The Actors’ Church, Covent Garden, London, 28th-29th May 2021
Reviewed by Antonia Hebbert
Real people, really singing and playing instruments in real life! What a cheery, happy occasion this was. Mediaeval Baebes are celebrating 25 years of early music and folk, in several languages old and new, which they rework to make a unique, intriguing sound.
Lead arranger is Katharine Blake, one of the group of friends who started the Baebes in 1996. Apparently they broke into a cemetery for a weird spooky singsong in a thunderstorm, and things went from there, including Emmy nominations, world tours, and working with artists from Michael Flatley to Iggy Pop. Their latest album is Prayers of the Rosary. An essential part of the sound comes from the use of medieval and folk instruments which combine with the singing to produce strange and gorgeous harmonies (besides having lovely names – anyone for a hurdy-gurdy, dulcimer or viola da gamba?).
All that said, this was a relaxed, low-key affair – the singers just seemed to be enjoying performing to a live audience and trying things out. Some of the singing and movement was a touch hesitant. The Baebes are known for producing an ethereal, silvery sound, but for me the evening really took off when they let rip, with Josephine Ravenheart’s percussive dancing on the spot, a gorgeous, haunting solo by Katharine Blake, and the moment when Fiona Fey finally gave us a blast of her strong, soaring soprano.