It is the last night of Independent Venue Week, the week long celebration of live music that takes place here in the UK every year. The 120 capacity Oporto Bar located on the edge of Leeds city centre is but one out of an incredible number of two hundred and thirty two such venues who have signed up for the event in 2020 and to mark the end of this year’s spectacular occasion they have no less than Smoke Fairies playing here.
For anyone who may not already be familiar with Smoke Fairies they have been around now for some 14 years and in that time have shared stages all over the world with many notable and suitably diverse acts including Bryan Ferry, Richard Hawley, Blitzen Trapper and Public Service Broadcasting not to mention having the additional kudos of being the first ever British act to have released a single on Jack White’s revered label Third Man Records.
Smoke Fairies comprise Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies and by the end of 2015 the two women had already released five critically acclaimed studio albums, one live offering and made a number of guest appearances on recordings by other artists. After all this productivity it seems as if a break must have been required as Blamire and Davies then took what turned out to be, essentially, a four year hiatus from the world of music.
But Smoke Fairies are back. And they have returned with a new album, Darkness Brings The Wonders Home, and a string of dates across this country to promote the record. Yet instead of opting for larger venues that their well-established history and deserved reputation would merit, to their great credit the band have chosen to play in a series of smaller pubs, arts venues, and in-stores. Not surprisingly all of the dates on the tour have long since sold out.
Emerging from beneath the huge Knave’s Kitchen Menu sign at the back of the Oporto’s music room, Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies are piped onto the stage to the sound of Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s ‘Cinnamon Girl’. They are joined in a slightly surreal procession that snakes its way through the packed crowd by drummer Sean Fallowfield and John J Presley, the Brighton-based electric bluesman who had already put in a sterling shift as tonight’s support act but clearly still has plenty of petrol left in the tank to take on additional guitar duties with Smoke Fairies.
And it is straight to the new album that Smoke Fairies go, plundering it for the first three songs of the evening. Trapped inside the dark and challenging times in which we now find ourselves, and driven along mercilessly by gritty guitars and relentless rhythms, ‘Super Tremelo’, ‘Chew Your Bones’ and ‘Out of the Woods’ capture intense feelings of social isolation and apprehension.
Even when Smoke Fairies step back in time for ‘Eclipse Them All’ and ‘Summer Fades’ (taken from 2014’s self-titled album and 2010’s Through Low Light and Trees respectively) their music has assumed a new air of sinisterism that was perhaps not immediately apparent on their earlier studio recordings.
But it is the newer material that provides us with the greatest revelation. In their time spent one step removed from the musical fray, like some sonic chameleon Smoke Fairies have shed the last of their softer folk-infused skin and replaced it with a much deeper, darker epidermis. Their new sound still retains those classic Laurel Canyon harmonies but these are now underpinned by killer riffs replete with discomfort and foreboding. And with its nagging insistency, ‘Don’t You Want To Spiral Out of Control?’ encourages you to do just exactly that.
Photos: Simon Godley
More photos from this show are HERE