Gig review: Smoke Fairies at Oporto, Leeds

The Smoke Fairies are taking it back to the beginning. But not so far back they’re singing Bros songs. “We’re just in it for the music; we don’t want our faces in the paper,” jokes Katherine Blamire, referencing ‘When Will I Be Famous?’

Smoke Fairies at Oporto, Leeds. Picture: Gary Brightbart

The comment – which precedes old favourite ‘Summer Fades’ – is believable given her behaviour when she and musical collaborator Jessica Davies had to walk through the audience to reach the stage. Some acts would have turned this into a performance but the Chichester duo, tagged by touring bassist John J Presley and drummer Sean Fallowfield, appear uncomfortable during their ‘surreal procession’.

These signs of discomfort reappear when Davies jests that Blamire is about to have a panic attack before the encore. Yet when they perform all such anxieties seem to disappear, even if their lyrics are shot through with midwinter doubts and late night coolness.

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The self-confidence in their abilities is more than justified. They were the first UK act to record for Jack White’s Third Man Records, and they provided vocals to Public Service Broadcasting’s 2015 Race For Space album. They may never have become a household name but with their blend of English folk and blues they’ve accrued a cult following as heir apparent to Fairport Convention.

It’s a status that’s seen fans patiently wait half a decade for their sixth album, the recently released Darkness Brings The Wonders Home. They haven’t reinvented the wheel during this period, staying true to what they’ve practised throughout their career while digging deeper into the slide guitar blues they fell in love with during a sojourn in New Orleans.

This incremental shift adds heft where once they occasionally tipped into whimsy. At their heaviest, as on the grungy ‘Elevator’ and needle point, rolling guitars on ‘Out Of The Woods’ they’re musically aligned with the blues of Black Keys. What adds lightness is their trademark vocals; Davies’ deeper vocals contrasting with Blamire’s higher register with the kind of close harmonies that’s usually only found between siblings.

These harder rock tracks are contrasted with ones that offer atmospheric ethereality. ‘Eclipse Them All’ is full of shimmering guitars and the folk ballad ‘After The Rain’ slowly gains momentum with a one note bass line and delayed percussion. Such moments may not make them superstar famous but they are special enough to get their faces in selected papers.