Metal Express Radio caught up with The War Of The Worlds creator, Jeff Wayne, following a highly successful UK tour.

For many, The War of the Worlds album was their first step into the fantastic world of music. Who can forget the dramatic, grandiose music, the gripping storyline, and the stellar cast all wrapped up in a stunning gatefold sleeve and full color booklet to match. The album managed to cross the genres and appeal to music fans young and old alike. Now over 25 years after the album was first released, and 14 million copies later, the show hit the road for a sold out tour of UK arenas. Metal Express Radio caught up with The War Of The Worlds brainchild, Jeff Wayne, to talk about the tour, the making of the album, working with Phil Lynott, the original sessions with Paul Rodgers, and working with the legendary Richard Burton, together with his plans for the future.

You have recently completed your first ever tour of The War Of The Worlds. How did the shows go?

Well in terms of audience reaction, we’ve had quite an exceptional response with standing ovations and dancing in the aisles; pretty much everything we could have hoped for and beyond. At the beginning, we didn’t know what sort of reception to expect, so it’s been great and every one of the shows were sold out too, so it’s gone really well.

The original album was released in 1978… why has it taken so long to put the show on the road?

I think it comes down to just a couple of reasons. The first I think was when my father and I realized that the album was doing so well we knew that we always felt it had a natural right to go into a live environment, whether or not that was like a West End type musical or something more along the lines of what we’ve done with this, but some of the things that were in our mind were technically not possible, or were so expensive to produce that it knocked certain ideas out. By the time we got to 1984, which was six years after the album came out, we did actually have a commitment from Richard Burton to sit for a 3 dimensional head to be produced. We spent a day with him at the company who had the technology to do that, and we were also well advanced for our designs for the show. He was actually taking a two-week break from filming and was going on holiday with his wife, Sally, to Switzerland. He said that he’d see me in a couple of weeks to work on, not just The War Of The Worlds, but also another project, which he asked me to do — a TV special reading the words of Dylan Thomas. He commissioned me to write the score for that. When he was coming back two weeks later, we were going to carry on planning for both projects, but he died when he was in Switzerland. After that, it kind of knocked the stuffing out of us. I went on to work on a couple of other projects, and thought that there would be a time and a place for revisiting the idea again. We had seen technology changing so rapidly and it has now made things available in a cost effective way that our plans can now be achieved. If you see the show, you know that the Fighting Machine weighs three tons, and to make it work mechanically and descend from the lighting rig with the telescopic legs and the heat ray and lights, it was a technological feat in itself.

Of the original cast, Justin Hayward and Chris Thompson performed. Were David Essex and Julie Covington asked to be involved?

No, not that we wouldn’t have been thrilled to have them involved, but the main difference with Justin and Chris was that their roles are not age-specific. The Artillery Man and Beth were very age-specific roles that were now being visualized and that was really the only reason why these had to be recast.

Which of the original musicians from the album were involved in the live show?

Chris Spedding and Herbie Flowers from the original album are playing on guitar and bass. There were going to be others, but life and circumstances meant that they weren’t able to do it. Each member of the band, if you check their CV’s, have really covered the whole gamut of music. I’ve got a wonderful collection of musicians there.

Who was the drummer… he seemed pretty lively!

That’s Gordon Marshall, who is with The Moody Blues, and he was introduced to me by Justin Hayward. As Justin was here, he inevitably wasn’t touring with the Moody’s, so Gordon was free too. The War Of The Worlds was one of his first albums and he knew all of the parts even before he arrived here!!

The whole sound of The War Of The Worlds and the complexity of the arrangements must have been difficult to replicate live…

We were very conscious of the fact that anyone who knew the album and was coming to the show would have certain expectations. We wanted to recreate as closely as possible what I had created on the original album. I spent about 8 months preparing the parts and the scores for the strings and all that.

There were a couple of major problems involved in putting the show together — namely the deaths of Richard Burton and Phil Lynott. The way you have involved Richard Burton is totally original. Who came up with the idea of the suspended 3D head?

This goes right back to the mid-80s with my father, only that when Richard was alive it was much easier to create. It is a three dimensional sculptured head, which is, I think, the first time anyone has managed to do something like this when the person was no longer alive to get to the point where you can put something onto this three dimensional head. In truth, we failed the first time round as just before Christmas we had a head that looked more like Miss Piggy!! From this failure, it allowed us to focus on what we needed to make this project work and we got there in the end.

The loss of Phil Lynott is also another problem that you have successfully overcome. A voice as unique as Lynott’s is nearly impossible to replicate, but Russell Watson does a great job in using his own style to tackle the part of Parson Nathaniel. How do you feel he did?

We were thrilled that Russell joined the tour and it was a challenge for him. With any style of music or any artist who has a unique style, it’s pointless to try to replicate that, so it’s better to interpret it in your own way, which is what I discussed with Russell in the beginning and I thought that he did a fantastic job.

Who did you have to play the Artillery Man and Beth?

The Artillery Man is a young actor/singer named Alexis James and Beth is played by Tara Blaise

How did you come across them?

With Alexis it was through a process of meeting various people who were interested in participating and Alexis came and performed a chunk of the Artillery Man’s role and he was head and shoulders above everyone else.

The stage show is very impressive. The logistics of fitting a 48-piece orchestra, 10-piece Rock band, various singers, a huge video screen, and the odd 30-foot Martian must have been a nightmare to plan!

We had marks on the stage for the musicians, the actors, and me as the conductor where we had to stay out of the way otherwise the Martian would win!!!

Who helped to design the show?

What you see in the form of the 3D head and the Fighting Machine was designed by Jonathan Park, who has done many things in his career. I think one of the things he’s most proud of is his involvement with The Wall by Pink Floyd. We have around 200 people, who are highly regarded in their field, involved in the whole production; it’s quite a sizeable production. There’s been such a buzz about how everyone has responded, and I think everyone involved with the show is very proud at how it’s turned out.

Do you enjoy the more theatrical bands around at the moment such as Alice Cooper, Kiss, and Rammstein?

I do with certain reservations. What I enjoy is being entertained, so I don’t really look at any one genre, but I look at it more in terms of entertainment. Cirque Du Soleil is very entertaining, but is not story driven. Alice Cooper, particularly in the early part of his career, used theatricality and used shock elements that were very original at the time.

The whole sound of the band and orchestra together is very dramatic and involves many individual musicians. How difficult was it to arrange the surround sound format for the show?

It was broken down into component parts. The first thing was to determine the size of the band and the string parts. The main aim was to recreate the sound from the album. I went back to my original handwritten scores, I knew that I originally used a 48-piece string section and I had all of my orchestrations that I had scored, so that part was a fairly easy to determine and this was, cost aside, inevitably something that you have to consider!! I then started analyzing with the people in the studio who knew the album, as they had re-mixed it with me through the years, and started breaking down what was the best way of recreating the band parts for the live performance. The one thing that most people don’t realize is that when I composed, arranged, and produced the original recording, I wrote it and scored it as a live piece. The original band, which although didn’t include the strings at the time or the guitar or synthesiser overdubs… the core of it still had enough instrumentation to perform it live with the exception of “The Red Weed,” which was a free form composition. For everything else, I just conducted the band from my keyboard, so it has a human feel and was always conceived as a live piece, although it was created in the studio.

On this tour, you have used a revolutionary form of electronic sheet music. What did this involve?

Yes, I think we were the first ones to use something like that on a production of this size. I’ve learned that over the years the amount of paper needed is phenomenal. The music is continuous over the show, except for the interval, so there’s two periods of an hour each of continuous music… so the amount of page turning would have been another huge hurdle to consider. Can you imagine if you have a 48-piece string section when it comes to page turning? 24 of the players would not be playing as one out of every two is the responsible person for page turning! A musician that I’d known for 30 years had told me about a couple of new systems that were coming out of The States. This was a paperless system where the music is displayed on an electronic pad and you turn the “page” by a foot pedal. I just do it by a touch pad on the screen. The pads have their own light system, so you don’t need a separate source and for me as a conductor you can highlight certain sections in any color you wish. I can then write all of my cues onto the music. When we get to the actual performance, I am not really following notes anymore, but am looking for cues. When I see a yellow highlight, I know the strings are coming in, and when it’s a different color I know that a certain band member will be playing. It makes you wonder how we managed with paper in the first place.

Your father and daughter were also involved in the production, so that’s three generations of the Wayne family. You must be very proud of them.

Oh, yes. We have quite a few family members involved with the album and this production. My Dad, who passed away 9 years ago, is the voice of the NASA man at the end. That was direct from the album and was the only piece not played live. My wife helped create the original sound effects for the album and these are used in the show. My daughter, Anna Marie, was Carrie, the on-screen fiancé of the journalist. I also have three other children, two of which were extras in the crowd scenes on the big screen, and another son who has just completed two club remixes, a sort of Hip-Hop/Rap type of thing on two tracks on a new club version of “War of the Worlds,” and one of those was actually used as the play out music after the show has finished.

Seeing the finished show and the audience reaction must have been such a rewarding feeling…

It’s absolutely true. Our first show was at Bournemouth, and we had no pre-conceived idea of what it would be like. Would people just sit on their hands during the show or throw tomatoes at me or what? We’ve had standing ovations and the crowds have been going wild. It’s been great!!

Are you planning a DVD release of the live show?

Yes, we shot a DVD and TV special at Wembley Arena. The DVD will be out on November 6th and the TV special will be shown in different countries, probably sometime after September.

What will be included in the package?

What I know at the moment, and it keeps shifting, as Universal Pictures who are taking on the DVD, have started seeing some of the results of the material shot by David Mallett, who is a very well-established director. Everybody has been thrilled at what’s been done so far. I think they are planning on two configurations — one being a standard DVD with plenty of extras and another, which will come along a couple of months later as a 2 DVD set, will have more things and more elaborate packaging. There has also been a TV crew following us around right through the tour and this might wind up on the 2nd disc.

Were you more nervous knowing it was being filmed?

Honestly, I was very confident that the people I was working with on the stage and behind the stage were world class. We had been working extensively on the routine by the time we got to Wembley. I think that was our 9th show, so things were going pretty well.

It’s been a busy year for you with the whole The War Of The Worlds project; the live shows, the re-issues, and various other projects. Did you ever think when you first started the project that nearly 30 years later the demand would be even greater than it was when originally released?

I had absolutely no idea that it would have been so successful. To tell you the truth, when I started on this project some people thought that I was totally bonkers to produce something that was essentially a 96-minute continuous piece of work when Punk was the big thing at the time and Disco was the king of the dance floor. I was coming out with this musical interpretation of a Victorian story. I only had backing for about 25% – 30% of the cost from the record company, and the rest was my life savings. Nobody knew it was going to sell, and I certainly didn’t know that I’d be chatting to you 30 years or so later about a highly successful arena tour and going on to other shapes and forms in other countries.

Talking of the re-issues, the 7-disc Collector’s Edition box set is a shining example of how to present a box set. How did it feel trawling through the archives again and listening to some material that you probably hadn’t heard for going on 3 decades?

It wasn’t just what I hadn’t heard in all that time, but things I hadn’t gone back to… such as press cuttings, all sorts of singles, and re-mixes that have been sent to me and all carefully stored away. Those aren’t things that I’d come back to for a regular revisiting, but I actually hadn’t realized how much had been written or how many re-mixes had been done. There have been 300 different remixes done since 1978!! They are the legal ones as well — not the bootleg ones!! The archives fill a couple of rooms now, and it was quite a task to go through everything. It took about a year and a half to assemble everything for the Collector’s Edition. I don’t think that anything like the Collector’s Edition will come out for another period. Now that we are in the live environment, I think that it’s inevitable that we’ll be able to look at different ways of packaging. I’m very concerned, and the record company has known for years that I don’t like coming out with multiple packages and putting a new album cover and calling it something new. I don’t think that’s fair to people who’ve supported The War Of The Worlds. I’d rather do less and hope that people will see that my heart and soul has gone into it and that they’re getting value for the money.

Are there any of those outtakes that you think in hindsight should have been included in the original album?

I think we had a maximum of 26 minutes per side, and that had a lot to do with how much bass you were using, as the bass frequency took up the most space for the grooves on a black vinyl disc. It was a different format back then, and I had four sides, so I had to keep the production within those constraints. There wasn’t really anything that I wish had been included, but there is a piece that I had to chuck out that has wound up on the Collector’s Edition called “Parson Nathaniel,” and it was originally recorded for inclusion. When I went back to it, I thought that it was a lovely song, but it was a narrative song rather than one with characters involved, and that’s why I didn’t think it worked. From that grew “The Spirit of Man,” which Phil and Julie sang on the album. There was about 2 hours of material recorded for the album, that I edited down to 96 minutes, but there was nothing that I recorded that had to be left out just because there was no time left.

The re-issued 2 disc version saw you back in the Top 10 in the UK album charts. How did it feel to see your work back in the charts?

To see The War Of The Worlds fighting it out with Coldplay and James Blunt for the #1 spot has been great. It was in the Top 10 for 10 or 11 weeks, and I think it’s still in the lower end of the charts at the moment, so it’s pretty amazing really.

How many copies have you sold now?

I think it’s about 14 million worldwide at the moment, and in the UK it’s gone ten times platinum so that’s about 3 million copies in the UK.

You issued the release in a surround sound format. How difficult was that to do using the original master tapes?

It was technically a very long process with the multitrack tapes. When I did The War Of The Worlds originally, it was the first to use a 48-track production, certainly in Europe anyway, and the technology was very fragile to link two 24-track machines together. Soon after I finished the album, that technology died and disappeared. The ability to take two 24-track tapes and sync them together in digital form was quite an effort that took three months to get into the position to where we could start editing it and then start mixing it all. We had 77 sets of 24 multitrack tapes, and baked them to get the best opportunity of nothing falling apart. Everyone knows from the era of tape that no matter how well you store them, you could find that there’s deterioration to the point where they are unusable, so the baking process is a known method of protecting the tape. It was a long process, but once we had it in the digital domain, then we had a perfect recreation of the album. The mixing was actually quite a pleasurable experience, as we had the advantage of digital technology and plug ins that weren’t available first time around, so the quality of the sound is quite substantially better. It’s the same composition and recordings, but the quality of the sound is so much better and, of course, we mixed it in 5.1, which wasn’t available in the 70s. I think it also helped us with the live show, as we used surround in the show and the team that helped out in the studio also worked on the live sound.

What is the current status of the animated film?

We were progressing very nicely with about 16 animators and produced a certain amount of material, but when the tour came about, most of them shifted to work for a bigger animation company who took on the work for the tour, so they stopped working on the film to work on the tour and you would have seen the results on the screen at the back of the stage. The benefit of this is that when we go back to the film, we’ll have a lot of material from the show that we can use and certainly a lot of material that we can build on.

Talking of films, were you disappointed that Stephen Spielberg didn’t use your music for the Hollywood blockbuster?

I wasn’t really, because I didn’t really think that it was appropriate as his film was set in the modern day and the story wasn’t set at the time and place as what H.G. Wells wrote and the main characters were different. I have now concluded a deal relating to the film. I owned the rights to The War Of The Worlds and whereas Paramount Pictures owned the film rights, I had the merchandising rights and soundtrack rights, so we’ve been able to use that with our own animated film. We’ve come out of it very nicely. It was a very non-contentious arrangement and everyone worked well together. We got what we wanted and they got what they wanted.

The War Of The Worlds is nearly 30 years old, but there is still so much interest in the music. It is a unique release in that it crosses so many musical boundaries? Rock fans love it for its grandiose nature, Pop and Classical fans have taken to it and also Dance music seems to have embraced your music too. Why do you think the album has such universal appeal?

Well, I think it’s a lot easier to look back now. When I originally composed the album it was just what came out of me. I obviously had the feeling for needing certain ingredients to develop the story, and I think it’s exactly those ingredients that have helped it to cross over and reach a whole range of people, whether it’s an individual track or as a whole album. Believe it or not, I’ve been approached to headline an all Heavy Metal festival in the summer with bands such as AC/DC and Motorhead. I don’t know if we’ll be able to do it, though, because of other things that we’ve been offered and you’ve seen the size of the show. It’s a big show and financially we have to do a certain amount of shows to get anywhere near close to pay it’s way. Doing one-off shows at the moment probably doesn’t work, but we’ll make a decision over the next couple of weeks. The War Of The Worlds seems to be popular with fans of Hard Rock. I didn’t realize this at the time I was writing it, as I just wanted to write an honest composition about a wonderful story.

One of the things I had noticed about these shows is how we seemed to have crossed the age barrier. There were people of all ages out there. We didn’t realize it would be like that. Before the tour started, people were asking if it was going to be too scary for kids, and I thought it would be, but kids really loved it.

Talking about the Dance scene, a second remix album, Ulladubulla, is due for release featuring N Trance and Ben Leibrand. Are these the versions contained on the Collectors Edition box set, or new interpretations?

This has just been released. There’s three brand new remixes on there: two by my son and one by Tom Middleton, there’s also a couple that have been hits that haven’t been on any of the previous albums, and there’s some of the best ones from the collector’s edition too.

It must be flattering that a new generation of cutting edge artists are influenced by your music?

It’s always been interesting to hear other people’s interpretations of the album. We’ve supplied the samples and they go away and work on it and we might have input at the editing stage, but basically it’s their interpretation of the given tune. There’s been some fabulous ones that have had a lot of imagination put into them. You can almost tell what year they were produced by the different grooves or beats per minute that were used.

Going back to the original album… when you were writing the music, did you have the characters in mind or had the music already been finished before you picked the cast?

I composed the music and wrote the lyrics and script first, and then I approached people who I thought would be great for the roles and hoped that they’d be interested.

You were a big Thin Lizzy fan and Phil Lynott fits the part of Parson Nathaniel perfectly. You must have really wanted him to be part of the album?

Yes, I definitely wanted Phil to be part of the project; he was a delight to work with. I’m hoping that when I’m in Dublin next, I’ll visit the new statue that’s just been erected in his memory.

Was it true that Paul Rodgers was involved at an early stage in the album?

He was and he came into the studio for a day. The singing was great, but he was concerned that he couldn’t act, so he dropped out. We do still have that material, but due to copyright issues, we unfortunately can’t use it at the moment, which is why it wasn’t used in the Collector’s Edition.

Getting Richard Burton on board was quite an achievement. How did you persuade him to take part?

It came about from the fact that once we had the script ready, we needed a journalist to recount the story. We had a small list of people who we hoped would consider it, and Richard was at the very top of that list. We just approached him and asked him if he’d be interested and he was thrilled to be part of it.

Did you consider Orson Welles or Christopher Lee?

No, not really. Orson Welles did the original radio broadcast in the 1930s, I think, and he’s American, and this was a British production, so I was looking for a British actor. Christopher Lee was never really considered. We were very lucky to have someone like Richard Burton who was our first hope, and fortunately he was interested in doing it.

Was there anyone you particularly wanted to be on the album, but wasn’t available?

There were some people that I approached that weren’t available for one reason or another, but I think that ultimately I ended up with as fantastic of a cast as I could’ve hoped for.

How long did it take from your initial decision to make the album to finally releasing the finished product?

It took just under three years from deciding that was what I was going to do and the album being released, so it took a fairly long time from start to finish.

What have you lined up for the future?

The most immediate thing after the tour is over is to start mixing the DVD and TV special, and that’ll take about two months. By that time, I’ll know about our other touring plans, including a trip to China with a much larger scale tour. I’ve also got some other projects to consider unrelated to The War Of The Worlds, but I don’t really know if I’ll have time to do these in the next two years as I’m so busy at the moment with The War Of The Worlds. With the remixing of the album and then the tour, I’ve already been back working on The War Of The Worlds for two and half years now, so yeah, it’s taken up pretty much all of my time.

Will you be taking the show back out on the road, seeing that the tour has been so successful?

We’ve been offered another larger tour than this one and we’ll be doing around 11 UK shows in December 2007. We’ve also been offered tours in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Germany, Holland, and China. We’ve already signed up for the dates in China, and that will be mega, that’s stadium-sized stuff. We’ve also been approached about playing some shows in America, so until all of that is sorted out, I don’t really know precisely what I’ll be doing, but what I do know is that I’ll be very busy over the next couple of years.

For further information about The War Of The Worlds, checkout the official Web site at, which includes the recently released touring schedule for 2007.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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