Britain's bold Baebes get mediaeval
If hanging out in a North London cemetery late at night wearing white robes and ivy crowns to sing olde worlde songs in long-forgotten languages seems kind of strange and morbid to you, you're not the only one. For the eight ladies of the Mediaeval Baebes, this was the scene of their first show nearly 10 years ago, and since then they've moved from crooning over coffins to singing centre-stage in venues around the world.
Pulling lyrics from medieval texts and then setting them to original scores using period instruments, the Baebes offer a sound that is unique-there simply isn't another act like them. Part Suicide Girls, part Spice Girls, these are gothic-pinup performers with a forthright, independent approach to female empowerment in life and love they've termed the "Baebe attitude".
"We're not shy, and when we're all together, we're quite bold and I suppose quite intimidating to people, but we don't mean any harm," cackles Baebes originator Katharine Blake, found toiling over a roast chicken in the kitchen of her London flat. "We just really love dressing up and enjoying ourselves and shamelessly frolicking around. I think that's a good message to give out; you know, singing and dancing and feeling like princesses and inspiring men to be chivalrous."
The parallels between the Mediaeval Baebes and the self-imploding Spice Girls were bound to be drawn when the former joined the latter's record label at the height of Spicemania. For Blake, the comparison was annoying, but it had its advantages.
"Because we're women and were on the same record label and because we're all a bit feisty, that doesn't necessarily mean that we were like the Spice Girls," recalls Blake. "It did, however, do us a lot of favours because it was headline news. The Spice Girls were a total worldwide phenomenon and suddenly we were getting headlines like 'Ye Olde Spice'."
What sets this octet, which plays at the Commodore on Friday (October 7), apart from all other major-label girl bands-besides a collective penchant for paganism, really big wigs, and Dawn of the Dead makeup-is its exclusive use of bygone or fading languages, including Middle English, Manx, Cornish, Latin, medieval Italian, and 18th-century Swedish. According to Blake, the music of the Mediaeval Baebes is meant to evoke a feeling of fairy-tale whimsy, otherworldly enchantment, and supernatural seduction. With several of the members dabbling in witchcraft and the occult, there is an odd sense of authenticity to the Baebes' allegiance to the spirit of the Middle Ages. Just don't ask them to speak in the obsolete tongues in which they sing. Apparently, that's what nerdy academic Mediaeval Baebes groupies are for.
"It's quite astonishing," Blake says. "As soon as you find another poem in another language that you've never read before, suddenly someone comes out of the woodwork and says, 'Oh, I know how to speak that language.' They are always delighted because they've always thought they'd never have any use for knowing how to speak it except for at university."