this is suggested by the opener of the disc itself.

All of the individual demos return to the main menu after having finished - there are no 'infinite loop' demos on this compilation and, without exception, the graphics and displays are custom-designed and reflect the style of the original BBC ones. The double-sided disc has been crammed with as many demos as its space will allow.

In conclusion, this disc is truly an exceptional work, and possibly one of the very best things that ever has been produced for the expanded Elk. If the CGE returns to London any time soon, it should definitely be right up on display beside You're Alan Partridge.