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Upcoming shows: Lilly Hiatt... Josh Rouse... Honeyfeet... KAZE... Slug... Steven Adams & The French Drops... Pinkshinyultrablast... The Happy Soul... Sounds From The Other City 2018... Wreckless Eric... Simone Felice... Barrence Whitfield and The Savages... Poppy Ackroyd... Pete Astor... I’m With Her... Ari Roar... Chad Valley... The Once... Wussy... The Breath... Aidan Moffat & RM Hubbert... Alabaster DePlume + Paddy Steer... The Bonnevilles... Charles Howl... GospelbeacH... Charles Watson... Curse of Lono... Slim Cessna’s Auto Club... Born Ruffians... Beach Skulls... The Wave Pictures... Girls Names... Darren Hayman... The Burning Hell... The Weather Station... La Luz... Ólafur Arnalds... Terry Riley & Gyan Riley... Holy Moly & The Crackers... Ryley Walker...

When: 7pm on Sunday 4 March 2018
Where: Academy 3, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PR

We’re delighted to be welcoming The Handsome Family back to Manchester!

Rennie Sparks disappeared one afternoon while waiting for a flight at O’Hare. A middle-aged businessman, McDonald’s bag in one hand, rolling-bag handle in the other – walked up to Rennie and, without pause, turned and sat down on her lap. A second later his French fries and rolling bag were on the floor and he was sputtering apologies, insisting he’d seen an empty chair.

Rennie often has trouble with automatic faucets ignoring her waving hands, but this unexpected airport invisibility was in 2014, the year the TV show True Detective used her song Far From Any Road as its opening theme. This was the year The Handsome Family (aka husband and wife Brett and Rennie Sparks) became visible to millions. Even as she was getting sat on by strangers, Youtube counts for The Handsome Family’s ‘hit’ song climbed from two million to ten million, twenty million and more. The song was in the top 10 in US and UK Spotify charts and spent months in iTunes top 100 in countries as far-flung as Vietnam, South Africa and the Ukraine.

Millions of viewers ‘broke the internet’ watching the final episode of True Detective S1, but Rennie and Brett watched in their little house in Albuquerque, NM, feeling oddly alone. The Handsome Family were now known around the globe for a song they’d written 12 years earlier about fire ants and desert plants, a song now linked forever to a show about cops in a psychic swamp. The Sparks were arguably famous now, but at the same time unknown. They were not their famous song nor was their famous song written for the show that made it famous. All these disconnections, though, are fine when you’re a writer of songs.

For almost as long as they’ve been married (26 years) Brett and Rennie have written songs together (Brett, music; Rennie, words). Their finished work is never fully one or the other’s, but lives in unseen space between them. William Burroughs claimed he walked busy streets without being seen, simply by seeing everyone else first. This is similar to the Sparks’ approach to songwriting and why Rennie embraces her power to vanish. You have to willingly disappear in order to write lyrics for someone else’s voice, or to write music for someone else’s words. Invisible songwriters are happiest when their songs outshine them, leaving their creators unseen in the dust.

The Sparks have released 10 albums since 1995’s Odessa. Their songs have been covered by countless Youtubers and well-known artists like Jeff Tweedy, Amanda Palmer, Cerys Matthews, Christy Moore and Andrew Bird (who released an entire record of HF covers). Guns ‘N’ Roses used Far From Any Road as stage entrance music for a South American tour, and both Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr are fans. Decades into their careers, after winning the TV theme-show jackpot – the Sparks still find their greatest reward in disappearing into new songs.

And so in the strange light of 2014 they began again to write. 2016 brought the release of Unseen – 10 songs by a couple both world-famous and happily invisible. Each song on the record has a guiding colour – gold, silver, green, red, white. Rennie is also a painter known for her vivid and surprising use of colour, and she finds herself painting even when her brushes are made of words. The stories of Unseen are mostly inspired by real events – Gold began when a bunch of twenty-dollar bills blew in Brett’s face in a parking-lot dust storm. Gentlemen is a tribute to William Crookes who built the first vacuum tube in 1875, hoping to detect spirits from unseen dimensions. And Tiny Tina – Rennie still hasn’t seen that little horse.

Unseen is about the light that emanates from things we can’t see – behind The Red Door, in the empty hands of blackjack losers (The Silver Light), and amidst desert bones bleaching in the sun (King of Dust).

Since 2001 Brett has made their albums in a converted garage at the back of their house. He recorded Unseen on a Mac and played most of the parts at night, with only hawk moths listening. There were guest musicians – David Gutierrez: mandolin on Tiny Tina and dobro on The Silver Light. Alex MacMahon: guitar on The Silver Light, baritone guitar and pedal steel on Gold. Jason Toth: drums throughout (except Green Willow Valley). Rennie wrote all the lyrics. She sang and played banjo and autoharp, but didn’t bother to write down on which songs.

The Sparks’ music is steeped in the western gothic of New Mexico life. The unseen is powerful here. Nothing rusts, but entire oceans have disappeared. Ski masks mean robberies, but in the slow dive of the sun, enormous bugs awaken in thorny yards and unseen sirens and coyotes cry out to the purple sky. Just about anywhere you stand there’s been some blood drawn.

‘Unseen is The Handsome Family’s masterpiece’ – MOJO

Tour support comes from Drunken Prayer. Drunken Prayer is Morgan Geer’s longest running project to date. Under this alias he has released four LPs, a handful of singles, a live EP and toured the world. On Drunken Prayer’s last effort, The Devil and The Blues (Fluff and Gravy Records), Geer leads another journey through America’s weird musical heritage. This record is rowdier than previous efforts due in large part to the rhythm section of Lance Wille and David Wayne Gay (Reigning Sound, Freakwater). Adding to the drag-strip atmosphere, Dallas Good of The Sadies makes a cameo on the opening track appropriately named, Hell Raiser. The lyrics are as sweet as they are damning, offering a window into the mind of Morgan Geer. The view that it affords is at once unsettling and familiar. Morgan is also the current guitar player for iconic alt-country goths, Freakwater.

Tickets are available from Seetickets.comTicketline.co.uk and on 0871 220 0260.

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