GARY HUGHES – Once And Future King Part I


Frontiers Records
Release Date: September 9, 2003

User Review
6/10 (1 vote)

Rock opera. Two words that really shouldn’t be conjoined. It’s hard to make a rock fan happy by injecting “opera” into anything, and vice-versa. But if you like that sort of thing, Gary Hughes’ Once and Future King – Part I has some high points. It’s essentially a medieval fantasy with a lot of keyboards. At least I got the feeling it was a medieval fantasy. Here’s the first paragraph from the album materials:

“It is 460 years since the Christians say their God was born – on a cold night in a faraway land, if such places exist. All that matters now is Britain, once again torn by war. Kernow, the tiniest of wind ravaged kingdoms is rebelling against the reign of Uther, the cold hard force of the Pendragon: the High King of Britain’s united tribes, because of The Pendragon’s lust for Igraine, wife to King Mark of Kernow. Merlin, mighty Lord of Avalon, and the most powerful Druid who ever drew breath, has given Uther a spell, a chance to become the physical embodiment of Mark. Uther will sate his lust this night whilst Igraine believes she is loved by her Lord. Merlin’s price for his work is high, though: the product of the lovers union. A male child, the Heir Apparent of Britain; Son of The Pendragon, is claimed by Merlin within hours of his birth and whisked away to Merlin’s dream tower on Ynys Wydryn.”

I’m sure there’s more to the story to go along with the music – I’ve heard that’s the idea behind an opera. But I’m kind of lazy, and not that interested, so I didn’t bother to try to figure out what the story’s about. Funny; I don’t feel like my life is any less full. I’m sure I wouldn’t understand it, anyway. Damn, ignorance IS bliss.

On King, Gary Hughes handles some lead vocals, backing vocals, guitar, piano, and keyboards. But don’t worry – he’s not all by his lonesome. Help comes in the way of 13 other folks, many of whom have been assigned characters. Such as: Hughes is “King Arthur”, Lana Lane is “Queen Guinevere”, Danny Vaughn is “Lancelot”, Bob Catley is “Merlin”, Irene Jansen is “Morgana”, and Sean Harris is “Sir Galahad”. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but when you put it in print, it smacks of cornballitude. And doesn’t add much to the music. Maybe it helps the storyline, but see “Qualseth = lazy” above. All I’m saying is it was lost on me.

The first two songs, “Excalibur” and “Dragon Island Cathedral”, rock, with heavy drums and fast guitars. Then the vocals start. Simply put, they don’t fit. These are two rocking songs, and the vocals try to sound like the Queen’s English. Sometimes, you need a Brian Johnson scream to make everything work. And not just in a song – at various times throughout the work-a-day life, a Brian Johnson scream can come in handy. “At The End Of Day” is a slow-down duet with Gary Hughes and Lana Lane, uh, I mean, Arthur and Guinevere. Aside from the pretentiousness thread that runs through the album, another thread is the excellent female vocals. Unfortunately, the only two songs that feature the ladies are “At The End Of Day” (albeit shared with Hughes) and Jansen on “Shapeshifter”. “Shapeshifter” is not a great song, but Jansen has a tough edge to her voice that reminds me of Sandi Saraya. And that’s a good thing. But the chorus “Shape – Shapeshifter!” just sucks.

The song that doesn’t fit with the rest of the album, “Avalon”, is by far the best tune on the disc. Danny Vaughn is capable on lead vocals, and there’s a good pop rock beat to it. It’s the only song that has a sing-along chorus, and doesn’t try to overdo it with “pageantry”, for lack of a better term.

There’s some really good parts to King, and some not so good parts. It’s not my cup of tea, but if you’re a fan, or rock-opera curious, this isn’t a bad effort from Hughes. Plus, if you like this one, there’s a Part II to look forward to. Then you can find out how it all ends. Or something like that.


  • Ross Swinton

    Ross was a reviewer here at Metal Express Radio. His first recollection of listening to Rock music was at a party in the early '70s, and Thin Lizzy, Electric Light Orchestra, The Who, and Nazareth made him pick up his first Air Guitar and Rock-On! He spent 23 years, from the age of 16, in the Army and wandered around the globe getting paid for travelling to far, sometimes near, exotic, though sometimes dangerous, lands and had a blast whilst doing it. Since leaving the Army in ’98, he has settled near his hometown, just a few miles from Edinburgh, Scotland. Here he helps local bands by recording demos and albums; building them websites; helping put on gigs for them, and generally helping them build up a fan base.

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