My first venture into the mystical, ethereal world of the Mediaeval Baebes.
I have a tendency, when going through troubled times, to reach for supernatural assistance, despite being a life-long atheist. During low periods in my 20s, I had tried to fumble my way through prayer and meditation as a (short-lived) solution, and in 2005, coming to terms with the aftermath of my ill-advised and disastrous relationship with Crush Boy, I found myself drawn to the occultish world of Wicca, witchcraft and paganism, to see if it could offer any help.
And, unlike with prayer and meditation, there are aspects of these traditions that did help, and which I still find myself contemplating to this day, such as the importance of a connection to the natural world, and the opportunity for exploring unexpected avenues of thought. But most importantly of all, they led me to discovering a truly glorious band: the Mediaeval Baebes.
It was in perusing the line-up for this particular Witchfest, pondering whether I was truly interested enough in witchy things to attend, that I saw the evening would end in a concert from the Baebes, and so I decided to investigate their oevre. I only had to watch the grainy, pixellated upload of the video for “Temptasyon” on the Witchfest site to find myself hooked, and very soon I’d downloaded all their albums and bought myself a ticket to this celebration of all things mystical and magickal.
So it was off to Croydon that I adventured this autumn day in 2005. The event would end in the Baebes concert, but of course their were many diversions leading up to that – talks, seminars, workshops, and untold stalls selling witchy accoutrements. I bought myself a pentacle ring which would go on to cause a few worried exclamations from patients when I wore it at my outpatients receptionist job. Sadly, it seems that I have lost this accessory somewhere along the way.
Two things from the day, apart from the concert, stand out in my memory. The first was one of the talks I attended during the day, which came from Terry Pratchett. I’d read and enjoyed a few Discworld books at this point, but was a few years away from delving into the series from start to finish, when Terry would become my favourite author of all time. I didn’t know what to expect from his talk, but I remember it as very witty and warm, with Terry’s dig at Neil Gaiman’s revolving wardrobe of black t-shirts sticking in my memory.
The other enduring memory is that, throughout the day, I’d been mildly alarmed to see a gang of big, burly men roaming the site with their faces painted pitch black and wearing demonic outfits covered in skulls and black feathers. Who could these hellish warlocks be, I wondered? Certainly I never expected to stumble upon them in the atrium at the end of the day, just before the concert, and find them prancing and leaping about, clacking sticks with a troupe of similarly attired women. I had never in my life witnessed Morris dancing up close before, and only knew of its reputation of being somewhat naff and silly. But this performance, from Wolf’s Head and Vixen Morris, was one of the most incredible things I’d ever seen. Time and time again they swooped in towards each other at speed, and by some strange alchemy didn’t crash, just clacked their sticks and glided out again. It left me with a strong desire to learn to Morris myself, although I have as yet never been brave enough to attend a lesson.
A fantastic prelude then to the Baebes. I found myself a seat in the second row of the concert hall, whereupon I was immediately recognised and greeted by a young woman a few seats down from me, who turned out to be a regular patient of the cystic fibrosis clinic at the Royal Brompton Hospital where I worked. (Here in 2020 it’s 13 years since I left my full-time post in that Outpatients department, and yet I do still from time to time get recognised by some of the patients I regularly saw during my ten years in that job. It’s a weird kind of fame, but I’ll take it!)
And the Baebes were as magical and mesmerising as I had expected, though sadly, as once again I did not report on the gig in my diary, I have only fleeting memories of the gorgeously white-clad troupe of women, their wonderful harmonies and their multi-instrumental prowess.
And so this blog post ends in the same refrain as so many others of this era. That was the only time, so far, that I have seen the Mediaeval Baebes. I did book a ticket to see them at one of their Christmas church concerts a few years later, but it happened on a day when apocalyptic blizzards were forecast, and so I decided it was best to stay at home and not risk being stranded in King’s Cross. (The blizzards, needless to say, never appeared).
Early this year, the Baebes announced a series of singing workshops to take place in the spring, just when I was planning to take a break from my job and focus 100% on musical pursuits. I’d thought that would make an excellent start to my career break and planned to book myself a place, but just as I was considering it, the pandemic began to take hold, and so I decided it was best to wait and see what happened. And of course, we all now know what happened – everything was cancelled, these workshops and my own career break included.
And so once again I find myself saying the same thing I always do: once the pandemic is over, I will be at the Baebes’ next gig like a shot, and hopefully a singing workshop too, if they are rearranged. But there’s one connection to this gig, and this period of my life, that the pandemic has brought back to me. Having spent the last six months mostly cramped indoors staring at a computer screen, a need to reconnect with nature has sprung up inside me. And so I’ve found myself once again contemplating Wiccan concepts like the wheel of the year, the cycles of the seasons, and how I can fit them into my life in this virus-fearing era. Who knows? When things return to normal, you may find me wandering to Croydon once again to attend the next Witchfest and see what new wisdom may be imparted.
With that in mind, I should note that today as I post this, it is Samhain, which in some traditions marks the dawning of the new year. And so – just in case anyone of a witchy nature has found this post – I should take the opportunity to wish you a happy Samhain, and here’s hoping that the year to come is very, very different to the one we’ve just had.