The musical mastermind behind Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds speaks to Grace Murphy about a spectacular production to which he has dedicated almost half his life
On first hearing the name ‘Jeff Wayne’ a light switch did not immediately illuminate within. A flicker of recognition did not cross my eyes. In fact, I had no freaking clue who the chap was until a quick Google revealed him to be ‘Jeff Wayne’ of ‘Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds’. That dodgy Tom Cruise film, I hear you say? Oh no. I’m talking about Jeff Wayne’s musical adaptation of the celebrated H.G. Wells novel which has spent the last four years on tour as a live show conducted by Jeff Wayne himself. He’s kind of a big deal. His apartment smells of rich mahogany.
The live show has sold out arena tours and promises to be a ‘thrilling and entertaining multi-media extravaganza’ complete with pyrotechnics, eleven-foot 3D holograms, and 25-foot screens. Jeff offers a vibrant description of what to expect.
“On our next tour we’re gonna have a whole range of new things that’ll take this multimedia spectacular to a whole new level,” Wayne enthuses. “We have an opening sequence and a closing sequence that have been totally revamped, that’ll bring audience interactivity into the equation. Without giving too much away simply ‘cos the fun of it is experiencing what we do – last tour we added a new ingredient, from the ‘World of Illusion’. It’s a levitation effect which had never been done before in live entertainment. Each production keeps growing and taking things in new directions.”
These new directions include some changes to the line-up, which originally featured the legendary Phil Lynott. Unfortunately this coming production boasts not gods of the rock ‘n’ roll halls of fame, but Jason Donovan, Liz McClarnon and Rhydian. That’s right: that lad from Neighbours who used to sing with Kylie Minogue, the most bland member of Atomic Kitten, and that transparent Welsh guy who almost won X Factor. Can these promising stars match Lynott’s talent?
“Phil was quite magical to work with – I have only the most wonderful memories of working with him. Rhydian has a completely different approach but I worked with him for a couple of days in my studio and his voice is quite incredible.”
Jeff originally adapted the novel as a double album over thirty years ago, with no preconceptions of the following it would attract. “I guess when I look back to when I was writing and producing it I was living in a time when punk was the revolutionary music, disco was the king of the dance floor, and there I was writing a 100-minute continuous piece, trying to interpret a Victorian tale. So I wasn’t following any mould of the day and therefore I could see it disappearing off the face of the earth and maybe not even getting a release. When I finished it was I was very proud of the way it sounded and all the guest artists and musicians that contributed their performances to what I created – and lo and behold, it took off immediately. We’ve been touring for four years and it’s just getting bigger and bigger.”
“We’ve seen people of every age attending; some have heard of the spectacle part of it and not realised it’s connected to a musical work, and others who may know the album think they’re coming to a concert interpretation and discover that it’s far from that. I’m just thrilled that we’re entertaining people and critics have pretty much been very praiseworthy of it and we keep getting invited back. That’s good enough for me.”
Having spent exactly half of his life on this project you’d think Jeff would grow tired of finding new ways to tell the same story but apparently not – as long as there’s somewhere new to tour he’ll be there with a smile.
“Well, I conduct on stage. We’ve got a ten-piece band and a symphonic string orchestra and performing is, I think, a bit like being on holidays. It’s like your feet never touching the floor. There’s so much energy and emotion going into it that by the time we finish a great performance we’re all buzzing. We all hang out a lot together after the show and it’s just a good vibe really.”
In fact, Jeff is so busy with The War of the Worlds that he has time for little else. “Since we’ve started touring in 2006 it’s really dominated my life. We finish one tour and then unlike taking the easy path of next time taking it out of the box and doing it the same way again, pretty much the second I know there is another tour on offer I go back to the drawing board. I’ve had a couple of offers over the last few years that I wish I had been available for but The War of the Worlds is pretty much full on for me and until we finish touring next year I won’t have the opportunity to consider anything else, and I’m not complaining.”
Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of The Worlds – Alive on Stage! comes to The O2 Arena on 29th November. www.ticketmaster.ie