Smoke Fairies @ The Sunflower Lounge, 7th February 2020

The venue fills up early on in the evening in preparation for John J Presley ‘s support slot.  He has frequented the stage at The Sunflower Lounge many a time in various bands and solo arrangements, however, tonight it is just him and drummer, Paul May, bringing his shadowy interpretation of the blues to the place.  Feedback swirls around the room to lay the foundations for what is to follow beginning with Dance With Me, taken from the album As The Night Draws In, commanding the stage as his guitar shifts between wails and a weighty, dirty riff.

With Left, Presley demonstrates his ability to write a memorable if not catchy single. As the pounding bass drum signals a change of pace, John Presley’s vocals encapsulate a less refined edge to present a blistering piece of music. There is minimal conversation between songs other than gratitude for the deserved appreciation he is receiving, even when tuning his guitar he doesn’t feel the need for conversation as he has a natural ease about being on stage. The musical communication between Presley and May is palpable throughout the short set, noticeably during the final track, Riders, that allows for a hint of inertia to begin with but slowly crescendos into a depth of sound which requires both musicians to tread the fine line of sensitivity and power. Certainly John J Presley has been a superb choice to support the Smoke Fairies return, furthermore, he doubles up as a more than worthy bass player for the band too. 

Smoke Fairies have been on hiatus for a number of years, apparently due to assessing their life moments when they went onstage after the Sussex Vegetable Choir, yet they have returned for a near sell out tour as they underestimated their popularity and chose smaller size venues.  Needless to say, this works exceptionally well for those of us who have managed to secure entry to event.  The duo, Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies, have just released their latest album Darkness Brings The Wonders Home which has received rave reviews including album of the day on 6 Music plus a live set on long time supporter Marc Riley ‘s show. 

The opening song is the final track from the album, Super Tremolo, and their ethereal vocal harmonies flow across the anticipatory audience as the complementary guitar parts add a grooving heaviness. This intensity continues into Chew Your Bones with its repetitive drive intertwined with restrained vocals that show you hints of potentiality to make the song so intriguing. Meanwhile there is a whiskey explosion that on top of the smoke machine causing a throat issue, the irony of which is not lost, makes the stage a treacherous place to be but not enough to deter a fabulous rendition of Out Of The Woods.  With its fascinating construction and innovative use of breaks, it reminds me of QOTSA but with more a intricate and folk-centric vocal lines. The set moves towards a couple of older songs, Eclipse Them All that Jessica’s voice beautifully crescendo at key points followed by the exquisite Summer Fades which perfectly captures the essence of resurgence.

Amusingly Katherine requires a whiskey top up and owing to the compacted state of the venue she has no hope without audience assistance, so a metal cup is passed back to the sound desk and then passed forward suitably filled. She quips that this is something her parents would have advised against and illustrates a dry sense of humour and a certain increased on stage confidence that has developed since I last saw them five years ago. Returning to the recent album, Smoke Fairies continue with Disconnect which was the first single to be released.  This sees a switch in tempo to a song that gathers pace during the chorus led by Sean Fallowfield whose drumming has been meritorious throughout, instinctively enhancing each track without dominating. After The Rain returns the fragility to the set with its stripped back charm only to be led by Left To Roll into the gritty riff-driven Elevator which could easily see modern Iggy Pop taking vocal lead with its inkling of filth.The final track, The Three Of Us, starts with glorious use of slide guitar leading onto a gut wrenching chorus and a truly delicious instrumental section which combine to create a phenomenal song. 

Rather than fight their way off the stage only to return, the Smoke Fairies remain for a two song encore of Feel It Coming Near and Chocolate Rabbit. Feel It Coming Near is a tranquil number which is underpinned by arpeggios on the guitar swelling into vocal majesty whilst Chocolate Rabbit ends the set on a rock number, considering their album is number 1 in the rock and metal charts it shouldn’t be surprise! There is no question about the talent that has been displayed in the past hour or so by this duo. Every time I have had the good fortune to see the Smoke Fairies I come away overwhelmed by the true wondrous nature of their music and it amazes me that more people aren’t aware of their genius.


Reviewer: Toni Woodward

Photographer: Ian Dunn

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