Mediaeval Baebes by Elisa Mac.
I’ve never paid much attention to the Mediaeval Baebes before, but then new album The Huntress landed on my doormat and I listened, and was won over: look past the frou frou faux mediaeval stylings and this is great fun. Across two packed CD’s worth of tracks, both old tunes and ancient texts set to self-penned music get the Baebes treatment – intriguing stories, atonal melodies, folk noodlings and plenty of glorious harmonies. For anyone interested in the intersection of classical music and mediaeval folk this will make an intriguing purchase. Founding Baebe Katharine Blake answers some questions about the creation of and inspiration behind The Huntress.
How have the Baebes changed over the years?
The Mediaeval Baebes started out as a raucous, hedonistic bunch of girls who initially started out singing together on a purely recreational basis. Over the years, I suppose things have calmed down a bit in the non-stop partying department to be replaced by a much more professional and slick operation…. On a musical level the band favors setting ancient and romantic verse to their own diverse compositions rather than the more traditional slant of some of their earlier material.
Mediaeval Baebes by Rhiannon Fraser.
What is the process for choosing a new Baebe?
Every new Baebe has been through word of mouth rather than an open audition process. The audition consists of singing with the choir to make sure that their voice blends well, performing a song of their choice, sight reading some music (usually in an ancient language), and trying out some of our dance routines…. It’s not easy being a Baebe.
Why did you decide to place such a strong emphasis on looks?
The band is very much about fantasy and escapism… If we all turned up on stage in our jeans the spell would be broken. The reason people like our music is because it is deeply romantic and other-wordly. Enhancing this with a faerie-tale image heightens the experience for the audience.
What is the strongest thread running through all your music?
The timeless and romantic themes which are expressed in the texts that we use. I love to take an ancient poem by an anonymous poet and breathe life into it. This feels like a very magical process to me. It is an honour to help keep the spirit of our ancestors alive within a fanciful environment.
There are lots of references to the moon on your new album… where did you look for moon inspiration?
The moon just keeps cropping up in romantic and ancient poetry. We never get bored of her though, due to her infinite mystery. The control she has over us is enormous. Being organisms comprising mainly of water, we are sensitive to her cycles in the same way that the tide is.
What other feminine energy should listeners listen out for?
There is a track on the album in Arabic called Clasp of a Lion which was written by the Andalusian Arab poetess Nazhun al-Garnatiya (Very little is known of her origins, except that they were lower class, and that she may have been a slave. By the time of her death in 1100, however, she had risen to notoriety on account of her sexual reputation and her fearlessly sensual and erotic verse. One of her many lovers, Abu Bakr ibn Sa’id, the Vizier of Andalusia, exchanged verses with her, complaining about her other ‘thousand admirers’. She is now regarded as perhaps the most outrageous and outspoken female Arab poet of the Mediaeval period.) The lyrics to this particular poem describe her and her lover as ‘The Sun in the arms of the Moon‘, or a panting gazelle in the clasp of a lion.
Mediaeval Baebes by Bhulla Beghal.
The album is equally folk and classical inspired – what inspired the more esoteric songs?
All the songs on the album apart from Cruel Sister and She Moves Through the Fayre are original compositions. Dies Irae, and Dianae (two of the more esoteric numbers) both use text from the manuscript of Benediktbeuern which was the Mediaeval Latin source of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Other texts which have been set to music in an ethereal and whimsical style in include the Elizabethan poet Ben Jonson’s Queen and Huntress (an ode to the moon) and the 17th century poet William Broome’s The Rose-Bud (a meditation on the tragedy of withering beauty and mortality).
For those readers more used to discovering indie and folk bands who are under the mainstream radar, how would you persuade them to try out the Mediaeval Baebes‘ new album?
Fans of folk music might be interested in delving further back in time to experience music using languages such as 12th Century Irish, 14th Century Middle English, 13th Century Latin and 11th Century Arabic. In the ancient tradition of folk music it is our aim to popularize and keep alive the spirit of ancient languages and traditions.
Mediaeval Baebes by Jhinuk Sarkar.
The Huntress by Mediaeval Baebes is out now. The Mediaeval Baebes are currently on tour around the UK: catch them at these cathedrals and churches in the run up to Christmas: buy tickets here.
Saturday 8th Dec – Norwich Cathedral
Thursday 13th Dec – Gloucester Cathedral
Friday 14th Dec – Ely Lady Chapel
Saturday 15th Dec – Peterbourough Cathedral
Friday 21st Dec – St Sepulchre Without Newgate
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