Malcolm: This is Malcolm Proud for Radio Teesdale. Recently we were privileged to speak to 'The War of the Worlds' creator Jeff Wayne in person here at the radio Teesdale studios! He had taken time out of his busy schedule to come in and talk to us about the 'War of The Worlds 'Alive on Stage' tour which is coming to Newcastle's Metro arena on the 2nd of December this year.
I reckon everyday on Radio Teesdale is a special day, but today is a very special day. I am joined in the studio by the winner of no less than two Ivor Novello awards; and the recipient of many other prestigious music awards. This is Mr. 'War of the Worlds' himself, Jeff Wayne. Welcome Jeff.
Jeff: Thank you Malcolm it is lovely to be with you.
Malcolm: Thank you very much for taking time out to come and visit Radio Teesdale and speak to us today. Now we all know about 'War of The Worlds' and we are going to be talking about the new stage show; or new improved stage show, even better still. You have been in England quite a long time; I know your family was in show business, when did you come over?
Jeff: I first moved to England, I was a little boy. It was the mid fifties and my dad secured the role of 'Sky Masterson' the romantic gambler in what was a Broadway musical called 'Guys and Dolls'. He played that role in the original West End production; so that was my first introduction to England. We stayed for about four and a half years, but accumulatively I have lived in England for over two thirds of my life. I live in the county of Hertfordshire, so I guess by the mathematics I am more Brit than Yank.
Malcolm: That is great. You went back to finish your schooling in America. How did your music career develop from there?
Jeff: Well it really started for me very early on- I started taking classical piano lessons at the age of five. My father having been a singer, actor, songwriter, later on in his career he went into theatre production. But I have very strong memories of growing up in New York surrounded by all of his friends which were mostly other people in performance or acting, directing and tennis players. That was his main sport. So my two passions in life became music and tennis. And I guess being around creative people at an influential age, when you are growing up, and with your parents being involved too, my late years developed into the professional side as a musician.
Malcolm: Brilliant. Now the War of The Worlds story, it always sounds fresh and futuristic, yet it was written in the late nineteenth century by H.G. Wells and adapted for radio in the US I believe in the early 1930's, where it caused widespread panic because the people listening believed it to be real. What drove you to this particular epic story?
Jeff: Well it's a funny thing; I'm looking back now, all these years for me, which was in the mid 1970's when I was composing, arranging, producing for record artists and doing a lot of music for TV and radio shows, music in advertising. But I had a particularly rewarding working relationship, and he is still a very good mate of mine, David Essex. I signed David to what was my fledgling record label. David wrote pretty much all of his own songs, and I started touring with him as his MD in the first couple of years of his touring career and it was my dad in fact who reminded me; he said you know look, you are a composing you have always said to me you want to try to find a couple of stories in your life that you feel absolutely passionate about, to compose and interpret for recording and possibly beyond that. And he was right! So we started just generally reading books of all genres and it was literally as I was going out the door one day to say I'm off on the road again with David, he handed me this book, H.G. Well's 'The War of The Worlds'. My memory in fact, the only memory I had of 'The War of The Worlds' previous to that, was sort of in New York, growing up and occasionally on day time television a movie called War of The Worlds and was set in contemporary America, an alien invasion of some sort, and that was it, that is as much as I really knew about it.
I opened this book by H.G. Wells and on one read I realised this was a Victorian tale; set not only with an understanding of science that H.G. Wells had a tremendous grasp of, but the themes that were within it were so visionary, yet even in the seventies, just as in today's world that we live in, they touched on themes that were totally relevant. The story of invasion, of faith against another and the loss of faith in mankind. So many things that touch us today in our everyday lives. I thought this is an amazing piece and that is what hooked me.
Malcolm: And the cast, the original cast of performers that you used on the album, I mean were they your first choices? Or did some come and go?
Jeff: When you use somebody, I was so fortunate to get people of the stature that I did, that I think there were more of a godsend rather than being, I was not using or choosing, I was fortunate to attract them. The approach to each one, with the exception of Richard Burton was pretty much all the same. They were all highly successful artists in their own musical careers, even with David Essex and Julie Covington, which were two of the artists on 'The War of The Worlds' and I had been working with them extensively on a lot of different things. I didn't presume they would just take a call from me saying hey please show up and be this character in my 'War of The Worlds' project. I demo'd every track, so that every artist that I approached could have a good idea of what they were being asked to do, what the character was, mostly singing but also acting required from all of them, which was a bit of a challenge for people like Phil Lynott who was an amazing talent, but in fact he thought the whole challenge of becoming this person who loses faith in mankind and believes the Martians are the devil; these all had to be demonstrated to them. So I did all that. Richard Burton was a completely different thing because it was an acting role and we had a script. My step mom was a writer in her own right, she was married to my dad, she was from Manchester and had a career in writing and she took notes from, to this day I have the hard back edition of 'The War of The Worlds' that I was scribbling all my notes and my ideas in and when she finished the first draft of the script and I was composing the first draft of my score, a cast of characters emerged and one of them was that of the journalist who had survived this Martian invasion, some six years earlier, and he is now recounting his story of survival for his newspaper. We didn't have a very large list of those who we thought could be fantastic journalists from our point of view, but Richard's name was at the very of it. Easy as it is to make a list, how do you actually find people of that stature? But sometimes, you know, 'the rub of the green,' when you just get good luck in life, and in this instance coincidence happened. A friend of ours had just come back from New York and mentioned that he had seen Richard Burton in a play called 'Equus', and I thought oh if you are doing a play you are spending a lot of time in the theatre, eight shows a week probably. So I wrote to him introduced myself as a composer, producer interpreting H.G. Wells 'The War of The Worlds'. I sent him, with my letter the draft of Doreen's script and said please would you consider being our journalist. I sent my little care package to the stage door of the theatre he was appearing at, hoping that the stage doorman would hand him my little package, which coming back to the good luck. He must have done because within two or three days of it arriving I had a call from a man named Robert Lance who was Richard's manager at the time. And I will never forget the conversation, it was pretty brief actually, he said "Richard loves the idea, count him in dear boy!" . Exactly those words! I was dumb struck; I said I think you'd better speak to my dad here! My father got on the phone and he spoke with Robert and they struck a deal immediately and Richard was on board.
Malcolm: His is the first voice you hear. And although everyone has played a superb part, for Richard Burton to lead someone into the story, I know he is somewhat of a perfectionist himself, it is impeccable.
Jeff: Absolutely and yet you know it is an interesting thing Malcolm, I had actually composed and recorded, a piece of music to accompany the opening speech that Richard plays and once we finally recorded Richard and I married the two together, I listened to it and I took the music away. It was one of those moments in life when you say ' less is more' and in this case it was far more to have less. And I chucked out the piece of music and that is why Richard opens the piece on his own.
Malcolm: He has his own very musical and magical voice. Coming forward of course to the stage show and its current manifestation. When did it start, when did you first do it?
Jeff: Our first tour of the arenas was in 2006 in April and this is our fourth year touring it.
Malcolm: It must have been an absolutely huge undertaking technically to bring this, to visualize it from what we hear on the album.
Jeff: Yes, in fact the way I sort of conceived the production was to think of it like a film and I worked with a couple of people that helped me create a story board and it was virtually broken down frame by frame, second by second, and each column, of which there were many columns on each page, had some discipline in it. It could have been the music, the lyrics, the lighting cues, visual ideas including images of what I was hoping to portray within a given sequence. It also helped me to define how I wanted to interpret them from a technological point of view. The live performance side pretty much spoke for itself because I had all my original orchestrations, all written down, they were hand written scores of the day, so re-creating them I knew what the line up was to be. So actually that unfolded rather easily, from my point of view. But it was this combination of technologies, that all integrated together, and worked in perfect synchronization with the live performance. That was the trickiest bit, how do you synchronize so many different things that are built around technologies? Physical things, but synchronize them, to a split second to work with live performances of over fifty musicians and live performers on stage playing the roles.
Malcolm: Has it evolved from that original tour, is it the same cast?
Jeff: It is not the same cast, although we do have two of the original members, not only from the first tour, but actually go back to the original double album Justin Hayward and Chris Thompson.
Jeff: But all the other parts, they do tend to change from tour to tour, even when we played five weeks in Australia and New Zealand three of the roles were from people that were very popular down under. So yes those characters tend to change from tour to tour, but every production that we have done, it is part of the excitement, I try to take the next production to another level, so there are new challenges to interpret the show. It is just sort of like opening it up. I go back to the H.G. Wells book because it is almost a bottomless pit of visual ideas and story lines that just help me to open up our show.
Malcolm: It sounds like a living and breathing thing that is just moving along and entertaining people and evolving all the time. Who is currently in the tour? Because it is a start studded thing.
Jeff: Yeah we have been very fortunate this year, in addition to Justin and Chris, Jason Donovan is going to play the Artillery man which was the part David Essex had originally.
Malcolm: Of course!
Jeff: Rhydian, who is probably best known for X Factor, he is going to play the part that Phil Lynott played, Parson Nathanial , and his wife on stage named Beth is going to be played by Atomic Kitten's Liz McClarnon. So it is a really good cast, I have worked with all of them in my studio to make sure, that they are happy with the way they sound and we are happy, so that by the time we then strike a deal we are all very confident that they are perfect for the parts.
Malcolm: Our local showing of it is Thursday the 2nd of December at the Newcastle arena, sounds great, but I've got to ask you one question. One question if I don't ask you anything, I'll probably get my head in my hands from the wife, about a sound effect, and she must have looked this up last night and giggled for a while. The unscrewing of the Alien ship. I believe on the radio when it was done by Orson Wells it was a jar being unscrewed, but you had quite a different way.
Jeff: Well you are right, absolutely! It started off exactly as you described it, the idea is that it is this giant cylinder that the top of it starts to unscrew. I tried a few different things including placing a microphone with a plastic seal around the microphone and put it into the toilet of the studio we were recording at!
Somehow somebody told me that if you put a microphone in the toilet bowl of any toilet you get this big hollow sound. And I tried, I think it was just scraping a couple of pieces of metal together and failed completely, it went down the toilet literally!
Jeff: But the way people wound up hearing it on the album, and in fact there is some credible surround sound system that we use and it just goes all around the arenas. The actual way we produce it is two of my wife's finest kitchen pans, that I took to the studio. My engineer first thought I had been pretty much bonkers on this whole production already, so why stop now? But he got into the idea of it and he put up two microphones so that I scrape these two kitchen pans. But because they were in stereo, you could actually feel the movement, sort of left to right and around in a circle. And he magnified the amplification, right to the maximum, to the point where it would have gone into distortion if it had got any louder. And that is really how it was created; and part of it was that I did it in time to a base riff, that starts off the track, so it is in time, it has its own sort of feel, its groove.
Malcolm: That is brilliant. I can't say anymore. Jeff thank you very, very much indeed for coming to Radio Teesdale and speaking with us today, it has been an absolute pleasure.
Jeff: It has been a pleasure, thank you for having me.
Malcolm: And I hope the rest of the tour goes fantastically. Thank you very much.
Jeff: Many thanks.
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.