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Smoke Fairies, The Lexington, Islington, London, February 1st 2010

February 2, 2010

I first saw Smoke Fairies – the existence of a prefix ‘The…’ is disputed – at a free show before the BBC Young Folk Awards in 2007. I was impressed enough to drag Astral along to see them play at Powers’ Acoustic Room in Kilburn a couple of months later. The venue is no longer there (it’s just a drinking hole now), which is no surprise, as there must have been all of twelve people in attendance. Smoke Fairies’ blend of folky blues, impressive guitar-playing and fine harmonies was intriguing, and their dark, smoky music is something of a contrast to their appearance as… well, a pair of thoroughly nice young women.

Have a look here if you’re after some background on where they come from and what makes them tick, but suffice it to say here that any band who cites CSNY and Skip James as key influences must have something going for them.

This was the first time I’d been to The Lexington and I was very impressed. It’s a properly cleaned-up rather than done-up boozer, with a good upstairs space, excellent sound – and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap. This put me in a good mood for seeing the new incarnation of Smoke Fairies, with added fiddle, drums and bass. I feared that this would render their sound less interesting – a fate which has befallen several artists I’ve liked who’ve gone on to ‘better things’; that’s to say they’ve signed to a record company that insists on a bigger, more commercial sound, yadda yadda. A few examples would be The Unthanks, John Smith and Findlay Brown, all of whose future output I’m less likely to look out for than I did before they signed significant deals. Oh well.

My fears about Smoke Fairies were washed away by tonight’s performance, which was an excellent mix of the old two-handed swampy blues and the new full-band gutsy blues-rock and folk-rock numbers. All this hyphenation is unfortunate but necessary – their sound is quite unique, though firmly rooted in all the great traditions of modern popular music.

Their inter-song banter continues to be endearingly unsure of itself, but that didn’t deter a very enthusiastic sell-out crowd from cheering those Fairies to the rafters. Here’s a video of them performing Gastown from the show:

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