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Members include Katharine Blake, vocals, composer, arranger; Dorothy Carter (born in 1935, in New York, NY; died on June 7, 2003, in New Orleans, LA), multi-instrumentalist, composer; Teresa Casella (born on December 19, 1967, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada), vocals; Audrey Evans (born on October 28, 1974, in Brussels, Belgium); vocals; Marie Findley (born on February 7, 1972), vocals; Nichole Frobusch (left group, 2000), vocals; Ruth Galloway (born on September 23, 1968; left group, 2002), vocals; Melanie Garside (a.k.a. Maple Bee; joined group, 2003), vocals; Vince Johnson (born on July 28, 1965), percussion; Karen Lupton (left group, 2000), vocals; Emily Ovenden (born on December 24, 1975), vocals; Claire Ravel (born on December 8, 1972, in the United Kingdom), vocals; Cylindra Sapphire (born on April 15, 1971, in Australia), vocals; Carmen Schneider (left group, 2002), vocals; Trevor Sharpe (left group, 2002), instrumentalist; Nichole Sleet (left group, 2000), vocals; Rachel Van Asch (born on April 7, 1971, in New Zealand), vocals; Stephen Yates, guitar. Addresses: Record company--Nettwerk Records, 8730 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 304, Beverly Hills, CA 90211, website: http://www.nettwerkamerica.com. Office--Mediaeval Baebes Ltd., P.O. Box 17886, London N19 5WH, England. Management--Susan Wincott, Crucible Management, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website--Mediaeval Baebes Official Website: http://www.mediaevalbaebes.com.
Mediaeval Baebes is an all-female ensemble from the United Kingdom, known in the international media as much for how they dress as for their music. The group originated on a lark and grew quickly, as friends invited friends to sing with the ensemble. Soon after recording a demo, Mediaeval Baebes was signed to the Virgin label, where the group became the fastest-selling act on the label, second only to the Spice Girls. Their vocal musical style, steeped in ancient traditions, has topped the charts.
The group was originally founded by Katharine Blake and Dorothy Carter in 1996 as an a cappella vocal group. Blake, a British classically trained musician who has worked with Michael Nyman and Nick Cave among others, said she founded the Mediaeval Baebes "just for fun." Her idea was to gather women friends to sing a few medieval songs at informal gatherings. While traveling in Germany she met Carter, who played hurdy-gurdy and dulcimer, and who eventually composed music for the group.
Carter's talent for playing hurdy-gurdy, zither, and dulcimer inspired Blake to begin exploring ancient music, and she recruited other friends to join in the project. "Twelve was as many people as you could fit into Katharine's sitting-room," group member Ruth Galloway told the Independent in a 1998 interview. When the group was formed in 1996, there were 12 members plus Carter. In addition to Blake and Carter, there were Teresa Casella, who was in the band Miranda Sex Garden with Blake; Audrey Evans; comic writer Marie Findley; Nichole Frobusch; and Ruth Galloway. Other members included Karen Lupton; Claire Ravel; Australian native Cylindra Sapphire; Carmen Schneider; Nichole Sleet; and New Zealander Rachel Van Asch. Members held various day jobs, from actor to computer programmer to clothing and jewelry designer.
Of the group, few had had formal music training, although four of the members were able to read music. Blake, who had attended Purcell School of Music, began serving as the group's musical director. Her selections typically included both religious and secular music. She also composed music for the group based on medieval texts and poems. "The approach is very spirited, as opposed to the emphasis being on perfection," said Blake in Interview. "We sound like real people because we are." Costumes and theatrical fantasy also became a part of the Baebes persona. Blake told John Nelson in a National Public Radio (NPR) interview, that "a medieval babe is someone that dresses up in very silly costumes with lots of silly headdresses and sings in about eight or nine different medieval languages. ... We're very clever."
The band was signed by Virgin Records a few weeks after recording its first demo. Within months of its 1997 release in the United Kingdom, Salva Nos had sold more than 60,000 copies and stayed at the second position on the charts for months. In a February 1998 feature, U.S. News & World Report called the group "the latest--and most brazen--effort to give classical music a hipper image and a wider audience. ... But Salva Nos could become the first classical hit to rely mainly on inspired amateurism and pop marketing." Indeed, much of the press compared the group to the manufactured girl pop of The Spice Girls. Blake told Interview, "We're signed to the same record label and we're sexy ladies who sing. But that's where the similarities end. We're into fantasy, not getting our faces on crisps packets." Group member Van Asch told Billboard that such comparisons were "a horrible piece of sexist nonsense."
The group's music continued to be popular, particularly in the United Kingdom. Van Asch told Billboard that she attributes this to jaded ears. "My analogy is that listening to the music is like reading a fairy story. ...Your mind gets taken to a special otherworldly place--a strange place of serenity, magic, and beauty. Certainly in England people are jaded with the same kind of regurgitated Britpop fusion spewing out over the years. But this music is very uplifting and serene and tranquil." Worldes Blysse, released in 1998, sold more than 250,000 copies worldwide. It went immediately to top the classical music charts in the United Kingdom, debuting at number one. The success prompted invitations for the group to perform at the 1998 Glastonbury Festival and on the 1999 Lilith Fair tour.
Stephen Pedersen wrote in the Halifax Herald, "In spite of the drooling-at-the-mouth publicity, the Baebes are no mediaeval Spice Girls. They sing beautifully, with fresh, sweet voices, performing with elegance and an air of girlish innocence, a mostly 14th-century repertoire of church motets. These are augmented by original settings of middle English poetry from the time of Chaucer, composed by leader Katherine Blake. ... Her melodies are haunting, eerily true to the 14th-century style, as are her arrangements in which simple vocal lines are harmonized in fourths, fifths, thirds and sixths, all simple intervals that lend themselves to purity of intonation and tone."
The Baebes began to note that they had a wide base of fans--from pop music aficionados to lovers of goth-rock, and even the club crowd. Several unofficial remixes of Baebes songs were reportedly being played in United Kingdom dance clubs in the late 1990s. The next Mediaeval Baebes project, Undrentide, was produced in 2000 by John Cale, best known as a member of Velvet Underground. Three members left the group that year--Frobusch, Lupton, and Sleet--and Schneider left in 2002, along with Galloway, who exited with the understanding she might make occasional appearances with the group. Trevor Sharpe, a more recent group member, also left that year. The group released The Rose in 2002.
By 2002 the group was singing in a wider variety of rustic dialects, including Mediaeval Welsh and Russian. Their approach had evolved into "taking what we want from the past and making it new," according to Blake in the NPR interview. Mediaeval Baebes was now an eight-vocalist group. During this period they also added percussionist Vince Johnson and Stephen Yates, a classical guitarist who was widely recognized for his work by such publications as Guitarist Magazine.
The group mourned the death of Dorothy Carter in 2003. "Dorothy was unique, truly and utterly unique," wrote Findley in a tribute on the group's website. "I was always so impressed that she could do things I suspected I would grow too sensible to do. She was growing old disgracefully and I was proud of her. ... She had modesty so deeply ingrained that she hated to take the praise she so rightly deserved." In the fall of 2003, Mediaeval Baebes released Mistletoe and Wine. It was their first holiday-themed project, the second produced by Cale, their fifth for Nettwerk America. Among the traditional songs covered by the group were "Greensleeves," "Carol of the Bells," and "Scarborough Fair." They also added a new Baebe, Melanie "Maple Bee" Garside, in December of 2003.
by Linda Dailey Paulson
Mediaeval Baebes's Career
Group formed in London by Katharine Blake and Dorothy Carter, 1996; signed to Virgin Records and released Salva Nos, 1997; released Worldes Blysse, 1998; released Undrentide, 2000; released The Rose, 2002; released Mistletoe and Wine, 2003.
- Selected discography
- Salva Nos Virgin, 1998; Nettwerk, 1998.
- Worldes Blysse Virgin, 1998; Nettwerk, 1999.
- Undrentide BMG Classics, 2000; Nettwerk, 2000.
- The Rose Nettwerk, 2002.
- Mistletoe and Wine: A Seasonal Collection Nettwerk, 2003.
- Billboard, August 8, 1998.
- Birmingham Post (England), April 18, 2001.
- Daily Telegraph, November 20, 1997.
- Entertainment Weekly, September 18, 1998.
- Halifax Herald (Nova Scotia), December 3, 1998.
- Independent, April 18, 1998; October 17, 1998.
- Interview, January 1998.
- New Statesman, May 20, 2002.
- Time International, January 26, 1998.
- U.S. News & World Report, February 9, 1998.
- "Mediaeval Baebes," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (January 17, 2004).
- "Mediaeval Baebes," Nettwerk Records, http://www.nettwerklabel.com/bio.jsp?artist_id=645 (January 17, 2004).
- Mediaeval Babes Official Website, http://www.mediaevalbaebes.com (January 17, 2004).
- Additional information was obtained from a National Public Radio interview, "Katharine Blake and Rachel Van Asch discuss their musical group Mediaeval Baebes and medieval music," Weekend Edition, May 19, 2002.
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