JEFF WAYNE (THE WAR OF THE WORLDS): “Every Time We Play In Dublin I Raise A Toast To Phil Lynott”

Jeff Wayne

The War Of The Worlds is 40 years old this year and has gone on to sell millions of copies world-wide. It’s an album that dazzled millions with its hypnotic, dramatic soundtrack and edge of the seat story line. Mick Burgess called up its creator Jeff Wayne, to talk about the 40th anniversary stage show tour, whose cast includes Nathan James from Inglorious as well as some insights into the making of the classic album including working with Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott and Paul Rodgers of Free and Bad Company.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the release of your album, The War Of The Worlds. Does it feel like four decades has passed since then?

In some ways it doesn’t but in some ways, depending on what I’m doing where I have to delve back into the archives to do something with the original album, it does feel a long time ago. When I start hearing Richard Burton’s voice or other people that were involved in the record it takes me back all that time without question.

To celebrate this great landmark, you are bringing your live stage show back to the UK for a 16-date tour at the end of the year. It’s been four years since the last one so you must be raring to go?

I’m very excited. It’s just now that I’m starting to feel like we’re on countdown. It’s been 16 months since I began outlining new ideas and considering potential cast members and before you know it it’s only a few weeks before the tour starts and you know that it is really happening.

It must be so satisfying putting this production on a stage. You can have all of the awards and millions of records sales but surely nothing compares to the thrill of hearing the audience’s reaction?

I never anticipated that sort of reaction when you first put these shows on, it was an incredible feeling. I was what you call a back-room boy producing, arranging and working with some great artists and then to perform it in front of an audience was quite sensational. The minute I arrive on stage I feel like a hovercraft slightly above the stage for two and a half hours.

You’d said that the 2014 tour was going to be the last but you just couldn’t let the 40th anniversary pass without doing something big?

At that time, we called it the Final Arena Tour as I genuinely believed it was going to be just that. I knew at that time we were going to do the theatre production and that got extended in London so we ended up doing 88 shows. We thought we might tour with it as a stage production and go to other countries. It couldn’t have been more than a week after that run ended when our promoter asked me to attend a meeting and they said that we shouldn’t ignore this very important date in the history of The War Of The Worlds and by that time we knew the stage production was coming back but not as quickly as anticipated so we grabbed the opportunity.

Is the plan still to take the theatre show out on tour at some point?

It is. The rights to the theatre production are now owned by Bill Kenwright’s company and they control the time frame although they consult with me. I think they’re looking ahead to 2019 to give enough time for this tour to settle down but that may change again with the Audible book and other projects that are ongoing. That’s always been the case with The War Of The Worlds, just when I think I’ll be going onto something else, the life of The War Of The Worlds just carries on.

Each tour you have done since you started the live shows has been bigger and more dramatic than the last. How are you going to top the tour that you did last time?

I hope it will be seen as yet another big step forward. Besides several new cast members which in itself is exciting, we’ve added some very large screens in parallel with the stage to give a much more cinematic look. In the sequence called Brave New World it’s largely performed on a bridge that goes far out and over the audience. It should be quite a dramatic, visual piece and it gives The Artillery Man different places to perform the sequence.

In the past you have done the traditional The War Of The Worlds show and The New Generation show. Which version will this show feature?

This will largely be The New Generation version. I had spent quite a bit of time seeing if we could bring Richard Burton’s part back and perform the original but the story moved on so substantially that we don’t have Richard’s voice to do that and we’d end up losing part of the story. Even the holographic head we had of Richard for those early shows was many years ago and there’d need to be a lot of renovation needed. That technology has moved on so substantially that we were concerned that it wouldn’t look as good as it did initially. There were a whole range of reasons why we concluded it wouldn’t be practical to do the original so we decided to go with The New Generation and develop from that. I hope it’ll be as pleasing and enjoyable to everyone that comes to see the show.

Does the New Generation approach help to fill out the story and give greater scope to the production beyond the confines that you had with 4 sides of vinyl back in 1978?

That was the core reason that The New Generation happened because I realised that there was a lot of story that we had originally done that could now, in the world of digital, be included. In the original performance for example Richard Burton’s part had 74 sequences. Liam Neeson, who plays the journalist in The New Generation version, has 90 sequences so that gives a perspective of how much the story was expanded.

As with every tour you have a fascinating cast. Jason Donovan returns for his fourth tour. He has played the Artillery Man and more recently Parson Nathaniel. What does he have that makes him so central to the War Of The Worlds family?

He’s such a talented guy. The first time he was with us he was the Artillery Man. It wasn’t long after that that I read an interview that he did about his life and career and he said he hadn’t had many opportunities to do anything dramatic. He was always given the personality type of roles so I thought the role of a mad person wasn’t light hearted at all so I contacted him when we came to do the next tour. I asked if he’d like to change from a fighting man to a man of the cloth. I said he could be really serious and he jumped at it so here he is, it’s the third time for him and he does the role beautifully.

You have worked with Jason for many years now. Does that familiarity make it easier for you when you start to work with new cast members?

It’s very comforting knowing that he’s done it before and does it so well. It’s also comforting to know that he’s still so keen to do it. It’s something that I never presume, so even though it’s his fourth time with us I always start by hoping he is still interested and of course he was. It’s great to be standing on stage with someone that you know and you know the high standard of work that he’s going to contribute.

What about the other cast members, Newton Faulkner is playing the Sung Thoughts of The Journalist, originally done by Justin Hayward. What was it about Newton that you felt was right for this part?

It’s always exciting having new cast members to go along with the more familiar faces that have done the show before. I owned a couple of Newton’s records and I saw him perform on TV and thought what a beautiful voice he has, so distinctive and soulful. He was so up for taking part, it just worked out beautifully.

Adam Garcia is the Artilleryman, done originally by David Essex, was his experience of West End musicals an important factor in this role bearing in mind it is one of the most theatrical of all cast members?

The Artillery Man is a very expansive and long role and believe it or not Adam was the first person I went to back in 2006 to ask to play that part but he had commitments back in Australia. I’ve always kept in touch each time we’ve gone out with The War Of The Worlds but he’s always had commitments so it’s taken all these years and now finally, he’s our Artillery Man.

The Voice of Humanity was originally done by Chris Thompson. You needed someone with a big, powerful Rock voice and Nathan James fits that part perfectly. What did you make of him when you first heard him sing?

His voice is incredible, just so powerful. We almost had to move the doors further away when he started singing so he didn’t blow them in. He’s also very melodic and blends in so well when he’s singing with others. We have a couple of scenes where all the characters sing together or they counterpoint with each other. I was already noting that when he was singing those pieces he wasn’t blasting everybody off the stage. He was already balancing his voice and even changing his voice to blend rather than to stand out. He’s quite a talent.

Carrie Hope Fletcher also reprises her role as Beth. Did you feel that the connection that she had with Jason Donovan on the last tour worked so well that you had to bring them back together again?

That was a very definite factor. Chemistry is very difficult to be assured of so when you get a two-character sequence and if it works beautifully there’s no reason to try to fix it and change it. The other point is I just love her voice so there was absolutely no reason to ask anyone else.

When you are assembling a cast for a tour, there’s so many things to consider from choosing names that people know, suitability for the part, whether they are available at the time you need them, so many things. Do you have a committee of people throwing names about, discussing pros and cons before making the final decision?

The final decision is always down to me as I have to work with them, record and conduct them on the stage during performances. I do listen to suggestions and am keen to hear different views. I’m open minded and sometimes I’m introduced to people I wasn’t previously aware of so it’s in my benefit to keep my ears wide open and hope that somebody feeds me a name that is so good that I have to include them in the cast. That’s the way we’ve always done it over the last 12 years of The War Of The Worlds.

What about the Black Smoke Band? Is Herbie Flowers and Chris Spedding joining you on stage again?

Oh yes, they’ll be with me again. They’re coming over to the studio with me to work over a couple of things that have changed with the arrangements. It’ll be great to see them both again as it’s been quite a while. I last saw Chris at the end of our West End run. Herbie wanted to do it but was having eye surgery during that period so was unavailable.

What about the rest of the band?

We’ll pretty much have the same band that we had on the last tour. The Black Smoke Band is a nine-piece Rock band and they’ll be joined by the 36-piece orchestra, the ULLAdubULLA Strings. They sound fantastic together.

Did you ever dare to dream when you first released the album in 1978 that you’d be able to put your vision into reality on stage every night on a scale like this?

I had no idea back then that I’d be able to do something like this. Me and my Dad, who passed away in 1996, always hoped first of all that the original recording would see the light of day as CBS, my record label, didn’t have a clause in the contract saying that they had to release it. We had to get over that hurdle and waited a long time before it eventually came out. Then we had to hope that people would actually want to listen to it and buy it. We had no idea how the life of the record would be, not realising that 40 years on we’d be where we are now playing these amazing live shows. Both me and my Dad always felt that there was a good chance of presenting it live in some sort of format but never anticipated the scale that it has become mainly because when we were dreaming of doing this, the technology just wasn’t available at that time. I think seeing the album first come out was the most exciting part because it was the reality that all of the hard work with the musicians, the guest artists and creating the artwork, was for real then and no longer just something we were creating in the studio.

The visual element of The War Of The Worlds is almost as important as the music. Were you involved in the design of the original gatefold album cover and booklet that came with it?

I wasn’t involved in the actual designing. My Dad and I met a man named John Pasche who was an art director and he was very keen on getting involved in what became the 16-page booklet that came with the album. He brought in painters that specialised in science fiction, fantasy and Victorian landscapes and buildings and between the painters and his overseeing they delivered a fantastic package. Every now and then the painters would come into the studio to listen to the recording to see where I was taking it and that would influence them. The objective was always that the artwork package would bring to life what the listener was listening to. Incidentally, John Pasche was the creator of the Rolling Stones tongue logo. I would never have dreamed that someone who had that mindset to create such an iconic, striking logo would be so sympathetic to Victorian England and the sensitivities of the story but he was spot on.

When did the idea to do War of the Worlds first come to you?

Pretty much from the start when we knew we owned the rights to the HG Wells story then we knew it was a reality as we had the contract with CBS Records so it grew with us pretty early on. It was probably a period of three years from the time we acquired the rights to the day it came out in June 1978.

Did people think you were barking mad for attempting something like this in 1978 when Punk was at its height and New Wave was just around the corner?

Just about everybody thought I was mad. In reality, the story leans towards the symphonic when the story is being told through the eyes of humanity but the other side of the coin is the Martians, their weapons, machines and terror that they brought, I expressed in musical terms with the band and a lot of electronics so it was like a ping pong match. Even when you come to see the show you’ll realise that the orchestra is to my right and the band is to my left and I’m right in the middle of it. It’s deliberately set up in that way to give that ping pong effect depending on who’s eyes we’re seeing the story through. It’s always been part of the writing, arranging and ultimate production of it. I think it’s worked and I’m thrilled with it.

The album originally featured Phil Lynott, David Essex and Justin Heyward amongst others. Did you have these names in mind when you were writing the music?

The time I’d finished the first draft of my score coincided with the completion of the first draft of the script. That was the first time we really cemented the characters that we were going to need. There weren’t that many but all were vital to give an authenticity and honesty with the roles that they were playing and one started thinking of who you wanted on the wish list. We actually got close to fulfilling the original wish list with the final cast. For those we weren’t able to get from the original list we did at least as well, if not better, on those that ended up on the album.

How did you about getting the cast together?

It was always Richard Burton at the top of that list and fortunately he came on board and what a lovely man to work with and known so well around the world. He had a voice like a musical instrument. We were so lucky to have attracted him to the project. David Essex, I was his producer for five years so it wasn’t difficult to reach David. I didn’t presume he’d want to do it and we had already demoed his parts so fortunately he loved it and was on board from the start. The same with Julie Covington. I first met David and Julie when they were in the musical Godspell and worked with them long before The War Of The Worlds came about.

What about Phil Lynott who played Parson Nathaniel?

It started out with someone who had a beautiful voice but had never acted before. He realised that he’d be opposite not just Julie Covington but also Richard Burton and I kept trying to explain to him, particularly through his manager Peter Grant, that their parts were already recorded and they wouldn’t even be in the room. That was Paul Rodgers. He did spend a day in the studio doing the singing parts and his voice was amazing and we still have those recordings. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get him back for the acting session and that was the end of Paul’s involvement in The War Of The Worlds. Sometimes things don’t happen the way you’d hope but sometimes something comes along that works even better and we got lucky with Phil Lynott. He was more off the wall in terms of the character he portrayed and his voice so unique. It ended up being a highly productive working relationship between me, Phil and my Dad. My Dad helped Phil with the acting sessions and they got on great. Phil got on great with everybody. I spoke with Phil when he was in hospital about 2 weeks before he passed away. When we start touring, every time we play in Dublin, there’s a pub with a statue of Phil right outside and I always go there and have a drink with him, looking at the statue and I raise a toast to him then I go and do the show. His Mum, Philomena, has come to see the show twice and she is a lovely lady.

Musically there’s so many highlights from the iconic opening chords, the climatic Horsell Common, the beautiful Forever Autumn and the fantastic interaction between Phil Lynott and Julie Covington on The Spirit of Man. Which part was the most difficult for you to create?

The composition that’s given me the greatest challenge when I was composing was The Red Weed. As a composer my idea was to consider HG Wells description of this beautiful but deadly vegetation and create a composition with an element of beauty but an undercurrent of terror and tension. The way I achieved that was to write it in two different keys so the melodic part is there to be heard and the undercurrent is what gives the dissonance and menace to the Red Weed.

War of the Worlds started as an idea with you and your Dad. What do you think he’d say if he was sitting with you now looking back on everything that you’ve achieved with War of the Worlds since its original release?

I think he’d be very proud. My Dad was the most important part of my life and together we recorded The War Of The Worlds and without him it’d probably be a very different piece. He was a really good solid rock for me when maybe I was going too far off the base but he’d be proud. He was a singer and an actor and anything that had a strong story would be something that he’d enjoy. He was the one that bought me the book. I didn’t know anything about it until then so it all started with him.

What about the future of The War Of The Worlds. What is the musical dramatization starring Michael Sheen all about?

It’s an audiobook for Audible and is a 5-hour recording of a musical dramatization, although there’s no singing on it. There’s a lot of new material that’s related to the original material and a lot of original samples. It has a great cast with Michael Sheen and Taron Eggerton who has starred in the Kingsman movies and he’s also playing Elton John in the Rocket Man movie. Ade Edmondson is also taking part as is Theo James from the Divergent movies. My daughter Anna-Marie, who has been the fiancée of the journalist in all of the live shows, was offered the role by Audible as the wife of the journalist. It’s released the day before our first show in Glasgow on 29th November.

The 50th anniversary is only 10 years away. You have plenty of time to plan the biggest War of the Worlds party ever… maybe the first live concert broadcast from Mars would be a fitting celebration?

I’m just writing that down and will get that over to our promoters. I hope I’m still around and fully functioning then and I’ll start thinking about it after the last show of our 40th anniversary.

The War Of The Worlds UK Tour starts on 30th November in Glasgow. See for more information and to buy tickets.

The War Of The Worlds Audible book is available from 29th November.


  • 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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