Hugh Syme originally envisioned an even more grandiose cover for Rush’s 1977 classic, A Farewell to Kings. But in a development not uncommon in the analog era, feedback from band management altered those plans.
As he tells UCR, Syme, the prog-rock trio’s art director since Caress of Steel, grew up in England “on the flip-side of the British Invasion,” and he’d glimpsed some “beautiful ruins” that would have been perfect to capture for their fifth LP.
“[I’d seen] Lindisfarne, which is the monastery on Holy Island,” he says. “This was all pre-Google, pre-accessing a wealth of images as possible backgrounds. You had to think in a different way back then. I would have loved to feature Lindisfarne — and I used it in my original sketches. But as soon as I showed that to the band’s management, it was like, ‘Yeah, dream on.’ It was not a time for excess.”
Instead, Syme drew on his immediate surroundings and came up with a new plan. The vivid final cover features a puppet-looking king slumped on a throne in front of a demolished building, contrasted with the Toronto skyline in the background.
“I found a building that was in a state of ruin in Buffalo [N.Y.],” Syme says. “I lived in the Niagara region and went into the U.S. a lot. I saw this beautiful, dilapidated building and thought, ‘Well, we’ll have access to that.’ We crossed the border with Josh Onderison, the guitar player from my band, the Ian Thomas Band, which was on the same label as Rush and Max Webster. Our guitarist was of a skeletal stature — perfect for the puppet.”
He retouched some elements of the character — including his mouth, jaw and eyes — in post-production, adding the sky, smokestack and strings. “I created a prosthetic structure so his knee, showing through the tear in his tights, appeared mechanical, like a marionette’s,” he says.
Syme was a massive fan of Hipgnosis, the renown design group who worked regularly with Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, among many others. And that inspiration seeped into his approach on A Farewell to Kings.
“I was inspired by composite work by those guys and endeavored to bring some of that to play in that album,” he says. “And Hemispheres too, quite evidently, was affected by that inspiration.”