Why do I love Mediæval Bæbes? The first time I came across them, I was researching bands ‘making old music new’, which is probably up there with my favourite things to research. I was looking for inspiration and repertoire for my own band, Pretty Wanton. Mediaeval Baebes came up. I think it was ‘Gaudete’ I found first, followed swiftly by ‘Auld Lang Syne’, which were both from their latest Christmas album ‘Of Kings and Angels’. I think you can hear pretty much immediately why I was hooked.
Sends shivers down your spine, doesn’t it? Eeerie, other-worldly and seamless, for over 10 years Mediæval Bæbes have been enchanting audiences all over the world with their haunting harmonies and sultry choral performances that speak of times gone by.
‘a group of friends broke into a North London cemetery and sang together, clad in flowing white gowns and crowns of Ivy’
the all-women group have gone from strength to strength and are now on their 12th album together. It’s really fascinating to see how they have changed in terms of band members over the years.
Although members have come and gone – an openness and fluidity that has surely aided the band’s musical growth – the lady hailed as the founder and director of the Baebes has remained.
Meet Katharine Blake, singer, arranger, composer, recorder and violin player (she honestly feels like my spirit animal), founder of Mediaeval Baebes and Miranda Sex Garden, musical director, producer, mother to two little girls, and self-proclaimed friend to hedgehogs everywhere.
Educated at The Purcell School of Music in Hertfordshire, Katharine started out busking on the city streets, singing Elizabethan madrigals (which are, incidentally, one of Pretty Wanton’s staples on our set list as well – told you she was my spirit animal!). In 1990, Katharine started her own band, Miranda Sex Garden, with this same trio of Madrigal singers, prior to founding and growing the all-female choral group Mediaeval Baebes in 1996.
Katharine with her first band, Miranda Sex Garden:
And performing more recently with Mediaeval Baebes:
Headbands made from flowers and leaves, ivy twisted round microphones, and group photo shoots with the girls nestled bewitchingly amongst foliage and forest, theirs is an ambience that bespeaks of earthy sensuality, an ancient tie to the natural world, and pride in the female voice and body that weaves its way throughout their music. So far, they have released songs in an impressive array of lesser-known languages, including Latin, Middle English, Scottish English, Manx Gaelic, Welsh, Irish and Cornish, and the group continue to perform on period instruments, such as the recorder and cittern.
One of my favourite places to visit to see the Mediaeval Baebes in repose is their Instagram page, which you can find here. Pictures of the ensemble chilling in their medieval costumes before a show starts, or gathered talking in their dressing rooms, surrounded by period instruments about to accompany them on stage.
I love seeing the incongruent settings you can spot a Baebe wandering around in her costume – a metro carriage with a tiara on, or simply having coffee in the sun.
I thought I’d leave you with some of my favourite album covers and performances over the years. These will probably become collectors’ items in years to come, if they haven’t done already! Because these ladies really are just magic.