Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Interview with Jeff Wayne about final tour of The War Of The Worlds

IN 1978 a musical version of HG Wells' classic sci fi novel, The War Of The Worlds was released.
It was written by Jeff Wayne, an American musician who had enjoyed a successful career as a composer writing work for fellow musicians as well as adverts, movies and TV.
Starring David Essex and with a cameo role from Richard Burton it was an immediate hit and over the years that followed developed into an all time classic.
Indeed in the nearly 40 years since it was released, it has sold more than 15 million records worldwide, has spent more than 330 weeks in the UK album charts and has won two UK Ivor Novello Awards.
Such was its popularity it spawned multiple versions of the album, video games, DVDs, and live tours.
And it is a final live tour of the show that Jeff is now in the middle of and which includes two performances at the O2 next Saturday.
Speaking to me from his home in Hertfordshire Jeff tells me he's both excited and sad to be bringing it back for one last time - though hints it will go in a new and exciting direction next year.
"Bringing The War Of The Worlds to life in many of the world's finest arenas has been the most amazing experience, both musically technologically," he enthuses.
"Every time we've done a tour we come to the O2 so I'm excited to be coming back to this amazing arena.
"However, the time is right to take the show in new directions after the 2014 tour so this will be the last time."
Conducted by Jeff, the production boasts an all star cast that includes Liam Neeson in 3D holography, Jason Donovan as Parson Nathaniel, Westlife’s Brian McFadden as The Sung Thoughts of The Journalist, X Factor winner Shayne Ward as the Artilleryman and actress Carrie Hope Fletcher as Beth.
It also promises some spectacular special effects including a three-tonne 35ft tall Martian Fighting Machine, a 100 ft wide animation wall, the incineration of a cast member in front of the audience's eyes and a ground breaking levitation effect.
And as if that wasn't enough, it will also feature the HG Wells himself who will be brought to life in sigh and sound.
"I'm very excited about this," says Jeff. "Every time we do a tour technology has moved on and so we always bring in new ingredients for the audience.
"With this one I decided it was high time that HG Wells, who was a charismatic character and very clever, should be given a chance to have his say - about why he wrote what has become known as the first science-fiction story ever written and its meaning to the real world we live in."
Wells will be seen and heard in three scenes within the show - aged 33, 53 and 79 - spanning the end of the 19th century and the two subsequent World Wars.
"He extends his hand to the audience so it's pretty special," says Jeff. "We worked with a company who do amazing prosthetics and make up for some of the biggest films. He has to age authentically and you need to believe it's the same person.
"So far the reaction has been fantastic and I think this tour really does top anything we have done before."
That the musical version of the story ever came to fruition in the first place is purely down to Jeff's determination though he admits it almost didn't happen.
"I was always a composer and during the 1970s as well doing stuff for movies and TV I also worked with David Essex as his producer," he said. "I toured with him for a few of years as his musical director.
"However I wasn't doing much composing for him so my dad said I should get back to what I was good at and passionate about.
"He reminded me I'd always wanted to write a musical story and that was the start of it."
Over the following year, Jeff said he read books of all shapes and sizes until the night before he was due to go on a tour when his father handed him a copy of The War Of The Worlds.
"There was no internet back then so I had plenty of time to read it and I fell in love with it," he says.
"It was quite an extraordinary story with amazing characters and in many respects ahead of its time.
"Wells was also taking a pop at the expanding British Empire saying that moving into another man’s territory was wrong, and that faith versus faith was wrong. His science and maths was quite visionary for the time."
What surprised Jeff though was that it wasn't written originally as a book but for a magazine.
"In those days writers were asked to pen stories that left the reader on a cliff hanger so they would buy the next edition of the magazine," he says.
"His were really succinct chapters and as I read the first one - the Eve of the War - I realised it read like an overture.
"Each chapter flowed on from that and so I followed the story in the same way he wrote it and followed the chronology."
Sold on the idea of adapting it to music, as soon as Jeff had finished the tour he was involved with he began the process of finding out if the book was in copyright and what he could do with it.
"I went to HG Wells's estate and told them I wanted to do a musical interpretation of the book. They didn't know much about me or my career but the thing that convinced them was that I was the first person who wanted to stay true to what he wrote."
His pitch worked and so, after having been given the nod by Wells' family, Jeff sank his life savings into the project and in January 1976 he booked a studio for May, a deadline he says was ambitious but necessary.
"It took over my life," he says cheerfully. "It cost £240,000 to produce, we ran out of money and everything was on the line but I knew I'd never get another chance to do this.
"It took six weeks to compose the first draft. My step mum adapted my notes and by mid February we had a cast of characters and the arrangements for the score.
"We were in the studio in May and had five weeks of band sessions and just did the album."
During the composition period Jeff realised the Journalist character was key and the thread which ran through the whole thing. He wanted a voice that would take the listener right inside the world that had been created.
"I wrote to Richard Burton and amazingly he said he loved the idea and came on board which was fantastic," says Jeff. "This time we have Liam Neeson which is equally special and I feel as though we've struck gold twice!
"Looking back I think it was a crazy way of living," he admits. "I am proud of it though, I'm proud of its life and the piece of work I have created.
"It was an incredible experience, though I never knew it would be the success it ended up being.
"I certainly never expected it to be such a huge show! It just grew.
"I hope it's reached people," he adds. "I don't know what HG Wells would have said but Frank his son and other members of his family said they felt he would have been very proud of it which makes me very happy."

The War Of The Worlds is on at the O2, Greenwich on Saturday, December 13. Tickets from £38.50. Visit or

No comments:

Post a Comment