Jeff Wayne interview on The Arts show with Claudia Winkleman. (Music - The Eve of The War.)
Claudia: That iconic instrumental, The Eve of The War is featured on Jeff Wayne's acclaimed musical version of H.G. Well's novel The War of The Worlds. Originally released as a double album in 1978, it did much to popularize this classic story of a Martian invasion of earth. The album forms the basis of a live stage show which returns for a major UK tour later in the year and I am delighted to welcome world renowned composer and producer Jeff Wayne to our somewhat less than futuristic Radio 2 Arts show. We are so flattered you came in, thank you very very much.
Jeff: Well thank you for having me on the show.
Claudia: I believe that it was your father Jerry who first introduced you to the classic tale, War of The Worlds. The minute you were introduced to it, did you know, oh yes I know what I want to do with this?
Jeff: I didn't know precisely what I wanted to do with it, but I knew that after all the books that he and I had been reading from all different genres, this was the book that I wanted to have a go at interpreting.
Claudia: Why do you think this story resonates with people? It has never been out of print. I mean massive thanks to you by the way for doing it, but why do people still love this story?
Jeff: Well I fell in love with A Victorian Tale and to me it resonated in the middle 70's when I first started to compose it and produce it, when I first read it because I think the themes and the characters are as contemporary today as they were in the 1890's when H.G. wrote his tale.
Claudia: When you released the album, you must have been, however great you thought it was, you must have been aghast; I mean I think it sold over 15 million copies world wide; it won two prestigious Ivan Novello awards; people had never heard anything like it before.
Jeff: I didn't know at the time it was going to have that impact that is the truth of it. I was, as a composer, trying to interpret this wonderful tale, very visionary tale in an honest way. And that is all I could, as my own aspiration, use as a target for completing what became a hundred minute continuous work.
Claudia: Did it come easy to you? Because it feels, when I listen, I don't know how to describe it, but it feels so ethereal, did it all just magically happen?
Jeff: Well no, I sat down, read the book over and over again and mapped out a story line for our script writer and then as a composer I started breaking it down, very much the way H.G. Wells wrote his story, by chapters. And to me that gave me a template, a strong foundation. So chapter one of H.G's story is called The Eve of The War and it reads sort of like an overture of something pending, something is about to unfold. And that is how I composed the composition and the story line that goes with it, as if there is something about to happen in Victorian times in England and let's see what happens. So to me the war is that composition.
Claudia: How terrifying, if that is the right word, or how daunting a task was it then, transferring the album into a live stage show, and when did the idea strike?
Jeff: Well my dad and I were partners on this and we always thought that if my musical interpretation worked it did have a natural placement in live entertainment. The story is so visual and if my score, my recording and everything else connected it did have a place to go into the live medium. We didn't foresee the largest arenas of the world. We probably were thinking West End or a concert rendition, not what is now in our fourth year; it is just such a large multi media and live performance integration. But we did see the visuality of it because H.G. Wells created this incredible story.
Claudia: The press have described your show as being a mind melting, multi media, extravaganza. What can audiences who have not seen it before, expect to see? I mean I am very excited to know about the 35 foot high, animatronic Martian flight machine that fires heat rays at the audience, for example.
Jeff: Well that is an H.G. Wells creation, the fighting machine. Its job in life it to do what its name is, to fight. We have a one hundred foot wide screen that has an animated feature film that runs in perfect synch to the live performance. About half an hour into the story our journalist, which is this holographic performance of Richard Burton is telling us about these fighting machines that he is coming across on the landscape of England and we see these in animated form on the screen and then suddenly a fifth one appears, but this one has been hiding in the lighting rig above the stage and it is a real engineering feet because at full extension it is just over 35 feet tall, it weighs over 3 tonnes.
Claudia: Wow, oh my goodness!
Jeff: And as it lands it fires its main weapon, a heat ray, at the audience. And with its bug like eyes it scans the audience and at certain times they see themselves up on the screen as if they are the next victims of the Martians.
Claudia: Are you serious!
Jeff: Yeah it is great fun and it sort of involves the audience as a number of other things in our show do as well.
Claudia: Okay we are going to talk more, you are not allowed to leave, but let's hear another track from your musical version of The War of The Worlds. This is Justin Hayward with Forever Autumn. Can you briefly explain how it fits into the story, just before we listen to the music?
Jeff: Our journalist, Richard Burton, is our narrator. There is a moment in the story where it is more of his thoughts. His concerns for reaching London from Hawsell Common in Surrey, he goes by foot and his voice is now the sung thoughts of the journalist and that is what Justin is doing for us, he is the sung thoughts of the journalist, and the song is about arriving in London and his fiancÃ©e is not there. The song itself could be any lost moment in a person's life. If somebody's relationship, or whatever it happens to be, has for whatever reason ended, and he has arrived at a very fateful moment of this Martian invasion to take his fiancÃ©e out of London, to escape this invading force but she is not there.
Claudia: Okay, this is Forever Autumn. (Music - Forever Autumn)
Claudia: You are listening to the Radio 2 Arts show with Claudia Winkleman and I am talking to the award winning composer, conductor and musician Jeff Wayne. That was Justin Hayward with Forever Autumn which is featured in your musical version of H.G. Well's classic tale The War of The Worlds. Now this is my favourite, I believe you wrote that song nine years earlier in 1969, how did it make its way on, and also you have to tell everybody what it was for, which is brilliant.
Jeff: Well the truth of it Claudia is that it was a commercial for Lego toys. Not with the lyrics, not the full song, but the heart of the first verse musically was what became the full song Forever Autumn. It was just by chance that there was very little voice over on the commercial and it was done sort of like a Simon and Garfunkel acoustic set, with out vocalists going "do do do," rather than any words, and the public started writing in about what is this music. It is one of those fluke situations that drew to my attention that maybe there is a full song that merits being written and that's how it grew from Lego toys into Forever Autumn.
Claudia: It is an absolutely beautiful song. One of my other favourite stories about your production of The War of The Worlds is Richard Burton was a narrator early on, how did you persuade him to take part?
Jeff: Well the way that Richard came on board was again one of those wonderful fluky moments that you don't expect in life to happen. When we finished our script and the first draft of my score we had now a list of people who were going to portray various characters. Or I should say we had a list of characters and we needed the performers to come on board, and the role of the journalist, which is the part Richard played, was that of a man who had survived this Martian invasion some six years earlier and he is now recounting his story for his newspaper and Richard's voice was known, not only as a voice but as an actor and it's an incredible voice. It is easy to make a list of who you would like to play a role for you but how do you even get to someone of that stature. And it just happened that a friend at that point in time had just come back from New York and saw Richard in a play called Equus in New York. And I thought oh well if you are doing a play you are probably doing eight shows a week and I wrote him a letter and introduced myself and explained to him what I was trying to do in interpreting H.G. Well's story and sent him a draft of the first version of the script and I thought that the best way to try to reach him was to send it to the stage door of the theatre that he was appearing in. Of course there was no internet in those days so even finding out where was the theatre was not a straight forward task, but I did find out, sent it to the stage door and just hoped that the stage door man would hand Richard my little care package. As fate happened it couldn't have been more than two or three days later I received a call from a man called Robert Lance, he was Richard's manager at the time and the words that I will always remember was "Richard loves this, count him in dear boy." And it was as straight forward as that from that point on.
Claudia: So extraordinary, it is a brilliant story and to think you know what, I do it to the stage door, he'll be there enough, he might have some down time, he'll read it. Thank you so much for coming in.
Jeff: It is my pleasure.
Claudia: I am incredibly grateful; it is going to be brilliant. Jeff Wayne's a musical version of The War of The Worlds, live on stage begins a major UK tour at the Newcastle arena on December 2nd. It then tours Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and London. It is going to be fantastic. Thank you very very much.
Jeff: Thank you Claudia.
End of Interview.
The transcript is shared by Noreen Moore, a TWOTW fan, to help those who have difficulty listening to Jeff's radio interviews.