Director Jeff Wayne and actor Liam Neeson pose for a portrait prior to the press conference to announce the 2012 European Tour of Jeff Wayne's musical version of War Of The Worlds New Generation with Liam Neeson and Jeff Wayne, at One Marylebone on November 18, 2011 in London, England.
Photo: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

The live tour, which has played to over 1.5 million people is now nearing its end. Jeff Wayne, creator of the legendary The War of The Worlds spoke to Mick Burgess ahead of the tour about the new show and his future plans.

You’ll be starting your latest tour of the UK very soon. Are you looking forward to getting started?

I started working on this in June 2013 so that gives you an idea of how long this takes to develop. It’s very hectic at the moment as we are reviewing the animation that will be going into the show. I can’t wait to get started and play these shows. I’m very excited and looking forward to people seeing this new show that we have worked so hard on.

After 5 full tours since 2006 you have decided that this is to be the final tour. Why have you taken that decision?

It’s simply because an opportunity has come my way which is a done deal and I’ll be announcing it early to mid-next year. It’s a new direction for my musical version of The War of the Worlds. This will be the last tour and I approach it with a heavy heart as I know it’s the end of a chapter but as one door closes another opens.

Is that the end or do you hope maybe a few special one off shows, maybe to mark the 40th anniversary in 2018?

There might be, you never know. By then I’ll know how the new direction has gone and it’s going to take quite some time for the new project to surface so 2018 might just be the right time but that is a long way ahead.

When you first made those tentative steps to take the production out on the road, did you ever dare to think it would be this successful?

I had no idea; I had no way of knowing just how successful it would become. If you’d asked me how I thought the album would do before it came out I would have been unable to give you a proper answer. After I’d finished the recording I handed in the record to CBS Records, my label at the time and they had 30 days to decide if they even liked it. 30 days came up and they wanted another 30 days and at that stage I would have been really thrilled with just a release but for it to have become so successful and then with the tours that’s followed it’s beyond anything I could ever have hoped for.

The album came out at a strange time just as Punk was fizzling out and New Wave and Disco was growing in popularity.

I knew as a composer and producer that creating a continuous play double album that told a story through the eyes of a Victorian journalist of a dark tale which had serious themes in it such as invasion and faith that it didn’t fit any format that you could attach it to and ticked no boxes with the music around at that time but it seemed to catch the imagination of the record buying public thankfully.

Maybe you could say you were Punk in your own way in that you went totally against the grain and did your own thing?

I think that’s a very good point and as a young musician at that time I was into many different types of music and rather than be angry in 3 minutes I was angry in about 2 hours?

Do you know how many people the show has played to so far?

We’ve done 5 tours in the UK and shows in Europe and Australia so I’d say over one and a half million people have seen the show so far. Our promoter has said that they’ve never had an arena tour on this scale come back so often and been so popular with so many people. On the forthcoming tour we’ve had to add 6 extra shows due to the demand.

Each tour that you have done since the original in 2006 has been bigger and better than the last. When you begin planning for a new tour do you feel pressure to exceed what you did last time?

Not a pressure but a desire. That’s a challenge and it’s a positive one. Everything we add has an entertainment value to it to those people who pay their money and come to see the show and we hope that they will enjoy it.

What are you planning for this tour to top the 2012 tour?

I think it has more new things than in any of our previous shows. One of the main new features is the introduction of Mr H.G Wells and he appears in three very dramatic places to tell why he wrote The War of the Worlds and his changing attitudes over the years. We start off seeing him at the age of 33 the year after The War of the Worlds was published where he realises that his story has resonated all over the world. The next time we see him he’s 20 years older and he’s seen the First World War come to an end and he starts to question some of his own values and observations as to how the world is going. We see him for the final time months before he passes away at 80 years old. He’s lived through two world wars and he’s amazed but not surprised that there’s still wars being fought around the world. He turns to the audience to say that he’s done his bit and now the future belongs to us. The musical version runs in parallel to this.

How do you portray HG Wells in different stages of his life?

We’re working with a prosthetics and make up specialist who’s won Oscars. There’ll be one live actor, Callum O’Neill from Scotland, who will age throughout the show from 33 to 79. There’s two people on the team just to work on his aging process through the show. Unlike in a movie where someone ages you have as much time as you need to achieve that but for us he has three different ages and he has to be ready in time to come on stage. He has 45-50 minutes between each change, not days or weeks so it’s a real challenge to achieve that.

Maybe you need a Wallace and Gromit invention to get him transformed quickly?

Oh yes definitely, that would be a great help. We have tested our routine time and time again to make sure it’s achievable on stage and it’s working really well.

What other new elements have you introduced into the show?

I’ve written two new songs to add into the show and I’m pleased with those and hope the audiences respond to it. there’s a lot of wonderful new animation and special effects. There’s many small things that add up to a supersized show.

Sometimes it’s the small things that really make a moment in a show like the falling leaves during Forever Autumn.

We pride ourselves in working with the most cutting edge technology in terms of sight and sound and the leaf drop is one of the most moving parts of the show but it’s actually one of the most simple and least expensive that we’ve done and all it involves is 2 or 3 of our crew with big bags of leaves chucking it down by hand.

The show is absolutely huge, how much equipment do you have to have to take this out on the road?

To give you an idea how much this show has grown, the first tour we had six trucks and now we have twelve so it’s much, much bigger than when we started. Some of our crew have worked with the biggest artists in the world and they say that there’s nothing that they can compare The War of the Worlds with.

As with all of your previous tours you’ve pulled in some big names including Brian McFadden, Jason Donovan and Shayne Ward. How do you go about picking your cast?

I always keep an eye and ear out for artists that I think might be terrific for a given part. I get suggestions from people within the industry and gradually build up a list of candidates to consider for the parts.

Gary Barlow performed on the New Generation version of The War of the Worlds released a couple of years ago. Did you approach him to reprise that role on stage?

Gary was only ever going to be available for the album. He had just enough time to work the album into his schedule. He has seen the show and he’ll be coming again this year but getting him on stage and travelling with us has not been achievable.

Other than Jason, these are all new cast members. Is the plan to keep the cast new and fresh each time?

There’s never been a precise plan to come back with everybody from the last tour or nobody from the last tour. It starts with when the dates will happen. Then we find that some people aren’t available, in fact I chatted with Ricky Wilson about coming back as The Artillery Man but he couldn’t commit because of The Voice and The Kaiser Chiefs have an album due out so he was unavailable from the start and then that opens it up to who can play that role. So circumstances dictate who is and who isn’t available for the tour. We have some familiar faces and some new ones so it keeps it interesting.

Did introducing The New Generation open up the possibilities to what you could do with the stage production?

That was a large reason why I committed to expand The War of the Worlds. It came about after we finished a tour in 2010. I knew there was an interest from Sony. They wanted me to re-record it using the same score and content. I only wanted to do it if there was a creative reason. I listened to the original recordings and read the script when I was on holiday and realised how much didn’t make it onto the finished album originally. The reason a lot didn’t make it was because it was the era of the black vinyl disc so I was limited by the technology available at that time. In the digital age there are not such restrictions so there were parts of the storyline that could be built on, some in chunks others just small things that tied in the story and give me a placemat to open it up and expand it to the New Generation. Richard Burton originally had 74 sequences while this time Liam Neeson has 90. This has given me further opportunities to explore other things.

The most noticeable change was the hologram of Liam Neeson which was stunning. How long did it take to produce the hologram effect?

It took 3 days to work on the audio and then there was 5 or 6 days in front of a blue screen to film the 90 sequences for the show. Technically it’s not a hologram. It is filmed in 3D holography projected onto a screen that allows the 3D to come over.

Did you ever consider asking Liam to do a guest appearance at a live show?

That would be too complex. He just is too busy with his film career to commit to doing a tour. He was a real pleasure to work with and he said he’d actually bought the album when it first came out and I never knew that.

You mentioned that you are planning to perform a new song Life Begins Again at the live shows. Why did you decide to bring in an additional song?

Because of the way the story has expanded it has opened up the opportunity to add this into two places in the story and will give all of the artists the chance to sing together. I hope it’ll reach everyone and I’m pleased with it. The opening line matches the words from the original score and it was always a secondary section that pushed the story emotionally but it was never a featured theme like the Eve of War. That melody it is built on was always called Life Begins Again but there were no vocals attached.

When the live shows have finished what plans do you have for The War of the Worlds beyond the live stage? There was talk about a CGi film. Is this still a possibility?

An animated feature film has never left my dreams. This tour would never have started if I hadn’t started working a year before the first tour with a team of animators to develop it first as a film. That is where I was heading with it. I had no idea that a year or so later we’d be talking about changing direction because a live tour was happening.

You released a great boxed set a few years back containing many outtakes from the original album sessions. Is there more in your vaults that could be released someday?

There is a lot of unreleased material and you never know but I don’t want to try to do too much and be as selective as I can and when I do something people know I really have something to say. We have a whole building of archive material.

You’ll have plenty of time on your hands once the touring is over. What projects do you have lined up for the future? What about the rumoured musical based on Jack London’s Call of the Wild?

It’s never left my aspirations and dreams. It’s the same thing as if 8 years ago if you’d asked me if The War of the Worlds would be seen live then I would not have been sure and it started and who knew then that it would become as big as it has. Before that took off I was used to going from one project to another; working with artists, doing TV work, I’ve published a book and done a TV series so I had done numerous smaller projects and then I have focussed everything on War of the Worlds for the last 8 years or so and we have actually been invited back again in a year and a half but I don’t know what I will be doing with Call of The Wild at this stage but it is something that I would like to do one day.

That’ll bring you nicely up to Christmas. How will you be spending Christmas this year?

I’ll have a break with my family that will take me into the New Year then I’ll start on the new project I have with The War of the Worlds. We all get together and hang out for several days but we always have a great time with the ever growing family.

The War of the Worlds UK Arena Tour starts on 27th November in Sheffield and finishes on 15th December in Brighton.


  • 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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