The violinist comes on stage. He’s very tall and his tailcoat, ask wide tie and long hair and mostasche are how I consider a more genteel England might be attired. He looks considerate and pensive in a poetic sense. The rest of the band come on stage. Then the two female singers who are Smoke Fairies quietly take their places at the front. They appear a little bashful, malady but they have determined stares as they attach their instruments and look out to the audience. Their small frowns and concentrated expressions make them appear like they have been thrust on stage and are finding themselves dazed by the lights. Starstruck by their situation. But also it feels like reassurance; the two, click dressed in black mini dresses, are focused and aware that they behold the potential to have an audience in the palm of their hand. They look out and they know that a mood can be changed by the unison of their voices. They’re not nervous. Because their music is blinding.
The sound starts and the voices are slow. The guitars are played, fingers flickering on the notes, dancing in small circles. The electric strums are perfectly matched with the violin. The drums are hit and the two voices are joined and that’s the moment. This time it came earlier than expected. Charlie and I look at each other. A translation says; ‘this is good, I’m glad we came to this one’. Then following this is a quizzical eyebrow raise from him; ‘do we have their cd?’, before he spins me round, grabs my waist (bit annoying) and moves to the music. We try and get as lost as possible, which hopefully leads to synchronized swaying. Occasionally I look at him with my eyes wide: ‘This is EPIC’ (over use of this word through eyes/speech, noted). Oh how I love the difference between playing something off the old Mac and seeing the scenes played live. Even though it is of course a joy to sit/wallow/cry/smile/dance to tracks at home, some acts are just SO much more incredible in real life form. Like Smoke Fairies.
I’m telling you when they play together live on stage, it feels, well… I will have to use a simile – here follows: You know that advert for Ireland, when the lady is singing in her Enya (is it her?) voice and the camera is sweeping over the ridiculously green fields and coastlines of Ireland? A bit cringe but you get the image, it feels like you are the sweeper – as in you are sweeping/flying over amazing landscapes. Possibly wearing some tweed, definitely a cape with a hood. The music is more The Cranberries than Enya, but the flying sensation fits.
They also have a hefty 90s twang. Reminding me of Alicia’s Attic and The Shakespeare Sisters (you must know Stay?) – a bit grungy but with a little folk and blues twist. Their name; ‘Smoke Fairies’, fits perfectly with their ethereal, rocky and fantastical sound. From interviews past, I read that it alludes to the summer mist that collects in the hedgerows of Sussex’s narrow lanes. Being a childhood Sussex girl myself, I know this mist well. The old railway tracks by my house are dusty aired heavens; the hours spent walking the lanes, their vision, scent, sound and feel make for ‘home’ in a snapshot. Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire met at school in the fair county of Sussex. And (wisely) rather than 5ive, Wigfield etc. the pair preferred folk, classic rock and blues. So they got together and created their own sounds, moulding their preferences and harmonies. After school, they lived in New Orleans and Vancouver, before returning to go on tour with Brian Ferry in 2007. They have since received high acclaim from artists such as Richard Hawley and Jack White. The former took them on tour and the latter recording a single with the fairies.
Smoke Fairies live highlights for me were; Summer Fades, Gastown, Hotel Room and Strange Moon Rising. As they played their guitars, their concentration and dedication to each note was mesmerizing. Although they seemed a little distant between tracks at times, their music was confident and heavenly. I highly recommend you listen. Their album, Through Low Light and Trees is out now on V2.
Sea of Bees supported Smoke Fairies. As you may already know, I think Julie Ann Bee is superb. You can see from my review of her album, Song for The Ravens, available on Heavenly Recordings. Seeing her live, she was even more endearing than I had hoped. Somewhat of a contrast to Smoke Fairies’ mysterious mood, Julie broadly smiled and chatted between songs. She seemed really happy to be on stage, declaring her love for the South West’s cider and mentioning that since she was a child, she had in fact deeply wanted to be English. I got the impression that she yearned for this through the sugared lens of Mary Poppins, when she mentioned the singing dreampop, in the same way that we all live in castles and are close friends with Prince Harry. Not that England isn’t splendid. Regardless, when she talked of the Isle she sounded genuine and almost childlike. I get the impression that she has a very vivid imagination and a warm heart, perhaps under appreciated, but certainly obvious tonight. And in all her music of course.
Happily Julie’s singing on stage was as sweet as it is on her album, but with the high notes hitting the rooftops. Hearing her explain each song’s meaning was a delight not often had. And seeing her acting out the songs, her face frowning into the mid distance and then smiling… looking to the imaginary stars – made her album’s preconceived character a reality. Her feelings manifesting themselves in her music, she seems almost vulnerable, but utterly lovable.
She talks and sings of dreams and following them, of saying goodbye to past loves and the joy of friends. All that we can relate to, but that we could never articulate with such beautiful sounds as she does. As sugary as a sugar mouse, as heavenly as a glass of Peach Prosecco on a cloud. Song For The Ravens is out now on Heavenly Recordings.
- An interview with the Smoke Fairies
- Sea of Bees: Songs for the Ravens – Album Review
- An interview with Julie Ann Baenziger of Sea of Bees
- Hot Club De Paris – Live At Dead Lake
- Album Review – Anna Calvi