From the nightmarish technologies and bloody extremism of the later 21st century to a risky leap into the interstellar unknown, these songs are a sequence of snapshots taken of a future history. It begins about fifty years from now, during the rise of a rapacious plutocracy: Rogue corporations package highly controlled workers (called "stats") like equipment and ship them from project to project in old jets; the minds of long-frozen magnates (whose disguised fortunes have grown for decades) take on a glamorous and decadent new life in the commandeered bodies of would-be outlaws; power blocs armed with tactical nuclear weapons, struggle for corporate dominance by triggering jihads. One oppressive pseudo-theocracy emerges victorious in the ruins of Earth, and eventually must initiate space industry to generate new resources. Century by century, using industrial spacecraft propelled by the pressure of sunlight, indentured cyborgs bring back raw materials from across the Solar System. As cryonics and lightsail space travel slowly improve, some industrial pilots become the first Explorer's Guild, establishing themselves as indispensable while aiding some groups in a grandiose, sometimes heretical, venture (that is, for some, a desperate escape): the conversion of old industrial craft into the Lightships. These -- some village-like, some fitted out as giant libraries, some offering a means of exodus for dissident cults -- will accelerate to relativistic speed, carrying city-size frozen crews to colonize planets around other stars. The people who go will never again see the people who stay. Centuries pass. Some Lightships establish extensions of the old society and its bloody legacy; other craft, some aging, crippled, or lost in legend, sail on blindly into the void -- and an increasingly remote future. They are humanity's long shot to start a whole other sequence of cultural evolution -- and perhaps a different human history.
THE MUSIC AND THE PROJECT:
Following the lead of major British "folk-fusion" groups such as Pentangle, Fairport Convention, and Steeleye Span, Barry wrote lyrics to several British traditional melodies, and incorporated them into a collection of original songs. The song cycle's futuristic theme took years to develop, mostly on the "back burner". As active attendees of science fiction conventions, Barry and Sally joined in the musical culture of SF fans (known as "filking"), and played at various 1990s SF conventions in The Black Book Band, a science-fiction-folk-rock venture with vocalists/multi-instrumentalists Mary Ellen Wessels, Gwen Zak, and Michael Kube-McDowell (whose Hugo-nominated novel "The Quiet Pools" chronicled the building of a lightsail starship -- and inspired a new direction and focus in the song cycle).
Later on, in 2002, Jen and Debbie (themselves longtime SF readers) -- invited Barry and Sally to join Wild Mercy on (respectively) guitar/bass and percussion/drums. Playing out, rehearsing, and recording two CD projects -- "Summer Storm" (2003) and "Furious Fancies" (2005) -- unified the four as an "eclectic Celtic" band. So, when the group added "Boys of Bedlam" to the repertoire, Barry raided his song cycle to find the chords he'd used for the "Far Light" version ("To Poison Bedlam," the monologue of a lost Lightship's mad captain, which uses the traditional tune about the Bedlam madhouse both as a melodic base and an ironic allusion), and played some of it during a rehearsal.
Barry's bandmates asked about the dormant project ("Is there more of this?" "What's it about?" "Is it finished?") and stunned him by offering to record the whole cycle as the third Wild Mercy CD. Principal recording began, on equipment on loan from Dodeka Records, in 2006; mixdown by veteran recording engineer Rick Hijduk -- with final release (sporting cover art by Ray VanTilburg and graphic design by Debbie) in 2008. Wild Mercy debuted the song cycle live at Marcon that year.
While developing each track for the CD, all members of Wild Mercy created their own vocal and instrumental parts -- using styles that range from ethereal folk to blues to progressive rock and 1940s jazz harmonies, on instruments that range from Celtic harp and fretless bass to djembe, bodhran, chimes, electronic keyboard, and a menagerie of guitars (electric, acoustic, 6-string, 12-string, baritone, bass, banjitar, and synth guitar). Debbie's and Jen's harmonies often serve as intricate countermelodies, driven by Sally's versatility on drums.
And you know, if they hadn't said something when they did, he might still be writing it.