The War of The Worlds: Jeff Wayne teases 2022 tour
It is of course Jeff Wayne’s The War Of The Worlds which returns for its new star-studded tour of UK arenas next month. “It’s bigger than ever,” Jeff, 78, tells me. “In 2006, we used six trucks, now we need twelve – because the volume of special effects, tricks and ingredients has changed so dramatically. Every time we have a new production, we look to what’s current.”
The award-winning, record-breaking musical version of the classic H.G. Wells sci-fi saga has been playing to packed houses since 2005 when the narrator/protagonist known only as The Journalist was voiced by Welsh acting legend Richard Burton.
One breath-taking 2022 innovation is the bridge where the heroic Artilleryman delivers his Brave New World vision.
The old concealed bridge has been replaced by a much larger one that descends from above.
“It clamps on to the stage and goes deep to the back of the venue, so he’s out and over the audience,” says Jeff with a broad smile. “It breaks the fourth wall and brings the audience into the production.”
The musical is a thrilling recreation of Wayne’s 1978 double album. But the New York-born, naturalised British composer reveals that the record itself very nearly crashed and vanished like the Roswell alien.
“It was a gamble,” he admits. “I’d negotiated a £35,000 budget with CBS for a single album. There was no money for guest artists or the artwork and costs spiralled.”
Jeff Wayne says the musical is ‘bigger than ever’
Wayne quickly realised it would be a double album. CBS coughed up another £35K and half of Burton’s fee.
“CBS paid £76,000 in total, and I had to find the rest, which was £245,000,” says Jeff. “I sat down with my dad, my step-mum Doreen, and my very new wife, and broke the news that we’d run out of CBS money. I said, ‘Either I wave the white flag to the Martians or we go into our savings.’ They all said ‘Go for it!’”
Wayne assembled an all-star cast. Burton lent his melliferous voice to The Journalist, with Moody Blues star Justin Hayward singing his thoughts.
Pop heartthrob David Essex was The Artilleryman, Thin Lizzy rock legend Phil Lynott took the role of Parson Nathaniel, Julie Covington was his wife Beth and Manfred Mann’s Chris Thompson played The Voice of Humanity.
The album was released in June 1978.
“Punk was at its peak, disco was king of the dance floor and I’d come out with a double album of continuous play, two hours long, with a narrated story,” Jeff chuckles. “I remember thinking if it spent one week in the album charts, I’d be happy…It stayed in the charts for 330 weeks, and it’s still got a life!”
The album sold 16 million copies worldwide – 2.7 million in the UK alone. Jeff used synthesisers and rock guitars to tell the story through the eyes of the mechanised Martians, while humanity’s viewpoint was “organic and orchestral”. The musical ping-pong battle garnered prog rock awards.
The Martian Spaceship breathes fire
David Essex played a crucial role in the show’s genesis.
“I met David in 1973 when he was appearing as Jesus in Godspell. I was going out with one of the cast, and he and Julie Covington started doing sessions for me – I had my own label.
“David had written a new song which he sang for me, banging out the rhythm on a trash can. It was Rock On! I could hear immediately how it’d sound with echoes and a minimal arrangement.”
Jeff signed him and produced the single, released through CBS Columbia. It went Top Five here and topped the US Cashbox chart – which is why CBS took a keen interest in Jeff’s Martian project…
“I went on tour with David as his musical director and had time to read. The first book I read was The War Of The Worlds by H.G. Wells. It caught my imagination instantly. I read it in a single sitting and then re-read three times.”
He pitched the musical idea to his father Jerry, and they formed a partnership.
“It took us three months to locate the H.G. Wells estate. His son Frank had all his rights and we pitched it to him. He liked that I wanted to keep the story intact and the same setting of Victorian England and the characters and themes.”
The musical is an award-winning, musical-breaking show
In 1976 Jeff booked a recording studio to put pressure on himself to write the songs, while stepmother Doreen, a professional scriptwriter, worked on the script.
“It took six weeks to compose the first draft and I gave myself another six to do the arrangements. I made it! And the band was fantastic.”
In pre-internet days, Wayne had to contact Richard Burton by post.
“By serendipity, some friends had just seen him in a play called Equus in New York.”
Days later, Burton’s manager Robert Lance rang back, saying “Count him in, dear boy.”
Burton appeared on the album and also in hologram form in the original musical – a role now taken by Liam Neeson.
The Northern Irish film star was already a fan. “He’d bought the album and even sang a bit of it,” says Jeff, who met Neeson in Manhattan. “His concern was ‘Could I follow on from Richard Burton?’
“I replied, ‘I didn’t come to ask you to do a Richard Burton, I’d be thrilled if you’d do a Liam Neeson’. He agreed! We’d struck gold twice.”
Even now enterprising Wayne is developing new spinoffs.
A 2022 tour documentary will be filmed, and The War Of The Worlds Experience can be found in London’s Leadenhall Street.
The full cast of the show
Jeffry Wayne grew up in Forest Hills, in New York’s Queens.
In his teens, father Jerry, a professional singer, relocated the family to England to play Sky Masterson in the West End production of Guys And Dolls.
Returning to the States post-run, the Waynes moved to California where Jeff took a journalism degree. “I was heading to be an investigative reporter. I was also a national standard tennis player.”
He got an AA journalism degree but music proved the greater passion.
“My dad decided I was the best composer for his songs,” says Jeff, who actually composed scores for Jerry’s musicals, including 1960s West End hit, Two Cities.
The Waynes like to keep things in the family. Jeff’s actress daughter Anne-Marie (first seen in Grange Hill) plays the Journalist’s financée Carrie in the star-studded 2022 touring cast.
As well as Liam Neeson’s 3D hologram, Strictly’s Kevin Clifton is The Artilleryman, Blue’s Duncan James is Parson Nathaniel, and Clair Richards plays his wife Beth.
Jeff conducts the 8-piece Black Smoke Band and the symphonic ULLAdubULLA strings.
They will be joined by a three-ton, 30-feet Martian fighting machine, which fires a heat ray and wows unsuspecting audiences by dropping from above.
“It’s only malfunctioned twice,” says Jeff.
“In Australia, it hadn’t descended on cue. I looked up and it was caught in its chains, dangling halfway down like a marionette. We fixed it at half-time. The audience didn’t notice – they didn’t know it was there.”
The new tour, suitably called Life Begins Again, also has The Flaming Man, which is as dramatic as it sounds.
“The hardest part for me is ducking the heat ray,” laughs Jeff.
Does he think Earth really is at threat from other-worldly predators? Do aliens exist?
“I need proof,” Wayne replies without hesitation. “It’s presumptuous to think we’re alone, but who knows how long it’ll take before there’s evidence.”
• Jeff Wayne’s multi-award-winning musical version of The War Of The Worlds returns in March. Tickets from livenation.co.uk