(Music - Section from War of The Worlds theme)
Paul: Welcome to in the Mex on Radio Reverb, 97.2 FM. I am your host Paul Mex and this week is a War of The Worlds special. The other week I caught up with Jeff Wayne, maestro supreme, composer of War of the Worlds and in today’s show we will be talking everything related to War of The Worlds.
(Music - Section from War of The Worlds theme)
Paul: So here we are, I am in a sea front hotel, it is quite blustery outside and I am joined by none other than the marvelous, incredible, amazing, Jeff Wayne.
Jeff: Couldn’t you say something nice about me please Paul for goodness sake.
You look sprightly; we were out a little bit late last night. In fact every time you come to Brighton we have been out late and have been a bit rock and roll, a bit.
Jeff: Well, that’s the way we are isn’t it.
So War of The Worlds, it is still going strong, it is over 30 years now isn’t it.
Jeff: 32 years this past June since it was released and it has had an extraordinary life, this is our fourth time round in Brighton, at the centreÂ and we are thrilled that we are still around doing it and bigger than ever.
Paul: Well I saw it last year and you are coming back on December?
Jeff: 16th and 17th I think, Julia?
Paul: Julia is with us, what is your official title Julia?
Julia: Well, I work on the production side of War of The Worlds, Alive on Stage and I look after many different aspects, ranging from merchandising to public relations, anything to do with the show really.
Paul: Excellent. So we got the dates right there didn’t we?
Julia: Yes you did.
Paul: I saw it last year and it was absolutely amazing, the set was incredible, Richard Burton was there, you really did feel like Richard Burton was there.
Jeff: It is an extraordinary bit of technology, in fact it is two different kinds; it’s motion capture, to create the performance, all seventy-seven sequences and then it is projected as a three dimensional hologram, so when the audience see it you see this approximately eleven foot high, but eight to nine feet wide holographic performance and then it is truly 3-D by the holography that is projecting it. We have tweaked it even more and the more in the darkness you can get it the more three dimensional you can get it and his head. And it is totally interactive with the performers on stage, they actually act with him, so it is pretty spell binding stuff when you see it.
Paul: Because technology is changing at such an alarming rate isn’t it. Over the past two days we have been talking about technology a lot because we are both technical men to a degree, we are involved in that world, but it is changing at an alarming rate. So within a space of a year a lot of the show probably does change technically.
Jeff: Yes indeed, just talking about Richard’s performance, the first tour we did in 2006 was a completely different technology called talking head technology which although it is a three dimensional head, it is essentially a film projected onto a sculpted head. And although it gives the impression to the audience that it is a three dimensional shape, in truth what the audience sees is only the mouth, the nose can wriggle around, eyebrows, eyelashes and open and close, that is about it. Whereas now, with the motion capture holographic performance we have, that was from 2007 on, it is a completely free moving head, he even interacts with the artists on stage; he gets six years younger, so when he is the scenes with the characters on stage as part of the Martian invasion he is disheveled, he’s bloodied, he looks six years younger. So it is quite a move on in terms of technological performance and you are absolutely right Paul, about technology, it never stops moving, it seems to move on faster than ever. We have just replaced all our animation. You have seen the show you know we have this one hundred foot wide screen, about twenty, twenty-five feet high and CGI animation has moved on just as quickly I guess as in broadcasting and music and everything in life; it is just so fast the way things change. We have changed our heat ray as well, the weapons that the Martian fighting machines bring; this will be the first production were we are genuinely using flames and it is quite extraordinary and the audience will feel the heat safely. But there is more interactivity with the audience because of the new technological things in this production.
Paul: It sounds amazing. Going onto a more human level of it, you have Jason Donovan in it.
Jeff: Yeah! He’s very human!
Jeff: Yeah he is great to work with, we have had a good time in the studio trying out the role, this was some months ago to make sure that he was happy with the way he sounded and obviously from our point of view. Yes he is going to play the role of artillery man and he is one of three guests artists coming into this production and we have Rhydian who is probably best known from X Factor, he is playing the role of Parson Nathanial, and his wife Beth is being played by Atomic Kitten’s Liz McClarnon, so they are the three new kids on the block.
Paul: I don’t watch TV so I don’t know about this kind of stuff, so how did you go for an X Factor contestant?
Jeff: Well it wasn’t because he had been on X Factor, it was the fact that I became aware of him first on X Factor and we were already in production for our last tour, but I made this sort of mental note, as I do generally, that if we were, looking ahead that if we were going to be doing more tours then we are always keeping an eye out who might be appropriate for given parts. And then I heard Rhydian’s dÃ©but album which was very successful here in the UK and he is trained classically, particularly opera, he’s got this huge voice and he’s got this style of personality that has a quirkiness about him, so for a parson, who goes totally bonkers, who thinks the Martians are the devils and only he with his cross can exorcize and save the world, Rhydian in both his sound and personality is really ideal. Like Jason and Liz, they all came into my studio many months ago to try the parts out, what a huge voice, he doesn’t even need a microphone.
Paul: Really, excellent, that sounds impressive.
(Music clip - Justin Hayward)
Paul: With the show, you stand in the middle of it all, you are kind of in the middle of it and you are conducting an orchestra and you are also conducting a rock band, so it is quite a big multi tasking job that you have to handle.
Jeff: Yeah, the way the stage is sort of laid out, I am sort of plunk in the middle on my podium, and I have a ten piece band on my left and about a forty piece string orchestra on my right. The concept of the musical score is sort of like a ping pong match in that when the humans are experiencing their story you get more of the acoustic and string writing, symphonic writing and when it is more aggressive, when the invasion is taking place it is much more electronic, both electronic sounds and guitar work. So the way I conduct changes as well, and just by the fact it’s not a normal layout, the movement that I have to do from left to right to give cues and dynamic markings to the musician’s changes. It is interesting because it’s not something I have done other than in this mode other than on these tours. Normally you have a studio or concert set up, a layout of the musicians so that they can all sort of see you in the same way.
Paul: Your background is in the studio really isn’t it? I always have to ask you about him because I am a big fan believe it or not. It is usually young ladies who like David Essex, but I have always liked David Essex. Was that kind of your biggest break, in a sense, the success you had with David Essex back in the seventies?
Jeff: In recording terms yes indeed, he was the second artist I actually produced for my, what was a fledgling label at the time, but the first one that sort of broke through in a major way. It was very similar to The War of The Worlds where I put up my own money and David and I became good friends, I produced his records, I also toured with David for the first couple of years of his touring life, once he became popular. I was his MD, I put the bands together. For only those who would remember, one of the guitarists on the first tour was Andy Summers who then went on to become a member of The Police. So that was part of my job, I played keyboards, did a bit of harmonies on stage and conducted when needed; so that was the first couple of years of David’s touring life that I was with him.
Paul: You know when ‘Gonna Make you a Star’ went to number one, I remember watching it on Top of The Pops, and on one edition there is a part in it that goes, Don’t think so, the sort of kind of the yobbo part. Suddenly on camera appeared Paul McCartney singing that bit, do you remember that bit, were you aware of that?
Jeff: I have no recollection of that, gosh!
Paul: I remember that.
Jeff: I am very impressed.
Paul: I actually remember that from the seventies, not from seeing one of those Top of the Pops Two’s, or anything like that, actually remember it and I thought, why is Paul McCartney singing that bit, is he on a record?
Jeff: No he wasn’t on a record. It was mostly the crew within the studio, you know anyone who I could get my claws on I would say get in there and go ‘I don’t think so.’
Paul: So you don’t know about that, you have never seen that then.
Jeff: Not that particular one. Sometimes when David had records out he may have been on tour when he was needed to do Top of The Pops and it may have been an occasion when it was a repeat and I wasn’t even aware of it, or maybe they edited it in. I am not actually sure; you told me something I never knew.
Paul: So my memory is pretty good then; that is back from the seventies. What year did that go to number one, can you remember?
Jeff: That was around 1974.
Paul: That is my memory stretching back that far.
Jeff: Either your memory is very good of Paul McCartney doing that line, or is completely totally off base and it was a different record he was singing on.
Paul: I think it was Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney and maybe Dennie Lane and I think they were on Top of The Pops.
Jeff: Well that is very possible.
Paul: I just remember that was one of those little things that tickled me, I don’t know why that has stuck with me, but it has always stuck with me.
(Music. - Gonna make you are star.)
Paul: So at the moment Jeff you mentioned that you got David going with your own money, which is the same situation that happened with War of The Worlds isn’t it. And it is kind of a really heart warming story because we do live in pretty challenging times at the moment with the recession and everything, but you really put everything on the line for War of The Worlds didn’t you.
Jeff: Yes it was in truth. I had the backing of CBS records up to about 30% of the total cost, not because there was any pre-plan of how much the final budget was going to be. The truth was I probably made my deal too soon with the record company, because I really didn’t know how it was going to grow and become the project that it did, which included incredibly successful guest artists and original paintings which accompanied the album and it went from initially a single album to a double album. So CBS backed The War of The Worlds to something like seventy thousand pounds and it wound-up costing me just over two hundred and forty thousand, so my life savings and more were on the line with that for sure.
Paul: Well the album came out in seventy-eight didn’t it, but how long did it take to record and when did you first conceive it?
Jeff: I read the book in late seventy-four, my dad and I took about four months to trace the rights because it was still then and still is in fact in copy right, the book, the H.G. Wells book. There was no internet in those days so we wound-up with this law firm in Washington who specialize in telling you, in finding out for you who owned what and where the rights were. So by the time I started, and we were fortunate to acquire the rights, it was early seventy-five and the first sessions were in May of seventy-six and they finished just before the album came out in seventy-eight, June seventy-eight.
Paul: I did ask you this once before on the Bateman and Mex show, but how did you get Richard Burton?
Jeff: Well it was one of those good fortunes in life that I have to presume that the planets were in alignment, because it was, obviously Richard was an internationally known actor, very successful, and by the time I finished writing the first draft of my score, our script, which had been adapted from the H.G. Wells novel had similarly been completed and we had the cast of characters that wound-up on the album. One of them was the role of the journalist who had survived a Martian invasion some six years earlier and he was now recounting his story of survival for his newspaper. And what we wanted was a voice that the second you heard it would take you into our world, of The War of The Worlds. We didn’t have a particularly long list but Richard’s name was right at the very top of it. Okay so making a list, that is dead easy, how do you actually get to people? That is where the alignment of the planets I think just happened to occur at the right time.
Paul: Do you kind of believe in that kind of stuff?
Jeff: But it’s a good phrase isn’t it. But what happened is a friend of ours had just come back from New York and had seen Richard in a play in New York and we were chatting about it and he said ‘Yeah he is in this play called Equus.’ And I thought oh well if your are in a play you do probably eight shows a week and what I did then was think, well I’ll write him a letter, introduce myself, tell him how my dad and I had acquired from the estate of H.G Wells the rights to War of The Worlds and what I was trying as a composer and a producer to do; to interpret The War of The Worlds into this musical version. And I sent with my letter the first draft of the script and said, would you please consider being our journalist. And the key to this whole thing was sending this little care package to Richard at the stage door of the theatre, hoping that the stage doorman would actually hand him my package and then he would actually open it, maybe even like it. So that was the waiting game, but in fact I didn’t have to wait very long because it couldn’t have been more than two or three days after the package had would have arrived that I had a call from a man named Robert Lance who was Richard’s manager at the time. And I get on the phone and the words that I will always remember him saying was, Robert says he loves the idea, count him in dear boy. And that it and then he got on the phone with my dad and they struck up a deal and looking back now it was probably the easiest element of the whole production in terms of putting it together.
Paul: So it was pretty low key stuff really wasn’t it, it is almost like sending the demo in the post.
Jeff: Exactly and that is how sometimes the best things happen, rather than trying to make things big and formal you need to just reduce it down so that it becomes just a human interaction between two people, or whatever, or whoever it happens to be, and we were just so fortunate that we could capture Richard in this theatre that he was appearing in and he responded.
(Music clip, with Richard Burton’s voice. In the cellar was a tunnel which was scarcely ten yards long, it had taken him a week to dig I could have dug that much in a day and I suddenly had my first inkling of the gulf between his dreams and his power.)
Paul: I am a massive Thin Lizzie fan and of course you have Phil Lynott on the album, he was a little bit known for being a hell raiser. I did spend a day in a studio with Tony Visconti who actually went on strike apparently when he worked with Thin Lizzie.
Jeff: Tony did?
Paul: Yes he went on strike; it was only for a day apparently it was his protest, a way of saying ‘hey guys you’ve got to turn up on time.’
Jeff: Oh I see.
Paul: Yeah. ‘Get it together and if you don’t then.’
Jeff: I’m off.
Paul: Yes and apparently after that they were fine. But did you run into any rock and roll hell raising with Phil?
Jeff: Yeah he definitely lived that lifestyle, but what I have to say about Phil was that he was reliable, he was a delight to work with, so into the idea that was a challenge for him, and the only thing that did actually happen that elongated the completion of his role is that on the first day of the first session with me, he had walked in with a bad cold which within a day or so turned into such a bad flu that he couldn’t perform; and then Thin Lizzie were going on, I think it was the United States and Canada, which spanned about three months. There was no hesitation, I said we’ll wait this production isn’t having to wait by a particular period, I have tons to do anyway. Once he came back he was fantastic to work with, a very sensitive guy, which I still have pride of place in my house a book of poetry, on the very last day that we worked together, he handed me a book of poetry that had just been published of his. When you read it you don’t see a rock and roll hell raiser, what you see is a very sensitive artist.
Jeff: Within it and that was the Phil that I knew.
Paul: But often these guys are like that really, rock hard on the outside as a public image, but then when you kind of break into the inner core there is this sensitive side which is what kind of makes that make up of them isn’t it.
Jeff: Yeah I think that’s a good point and I guess people who are artistic no matter what that art happens to be, you have to have emotions to express yourself and if you don’t, if you are just sort of down the straight and narrow what’s to express? Phil was definitely that.
Paul: Another thing I need to touch upon, because the album did come out in 1978, again I have talked to you about this in the past, punk rock. You are speaking to a punk rocker here. In a way you said that War of The Worlds was your version of punk rock?
Jeff: Yeah, I was a young musician, I was being given an opportunity to express myself in any way that I wished to, so I was a young musician of the times and I had just as much angst and revolution in me as any punk rocker if you want to look at it like that and so this was my way of expressing it, it just happened to be a one hundred minute continuous work.
Paul: Which in itself is punk rock because you are actually just doing what you wanted to do. I mean the only people who had done something like that, at that point, to my recollection was The Who, with that kind of rock operas, Tommy, so people must have said you were crazy when you were doing it at the time.
Jeff: Yeah just about everybody, particularly the band especially because as we were chatting earlier I was saying about how so much of my life savings was tied up in The War of The Worlds that I actually offered the band to take a royalty in place of fees. And I explained it honestly, I said guys this is coming mostly me and my life savings, would you consider taking a roll of the dice with me? The only thing that I put down as a qualification is I said what we can’t do is have, because there was at that time seven or eight full time members of the band, I couldn’t have two or three say ‘yes okay we’ll take the gamble with you,’ and the rest wanting fees, it had to be all or nothing. And so they went off into a room in the studios and did a vote and it was very split and the majority, I think by one, voted to take the fees.
Paul: Are they kicking themselves now?
Jeff: Well there are a few quotes that I think express exactly that, because who knew, that was the thing. But they just said, ‘you are putting how much into this! This is your money!’ That is part of, I think, going for it, whatever it is in life.
Paul: There is obviously no animosity thereÂ Â Â because most of the band are still in the band, still part of the touring band.
Jeff: Yeah I have been so fortunate. I see Herbie Flowers and Chris Spedding on stage every night. I see Justin Hayward and Chris Thompson coming down and performing live. It is just a remarkable span of so many years to see the same people still involved with The War of The Worlds. I think it is probably because I keep saying to them, ‘you are going to stay with us until you get it right.’
Paul: Last year I came along and I got to meet Chris Spedding who is one of my favourite guitarists which was pretty incredible, but we spent the day together before the evening show and you had mentioned to me that you had most of the original band and I thought you meant a touring band and then when Chris Spedding walked out I thought, wow he’s got Chris Spedding, he actually means from the record. So how many people from the original record are still in the band?
Jeff: Well in truth it is now just Herbie and Chris. We lost Barry Morgan, who was our original drummer, before he could come out on tour he was started to get a bit poorly and he passed away about a year and a half, two years ago; and I went to his near here in Worthing. I always remember all the people attending were musicians; some of them were in the original band, people I worked with and another person who we lost from the original band, Barry Desouza who played percussion, one of our percussionists. So it’s not the full line up anymore, but between Herbie, Chris, Justin and Chris Thompson, there are at least four that are still on the boards with me.
Paul: This is In The Mex with me your host Paul Mex and I am talking to composer of War of The Worlds, Jeff Wayne.
I said that you have got the orchestra and the rock band split on the stage and there is this thing that apparently classical people are the bigger hell raisers than rock musicians, can you clarify that?
Jeff: To presume that a forty piece string orchestra just walk the straight and narrow would be a tremendous disservice to them because they can raise the hell just as well as any of the band members or anybody else for that matter. (Laughter.)
Paul: So Jeff I am really looking forward to coming again to this years show, last years was amazing and it’s at The Brighton Centre, tickets are on sale now aren’t they?
Jeff: Yes, it’s doing very well, I think pretty sold out or close to it.
Paul: Right. So if you do want to get a ticket then you do need to get in there pretty swiftly, I know it is a very popular show and it does sell out very quickly. So just remind us of the dates again?
Jeff: We are touring here in Brighton on the 16th and 17th of December.
Paul: So pretty close to Christmas.
Jeff: Indeed it is.
Paul: So a special Christmas treat.
Paul: And we can’t leave you Jeff without talking about tennis because it’s nearly your first love over music, isn’t that fair to say?
Jeff: It came pretty close to influencing me to do it full time, in the best years of my tennis, which was high school and college, it wasn’t a professional sport, it was just coming to the end of the amateur era and there wasn’t much of a livelihood to be made playing tennis and music did actually just nick the passions in my life and I am glad it was. It is a sport I play all the time, I captain my county, this is my 21st year captaining Hertfordshire, I was a playing captain when I took over, but now I just carry the bananas and the water for the guys. But we are the national champions, we have been the dominant county for almost six years now and that includes not this past summer, but the previous summer we played north of Scotland on the third day in our run to win the national title and who showed up but both Jamie and Andy Murray.
Jeff: Yeah, and Hertfordshire won, five/four.
Paul: Well of course it would because I am a Hertfordshire boy myself; we used to live down the road. I lived in Watford for thirty years which is very near to where you live.
Jeff: Yep I am in Shenly.
Paul: So us Hertfordshire boys.
Jeff: Of course.
Paul: Even though you are native American.
Jeff: Well I have lived in England over two thirds of my life now so I a far more Brit than Yank.
Paul: Okay. Thanks very much for joining up again today Jeff, we look forward to the new show. Maybe I will catch up with you again after the show in December and we will have a few words with you again.
Jeff: Well I look forward to it Paul, it is lovely to see you and maybe Chris can join in, Chris Spedding, because he never stops talking.
Paul: He is a man of few words. Do you know that Chris used to be a Womble?
Jeff: I know that and he’ll proudly announce which Womble he was.
Paul: Which one was he do you know?
Jeff: No I can’t remember, he would remember, but during the same period that he was a Womble, that’s when I was producing and working with David Essex and we would frequently bump into the Wombles at Top of The Pops, if we both had the good fortune of enjoying records that were doing well and I always remember kidding Chris about being a Womble, but he’s proud of it and why not, some of the records were terrific.
Paul: Absolutely. One of my favourite phrases is ‘remember you’re a Womble.’ But did you know that Chris also gave the Sex Pistols their very first break in a studio?
Jeff: Yes I knew that, I think he either produced?
Paul: Yeah he put them in the studio and he kind of produced pretty much. And even to this day there is still rumours that Chris plays guitar on the Sex Pistols album over Steve Jones, it is a rumour that has been going over thirty years.
Jeff: Well that is interesting, it wouldn’t surprise me. You know Chris is a brilliant musician but when you become, as Chris did, and a number of guys who came through the studio era, you know today there are less sessions in that context, you have to be a brilliant reader of music and to be able to interpret and if you are a guitarist of course so much is about how you interpret what is on the written page; whether it is a particular line, or chords, a rhythm pattern, whatever it happens to be. And perhaps with the Sex Pistols there was a bit of less than perfect playing, I don’t know, probably all the passion was there, so Chris used his professionalism to make adjustments.
Paul: Right. (Laughter.)
Jeff: That’s a good way of explaining it.
Paul: Yes, a down the line kind of way of explaining it.
Jeff: Chris could give you the details, what do I know really.
Paul: Well thanks very much for joining me again today Jeff and I hope you enjoyed your stay in Brighton.
Jeff: As always. And thank you for last night’s invitation, we enjoyed it tremendously.
Paul: Yeah you came down to the Brighton music awards.
Jeff: Yes it is a wonderful evening coming up in November and for a fantastic cause. And congratulations for launching it and being part of the engine behind getting it going.
Paul: Thank you very much.
Jeff: A pleasure.
Paul: Well thanks very much Jeff and thank you Julia for sorting me out with everything, that kind of sounds bad doesn’t it?
Paul: But I hope you have enjoyed Brighton as well Julia?
Julia: I have indeed Paul yes it was great.
Paul: And we will see each other again very soon.
Paul: That still sounded bad didn’t it? I’m really good at making everything sound bad. Okay thanks a lot guys.
Jeff: Thanks Paul.
End of Interview.
The transcript is shared by Noreen Moore, a TWOTW fan, to help those who have difficulty listening to Jeff's radio interviews.