Winter is approaching once more, a chill is creeping back into the air and the days are becoming ever shorter.
It can be a gloomy time for many, but the Mediaeval Baebes are bringing some magic and light into this dark season.
Having enchanted audiences at Loxwood Joust in August, the internationally renowned choral group returns to West Sussex on December 8 for a special concert at St Mary’s, Horsham.
It’s part of the Christmas Carol Tour, which takes festive classics to the UK’s most beautiful cathedrals and churches. Songs have been selected from the Baebes’ 2013 album, Of Kings & Angels, alongside other contemporary and traditional pieces.
Singer Marie Findley believes that performing in religious venues truly brings mediaeval music to life.
“Often music is devotional so it’s specifically written to be sung in a church or cathedral for the glory of God,” she says.
“It really soars and for us it’s an enjoyable experience and an honour to be singing historical music in historical places of worship.”
The setting also lets the Baebes perform more intimate shows, engaging audiences fully with their stirring, ethereal melodies.
They’ve certainly made a name for themselves over the past 20 years. Three of their albums have entered the top of the classical charts and their contribution to the BBC’s Virgin Queen soundtrack, composed by Martin Phipps, led to an Ivor Novello Award. More recently, fans of ITV’s Victoria will have heard the Mediaeval Baebes’ haunting voices on the title sequence. Working with Martin Phipps again, this earned the group two Emmy nominations.
So it’s surprising that Marie didn’t have professional singing ambitions before joining in 1996.
“I met Katharine Blake (musical director) in a field,” she says, explaining that she approached a young woman singing to herself at a festival.
Impressed, Marie asked Katharine what the music was and learned that it was mediaeval.
“I expressed my fascination and she just turned around and asked ‘do you want to join my band?’.
“She didn’t know whether I could sing. I guess I must have had the right look,” Marie laughs.
The next week she turned up for rehearsals and six months later the girls landed a record deal, releasing their debut album Salva Nos in 1997.
Marie had studied performing arts – theatrical training at De Montfort University – so the band was a great chance to show off.
“That’s always been a big motivator to me,” she says wryly.
But, joking aside, Marie had a genuine interest in the Middle Ages and pushed to make dancing part of the act with the help of a historical choreographer.
“I guess everybody has a sort of romanticism about that time,” she muses. “Knights and nobility, the costumes, the idea of chivalry, love and loss, and, I suppose, fighting for beliefs and fighting for truth.”
As Marie says, in our technology obsessed modern age it can feel like we’ve lost these things. The Mediaeval Baebes offer a way to reclaim them.
However, despite her passion for the group, Marie hasn’t been a member for the whole two decades. She left in 2007, relocating to New York when her then husband Torsten Luth became senior vice president of Atlantic Records.
“I didn’t want to leave the Mediaeval Baebes, so that was quite traumatising initially,” Marie says. “But when I moved to New York I fell in love with it almost immediately.”
She still has dreams about the experience but, now 45 and living in London, Marie’s thrilled to be back with her band.
“I guess my life didn’t feel right without it,” she says. “I feel so much happier now, so much more complete.”
There’s a new album to look forward to as well, one that’s full of nursery rhymes. Like much of the Baebes’ work it’s an intriguing musical document of English folklore and history.
“The arrangements that Katharine has written are definitely in line with the repertoire of the Mediaeval Baebes,” Marie says. “Although thematically it might seem like a departure, it’s not really in essence.”
It’s business as usual then – captivating songs in a variety of languages, all performed by seven fair ladies in long, flowing dresses.
But maybe there’s one difference.
“When we first started, Katharine just got a group of friends together,” Marie says. “We were girls in our early 20s and quite a riotous bunch so there were lots of hijinks and some bad behaviour.”
“I guess now everybody’s a bit more serious, a bit more dedicated,” she laughs. “And some of the girls have families and children so the hijinks don’t come into play so much.”
The St Mary’s church, Horsham, concert starts at 8pm (doors 7.30pm).
Tickets cost £25 from www.mediaevalbaebes.com.
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