Friday, 7 December 2012

Been there, seen it, got the T shirt.

The old rockers have been at it again. This time it was Jeff Wayne’s ‘New Generation’ War of the Worlds. The show is currently on at Wembley in the auditorium next door to the stadium and we decided to get there by coach. The coach service has a pickup quite close to our house and so we did not even need to get into town to start our trip. Our pickup point turned out to be the first one for this service and so after having a guided tour of our local town, visiting each of the several pickups, which took the best part of an hour, we headed off along the motorway to the next town, where a few more passengers were picked up. It was interesting to see that most of the other passengers were of a similar age to us. Those of you who may not know, the musical is based on the novel written by H G Wells around 1896, which was the very first invasion by aliens story to have reached a wide audience and has been very popular and continuously in print ever since, with at least two movies made, one quite good and the other more recent one worthy of the golden turkey award for truly terrible movies. Jeff Wayne’s original version of The War of the Worlds was released as a double LP in 1978 and was widely acclaimed and became a regular seller with a couple of spin off hit singles, ‘The Eve of the War’ and ‘Forever Autumn’ both getting high in the charts worldwide and both the LP and the singles were, and are still are, played regularly on air.
By the time we approached the M25, it was gone 6pm and the London rush plateau was in full swing. London has not had an easily identifiable rush hour, as such, for many decades, the congestion lasts most of the day rising around the start and falling off at the end of the working day. Arriving at the M25 junction, we were presented with the usual glare of massed red brake lights as the traffic slowed to a crawl whilst drivers joined and left the M4 for the M25 and vice versa. Nowadays, you have to pay congestion charges if you wish to enter central London and if you are driving a vehicle over a certain size, you either have to comply to the stated emission standards or pay an emissions charge of up to £200 a day.

Congestion charges are a lot cheaper and are applied to a much smaller area of central London. It is interesting that foreign embassy staff are not obliged to pay, owing to diplomatic immunity. However, whilst most embassies do pay the charges for their staff, Germany, Japan, Russia and the USA have never agreed and would now be due for a combined bill of tens of millions of GBP if they paid like everyone else.

The M4 motorway has signs telling you to where to exit, if you are not prepared to pay, before you enter each zone. We passed into the emissions zone and continued on to the North Circular road, which is well outside the congestion zone. We were now in an area of Greater London that was familiar ground to me, having lived and worked in this part of the world for several years and I had also lived not too far away as a child. My father had owned and run a small garage in a village in what many people would call a part of London, but which the residents thought of as quite separate. It was in Hertfordshire when I lived there and was quite rural, being in the green belt, which surrounds London and is now being looked upon with greedy eyes as ultra-prime development land in land-starved Greater London. That part of Hertfordshire has since been annexed by Greater London so now it is part of that urban area, however, to my mind and many of the residents of those parts of the world now incorporated into Greater London, London is still the bit in the middle where the East End and the West End are huddled around the City of London.
Whilst I was a small child, my father would often have to go out to buy specialist spares for his customers' cars when they had broken down. The kind of efficent mail service and big suppliers was not around then and since most of his customers' cars were of pre-war vintage, spares needed searching out and he travelled around the whole of that part of the world searching out the suppliers that still stocked the bits he needed. When not at school I would often accompany him so long before I worked in that area I was familiar with a large part of what is now North and West Greater London.

Wembley is outside London to my, and many other peoples', way of thinking and is also outside the congestion charge zone. Presumably our coach complied with the emissions standards and we slowly crawled into the solid traffic on Hanger Lane and progressed on to Western Avenue towards Wembley. At Hanger Lane (the district not the road, although we were still driving along the road of the same name.) there was a sign to Greenford, which caused a bit of nostalgia, since that was the district I last worked in before I moved to my present home town. I moved from there the same year that Jeff Wayne first released his War of the Worlds album, so there was a connection.

The show was brilliantly done, although apart from having a different cast, not a great deal was added by the new generation. Most of the instrumental bits were supported by a wide screen video above the stage and there was a big cast of actors and actresses who acted out the parts of the invaded Victorians on film, whilst the live singers were inset into the video. A rock ensemble and a full orchestra were on either side of the stage and the volume was wound way way up. Considering how many wrinklies like myself were in the audience, I felt this was unnecessary since our deaf aids work well and we did not need to be shouted at. In fact both myself and The Better Half (TBH) bring ear defenders to such events, which slip discreetly into the ears and make the sound levels bearable. Ironically if you want to buy this kind of industrial ear defender, you can get them at all good music shops that sell modern musical instruments. Roadies and other peripheral staff all use them at live concerts.

During the height of the battle for Earth, a Martian fighting machine arrived on stage
and fired its heat ray into the audience, with the help of some spotlights
 Like the double LP, the show broke off at the point where HG Wells’ Martians had conquered England (for some reason, they did not seem to have landed anywhere else, something that always puzzled me when I first read the story). In the interval, the queues for the loo (‘rest room’ in foreign English) were legendary and we decided it was not that urgent. After the interval the show resumed with the desolation of conquered landscapes using a lot of CGI of red weeds spreading across the land, followed by the scene with the Parson Nathaniel, played by Jason Donovan, wrestling with his inability to save his flock.

Jason Donovan as Nathaniel

The journalist who narrates the story was Liam Neeson and in my opinion not quite up to the original narrator Richard Burton. One of the side effects of having the sound levels so high was that the audience could be barely heard whenever they applauded the end of a scene and I am sure that the performers could not properly hear the response to their performance, which, unless they have some other way of telling how they were received, must have left them feeling a bit flat. The show ended in the same format as the original LP and we filed out quickly to find our coach in the pouring rain. The traffic had reduced a lot by then and only some roadworks held us up getting back round the North Circular and onto the Motorway. Having been the first to board the bus, we were now the last to be returned to our pickup point, having repeated the grand tour of our town in reverse order and it was gone one thirty by the time we got back home. All in all an enjoyable evening and we are now sitting quietly recovering from our lack of sleep and stiff backs resulting from the inevitable uncomfortable seating of a typical rock venue.


  1. I've been a fan of the album since it was released, and I wasn't sure I'd want to see the new version. But I've heard a couple of clips and it sounds like they haven't wrecked it too much.

  2. I really enjoyed your account of this evening out. I never think of Wembley as in London either. In fact, where I am (North London, or Greater London) all the train stations have signs 'to London', even though technically it's part of London, according to the postcode anyway.

    I'm very fond of the HG Wells' book and the first film. I didn't expect anything of the Tom Cruise re-make and so wasn't disappointed. ;-)

    I think there was an 80s show about Tripods? This always seemed like a War of the Worlds spin off.

    The show sounds very good - a bit of a shame about the volume, but an interesting night all the same.

    1. Many of my friends and relatives have never lived in the London area and say I am being picky when I insist that places they call London are not really London. Ironically they often get indignant if I make a similar generalisation about their local area, so I now make a point of which part of London/not-really-London I am talking about.

  3. I was lucky enough to see this during the first live tour with the original narration and Justin Hayward. We were in the front row, dead centre. Awesome show. So pleased you had a chance to see it.

  4. Could you send me an email at I need to send you my cover reveal details for January and can't find your email address in my records :(

  5. Didn't know anything about this show, and I still haven't read the book. Sounds like you had a fun time!