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Radlett-based Jeff Wayne talks to Melanie Dakin about the new album and the world tour of The War of the Worlds
Suspending Richard Burton’s head above a live audience wasn’t enough for Jeff Wayne. Embarking on a new tour of The War of the Worlds, the Radlett-based musician has teamed up with Hollywood actor Liam Neeson and Take That star and X Factor judge Gary Barlow to record a new album soundtrack and film new action sequences for the stage show.
Originally released in 1978, Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War of The Worlds remains an award-winning landmark album, spending more than 330 weeks on the UK chart to date, reaching number one in 11 countries and selling in excess of 15 million copies.
Now, Jeff has embarked on a new interpretation of HG Wells’ classic novel.
Liam takes on the pivotal role of the story’s narrator, The Journalist, and Gary Barlow plays The Sung Thoughts of The Journalist, singing international hits The Eve of The War and Forever Autumn.
A life-long fan of the original album, Gary was pleased to take part.
He says: “I’ve been a huge fan of The War of The Worlds score since I was a kid, so to be asked to work with the legend that is Jeff Wayne was a real privilege.“ Thirty-four years on, Liam inherits the role originated by Richard Burton. While a hard act to follow, he definitely makes the role his own.
Jeff says Liam was keen to come on board.
“I was in New York and he expressed an interest to be involved. He’d bought the recording when it first came out and his performance added realism, which was what I always felt it needed, something very personal so we hit the hearts a little more this time.“
Liam adds: “I knew and loved the book from when I was a teenager and it was an easy persuasion. And I bought the album in 1979 when I was working in Ireland. I still have that little cassette.“ That little cassette is now a two-CD album, digital download and special double vinyl (the original format) with accompanying artwork.
“I wanted to test myself as a musician in today’s world,“ Jeff says of the album. “Originally, I was a young musician living in a world of punk and disco, which bears no reflection on how music is made today.
“The percussion was the first thing I looked at, setting down both live and electronic grooves influenced by some hard club based and acoustic sounds, which were familiar but entirely fresh.
“The new version is also a lot tighter. When I first composed it I used formal conducting from a podium and would count the guys in but for this new recording I could combine a computer with a live band and drive the way it sounds.“
The first live tour, in 2006, featured an 11ft high disembodied head of Richard Burton hovering over the stage. Six years on, Jeff wanted bigger things.
“The sequences with Richard Burton were finite, we recorded 74 and Liam has 90 sequences. What I’d always wanted for the role of The Journalist was one thread to the whole story – one omnipresent character in contrast to the live performers on stage.
“The largest part of the new production has been new CGI artwork (computer generated images),“ says Jeff. “Liam appears as a 3D hologram and there are scenes where his 3D image sits, stands and interacts with the characters and props on the stage. We also used a 100ft wide animation wall.“ Liam appears on both the album and on film for the tour while Gary Barlow’s role on the soundtrack is sung on stage by Marti Pellow. Will Stapleton is The Voice of Humanity, alongside Jason Donovan as Parson Nathaniel and Kerry Ellis as his wife, Beth. Kaiser Chiefs’ Ricky Wilson takes on the role of The Artilleryman in his first ever stage role.
Last time we spoke Jeff mentioned a full-length animated film version of The War of the Worlds but he says the back to back tours are taking up most of his time but the project is still very much ongoing.
“I haven’t stopped fighting Martians for more than six years and over that time the core team has grown with us and the sequences we’ve worked on would blend and naturally thread into an animated film. It would be much easier to return to it now having so much more content.“
- The new album is out now and the tour comes to Wembley Arena on Thursday, December 6. Details: www.thewaroftheworlds.com