The Smoke Fairies at The Square Tower, Old Portsmouth REVIEW: 'By turns swooning and rocking'

When you’ve been away for more than four years, it’s a bold move to launch the set on your comeback tour with a new song.

Monday, 10th February 2020, 8:24 am
Updated Monday, 10th February 2020, 8:24 am
The Smoke Fairies at the Square Tower, Old Portsmouth, Sunday, February 9, 2020. Picture by Paul Windsor

And then to go on and play most of said album, which only came out a week ago, is a strong statement of intent.

While they are a four-piece live, The Smoke Fairies are to all intents and purposes Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies.

The sold-out crowd were not deterred by Storm Ciara, and even though the venue is on the seafront, if you had to be somewhere safe, the 400-year-old fortifications of The Square Tower were probably more secure than most.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Smoke Fairies at the Square Tower, Old Portsmouth, Sunday, February 9, 2020. Picture by Paul Windsor

The band’s name may suggest something ethereal, fey even. But it’s not the impression you’d be left with after witnessing them live. Dream-like, yes; fragile, no.

Originally classified more as folk-rock, the duo, from Chichester, have toughened up their sound on successive albums.

And with Darkness Brings The Wonders Home – their fifth studio album – it is their rockiest release to date.

The pair’s harmonies have always been one of their strong points, however, and even with the more raucous accompaniment the vocals are thankfully not overwhelmed.

They delve right back through their catalogue too. Summer Fades, the opening song of their debut album, Through Low Light and Trees, highlights those harmonies, and is a reminder that they can be just as powerful when they take their foot off of the gas.

It’s followed by recent single, Disconnect, which showcases what latter day Smoke Fairies are all about; by turns swooning and rocking, it’s a high point of the set.

Another recent single Out Of The Woods features a chugging riff against their lilting harmonies. The contrast is an effective trick that they make seem far easier than it probably is.

If there is a complaint, it’s about something out of the band’s control – an over-exuberant (over-refreshed?) fan who mistakenly thinks he’s funnier than he is. In an intimate setting like The Square Tower he soon becomes a distraction.

Even Jessica’s put down about him reminding her of the song What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor?, and later telling him: ‘This is a Q&A no-one wants,’ when he keeps shouting questions, don’t shut him up. Shame.

The main set finishes with a bruising The Three of Us, from 2012’s Blood Speaks, which features some sweet slide guitar from Katherine.

They finish the encores with another new number – Chocolate Rabbit – and the audience were clearly up for more, but with an early curfew it was not to be.

Hopefully this, though, is the start of a more marked return to public life for the Fairies, and they won’t leave us waiting so long for a repeat performance.