The crowd’s hushed whispers are silenced as the Smoke Fairies take to the dimly lit stage all dressed in white and begin with Shadow Inversions, from their new album. The duo’s ethereal harmonies and subtle guitar lines flow throughout the venue supported by bass guitar, drums and keyboards which add a heaviness that isn’t necessarily conveyed on the record. The brief instrumental demonstrates Katherine Blamire’s talent on slide guitar which she acquired and crafted during her time in New Orleans.
Prior to the show, the level of audience noise is minimal but during the performance there is complete silence signifying the Smoke Fairies’ ability to hold people’s full attention.
The next song to unleash its beauty is Eclipse Them All, personally my favourite track from their latest album. The weight of the live drum performance contrasts perfectly with the mellow qualities of the vocals enhanced by a simple yet effective keyboard line. Strange Moon Rising returns us to the Smoke Fairies’ first album, with its stomping pace, slide guitar riff and mesmerizing viola melody, showing how their old and new work seamlessly complement each other. The essence of the Smoke Fairies’ music is the vocal harmonies which seem effortless and never fail to be perfectly in tune, with Jessica Davies alto tones contrasting beautifully with Katherine’s soprano voice. The otherwordly atmosphere created by the vocals has clear similarities with the likes of Hope Sandoval from Mazzy Star and Clannad’s Moya Brennan and is perfectly displayed during Summer Fades.
Noticeably, the women appear to barely communicate with each other despite the complexity of the vocal lines, it appears that they’re both so in tune with each other and experience the music in similar ways. Smoke Fairies are not overly chatty with the audience, and when they do converse you do sense a slight uneasiness about it, yet with a dry comedic element; however Blamire introduces Hope Is Religion by noting the subject matter is about their stubbornness to continue making music, for which I say Amen. Regularly through the set, they have swapped their guitars for keyboards and Koto sees them using samples to enrich the sound which takes their music in a different direction without abandoning the quintessential spirit of their work.
The set starts to draw to a close with the opening track from the new album, Smoke Fairies. We’ve Seen Birds is a surprisingly upbeat quirky number which temporarily changes the mood within the venue but Hotel Room thrusts the gig to another level. The pace of this track is a lot faster than on record but the when the guitar kicks in it the song enters a different realm. This is, without a shadow of a doubt, the track of the night. The main section of the set finishes with Are You Crazy? which sees a return to the keyboards that is slightly disappointing after such phenomenal playing during the previous song. Rather than leave the stage, Jessica just asks the audience if they would like to hear more, the response being a clear affirmative. The encore consists of Film Reel and the exquisitely beguiling Blood Speaks, with its gradual crescendo and impassioned vocal line, leaving everyone wanting more.
The first time I saw Smoke Fairies perform was at the same venue nearly two years ago and I proclaimed it to be the best gig I have seen at The Hare and Hounds. Therefore, I was slightly apprehensive as to whether seeing them again would take the sheen off my previous experience. As it turns out, my fear was misplaced. Smoke Fairies are truly spectacular. They make music that requires really listening to so you can hear all the intricate aspects and sense the utter beauty. I cannot urge you enough to see Smoke Fairies in a live environment as then you get the true impression of their work; they are a rare gem.
Review – Toni Woodward
Photos – Katie Foulkes