Mediaeval Baebes at The Stables

mediaeval baebes illumination tourLast night we went up to The Stables in Milton Keynes to see the Mediaeval Baebes on the last date of their tour to promote their new album, Illumination. It has been a short tour, only 5 dates. A big factor in this has to be the fact that Katharine Blake is pregnant with her second child which is due on 2nd June. I did wonder when I first saw the date if she would still be touring, but she was.

We bought a copy of the new DVD (Live at Gloucester Cathedral) that has just been released when we got there; I figured it would be quieter early on. It was a lot busier last night than when we were first here, but we still had good seats, the first 2 on the second row. While we were waiting for them to come on, we were looking at the selection of instruments on stage. On the microphone stands were their recorders. We tried to work out what was there. The closest to us, on the left end of the stage had a descant and what looked like a treble, further round there were what looked like other trebles and finally at the right side, where Katharine usually is, there was a descant, treble and what looked small enough to be a garkleine. As we have seen her play that before, it was a certainty that Katharine would be stood there. In front of the closest microphone was a drum and a violin. At the back of the stage from left to right there was a drum kit with a pair of large drums one on top of the other in front. Then there were a couple of stringed instruments, I’ll admit I don’t know what they were, maybe a mandola? Next to this I could see a bass recorder and something else a bit shorter, maybe a tenor recorder, it was difficult to see, and finally a guitar on the right.

The baebes came on dressed in long white flowing dresses, even Katharine. The last time we same her at the Joust, in 2006, she was pregnant, but this time it was a case of only days to go. I’m not sure she looked too comfortable in the fairly tight dress. There are currently six baebes; from left to right we had Emily Ovenden, Bev Lee Harling, Claire Rabbitt, Esther Dee, Melpomeni Kermanidou and Katharine Blake. This is a change from my last post with the line-up. In September 2007, Sofia Escobar left the baebes to join the West End production of the Phantom of the Opera and Esther Dee joined. In December 2007, Maxine Fone left to pursue other career opportunities. Anyway back to the concert. I can’t honestly remember which songs were sung in which order; I went to enjoy myself not provide a concert writeup. There was a good selection of earlier material, all beautifully sung. When Claire introduced Undrentide she talked about them all dressed in white pretending to be virgins, that brought a laugh from the audience, even more so when Katharine, remember nearly 9 months pregnant, said ‘Rabbitt, why are they laughing at me’.

Katharine was on the right side of the stage and whenever she was playing recorder she faced our way, more or less looking straight at us. It was great to watch the recorder playing as well as listen to the singing. I think their recorder playing is partly what inspired me to start again. After the break, they came back on in red flowing dresses and part of the way through, while the excellent instrumental section was provided, they changed into very dark green. The last dress looked most comfortable for Katharine.

As I mentioned there was a selection of earlier material including Salva Nos, Foweles in the Frith, Kinderly, How Death Comes, The Snake, The Rose, The Sour Grove, Musa Venit Carmine and Return of the Birds. From the new album we had Desert Rose, The Blacksmiths, I Sing of a Maiden, The Undivided, My Lady Sleeps, Yonder Lee, Sunrise and Myrie Songen. I might have missed one or two others. Yonder Lee makes a great alternative to Dringo Bell, it’s that same sort of lively beat. We had audience participation in Sunrise, joining in with ‘Sunrise’ in time to Claire Rabbitt’s cues. I was really glad that when they came back on for the encore they sang my current favourite, The Undivided. I don’t know what it is about it, I just love it.

I must at this point compliment the musicians who provided the accompaniment to the baebes. Ben Woollacott on drums, Frank Moon on the fretted instruments (still don’t know what – Cittern, and Oud from the album credits), Rebecca Dutton on recorders, mediaeval fiddle and psaltery and Kavus Torabi on guitar. They were excellent. I’ll admit that I didn’t watch them much, too busy watching and listening to the baebes, but I did watch Rebecca accompanying on recorder a few times.

After the encore, we left our seats quickly to get back out to the reception area. I bought a copy of Celtic Legend’s album Lyonesse and just as I was finishing paying for it the baebes came out to sign cds and as they put it ‘anything else within reason’. I was quick off the mark and was second or third in the queue, so I got the cover of the DVD signed (I already had a signed album) and I got Emily to sign the copy of Lyonesse. I did ask when we would see another song book and Katharine answered me. She is working on a songbook of her a cappella works and it will include some of the baebes material. She estimated it would be about 3 months time – she’ll be a bit busy before then. That’s understandable! It’s a shame that there isn’t a book of the recorder parts for the songs, they would be great to learn. I guess I’ll have to listen harder to the tracks and try to work them out. About 5 minutes later when we finally left, the queue for signing was about 15-20 minutes long I guess. I’m glad I got there when I did.

We put the Lyonesse CD on for the drive home and enjoyed what we heard of it. A brilliant night out. We’ll have to keep an eye out for anything that they will be at during the daytime, so that we can take the kids. They really enjoy the music and have missed seeing them at the Joust.

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