When The Smoke Fairies were invited to write a Christmas album, they were only too aware of the pitfalls that potentially awaited.
The duo of Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire are fans of the festive classics but wanted to make sure their own contributions to a busy field stood our for the right reasons.
As Jess explains: ‘When we were offered the chance to do this we were like, there are so many indie bands who do the same kind of thing – they’re a bit ironic, doing the classic songs, but in a tongue-in-cheek way, and we didn’t want to do that.
‘Thinking about Christmas and winter time, we realised we were opening a can of worms and there are so many things to write about.
‘Even now, talking about it, other things have come up that we weren’t able to cover, we’ve got enough material now to write 10 Christmas albums.’
The result was Wild Winter, 10 songs that remain faithful to the Fairies’ darker spirit.
Thinking about Christmas and winter time, we realised we were opening a can of worms and there are so many things to write aboutJessica Davies
The album was originally commissioned by Rough Trade Records and released in a limited run – which sold out – exclusively through its outlets last winter. But this year it is getting a full release, much to the pair’s delight.
And to mark its wider release they’re playing a trio of shows, including one at New Theatre Royal, which is being hosted by Pie and Vinyl.
‘Now we can release it anywhere we want, which is great, but it has confused some people. Some people bought the record last year, and then it comes out again, and they think it’s something they haven’t got.
‘It was a limited run, so it’s nice to be able to get our records in other independent stores now, like Pie and Vinyl – we weren’t ignoring them, but we felt bad that they weren’t able to stock it last year.’
The band are old friends of the Southsea shop – having done a brace of instore performances there.
‘We did it when it was really small, and then we came back and did another one after they expanded,’ says Jess. ‘It’s a great idea for a shop.’
The pair grew up in Chichester, so are familiar with Portsmouth, but Jess has never been to the NTR before.
‘I’ve seen some pictures of the theatre and it looks amazing, we’re really looking forward to playing there.’
However, it reminds Jess of another song that nearly made it on to Wild Winter.
‘Last time I went to a theatre in Southsea it was to see a panto – I was going to write about it for the Christmas album, but I just couldn’t.
‘It was going to be Falling Asleep in Sleeping Beauty. It was my friend who fell asleep, it was very kid-oriented, we were surrounded by all these kids holding up all these light up star things, it was pretty intense.’
They’ve also teamed up with Signature Ales to release a Wild Winter ale to coincide with the album.
‘Kath’s a really big ale connoisseur, but our whole band really like ale.
‘Signature Brew’s whole concept is teaming up with musicians to create ales, and we kept pestering them and pestering them.
‘Because we’ve got a winter theme, I guess it was easy for them to link it with making a winter ale. We got to go there and have a bit of a tasting session which involved us getting cups and cups of ale and shoving cinnamon and golden syrup in, some really weird combinations.
‘We didn’t have anything to do with the final recipe, we don’t know what we’re doing – I gather it’s quite scientific.’
The result is a heady 6.8 per cent ABV spiced ale, which will be on sale at the shows.
‘I think it’s tasty, it’s very drinkable, but it’s quite heavy,’ she adds.
The NTR show is something of a homecoming too, as the pair now live in London.
‘Whenever we play Portsmouth, my parents come and I have to tell them to bring earplugs and tell them: “You might want to stand at the back”,’ laughs Jess. ‘And I know what they’re going to say afterwards: “It was very loud”.’
While they haven’t had a new album of their own out this year until now, they have been kept busy supporting Public Service Broadcasting on tour. The duo guested on PSB’s highly acclaimed album The Race for Space, and would routinely perform their vocals on the track Valentina in the headliner’s show.
‘It’s been really amazing to be involved in that this year. Last week we sang the song at Brixton Academy and they put on this incredible show.
‘It was so great to be part of a band’s rise. So often you see other acts stay at the same level and you wonder what they have to do to break through, but to see them go from strength-to-strength, it’s really heartwarming.’
And for fans hungry for more of the Fairies captivating blend of folk-rock, in the new year, Jessica and Katherine will carry on work with their next album.
‘It’s about trying to find time and inspiration, we have started demoing a few things in the summer, but life gets in the way sometimes.
‘We’ve covered a lot of ground and we need to think about which direction to go in this time, but it will happen.’
The Smoke Fairies are at The New Theatre Royal on Tuesday, doors 7.30pm. Tickets £10. Go to newtheatreroyal.com