Smoke Fairies

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I never doubled a band on Live on 35mm, I usually update old posts with new photographs but WordPress doesn’t allow to put them back on the frontpage so they get lost in the “past of the post”. Time to break this virtual barrier.

the Smoke Fairies which I have been following since the very early beginning are finally getting what they deserve. They had to walk a long way on the steep and busy path of the indie-folk alternative music scene from the passion to the profession.

A couple of years of endless touring, a bunch of singles, several festivals, SXSW, a 7″ with Jack White, the signing to V2 and Chrysalis and the cult following spread. Time has arrived for the release of the proper first album.

Through Low Light and Trees is probably the most photographic title I ever heard, basically a picture in a sentence which is also a caption for the ghostly picture on the cover. Most important of all, it is a concept for all of the 11 songs that are in it.

The fact that it was recorded somewhere in a Cornwall countryside, in some misty and wet lands, springtime, isolated from everything else but woods, a shed and their guitars, helps to define the atmosphere that you encounter as soon as the music comes out of the speakers.

If you know Smoke Fairies‘ early works, even before Jack White III added the hint of blues that enriched the sound, their dark, gloomy, moist folky atmospheres haven’t changed that much.
What’s improved is the quality of the songwriting that is getting stronger and stronger.

When I listened to the album for the first time I loved Hotel Room, the first single, and Summer Fades instantly. The chorus of Summer Fades is pure beauty and the guitar strumming of Hotel Room is a classic already ranking high on my iPod top listening. Slowly I discovered the rest, as After the Rain, the pearl closing the CD.

This photo set was shot at their album launch gig at the Dingwalls in Camden. It must be their favourite London area, after all there are low lights, some trees and the canals. You can’t get better than this in central London!

After the Rain was not in the setlist not because it was a beautiful Indian summer night without a single drop, but because, as Katherine will explain to me at the end, it has only one guitar. She promised to play that in the future. If I needed one more reason to go, here it is.
Thankfully there is also no sign of Dragon which, as my friend precisely pointed out, before a song is a word that should be banned from their vocabulary to avoid overloading their visual imagery into a Dungeons-&-Dragons-like setting.

The sold out crowd has been treated with more delights. Through one of the longest sets they ever played I discovered Storm Song, which is one tune that some reason I missed to notice on the CD. It shone live, with an irresistible crescendo that gave the full band now permanently supporting them a reason to exist.
Which is the other thing that it is improved in the Fairies music. If I thought the 2 of them worked better, I am changing my mind and I see that the viola player and a proper rhythm session adds up the plus that allow some songs taking off.

Katherine ingenuous humour is so funny and works as a magnet for the audience, the gig is not only a sequence of songs but an entertaining act without distracting from the music. Something rare within British music and indie orthodoxy rotating around play-don’t move-don’t say nothing the lyrics and the music must speak for yourself. Sounds good but if the band is boring the gig is twice as boring. Yawn!

With the British folk scene never been so crowded, among the many meteors I am sure the Smoke Fairies are going to be one of the few stars that will keep sparkling.

Future is nicely set, they are going to play some random shows here and there to launch the album, than tour Europe (unfortunately no Italy, yet) than tour UK and the rest of the world.
2011 is going to be a busy years for them, which is good news for us all.

To stay in touch with The Smoke Fairies you can follow one of these links:

[website] [myspace]

and as Katherine pointed out to the audience, if you can you should buy the album. We all know nowadays it is possible to get it with a couple of clicks on a computer. To buy music help bands to survive. Better if you buy straight from them at the gig.
Think twice before downloading something illegally, you can’t say you are a music lover and download illegal music. It is like to say you love trees and spend your spare time cutting forests.

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Photo tip

In the past going to shoot in no-pit venues, for photographers, was a question of accepting to get there before and not last minute and being kind with the first row fans and using your skills to explain what you were doing and that it would have lasted more than a couple of songs before walking off to let them enjoy the show.

Social Networks arrived and everything changed. Lot of people don’t go to a gig to see the show and listen to the music. They go to record and photograph and upload the show on youtube crap videos. As quick as possible. So the main problem of a no-pit venue, nowadays, is how to avoid the guy in front of you with a stupid mini-video-camera recording the songs and blocking you from photographing.
Why he is doing this is a problem of psychologists and sociologists, how to keep taking pictures is a problem for us, the photographers.

There was no way at this show to get around him, he stood there in front hands ahead camera on recording. Some of my good shots have been screwed by his head, his camera monitor, his arms.

One trick I found useful is to raise you camera and shoot in a wideangle position without looking in the viewfinder. It is possible to use live view to frame the shot, I find it too slow on DSLR at gigs to be effective, too many changing lights. I prefer shooting blindly and pick the best shots after.

The method has another advantage, avoiding the front shot you also avoid, sometime, the microphone covering the singer face thanks to the elevated angle. The mic is the most annoying thing and the reason of the failure of most photographs. Anything that avoids that is a great idea.

Two reasons to go out in that small venue, raise your hands and try something different. Because photographing smaller gigs, inches from the act, potentially throughout the set (I stopped a lot in the quiet moments to not disturb the music) are my favourite conditions.

It is still worth asking the guy in front of you if he could let you work, if he is not in the I-am-a-director mode it may work, but sometime it is more effective to overcome the problem with a creative trick.

~ by Valerio on September 24, 2010.

5 Responses to “Smoke Fairies”

  1. They are already engaged, take it easy!!!

  2. Great write up, Valerio. And great photos as usual. You and Nicholas Blake are probably the most adept at catching the Fairies perform, and really being of the moment, honing in on their mood, and adding to the atmosphere.

    As a long time fan as well, glad you saw the concept of the album shine through, and ultimately be a culmination of where the ladies started to where they are now, wouldn’t you say?

    I saw them play at both NYC gigs last spring with the band (minus Neil, the viola player), and though I know some people still have an issue with the backing , I think you nailed it on the head with “Storm Song”. Recording the album probably jelled a lot of things for them.

    They take their time, and are in it for the long haul.

  3. Good post mate, bookmarked the blog. Also do you mind if I was to post some sections for my blog? I will give full credits to yours and a link back? Thanks keep up the good work! By the way these two ladies are pretty tasty :)


  5. Great shots Valerio!! I was also shooting at this gig (& a co-incidence after seeing your main site and tweeting you/reading this blog a few weeks ago) and know what you mean about the guy filming grrr! It was my first proper shoot in such a packed place – being short is not ideal :) Great shots head on, I stuck more at the sides & where I could squeeze in.

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