1. Head in the Game   (5:56)

music © 1989 by colin nicholls & walter nicholls
lyrics © 1989/2012 by colin nicholls


I remember this composition coming together very quickly out of a jam session, shortly after we bought the Korg M1 in 1989. The lyrics followed shortly afterwards, but I could never figure out a melody until much later. We were definitely influenced by early Marillion, especially the guitar stylings of Steve Rothery. The lyrics are a bit Fish-y in plaices, too.

Update for 2017

This track has probably seen the most changes since the initial release:

Production Notes


Cakewalk's Dimension Pro DXi plugin has some pretty nice orchestral instruments. I constructed my own four-channel ensemble with first and second violins, violas, and cello; each group controlled by a different MIDI channel. This allowed me to perform each note of the chord in a separate performance, rather than play chords like a single piano performer. Essentially I wrote separate melody lines for each instrument, and "performed" them individually. This is more expressive and realistic sounding.

 I used a second instance of Dimension Pro for the Double-Bass.

I then assembled a second "quartet" using different source instruments: A patch on the Roland Fantom for the violins and double-bass; and two patches on the Korg TR-Rack for Viola and Cello. Then I mixed in the two string sections together, and applied a generous amount of reverb on the buss insert FX.


The guide guitar tracks were performed with the Fender Telecaster, because it was around the time that I was using it for everything. I then used the Ibanez 540s to record the "real" takes. All except for one 8-bar section where I just couldn't duplicate the flavor of the original Telecaster take. See if you can spot it.


This is all Carvin BK5 recorded through the Line6 POD 2.0 Amp simulator.


I used the Roland SPD-20 pad controller and a pair of drum sticks to drive XLN's Addictive Drums VSTi. There's also some real tamborine.


Most of what you hear is GSi's VB3 VSTi virtual hammond organ, which sounds really nice in the mix. But for some reason, "lead"-type playing doesn't sound as convincing as the Roland VK8, a "real" keyboard instrument. I used the VK8 for the ostinato behind the singing in the middle-8; and also for the mini-solo behind verse 3.

Note that in 2017 I replaced the VB3 organ parts with a re-recorded Roland VK8 + Lester K Leslie pedal.


Novation PEAK for the low bass notes.
Arturia CS-80v VSTi for the trumpet "GX-1" type chords.
Arturia Mini-V (V2) VSTi for the lead monosynth.
PianoTeq 4 Stage VSTi for the Clavinet.


The "growly" verse vocals are created by taking a guide instrumental mix and speeding it up a few semitones; then recording the vocal accompaniment; then slowing down the resultant vocal track by the same amount and dropping it back into the main project. Adobe Audition has a nice algorithm for this.

Next time I need this effect, it might be easier to use Cakewalk's V-Vocal plugin to alter the formant of the vocal take waveform.

Early Stages

Since 1988 we've been recording our jam sessions on tape cassette. In 1999 I digitized the archives for reference. Any moments of magic relevant to this track, I've extracted and present here.

This was probably the most-recorded track in our archives. From 1989 to 1992, I counted 9 different versions. Mostly crap, but sometimes, magic happens.

Here's an early one from June 1988. Set the Jupiter 6 to drone+burble, break out the digital delay and chorus unit on the guitar. Suddenly I'm developing what eventually turned into the intro/outro motif.

"Atmosphere" (1988):

Back in 2010 when I started re-recording every piece in this collection, I made a "medley" version containing the best bits taken from those 9 tracks, as a reminder of what was good about our youthful madness. Hopefully, it worked, but as is normal with demo versions, there's also some cool things that happened back then, that can't be re-captured.

Instrumental Medley (1989-1992):


You're going for the high score in your artificial landscape
Conflict with the secret code of honor of machines
Accumulating hit points with a ruthless manic fervor
Slipping past the traps and pitfalls pictured on the screen

Don't you realize, there isn't an escape key
You canít expect to exit without feeling any pain
Activating laser beams to edit out your problems
Gain an extra life and stay ahead in the game

Gambling on your past performance, dicing up your chances
proposing winning gambits but your deck is always stacked
Dealing false alternatives, and aceing their decisions
You know the turning card will be the Joker in the pack

Don't you realize, that there isn't an escape key
You can't expect to exit without feeling any pain
The dealer hits you with a card to edit out your problem
Counting on the river puts your head in the game

All I did was get a replay
All I did was play the game
Thought I'd figured out the answers
But somehow all the rules had changed

You're Rolling up your characters and challenging the circle
Hiding from your conscience in a world of mystic themes
passing off as casual friends subverted to your service
escaping intact from the danger vivid in your dreams

Don't you realize, that there isn't an escape key
You can't expect to exit without feeling any pain
Casting double sixes to edit out your problem
Multiply the bounty on your head in the game

Don't you realize there isn't any future
Hiding in your habit where no-one can point the blame
Rocket jumps and bunny hops will beat the low-ping bastard
Real life re-targets on your head in the game