Pop: Baebes have got it maede
Friday 07 August 1998
I AM not going to be rude at all. I don't want to be rude about the Mediaeval Baebes, primarily because I value my health and everyone of these girls is, apparently, a witch. Oh, they say they are white witches, and it's all done in the best possible taste, but can you count on that? Secondly, I don't want to be rude because the Baebes don't deserve it.
Twelve feisty chicks, they sing songs from the swingin' 1360s while trussed up in see-through drapes, but this kind of schtick isn't new - we already have Vanessa Mae and a host of PVC-clad opera singers - and they probably know it. Signed to Spice Girls label Virgin (hah!), they would be easy to dismiss as a marketing ploy; their number includes a stripper, a go- go dancer, a welder and a systems analyst, and they come out with eyewash such as "I like wearing ivy and nothing else" and "I design spaceships. That's what space pixies do". Add to this the fact that founder member Katherine Blake also formed goth dafties Miranda Sex Garden, and you are definitely working with one hand (or two, if you prefer) tied behind your back.
On the other hand, this could all be tongue-in-cheek irony, because the Baebes have brains, and they do what they do remarkably. When they arrive on stage - where the mikes are growing plastic ivy - their presence seems to fill the air with something oddly arcane. They are like novices loosed from a convent and given a crate of Grolsch, 12 unpredictable Ophelias gone to the bad, bohemian and startlingly good-looking. Then they open their mouths and begin to resonate, and it is truly scary.
"Kinderly" is a wild roundel with a vicious, booming bodhran that chills the blood; then, like an echo of Palestrina's unworldly, unaccompanied vocal beauty, "Now Springes the Spray" fills the room with its Chaucerian words. It's hard to believe that only one of the group has musical training: breathing and pronunciation are perfect. And eerie, too. A plainsong tale of lovesickness so deep "that slepen I ne may", it holds everyone in a hypnotic trance, and the hairs stand up shiveringly on your neck. "Adam lay I bounden" brings in, gradually, flute, tambourine and a drum that sets up a slow, unearthly rhythm, as threatening as anything from Carmina Burana. Occasionally the tone has an awkward nasal glitch and what they're doing seems pompous and silly - but not that often. Toward the end, they give us "Summerisle", the 13th century number to which someone is burned alive in the film The Wicker Man. Go, girls! By now, they look both relaxed and possessed, sweeping the audience with their piercing gaze. Coming soon to a sacrificial rite near you.
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