Tonight we’re in Kensington, West London, at a nice little bar/theatre that smells like a school assembly hall, all in the name of work. Standing among middle-aged men whose three-quarter length shorts barely conceal sunburnt shins, it feels like the perfect venue for some lighthearted whimsical folk music.
Credit due to Smoke Fairies then for, among other things, making music that loosely falls under ‘folk’ without a pretentious straw hat in sight. Yes, Jessie Davies and Katherine Blamire’s dulcet tones are delicious and dreamy and often full of whimsy, but second album ‘Blood Speaks’ was bolted together with throbs of bass, heavy drumming and wild electric guitar bits that suggested raw spirit and an untamed haircut – Mumfords, they certainly ain’t.
Throughout their set tonight there’s a steady, bluesy pulse, showcasing the band’s elegant voices well; their shrill harmonies can be haunting (‘The Three Of Us’) and other times perfectly pleasant (‘Daylight’). But it’s really let-down by the atmosphere, or lack of – the set is incredibly one-paced tonight and, after the half-way point, the solemn music and airy vocals begin to feel sombre and disengaging. The gap between stage and audience grows wider, there’s little interaction, and it becomes easy to feel detached from a band who aren’t doing a great deal to reel you in.
For all their latest album’s grungy moments and pockets of ferocity, it’s disappointing that none of it makes it onto the stage. Of course, this is Kensington, and we’re drinking pear cider by the bottle, so maybe it’s a question of choosing the right time and place; certainly the crowd seem to enjoy themselves. But Smoke Fairies have the capacity to be far more corporeal than their name would suggest.