Since their formation in 1996 by Katharine Blake and the late Dorothy Carter, Mediæval Bæbes are one of the most successful folk ensembles to come out of England. They’ve released eight studio albums, two live albums, and had three chart-topping releases whilst selling out international tours. Including two Emmy nominations for their soundtrack to the ITV hit period drama, Victoria starring Doctor Who alumni, Jenna Coleman in the title role.
Their ninth studio album, A Pocketful of Posies, follow-up to 2013’s Of Kings and Angels, showcases both the folklore and meanings of the connecting history on Nursery Rhymes. Blake made these embryonic arrangements to the songs with her husband and partner Nick Marsh, singer-songwriter for The Urban Voodoo Machine, and From the Deep back in 2015.
Unfortunately, things took a different turn when Marsh was diagnosed with Cancer in 2014. Sadly, after a 15-month battle, he passed away in June of 2015. Katharine continued working on the album. And throughout her tragedy, music was her reliable hope in escapism. It has these dark and nightmarish visions throughout listening to A Pocketful of Posies. Not only you can feel her pain, but the struggle and the courage to move forwards.
Some of the centerpieces on A Pocketful of Posies, showcases Mediæval Bæbes’ structures of these Nursery Rhymes to a different level (With a little help from Kavus Torabi and Charlie Cawood of Knifeworld). Bye Baby Bunting has some of these operatic vocal arrangements that goes for a few seconds before transcending into this surreal arrangement of the Northettes (Barbara Gaskin, Ann Rosenthal, and Amanda Parsons).
They were a vocal trio that made contributions between Egg’s third and final studio album, The Civil Surface and Hatfield and the North’s first sole self-titled debut album while the voice of a little girl opens up with “Aww, poor Humpty!” begins the dramatic fall of Humpty Dumpty. The sound of piano strings being strummed and the harp having this free-improvisation to the vocals, opens up these minimal approaches that showcase the demise of Humpty’s head being cracked open to deliver some scrambled eggs.
The Grand Old Duke of York begins with Ben Woolacott’s militant drum intro by setting up the medieval (no pun intended) themes of early consort music as the vocals are combined into one by going in one direction and another as they increase the levels of the sound of children having fun in the background with Oranges & Lemons.
From its late ‘60s baroque introduction, There Was a Crooked Man sends the listener into the deep, dark forests by witnessing the old man’s intability to walk before returning to the Canterbury genre in acapella sound that Katherine sings with an eerie scenario on London Bridge is Falling Down. The storm and ominous chills of the magical saw section from See Saw Margery Daw becomes this cackling laugh by creating this nightmarish crime scene gone horribly wrong.
This was my third listen of A Pocketful of Posies and my introduction to the world Mediæval Bæbes. I have to say I was very impressed because I wanted to check them out after I believe reading about them in PROG Magazine many years ago. I’m not quite what year and issue it was, but this was a great introduction to discover this amazing ensemble that captures the styles of Consort, Renaissance, Classical, Minimal, and Folk rolled into one.
With A Pocketful of Posies, Katharine brought everything to a standstill and bringing the Nursery Rhymes into a different scenario. And it works very well. I hope that one day, I will check out their music to see what I was missing. Because this is a very good beginning for me start to delve into the waters of Mediæval Bæbes music.