Thursday, July 7, 2011

JWM Electronics Thunderchild ad, International Musician and Recording World 1978

JWM Electronics Thunderchild 1-page advertisement from page 126 in International Musician and Recording World Magazine November 1978 (UK) .

There are just so many wonderfully different synthesizer ads in early International Musician and Recording World, and this is a good example of one of those ads that comes with some great history attached. In fact, this synth has almost reached mythical status. And I never even knew it existed until years later when I opened the pages of this magazine.

According to this ad, JWM Electronics' Thunderchild synthesizer was the keyboard "featured on Jeff Wayne's musical version of 'The War of the Worlds'". And Chappell, a London music department store, apparently had exclusive sales rights to it.

This was all news to me. And after just a bit of Google searching, I'm almost embarrassed about my lack of knowledge.

First, who the heck is Jeff Wayne? Turns out you can find out everything you need to know about him on his Wikipedia page. And, as you will read, he's kind of a big deal - creator of over 3,000 advertising jingles and a wack of television themes and film scores, a musical director, and an author. Nice resume.

Oh - and it is more than just coincidence that someone named Jeff Wayne just happens to be the creator and composer of "Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds" or as I like to call it - JWMVOTWOTW :D

According to JWMVOTWOTW Wikipedia page:
"Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds is a 1978 concept album by Jeff Wayne, retelling the story of The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. Its format is progressive rock and string orchestra, using narration and leitmotifs to carry the story via rhyming melodic lyrics that express the feelings of the various characters. The two-disc album remains a bestseller, having sold millions of records around the world. It has since spawned multiple versions of the album, a computer game, a DVD, and a 30th anniversary live tour."
In addition, the thing spent 290 weeks in the UK album charts, and reached #1 in 11 countries.

What? Seriously? I have to ask again - how could this phenomenon have escaped my obsessed teenage music exploration entirely?

Thankfully, there is a Web site that was created specifically to catch me up on all things musical + War of the Worlds.

The site contains tons of information on recent tours, news, and, of special interest to me - an Archive section. It includes a newspaper cutting with information directly related to this advertisement, explaining that Chappell Music would have exclusive sales rights for only the first two months before it went on general sale throughout the UK. Jeff Wayne is also quoted in the article, stating that "It's got everything that a £1,100 instrument has got, but Thunderchild will be selling for half the price. It's just got to be a winner".

I like his positive attitude. :)

The historical documents section of the Web site also includes some other delicious treats, including what looks to be a very considerate movie deal rejection letter from Steven Spielberg. Mr. Spielberg did finally get around to making a non-musical version of that film, and thankfully, kept Tom Cruise's singing to an absolute minimum. This section is definitely worth spending some time on if you are even remotely a movie nut.

Another section of the JWMVOTWOTW site - The Story - contains some great historical facts about the creation of the album and the recording sessions. There's some good nuggets in there, like the little story of how the session musicians chose to take session fees over royalties. Ouch.

Outside of that site, YouTube is a great resource as well. Both original songs and some new DVD footage can be found quite easily. I've embedded the first song from the album for anyone interested:

Well - that's pretty dramatic.

For someone like me that had never heard of JWMVOTWOTW until just a short while ago, all the connections between the history of JWMVOTWOTW, the musicians, the composing and recording, and everything else is almost mind-boggling. Will definitely be doing more research when I find the time.

What about the synthesizer itself?

So, enough about the musical - time to search for info on the synth itself. Turns out there are a few gems online.

I found some great quotes on Facebook attributed to Jeff Wayne, where he explains that the Thunderchild "was designed by a young 18-year electronics boffin named Nick Groome who worked at JWM Electronics". After it was used on the musical TWOTW, 6-10 prototypes were created, but in fact the synthesizer "never made it onto the music scene".

Interestingly, if this Facebook page is correct, the mythical status attributed to the Thunderchild on the album may be a little misplaced. According to the page, Jeff explains that the Yamaha CS80 replaced a lot of the original Thunderchild bits:
"I did play it [the Thunderchild] on a few tracks on TWOTW, but none actually survived as Yamaha's CS80, the first poly synth, came out about half-way through TWOTW production, and we replaced many of the original sounds with Yamaha's ground-breaking keyboard, including the famous ribbon controller and finished most of the remaining sounds with it, although the Arp Odyssey, the mini Moog (great for bass sounds) and my Fairlight contributed a bit."
You can read the full quote in the discussion board section of the awesomely named "Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds is BRILLIANT" Facebook page.

I found another great interview from 2009 with Jeff Wayne (Moog 3C mentioned - yum!) on Den of Geek.

So, are there any Thunderchild prototypes still out there? I found a few during my quick search.

A 2006 MATRIXSYNTH post features a photo of one that was gathering dust "in a garage in an undisclosed location somewhere in the uk".

I also found a photo of a Thunderchild in a PDF of a FutureMusic article titled "The collectors". The article is about synth collector Andy Horrell, and includes some great info and photos - including the Thunderchild (page 3).

So, now I have a dilemma.

I'm a notorious hater of musicals - well except for The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T (written by Dr. Suess and featuring some really wacked-out dancing) and Rocky Horror Picture Show of course. But yet I'm drawn to JWMVOTWOTW like squirrels to nuts.



fallingman said...

I remember the LP blurb about this amazing new synth, the Thunderchild, featuring on the album exclusively - cool to see a certain wonderful CS80 nixed it!

And the original WOTW LP came out in 1978, if my memory serves me - the Fairlight didn't come out till 1980/81: how could Jeff Wayne have had one 3 years in advance, or is he talking about something else?

Great article!

Micke said...

Great article!

I had a conversation with Ken Freeman via email a while ago and he told me that the Thunderchild wasn't used on WOTW (he thought it was rubbish).

Anyway, Ken did most of the synth-work for WOTW using an ARP Odyssey mkI, Freeman string synthesizer (prototype #2) and a modified Yamaha CS-80.

Here are a couple of interesting SOS articles; the first one about the making of WOTW, the second about Ken's string synthesizer prototypes:

RetroSynthAds said...

@Micke - Great links! Thanks!

@fallingman - Good point about the Fairlight. I was thinking maybe he meant a Synclavier - but that came out later too.

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