FolkWorld #46 11/2011
© David Hintz

Erudite and Visceral

Mediæval Bæbes - Birchmere, Sep 13 2011.

Mediæval Bæbes @ FolkWorld:
FW#16, #44 |

This is an intriguing act for the Birchmere or most any stage in town. This long running collective features various numbers of women singing both simple and complex medieval based songs. It is classical, yet playful and I am intrigued to see how it comes off tonight.

Even before the show I am impressed as the house music has loads of great psyche-folk songs including ISB, Pentangle, Barrett's children's song-Pink Floyd material and Dead Can Dance. But hearing the Trees' "Murdoch" was a real surprise. I highly doubt I will be hearing the Trees over a club's PA again in my lifetime.

Anyway, my initial worries were alleviated as the small turnout grew into a good sized crowd that should please both band and club. Three men took their places upstage on guitar, bass and drums/percussion. Then six women resplendent in flowing white robes approached the flowered mic stands.

They begin with vocals only songs that bring to mind the 2 and 3-part compositions of Tallis and Byrd. Although since these are works for the female voice, Hildegard de Bingen is more appropriate. I am hardly a classical music snob, but I do particularly enjoy ancient vocal compositions. And the Baebes do a fabulous job with their material.

Next they add some instruments to the mix as one woman constantly plays guitar and a thin lute-variation. The others play recorders, violins, tambourines and a glockenspiel. The backing musicians join in to further the medieval magic the ladies cook up. They have some dancing and theatrical moves and ultimately this is an arresting presentation. They chat a little at times between songs, but more often the music comes quickly or they have some poetic transitions.

They really managed to pull me in and the set (with break) of just under two hours flew by. I could have easily handled more. They changed gowns during their break and also switched to matching purple dresses with garlands as two of the women took solo turns on violin and voice.

Quote of the Night From one of the Baebes telling everyone that they will be at the Merch store after the show: "We'll sign anything you put in front of us... within reason."

The backing musicians added a lot in a quiet way, although the guitarist was quite brilliant. The music was more toward the ancient, but they had some very modern numbers including one number with complex vocal thrusts that reminded of Philip Glass or something in that modern vein.

This was a charming evening with the right balance of erudite and visceral music played by fine musicians and singers. The arrangement of both the individual songs and the full presentation was spot on. This may not be a band for the indie rock crowd, but the psyche-folk crowd will really come away with something here. Open minded classical fans already know far more than I about this band, so they are already here.

First published @

Photo Credits: (1) Mediæval Bæbes (from website).

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