Gary Hughes: 3 years of work comes to fruition.
Gary Hughes talks in detail about the origins behind Once And Future King, and the research and planning needed to bring such a big project to completion.
Hi Gary, Congratulations on the new album/project. When did you decide that you just had to write an epic tale based around the legend of King Arthur?
It's something that I've always wanted to do and it's something that I began years and years ago. With regard to the subject matter it's something that I was into as a child.
It was very much a part of British history in school.
What I liked about it is that so much of it is grey area. As a Legend, so much is down to interpretation and I liked the idea of something that I could add a little bit of myself into. The flexibility of interpretation.
Obviously there are certain historical facts and timescales that you have to deal with but there is so much grey area that leaves scope for your own version. I researched it for at least three to four years. I was reading nothing else in my spare time.
I honed as much as I could from various sources such as the Mallory Poem and the Geoffrey of Monmouth version of the Arthurian legends which is probably the earliest. Various other documentation from various authors, things like the Bernard Cornwell novels Excalibur, Winter King, Enemy of God and various things like that which I thought were probably as close to my interpretation as I could get.
I tried to avoid the Hollywood-isms and tried to concentrate on Arthur the battle lord trying to unite the tribes which is what it was all about. I'm pretty pleased with the way it came out. One thing that was really worrying me was that I didn't want to do this one thing and look back on it and think that I could have done it better.
If you do this type of subject matter you never return to it again, so if you're going to do it, lets do it as best as we can and the most concise. You can't ignore how Arthur was born and the legend was conceived, you can't ignore the preceding information so I had to do that in the booklet really which is something that the listener can read before the first track kicks in. Musically the concept starts at Arthur's Kingmaking after excepting Excalibur at Dragon Island, the Druids haven. I had to really narrow it down because it could have been eight albums long.
Why does this story lend itself so well to being portrayed in a rock opera?
Because it is universal and understandable around the world. It has been said that the Arthurian Myth is "a quintessentially English myth." I don't fully agree with this statement. The myths themselves are not "English" at all but are British in origin with many later additions. Certainly the tales may have become quintessentially English (i.e. slightly eccentric, tea on the lawn, cricket on the green etc). Every culture has it s own hero tales that seem to have sprung from a spark of truth, and Arthur's story, like a Christmas tree, seems to have had various baubles hung upon it over time until it has become the whimsical Hollywood favourite it is today.
The Once & Future King title was chosen for a number of reasons it is a familiar part of the legend, it is used in a great number of the tellings and retellings of the story, and at least one source tells us that it is quoted on Arthur's tomb Hic Iacet Arturus Rex Quondam Rexque Futuris (Here lies Arthur The Once & Future King).
Overall though, its grandeur makes it perfect foil for rock opera. The version of my telling does not show Arthur as the Christian hero in shining plate armour with wistful damsels and horses in coloured decoration.
Arthur in my tale is the Arthur that the majority of experts now agree he was a post Roman pagan war band leader, in the Dark Ages, pledged to save his beloved country from invasion and injustice. The shining plat is stiffened leather, canvas and wood; the knights in shining armour are well disciplined, but rough professional warriors of a British war band the gleaming spires of Camelot are the ramparts of hill forts and the crumbling remains of a Britain slowly descending into the Dark Ages after the exodus of the Roman legions. I am not positioning against the other versions, indeed, a number of the more magical / mythical elements have been retained from a story telling position (it's entertainment after all!) just that I have gone with the latest factual information available and embroidered it a little. You will find most of your favourite characters remain in the tale, though perhaps not in the traditional way irrelevant lists of many knights and various players in sub plots have been omitted to tell Arthur s story. Had I included everyone, we'd have needed a very large boxed set and a lot more time!
When planning such a big project - where do you start?
With a blank notepad and a large bottle of whiskey!
I sat with a friend of mine Lee Brimilow, who is somewhat of an authority on Arthuriana,
and patched together what we felt were the truths behind the legend.
The historical timeframes etc
Characters and where they were pivotal to the plot.
Then it was the songs and for me the music comes first always.
And that's how it develops?
Melody on chord
After that each lyric had to tell a small part of the story.
Several bottles of whiskey and three years later you have yourself a rock opera.
I read specific books any and all specific books/films/places/music that have stood out amongst the Arthurian texts available. These helped to inspire my perception of the myth.
Books: Morte D Arthur, TH White - "Once & Future King"; Alastair Moffat "Arthur & The Lost Kingdoms"; Bernard Cornwell Warlord Trilogy; Stephen Lawhead Pendragon Cycle; Marion Zimmer Bradley "Mists Of Avalon"; Paul White "King Arthur, Man Or Myth?"; Adrian Gilbert "The Holy Kingdom" an as yet unfinished work by my friend Lee Brimilow and many more.
Films: "Excalibur", "Mists Of Avalon", Arthur Of The Britains documentary.
Places: too many to quote them all, but Tintagel, Pendragon Castle (Cumbria), Glastonbury Tor, various stone circles, Cadbury Hill fort, ancient Bath.
You have a lot of great vocalists on the two albums - some obvious choices, some not. How did you decide who you wanted to involve and did anyone help this process?
I tried wherever possible, to go for different sounding textural voices for the different characters. I tried to make it so that no two characters sounded alike, basically because with so much information circulating round, the last thing I wanted was for people to have to have the booklet in front of them to know when a different character was entering & so it was important that they were all different as well.
When you do something like that with ten different singers, the scheduling is a nightmare. Some people could come and sing, some couldn't; some could sing but they had to do it now, and they had to do it in their own country because they couldn't afford the time to fly over. So I was mailing tapes to some people, slotting some people in, I was doing some stuff here in Arena (my own studio), trying to be as omnipresent as possible, but when you re only one person, you can't be in two places at the same time.
As far as the choice of singers goes, I have a lot to thank Mark and Bruce for at Now And Then in that department.
I got them both over really early on to hear the roughs for the project and we chewed it over between us who would be good for each part. Occasionally when a singer didn't work out they were always helpful with new suggestions.
My friend Arjen Lucassen was also invaluable to me in that department. He introduced me to Irene, Lana and Damien.
Just how difficult is shaping lyrics around a pre-existing story?
It's actually much easier than when your creating the story from scratch.
You know what each character has to say and the point in the story where they have to say it.
I believe that the Arthurian tales have held their places in peoples hearts because they are, after all else, tales of the great achievements of ordinary men they are tales of a man and his vision of a fine place to live, of bravery, glory and defeat, of high achievement and betrayal, of love, honour, grief and loss.
All these things are contemporary, and the hero tales of Arthur show us that, though we may not live in his times, or have his goals, enemies and trials, we all undergo the same trials in our daily lives to a degree. These trials and emotions will be relevant until the end of time. From that point of view, what the lyrics had to say was pretty much mapped out.
I really love the way the album flows, but found that it was easy to listen to any given song on its own. Was this a conscious decision on your behalf?
I'm very pleased you picked up on that.
It was a very conscious effort to make each song `stand alone' in its own right.
From a radio or performance standpoint where you might only play selected tracks it is imperative that the songs make sense when extracted from the albums.
I think it's actually a very commercial slice of melodic hard rock - not the sometimes difficult to access kind of concept album. Again, was this a conscious decision and are you happy with the results?
Yes it was a very conscious decision.
I had to try to make it as universally acceptable as possible.
In effect, you alienate a large percentage of the listening public if you make it inaccessible to them whether it be because you make it too extreme or just simply build too much of a pre conception about what they think it might be like, even before they've listened to a note of it.
Do you have a favourite track or vocal performance by one of the guests?
I would have to say that one of the most outstanding things about the whole album is the performance of newcomer Irene Jansen. Her performance on the song "Shapeshifter" from the first CD is nothing short of breathtaking. However, all the vocalists performed fantastically and did incredible justice to the songs.
I have to say that I think your duet with Lana Lane is great and I think the Danny Vaughn sung Avalon is a melodic masterpiece!
Thank you very much. I am particularly proud of our duet. It is a beautiful melody and Lana has an incredible warmth to her voice.
Danny sang the backside off Avalon and is the nicest guy you could wish to meet.
His performance takes me back to his Tyketto days. Pure commercial rock.
He has one of the strongest voices in the business and harmonizes really well over himself on the song.
I am very pleased with the way the songs worked out.
Do you have a list of favourite rock opera's/concept albums that you used as a measuring stick to how you would like to do this?
Not really. My only pre-conception was that I wanted the singers to be tonally and texturally different.
I wanted it to be obvious that we were listening to another character even without the booklet or sleeve notes in front of us.
I really liked `Operation Mindcrime', `The Wall', `War of The Worlds' but I think in latter years some concept type rock operas have been guilty of including too many similar sounding voices to my taste.
It can all become a blur. Almost like fifty minutes of the same song.
It's just my humble opinion but I think that some potentially good ideas have been spoilt through this.
You obvious decided it would be better to release the albums as individual releases, in two parts - what prompted that decision?
I felt that a high priced double album would be too expensive for the fans in one installment. Some fans struggle to raise the money for one album at a time, let alone two or a double.
I felt it was fairer to spread the releases out a little to give people breathing space. Also it is a complex subject matter to digest. Two single albums also allows them to fully understand Part One before being presented with Part Two.
I must also add that the artwork and overall packaging is wonderful. Tell us about how that came to be...
I have known [artist] Chris Achilleos for about five years now, since Ten approached him for a potential cover for Spellbound. We have, over the years, become great friends and he is a great historian himself who loves this subject matter. I was amazed when he offered to do the artworks. He had a bad experience after his Lovehunter cover and for years he has had a policy of not working with bands anymore.
He did it as a friend. The man after all is an illustrative God. He has surpassed even my greatest expectations with these two covers.
He is a true gentleman and surely one of the world's greatest exponents of fantasy artwork. All Chris's originals are large scale.
It is amazing to know that although we are looking at small CD sleeves, the original artworks are close to eight feet wide and five feet tall! The detail and colour are truly something to behold.
Sean Harris is also sounding fabulous. As with the debut (and now classic) Hugo album, why are you able to bring out such vocal performances in people? Are you a fussy bugger in the studio?
But it has to be said that in Sean's case, he really did his own thing.
He came in to the studio and sang all day until it was done.
He lived with some rough mixes with my guide vocals on there for a few weeks.
I can only guess, but I would say by the way he sang in the studio, he probably put more preparation into his performances than anyone else.
He is a true professional and a thoroughly nice guy.
I have heard whispers of a desire to play the rock opera live - do you think that could be a possibility and how would that work? Any great desires for the story to be performed?
I think that Once And Future King is made for the stage, however, the practicalities of putting on a full blown show is another matter entirely.
I'd like to think it might be possible, but the only thing that could prevent it being put on would be the cost & another question mark is whether we'd get the original cast all together schedule wise at the same time.
If somebody was prepared to film it and make a DVD, then there's a good chance that the actual money would be accrued, but it would have to be thought out very carefully I think.
I'm certainly not ruling it out though, I would quite like to see it performed on stage, but in the current climate it's quite hard to even contemplate something like that when it would be so costly to put on.
There always seems to be something going on with Gary Hughes, so what's currently underway? A new Ten album?
Yes indeed. Next up is the new Ten studio album. We are in the middle of recording pre-production for it as we speak. We built up a great camaraderie in the band touring last year and everyone is looking forward to making this new album. If the material is anything to go by I recon that the next Ten album could be the strongest to date.
It will also be the first Ten album to feature Chris (Francis).
He is a mind-blowing player as is evident on the Once and Future King albums and the musical potential for the band is now limitless.
He has integrated exceptionally well into his role, creating his own space and in turn giving John Halliwell more freedom and a more integral role in the bands sound, live and in the studio.
After that it will be editing our live DVD/CD. Containing footage from the Gods appearance last year and our open air Summer rocks performance in Budapest.
There will hopefully be bonus footage from our shows with Asia and our last tour of Japan. Lots of backstage and interview footage edited in as well.
After that it will be a Japanese and European tour in support of the new studio album.
Might there be another rock ballad style Gary Hughes solo album sometime?
I hope so.
I would like to take the time to do another one and I am accumulating material of that type all the time.
I was looking round recently, thinking of possibly getting involved with another project in the same way I did with the Bob Catley solo albums, but maybe I'll just put more time into another Precious Ones type of album. I'm not entirely sure yet. One thing is for sure, whatever I decide to do I'll give it my 100%.
What CDs are currently on your playlist?
Evanescence, Metalica, Busted & Invertigo!
Anything you would like to add Gary?
I have enjoyed making these two albums. I sincerely hope that everyone enjoys them and enjoys them for what they are.
We are living in the PS2 computer age. To my mind if someone is going to buy a CD rather than the new Tomb Raider game, the CD has to be more thought provoking and inspiring than just twelve songs on a silver disc. Something, somewhere has to stir the embers of the imagination.
In any event I hope that I have gone some way to achieving this.
I can promise that a new Ten studio album will be completed this year for release early next year, and a live DVD/CD, complete with a more extensive promotional tour in Europe should see the light of day at some point in the foreseeable future. New albums. More cities. More shows. See you there.
And will there be a future concept album from the pen of Gary Hughes?
I should think there will have to be at some point.
I enjoyed this one immensely and although there were times when I could have gladly burned the master tapes, I am very proud of the finished product.
Thanks for taking the time to chat Gary!
Totally my pleasure as always Andrew. Take care