Smoke Fairies at East Village Arts Club Loft (29 May ’14)

I can’t remember the last time I turned up at a gig without a ticket – and certainly not one that I had been planning to go to in advance, but that was the situation I was in for this one, so I was slightly nervous about getting in, especially when I saw the size of the queue outside EVAC when I arrived, around an hour after doors opened, and while the first of the three acts performing was already due to be on stage. I was expecting the gig to be quite popular as Smoke Fairies are onto their third album (plus a double odds & sods release) in the past three and a half years, and I’d assumed they were reasonably successful as they get talked about quite a bit. However, I’ve just done some research to discover that they have so far only spent one week in the UK album chart, when their latest, eponymous record reached the heady heights of number 70! Just to put that into some degree of context, The Fall only ever spend one week in the album charts with each of theirs, although three of their last four have reached the Top 40 (just!).

I managed to secure a ticket, being given a paper ticket and told to go upstairs while most of the rest of the quite young, quite female queue got given wristbands and went into the main downstairs part of EVAC. I made a hasty exit though, to go and grab a quick pint in the Shipping Forecast. I’d forgotten how pricy that place was, so next time I’ll stick with the tried and tested Dispensary or Roscoe Head…
Anyway, when I got back to the venue I was sent upstairs again, where I had never been, only to eventually realise that this was actually a separate ‘venue’ within EVAC, the Loft. Downstairs there was an entirely different event going on, someone I’d never heard of called Foxes. So that explained the demographic profile of those in the queue as she appears to be a dance act, who’s even won a Grammy, so my bad for not knowing her…

Ticket

I needn’t have worried about getting a ticket, as even the smaller Loft was nowhere near sold out, with certainly less than 200 punters in, which I think is a great shame for such a band, but clearly I had over-rated their popularity, and looking at their website I can see that they have played fairly small venues all over the country on this tour. Shame on Britain for their lack of Smoke Fairies love!

I’d missed the first act, Lizzie Nunnery, who I’d seen as part of the Irish Sea Sessions at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in 2012. However, I was in plenty of time for slightly-pretentiously-titled The Lake Poets – I’d listened to a couple of folky numbers of theirs online earlier in the week, so I was curious to see what they’d be like, though I’d actually assumed it was just a one-man band, as that’s how they’re positioned on their website. Live, they turned out to be a three piece – bass, guitar and pedal steel.

LakePoets

The bassist looked a bit like an old Dutch mate of mine called Martijn, while the guy on pedal steel reminded me a bit of the journalist and TV presenter Mark Ellen, but with curlier hair. The lead singer (called Martin) announced himself to be from “a place called Sunderland”, like it was some obscure location. He reminded me a little of a cross between Fabio Borini and Johnny Marr and had a strong but quite high voice, but unfortunately I found most of the songs to be rather unmemorable. He also had the slightly annoying habit of saying “thank you very much” at the end of each song, even before anyone had had the chance to think about applauding…

I was expecting the set’s highlight to come when he introduced a song as being inspired by Margaret Thatcher. I actually laughed out loud when he genuinely said something like “I’m not sure how you in Liverpool feel about her” as though he thought the people of Liverpool might be big Thatcherites! Sadly the song was a bit bland and quite unspecific about Maggie.

He then sang a song called “See You Tonight” that he introduced as being about his girlfriend who was doing a PhD, a very unusual inspiration for a song! Unfortunately, again it didn’t really grab me – though I have a friend called Johnny who might well like The Lake Poets as they’re much more up his street than mine. They were certainly a talented bunch, with the pedal steel giving them something different.

While between bands, the music played through the PA was pretty good, including some Billie Holiday and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ majestic “Red Right Hand”. There wasn’t a long wait for Smoke Fairies to come on, and they really were an interesting looking lot. The bassist, called Perry, looked the spitting image of a very 70’s-looking call hander on Channel 4’s “The Complainers” that I’d only watched a few days before. He matched Neil the keyboardist in a blue top, grey slacks and handlebar moustache! However, Neil added his own sartorial spin by not wearing any shoes… The two female leads in the band, Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies, were co-ordinated in white, with a touch of the gingers about them. Behind them all was Sherman the drummer, who could have been some low grade muscle on “The Wire”.
They obviously played a lot off the latest album, which I’d only acquired the day before so didn’t know all that well. They played the excellent “Eclipse Them All” off this very early in the set, while another early highlight was “Summer Fades” off their first album “Through Low Light and Trees”, with great harmonies.

SmokeFairies1

Sherman came into his own on “Hope Is Religion” off the new album, with Neil playing some good John Cale-esque viola. “The Three Of Us” from “Blood Speaks” and this year’s “We’ve Seen Birds” were other high points, while there was plenty of slide guitar action throughout the set. My favourite song of theirs of all though is the noir-turned Southern rock “Hotel Room” from their debut, which didn’t disappoint. The set proper closed with the final track off their current release, “Are You Crazy”.

SmokeFairies3

The encore unsurprisingly followed on fairly swiftly, featuring “Film Reel” and “Blood Speaks”, both from the second album. I enjoyed Smoke Fairies a lot, and would recommend them to anyone who likes a bit of slightly twisted indie/alt.folk – and you probably won’t get too crushed due to their somewhat bemusing limited appeal.

Tonight’s t-shirt
I went with a nice red Triffids t-shirt. I didn’t spot any other interesting t-shirts in the sparse crowd!

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