Latin and Middle English are de rigeur for the Mediaeval Baebes
Roots fans are not often treated to Latin, Middle English and medieval German, but that is exactly what attendees at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention in rural England just got.
The Mediaeval Baebes, a British folk/classical group that mixes ancient texts with new music, enchanted a crowd otherwise gathered in an Oxfordshire field for the heavy rock of Alice Cooper and the fiddle frenzy of The Levellers.
Cooper’s “School’s Out For Summer” gave way to “Adam Lay Ibounden”, a tale in 15th century English about the first man’s 4,000 years in bondage:\
“Foure thousand winter/Thought he not too long/And all was for an apple/An apple that he tok”.
Katherine Blake (left), the Baebes’ classically trained founder and musical director, leads the group, which currently comprises six women but has been as large as 12.
With various changing personnel, Blake and her Baebes have spent 17 years touring folk clubs, church halls and singing at corporate functions.
The Oxfordshire gig at Fairport’s annual festival was the latest big event. Coming up is a trip to America’s East Coast that includes a performance at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.
Blake creates the songs, digging out the old texts – including from the romantic poets such as Byron – and reinterprets them with folk-cum-classical music.
The intent, she told me before the Cropredy performance, is to make them “as fabulous as possible”.
The result is a soaring sound, part-choir, part-folk group. It can be hauntingly beautiful, but some of the words border on the brutal, as in the song “Kinderly”:
“My death is sharp and severe/I do not know where I am going/foul and stinking I rot/ O, Jesus have mercy on me!”
Yet few would call the Baebes severe. They play up their femininity, appearing on stage in long flowing robes, bedecked in flowers and swaying seductively to the music.
Blake says that to be part of the team, a singer has to “look good” as well as sing beautifully.
Both elements appeared to work on the Cropredy crowd.