Question: what’s the best rock record of the 1970’s?
a) David Bowie – Low
b) The Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks
c) A ninety four minute 1978 concept album about Tripod-killing-machine wielding, heat ray brandishing Martians invading Victorian England, staring Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott as a deranged preacher, Mums favourite David Essex as a prototype Damon Albarn-cum-Artilleryman and composed by the tennis obsessed New Yorker who wrote the theme tune to TV-AM...
Answer: why, it’s c) of course!
There’s many an upside to having an older brother. There’s always someone to beat up bullies for you. As the youngest you get away with things they never would have. And, when they eventually move away from home, you inherit their record collection. In the case of my elder brother, this meant being gifted the gatefold issue of Jeff Wayne’s The War Of The Worlds; the incredible late seventies prog curio based upon the 1898 sci-fi novel of the same name by the British novelist HG. Wells.
Now, I’m not really a fan of the earnestly fannish music writing style populated by the likes of Nick Hornby, but I might have to stray into that realm to describe just what the record means to me. As a fan of anything geeky and fantastical from childhood through to the present day (oh, and stupid guitar solos...) it’s undoubtedly the record I’ve listened to more than any other during the course of my life.
I used to spend hours listening to the record and pouring over artist Geoff Taylor’s album inserts - crows eating the rotting flesh of Martians, the iron-clad Thunderchild staring down a Martian Tripod wading through the Thames, the Martian red weed swamping quaint Victorian cottages - that sort of thing – painting images in my head that were far more vivid than anything I’ve ever seen in the cinema.
When my late, great Nana bought me the record on double cassette to listen to on my red brick-a-like Panasonic Walkman… well, my obsession only grew. Sure, the pictures on the sleeve might have been smaller, but I could listen to the record in bed, under the covers! Fuck me, that was some scary fucking shit...
The top five nerdiest things I have ever done in the pursuit of quenching my The War Of The Worlds obsession:
1) Visited every London location mentioned in Richard Burton’s superb narration – “As I hastened through Covent Garden, Blackfriars and Billingsgate…”
2) Had a picnic on Horsell Common – the location for the arrival of the first metal cylinder from Mars. On my own. I may have uttered “ulla” under my breath at some point.
3) Visited HG. Wells home in Woking and had my photo taken next to the 23 foot bust of a Martian Tripod that’s outside the railway station. Have that Facebook!
4) Covered album centerpiece ‘Forever Autumn’ and ‘Thunderchild’ with my old band. The guitar solo on ‘Thunderchild’ is particularly tricky.
5) Bought both the 1984 and 1998 Jeff Wayne conceived video games (they’re bloody rubbish) as well as the £150 album boxset (which has loads and loads of even more rubbish dub remixes on it).
I’ve also now seen the touring production five times, the fifth at London’s O2 venue last night (where I finally got to meet Jeff Wayne at the aftershow. Incidently, I now never want to meet him ever again because I think I’ll forever be known to him as the ‘weird limey guy who shouted ‘Ulla’ in my ear…’.)
Now, if you’ve got an older brother and he hasn’t passed down Jeff Wayne’s The War Of The Worlds to you (the ‘The’ bit is important because it differentiates the record from the (great, despite having no Tripods in it) 1953 movie and the (rubbish, but still miles better than any other film made ever just because it’s got Tripods in it) 2005 Tom Cruise movie) then get another older brother because he’s not doing his job properly. But more so, go see the live show immediately. It’s totally amazing…
Why? Because there’s a massive Martian Tripod on stage that blows smoke in your face during the scary bits. Because there’s a giant projection of Richard Burton’s ever-so-handsome face doing the narration (and which thankfully now actually looks like Richard Burton and not the stroke-addled Teddy Boy it resembled the first time I saw the show).
Because in the absence of David Essex, Alexis James puts in a sterling job as the Artilleryman; new ‘Beth’ Jennifer Ellison (yes, the one on the front of the mucky magazines) is great (although inexplicably sings the word ‘Nathanial’ like she’s got 1000 sets of ananoids); while new Parson Shannon Knoll is the vocal spit of Phil Lynott (which is quite the compliment I think...).
And because it’s worth the admission just to hear Chris Thompson (as ‘The Voice Of Humanity’) sing. Blimey, that man has girders for lungs.
Oh, and obviously it’s the greatest record of the seventies and all that too. Ulla!