The Mediaeval Baebes – Starting the New Year with a Review from the Old One.

Happy New Year everyone – and I hope you all had a good holiday season!

Mine was busier than I expected due to looking into a new business venture (more details when it gets closer to happening) – so I didn’t get to play in Blogland as much as I wanted.

Anyway, just before Christmas I was lucky enough to go and see the Mediaeval Baebes live at Gloucester Cathedral on their ‘Illumination‘ Tour. For those who have never heard of them, they are, in their own words: ‘Six talented, attractive women [who] breathe renewed life into the rich texts of medieval songs and poetry.’ If you haven’t heard their CDs you may have heard their music featured in the BBC’s Virgin Queen, starring Anne-Marie Duff.

I have followed their music for about five years now – and have seen them twice before – both times at the Berkeley Joust event (at Berkeley Castle). And so, when I heard they were going to perform in one of my favourite buildings – Gloucester Cathedral, I jumped at the chance to get some tickets. It was just as well I was quick off the mark, for the concert soon sold out.

I arrived at the cathedral on the evening of the concert (20th December) nearly an hour early, planning on getting a good parking space and then retiring to a pub for a while to stay warm. But the queue outside the cathedral doors was already growing, so I decided – in the hope of getting a good seat – to go and join them. As it was a freezing cold evening (although luckily not raining), this meant a 40 minute wait with knees knocking and teeth chattering. But it was worth it! I managed to get a seat a quarter of the way from the stage and on the end of a row – so I could see the stage (well, most of it) fairly well.

The whole event was also being filmed for an upcoming TV special and DVD; it was quite odd seeing a big camera on a boom sweeping backwards and forwards, up and down, as well as the roving camera-men getting close up shots. Also the lighting was very bright (making it hard to get good photos, as you can see from the pics). But to be honest, none of it detracted from the actual performance.

The Baebes were, as usual, fantastic. Their voices are wonderful to listen to, whether as a solo or as a group. And they are also a feast for the eyes – dressed in Gothic ‘medieval’ gear, with oodles of ivy wrapped around microphones, stands… everything! The songs they performed were a mixture – from their previous work and from their new album: Ilumination. I can truthfully say that the combination of their haunting voices and the atmosphere within the ancient building sent shivers down my spine more than once. Other songs made me want to get up and dance (‘The Blacksmiths’, ‘Misere Nomine’, ‘On Yonder Lea’, ‘I Sing of a Maiden’), and it was a shame that we were all confined to our seats.

One other
performance that I just have to mention (although it’s not on the album) was an instrumental piece played by their accompanying musicians while the girls went off for a dress change. At first I thought ‘oh no, this is going to be boring’ (I’m not a fan of instrumentals!), but it was superb – and once again made me wish I could get up and dance. It was just nice that these guys (and one girl) got the chance of a bit of limelight for once. The crowd certainly appreciated it, going by the amount of applause. And talking of applause – at the end of the concert, the Baebes got a couple of standing ovations which were most definitely well-deserved.

Their new album seems to be a bit of a departure from their traditional songs. Although it still has an overall ‘medieval’ sound, a bit of middle-eastern influence creeps in now and again (such as in ‘Desert Rose’ and ‘Miracle’). There is also a song which features words from the Sanskrit of the Mahabarata – ‘The Undivided’, although I must admit this was not one of my favourites because I didn’t feel it matched with the Baebes’ usual style. Illumination also has a large number of songs adapted from the Romantic poets – Keats, Blake and Longfellow, as well as Robert Burns. Overall, these worked really well, my favourite being ‘My Lady Sleeps’ which sounds as though it would be a perfect accompaniment to a Shakespeare play.

But for the traditionalists, there are still songs adapted from Medieval sources, in particular the Medieval Latin of the Benedictbeuern manuscript: ‘Suscipe Flos Florem’ and ‘Ecce Chorus Virginum’ both have a softness and atmospheric quality and you could imagine them being played at a 14th or 15th century court, the first one as a ballad and the second as a pavane.

If I am being truthful, I wouldn’t label this as my favourite album of theirs (The Rose and Virgin Queen still tussle for that title) – well not yet anyway; I suspect that the more I listen the more it will grow on me. Maybe I am a bit of a stickler for their past work and am a bit wary of this new experimentation stuff – but I suppose most bands have to do this if they are to evolve and move forward.

One treat for the audience was that during the interval (and another dress change for the girls), the audience could wander around the cathedral. The smoke effects for the performance had, by this stage, filled the building and made it look quite evocative, especially with the lighting behind it. I managed to take some great photos of this – as well as some of Edward II’s tomb – and I shall put these up in the next post.

More information on the Mediaeval Baebes (and some samples of their music) can be found on their website.

Thanks to mum for taking the photos – and managing to do it without using a flash!


About Jules Frusher

With an MA in Creative and Critical Writing, I am passionate about the written word. The other great loves of my life are all things Medieval (especially Hugh le Despenser the Younger) and animal behaviour (especially canids and corvids). Give me a castle in the wilderness (with Broadband!) and I'll be happy!
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