Ahead of their upcoming tour, and prior to the release of their long awaited album, Smoke Fairies played a great warm-up gig at Elsewhere in Margate. On a dreary, very wet and cold Sunday night motivation to go outside was not exactly running high but I reminded myself that the last time I saw Smoke Fairies (In the Folk Tent at Lounge On The Farm in 2011) I had not been disappointed. On that occasion I had stepped away from the main stage where The Streets were mid-performance and found Katherine and Jessica holding their audience transfixed.
Nearly nine years on, and with a new album 'Darkness Brings The Wonders Home', due for release at the end of month, the Chichester duo were no less engaging as they performed a twelve track set of songs made up of both new and older material. Before Blamire and Davies took to the stage however there was a support slot from Charlie Hannah.
Charlie gave a solo performance without his backing band The Haus Plants; "They didn't want them" he said. In his colour co-ordinated outfit of a green and orange sleeveless cardi, green shirt with matching orange flecks, orange jeans and green trainers, he sat at the keyboard and championed his own unique brand/genre of 'Domestica'. Singing songs about washing machines, reversing entropy (otherwise known as tidying his room) and stewing, I'm still not quite sure how seriously he wanted to be taken. With three albums of songs to his name, as well as his work with Itchy Teeth and Starfish Men, and a new album due out later this year, he had no shortage of material. He sang 'I Can Never Go Back', a song about his childhood "in the style of Edith Piaf"; 'Lower The Bar', a song about achieving a happier life by lowering your expectations; and finished on a song inspired by the late Dr John, 'Signor Olivio's'. He explained that he was currently the only artist to identify himself as a 'Domestica' artist and after witnessing his somewhat bemusing performance I can see why.
The very welcome return of Smoke Fairies to the stage quickly put paid to the head scratching caused by Hannah. Katherine and Jessica looked a little tentative at times as they set about entertaining the Margate crowd but put on a great performance as they showcased some of their new songs. They started with last year's September single 'Disconnect' and followed it with an as yet unreleased track, 'Super Tremolo'. There's a subtle shift towards a more direct, energised and harder hitting style with the latest Smoke Fairies songs that lends itself to live performance. The interplay and exchange of guitar work coupled with the vocal collaborations make smoke Fairies a compelling watch.
The first of their older songs was the hypnotic 'Eclipse Them All' from 2014's eponymous album before their latest singles, 'Chew Your Bones' and 'Elevator'. The scuzzy guitar of the latter setting up its revolving chorus highlight the change in Smoke Fairies sound since last we heard from them. A return to the duo's more Folksy roots saw them perform the gentler 'After The Rain' before another of their newer songs, 'Out Of The Woods'. The more intense, harder hitting song that breaks and builds so effectively showcases the talents of both Blamire and Davies quite brilliantly. The vocal harmonies are exquisite and when set to such a creative score Smoke Fairies are irresistible.
Another two of Smoke Fairies crowd favourites from their back catalogue sandwiched 'Left To Roll' towards the end of their set. A quite sublime 'Summer Fades' was one of the vocal highlights of the evening before the penultimate track of the night, 'The Three Of Us'. The slide guitar enhanced track from 2012's 'Blood Speaks' is probably one of the biggest pointers to how Smoke Fairies have happened upon their latest sound and it went down very well. The ladies paused briefly before deciding to stay on the stage for their encore rather than going through the palaver of walking off and coming back on again! The pair explained that they wanted to make their last track choice more of a spontaneous decision and both settled on another new track from their forthcoming album, 'Don't You Want To Spiral Out Of Control?'. The song, ironically, is about the lack of spontaneity in modern relationships and finding love and was a fitting close out to an excellent first gig of the year for Smoke Fairies.