Danielle DePicciotto & Friends w/ Katherine Blake

Katherine Blake “I am a hopeless goth and romantic”

Katherine Blake

I met Katherine Blake in the mid 90ies in Berlin. My first glimpse was of a blond-haired waif playing flute on the bar of the ExnPop, an infamous underground dive and favourite hang-out of Nick Cave, Blixa Bargeld and sometimes Iggy Pop. Her flowing femininity, old fashioned melodies and British accent shimmered beautifully in the dark, post war, German industrial music scene and she quickly befriended the incredibly creative underground crowd of those times.

She was in Berlin to perform together with Meret Becker at the “Bar Jeder Vernunft” but could be found singing or playing her flute at various eclectic performance evenings, thus meeting the American musician, Dorothy Carter. Dorothy was delighted to find out how prolific Katherine was in the world of Elizabethan Madrigals, as she herself was a master of old-fashioned instruments, such as the hurdy gurdy or the Dulcimer, and so it was only a matter of time until the two charismatic women seriously started collaborating on a musical project. After founding Mediæval Bæbes in London, they were flying internationally to perform, and become wildly successful. The band debuted at number 1 in the classical chats with their “Salva Nos” album and performs up to today with rotating members around Katherine.

Not only a charismatic artist but also a passionate visionary, Katherine had already brought a similar style of music to Berlin with her Band Miranda Sex Garden in the early 90ies. Their madrigals combining a dark gothic wave and ethereal style, attracted FM Einheit to participate musically and Alexander Hacke of Einstürzende Neubauten to produce the band, resulting in “Fairytales of Slavery” which was released in 1994. Between 1991-2000 Miranda Sex Garden released five albums and then fell into a Sleeping Beauty slumber from which they have just awoken.

Today Katherine is working on releasing their new EP ‘Velventine’ and preparing a tour with the new members. Thankfully she could take the time to answer some of my questions. It is always such a pleasure speaking to women that consistently follow their vision through decades, creating a glowing path of creativity, comparable to a comet streaking through a dark sky, burning, unstoppable, invincible, and composing their beautiful, distinctive universe. There is nothing as inspiring.

Danielle de Picciotto: As far as I know all of your different musical projects deal with mediaeval music and lyrics. Be it in a rock goth style with Miranda Sex Garden or more Elizabethan Madrigal style with Mediaeval Babes. What is it about this musical style that has captivated you for almost thirty years? Do you have a strong connection to classical music? What would you say were your most influential composers?

Katherine Blake: DThe first Miranda Sex Garden album “Madra’ was an a cappella album of Elizabethan madrigals. I first started singing these love songs whilst at school at The Purcell School of Music which is where I met Jocelyn West and Kelly McCusker, the original line up of Miranda Sex Garden. I think these songs appealed to me because I am a hopeless romantic and was enchanted by the idealised form of love known as ‘courtly love, which the text to these songs explored, where poets would worship women from afar and draw inspiration from these muses. The muse had to be unattainable so that the writer could maintain his fantasy relationship. This tradition began in mediaeval times, with Dante’s muse, a famous example of this. I set a passage from Dante’s Inferno for Mediaeval Baebes entitled ‘Beatrice’ where his muse is calling to him and reassuring him as he journeys through Hell. I have set many, many ancient and romantic poems to music with Mediaeval Baebes. I especially enjoy setting the work of anonymous poetry, often in Middle English. There is something very magical about breathing new life into ancient words. I have done this so extensively that it really is too much to go into here, but one thing that have really inspired me is the setting of Ancient Arabic erotic poetry written by women, which I have set for Mediaeval Baebes and my music project “The Witching Tale’ where I collaborate with my partner, multi-instrumentalist and synthesist Michael J York
After the first Miranda Sex Garden album with the addition of guitarist Ben Golomstock RIP and drummer Trevor Sharpe we morphed into an avant-garde goth rock band and that was when I moved away from ancient texts and arrangements and started writing my own lyrics and songs for the first time, though many of the classical traits remained. The forming of Mediaeval Baebes saw me retuning to antiquated music and texts for inspiration.


Mediæval Bæbes

You have been working with Mediæval Bæbes since the early 90s when you started out with Dorothy Carter – how did she influence the band and how has the band changed over the years? How has the music industry changed in your realm? Has it become easier with platforms like Bandcamp or Spotify?

I met Dorothy Carter in the mid 90s while performing in a show entitled ‘Noctambule’ in Berlin. I was enchanted by her voice, and her wonderfully cranky old instruments, so much so that I invited her to come and stay with me in London and form what was to become Mediaeval Baebes in 1996. I got her together with a whole gaggle of my female friends, and we convinced them that what they needed to be doing was singing mediaeval music and prancing around in long white flowing dresses. The rest was history.
I feel lucky that with both my bands MSG and MB that I had record company support from the beginning, with Mute Records and Virgin. Without this machinery initially behind me I wouldn’t have the fan base that I do. I have been releasing stuff on my own label ‘Bellissima Records’ for many years now. I manage myself and write, arrange, record, and produce all my own music. I really enjoy this independence and acknowledge that it is because of record company involvement earlier on in my career that I’m able to do this successfully. Bandcamp are the good guys. They take a very small commission, and I would recommend this platform to anyone looking to self-release.

Miranda Sex Garden

You reformed Miranda Sex Garden in 2022 after a 20-year hiatus. Why did you miss the band and in what way has it changed to the way it was before? Do you think the “Sex’n’drugs’n’rock’n’roll” lifestyle has changed since the 80ies?

It was such a joy and unbelievable thrill to get back on stage with Miranda Sex Garden after a 22-year hiatus. After performing for so long with Mediaeval Baebes in a more formal classical style, it was amazing to let loose once again in a more wild and abandoned way. I feel very fortunate to now being doing both, and also performing live with ‘The Witching Tale’ where there is room for improvisation against the backdrop of psychedelic synthesiser music. I think sex, drugs and rock’n’roll is still very much alive, but this ethos/aesthetic/lifestyle seems to be enjoyed more by us of the older generation, rather than a youth movement where interests seem to have shifted considerably (I don’t doubt that young people still have sex and party, but not in such a rock’n’rolll way)

Does your music react to contemporary trends or news headlines, or do you work in a creative bubble, safely hidden from outside influences?

I have never had any interest in following trends. Miranda Sex Garden were completely out of sync in the 90s when everything was about dance music/Brit Pop/grunge. We just didn’t fit in and were ridiculed for being pretentious. This didn’t bother me. I just carry on doing my thing. If it any point what I’m doing is perceived as being ‘trendy’ it will only be through coincidence. If you’re not trendy or current in the first place, then you can’t go out of fashion. Maintaining your own aesthetic and authenticity is how to succeed long term, rather than chasing something transitory.

Mediæval Bæbes

You have always worked with a lot of women. Is this unintentional, or due to the music style or do you specifically enjoy working with large groups of female musicians? Have you experienced discrimination? What female artists inspire you?

As one of my core talents/interests is writing choral music for female voices, I naturally need a choir to be able to achieve this. Apart from the practical necessity, I love being around other women. We have so much FUN. There is a delirium that can often set in whilst on tour that has been described as ‘A hen night on wheels’ Mediaeval Baebes tours are very raucous affairs. We are bold, bawdy, and irreverent. This collective of women, which has enjoyed so many incarnations, has given me so much joy and inspiration. I can’t see it ending for a long time. I look forward to our 30th anniversary in 2026.

I have experienced very little sexual discrimination. I have been fortunate to work with people who have treated me with the respect I deserve. There have been a few occasions where I have been less than happy with others treatment of me, but now I am my own boss and enjoy full independence, this is very much a thing of the past.

The Witching Tale 

What are your lyrics based on?

My lyrics for Miranda Sex Garden have always strived to create a sensual and other-worldly tone. They are often based on dreams or sexual fantasies or both. The lyrics to our latest single ‘Velventine’ which was written and recorded in part back in 2000, explores sexual submission and strangulation, but presented in a romantic, faerie tale way, as I sing to a dominant character named ‘Velventine’ The lyrics are represented in the video through my collaboration with Shibari artist Conor Aphilia. I have never experienced being restrained before in rope bondage, and it was a very moving experience. The total loss of control moved me to tears in the filming and made me feel like I was returning to the childhood dreams that so many of my lyrics are based on.

What your influences in literature?

I have set so much poetry to music that it’s hard to know where to start! As I said earlier, I have a particular love of the anonymous Middle English poetry of the mediaeval period. I have also set a lot of Latin to music, my favourite of which is the 13th century manuscripts of the Benedictbeuern Monastery. The monks who wrote these texts were considered hieratical by many who found their writings inappropriately secular and sensual for men of the cloth. These texts have been famously set to music by Carl Orff in his Carmina Burana and make up the texts of many Mediaeval Baebes songs.

Do you also do spoken word? Poetry?

There are a couple of tracks that I have recorded over the years where I recite rather than sing words, but generally I just stick to singing.

How do you go about recording? Do you have your own studio? Are you a tech nerd?

I have a home studio set up. It’s very basic because that is all I need. I have a posh mic, a 2-channel interface and I engineer in LogicPro which I have been doing since about 2000. With this set up I am able to produce music from home. If I need to record a drum kit or a live choir I will need to go into a studio. Much of the Mediaeval Baebes choral sound is achieved by working with singers individually and layering it all together. Sometimes the nature of the composition, often the a cappella material, requires a live choir scenario. I’m not really interested in gear. For me it is a means to an end. My one requitement is a high-quality microphone, and the rest is down to the quality of the composition, performance, editing and mixing, all of which I am very passionate about.

How has Brexit changed the landscape for your music? Can you feel a difference in your creative community due to politics?

Well, going abroad to tour Europe isn’t as easy as it used to be, in fact this tour that I’m about to embark upon with Miranda Sex Garden in May, will be my first overseas shows since Brexit. Fingers crossed it all goes smoothly.

What are you working on currently and what are your plans for the future?

I am currently writing material for a new Miranda Sex Garden album. I have recently written one of my favourite songs ever, which we will be performing on this upcoming tour. It’s called ‘The Promise’ and explores the theme of vampire love…. Yes, I am a hopeless goth and romantic, but there’s plenty like me out there!!


Miranda Sex Garden Tour
MAY 07, The Garage,  London, United Kingdom
MAY 19,  Poppodium Nieuwe Nor Heerlen, Netherlands
MAY 20,  Le Botanique, Brussels, Belgium
MAY 21, Exchange,  Bristol, United Kingdom
MAY 23,  The Castle & Falcon, Birmingham, United Kingdom

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