BN1 chats to…Mediaeval Baebes

Back in 1996 a group of friends broke into a North London cemetery and sang together, clad in flowing white gowns and crowns of Ivy. Years later, these fair maidens have taken three albums to the top of the classical charts and contributed to the soundtrack of BBC production of ‘The Virgin Queen’ which won them in an Ivor Novello Award.

Although many of the Baebes are classically trained, much of the compositions are tinged with a folk edge – how would you classify the Baebes’ in terms of genre?

There are Mediaeval, folk , classical and alternative elements to the Mediaeval Baebes music. There is nothing quite like it!

Much of the Mediaeval Baebes’ backgrounds reside in music with a more rock & roll aesthetic. What inspired you all to get involved in something a little different?

It has been very liberating for us to take our classical training into a different environment with unconventional arrangement, composition and a playful and fantastical image.

Over the years, the Mediaeval Baebes have offered up compositions in Middle English, Latin and Russian to name a few. Are you all multi-lingual? What kind of challenges do the ensemble face when performing in such a variety of languages?

We are not multi-lingual, but have been lucky enough to know scholars of various ancient languages who have helped with pronunciation. It always inspires a different music approach when you set music to a different language.

As one of the only ensembles of this kind, do you think fans have slightly unrealistic expectations surrounding new releases and shows?

We would like to think that we always inspire our fans with our otherwordly and unique sensibilities both in our recordings and live performances. Over the last few years we have been mainly concentration on our live presentaion.

What’s the oddest fan experience you’ve had? Are there any strange gifts that stand out, or mediaeval homages you’ve received at your shows?

Once we received a beautiful faerie chest from a fan who was a carpenter. It was adorned with the art of Brian Froud, and contained lots of goodies…. Chocolates, champagne, goblets, candle holders. The same fan also made Katharine an enormous faerie mirror which is hanging up in her daughter’s bedroom.

The Baebes have performed at a number of venue types over the years; do you find churches and cathedrals more complimentary to your image, and do the acoustics enhance your performance?

It’s always a joy to sing in cathedrals. The acoustic makes our sound so epic. In smaller churches we have performed without amplification which is particularly lovely when singing a cappella.

You’ve faced backlash in the past over your “risqué” image. What can we expect from your show at St George’s Church, in a city as open-minded as Brighton?

Nothing that naughty I’m afraid….. It is a myth that we get up to anything that risqué on stage…. We sing and dance and have costume changes. It is very theatrical, which we believe enhances the romantic elements of our music.

Aside from line-up, how has the Baebes’ sound developed over time? What’s different about your compositions now compared to 18 years ago?

We are definitely more ambitious and diverse when compared to the very bold, simplistic and traditional approach that we started out with. The addition of an enormous range of ancient and exotic acoustic instruments has also helped us to diversify.

Your latest release, Of Kings and Angels, was released in 2013 as the ensemble’s first Christmas carol album. How differently was Of Kings and Angels received compared with your previous efforts, and was a Christmas album always going to be in the pipeline? 

The Mediaeval Baebes are the perfect choir to do a Xmas Carols album. The celebratory and ceremonial feel to the music lends itself perfectly to some festive classics. Our interpretations of famous carols, using ancient modes and instruments have been very well received.

Your last original composition album, The Huntress, was released in 2012. What are the Mediaeval Baebes working on at present, including any personal/side projects? Can fans expect another Baebes album in the near future?

There are plans to record a new Mediaeval Baebes album in 2016 but in the meantime Katharine has recently released an album called “From the Deep” which is a collection of love duets sung between her and her partner Nick Marsh, who sadly passed away from cancer earlier this year. Emily is recording a rock project under the name of Khronicles, Anna Tam has recently released a solo classical album, Melpomini has just finished recording a solo album and Sophie is also just finishing a Scottish album. The tendrils of The Mediaeval Baebes spread out into many genres.

Mediaeval Baebes come to Brighton’s St. George’s Church on 10 Dec at 7.30pm. Tickets are £20.

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