5 minutes with...Jeff Wayne
PUBLISHED: 07:33 17 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:11 20 February 2013
Jeff Wayne hit gold dust with his Musical Version of The War of The Worlds in 1978. The live version is coming to Sussex for the fourth time at the Brighton Centre for two days in December. Here Jeff tells us more
Where did you get the idea for the Musical Version?
It was literally as I leaving for a tour with David Essex that my dad handed me this book. I wasnt familiar with it. I thought I knew the name of it, and I remembered as a little boy growing up in New York seeing War of the Worlds, without the the, on daytime television.
I found it quite an easy read and I thought: this is a Victorian tale thats really imaginative. There was true science in it as well as amazing fantasy and adventure and I fell in love with it on the one read. That was the book that I wanted to tackle.
What happened once you obtained the permission to do the adaptation?
I got backing from CBS for 70,000 of the album but the balance of the total cost of 240,000 came out of my own personal life savings and it was a huge gamble.
How soon did you know that the gamble had paid off?
It wasnt a straight line to success. The contract with CBS didnt even guarantee they would release it. At the time I was composing and producing it, disco was king of the dancefloor, punk was the revolutionary music of the time and there I was, a composer trying to create a continuous work of about a hundred minutes telling a Victorian tale with acting on it and singing.
In the end I got this telephone call from the head of the record company saying there are a few people who want to say a few things to you. They said you have created something remarkable and were going to back you. Then I knew I had a release, not a success. When it came out, it was in the album charts within two days and we had a hit single, then I knew.
How did you get Richard Burton for the role of the journalist?
You dont choose people of that stature or any of the guest artists that turned up on the album. You just hope you can attract them. We didnt have a particularly large list of possibles for the role of the journalist but Richards name was at the very top of it.
A friend of mine had just come back from New York and had seen Richard appear in a play called Equus. I thought if you're in a play you're in one place for a long time so I wrote him a letter with a copy of the draft script and I sent the package to the Stage Door. Three or four days later I got a call from America from a man called Robert Lance who was Richards manager at the time and he said, Richards read the script, knows the book and he said the words that Ill always remember: Count him in, dear boy.
How did it go? Burton had a reputation as a hellraiser
It was in hindsight probably the simplest, the easiest thing in the production. Just to give you an idea of how easy the sessions went, Richards contract gave us five days of his time. We did the sessions in California, he was making a movie so we went to him. He did probably twice as much as eventually made it onto the album as we had to cut a lot back and he did it all in one day.
When I was editing it all back from about two hours to the 100 minutes it is today he came in to do a bit of repair work and he did that in three hours. That was how good he was. He was very easy to work with.
Where did the idea to do it live come from?
My dad and I always thought that if the album was a success it had a natural place in live entertainment. The visuality of the story offered opportunities but there wasn't the technology available in the day for us to do what instinctively we wanted to present.
What changed your mind?
It was only in about 2005 that the technology improved so we were able to do what we wanted. We use a range of cutting-edge technologies including Richard Burtons performance. We never filmed Richard so we had to recreate it.
Its very compelling as its an 11ft high by 8 or 9ft wide holographic performance that just floats above the stage. Its very dramatic.
In some of the scenes he actually becomes six years younger as he is actually acting with characters who are live on stage and hes not just six years younger, he's dishevelled because hes caught up in the actual Martian invasion.
What about the new production? Will fans see a big change from the previous three?
Every production weve done, we try to top the previous one and this one probably has more new ingredients than any of the previous three tours.
This tour we have done pretty much all new animation. There are some new illusions and effects that havent been seen before. There is more interactivity with the audience. We mix in some surround sound so you get effects and music going around your head, through your head.
Does the show appeal to any particular age group?
We have seen every age group all the way down to young children who have heard of our Martian fighting machine which is just over 35 feet tall.
Tell us more about the machine
It weighs just over three tons and it's hiding in the lighting rig above us. At first it is on the screen in animated form and then a fifth one appears and lands on the stage. Its job in life, as it says in its name, is to be a fighting machine. Its main weapon is a heat ray, which it fires at the audience.
Its got bug-like eyes and the audience is scanned. At different times theyre on the screen as if they're the next victims of the Martians although it's turned into a bit of a fun fest as the audience members like to see themselves on the screen.
Do you like Brighton as a venue?
In scale, as a venue its one of the two or three smallest in capacity which makes it a more intimate type of production but the show is designed to be like an accordion to be able to expand or contract so nothing is lost. And it has good acoustics, certainly in our experience.
Weve sold out every time in Brighton. So far weve always had standing ovations at the end and even had people dancing in the aisles.
Do you get time to have a look around Sussex while you're here?
Not really as the tour schedule is very tight but Im a tennis player and I have been captain of our county, Hertfordshire. Both as a captain and a player, I have played against Sussex, so I know some of the courts here!
Jeff Waynes Musical Version of The War of the Worlds is at the Brighton Centre on December16 and 17at 8pm.
For more information and tickets (if available) visit www.thewaroftheworlds.com