Review: Jeff Wayne’s ‘The War of the Worlds’

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We drove over to the NIA tonight to see the new re-scored performance of the War of the Worlds album by Jeff Wayne.

Since the Album’s launch in 1978, it had become a big hit for fans ‘of a certain age’ who also enjoy concept albums (that’ll be me then!). If you liked Albums such as Tubular Bells and Journey to the Centre of the Earth, this is another for your collection!

The original 1978 cover

The original version starred the voice talents of Richard Burton, Phil Lynot, David Essex, Justin Hayward and Julie Covington. In recent years, JW developed a stage version featuring a giant hologram of Richard Burton, ginormous Martian Fighting Machines on stage complemented by a full orchestra, with the iconic JW conducting.

We saw a performance of this at the O2 back in September 2008, as part of their 30th Anniversary Tour –and it blew us away in every sense – the sound, the effects and the sheer scale of the event! The lasting memory was when Justin Hayward sang Forever Autumn and thousands of leaves fell from the ceiling of the O2.

Fast forward to 2012, and prior to getting the tickets I’ve now listened to the recently released re-recorded album. Fans of the original will notice that the score is a little more funky with a heavier base line, and there’s more deeper, richer sound to the main theme. All good in my book simply by NOT being simply a straightforward note-for-note copy of the original 1978 classic.

Of course the big change for the 2012 version, is the singers. When the stage show was conceived, there had always been a compromise in trying to get the original cast to reform – the fact that some of the original performers (Including the legendary Phil Lynot) had died meant that the stage show version had resorted, in some cases, to using lesser-known singers to fill the gaps.

For the 2012 version, this had been remedied big time with Liam Neeson replacing Richard Burton. For the stage version, the talents of Ricky Wilson, Jason Donovan, Marti Pellow and Kerry Ellis appeared, whilst for the Album: Gary Barlow (cue screaming!!!), Ricky Wilson, Alex Clare, Joss Stone and Maverick Sabre took the honours.


The new 2012 cover

The 2012 Show

War of the Worlds - NIA December 2012

So, with the weather starting as rain, then turning to light snow and then freezing temperatures, we set off in good time for Birmingham. It gave us room (just!) to chill-out with something to eat before the show began at 8pm. Eating was the first challenge – everywhere was heaving – but we did discover a rather good Chinese restaurant called Tin-Tin nearby. It was then that we learned (and remembered) that Jo and Janet were also at the show!

Was the show any good? Well, the first thing to say is that the stage version is different to the (new) Album. It’s longer, as JW has added more narrative from the book, and even if the music isn’t your thing, you’d have to admire the whole stage concept. Not content with just a strings-based orchestra, JW had merged in his Black Smoke Band (Guitars, Synths, Drums and Harp). We also experienced some advanced pyrotechnics, a forty-foot Martian machine (that dropped from the ceiling), advanced lighting, front projection, back projection, Liam Neeson in hologram and finally ‘leaves’ falling from the ceiling during the Forever Autumn track. A real assault on the senses – in a good way – and perfectly executed. In summary, I’d say, the  new extended format worked well, (but it wouldn’t want to be any longer), the improved on-screen animation was much more detailed and various singers performed well – although Marti Pellow seemed to struggle a bit with some of the high notes, Jason Donovan and Ricky Wilson were fab!

The only bummer for us was our seat positions. Up in the Gods, we were right at the back (Block 5, Row PP, upper tier) and this meant everything on stage was tiny – even the Martian fighting machine – the acoustics were just terrible! making it impossible to distinguish between the vocals and the orchestra, and it really spoiled it for us. Luckily, the couple to my right were acting out every crotchet of the piece, and they didn’t have bad singing voices! 🙂

Escape from the NIA
We don’t often go to the NIA, now we remember why! Getting out of the car-park together with 35000 other cars was a right pain. Luckily, we’d parked near the exit, but 30 minutes later, when we were on the M6, Jo and Janet were still queuing to get out! The M6 was very busy but got home just before midnight.

Note to self:
1. Make a note when your friends tell you they’re going.
2. Pre-book the meal.
3. Check out the seating plan for next time.
4. Don’t park in the NIA car-park. 

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