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The Handsome Family Live


Handsome Family Live

St Marys Performance Space, Chester, 12 September 2022

Back in 1999 I attended an unusual music festival in Cork, Ireland. It was called the Liss Ard festival which lasted 10 days, held in the most beautiful landscape. The festival was a charity event designed to raise funds to maintain and protect the area. Concerts were held around ponds and under trees. As the only English journalist covering the festival I was able to mix freely with artists and garnered over 20 interviews, mostly over in the breakfast tent. Amongst those interviewed was The Handsome Family husband and wife duo who had charmed audiences with their homespun, mixed-mood, Americana/folk together with their friendly husband/wife banter.


From that point on I became a fan and witnessed 2 more live performances over the following years in England. I know of no other act that entertains so royally through their music (a mix of country, bluegrass and murder ballads), musical skills and ability to so easily and effectively communicate both with their audience and between themselves.

My home is in Chester, Cheshire, and it’s rare to benefit from visits by internationally recognised musicians. The news that The Handsome Family would be performing in the local and very beautiful St Marys Performance Space (formerly a church) was something of a surprise and an event I could not miss. The event’s managers had done a wonderful job in preparing the bijou venue for its illustrious guests with staging and lighting of high quality. The venue is also acoustically sound and especially for outfits such as The Handsome Family. I reckoned that the show was a sell-out and so the stage was set for what would prove to be one of my live highlights of 2022.


The single support act was American singer/songwriter Damien Knox who quietly settled at the grand piano and provided one of the most surprising support performances. With his flowing golden locks Knox blew me away with his highly melodic, introspective songs, liquid vocal, chilled-out demeanour and easy audience communication ability. He talked of his experiences during the pandemic and the fact that he was not a ‘people person’ preferring to stay indoors and watch TV.


I was impressed and after his performance went to say hello and seek out his recorded material in return for some images of his performance. I love musical surprises and Damien Knox was one of the very best. I’ve never seen a performer screw up each music sheet and toss them away - it seemed like many songs were written especially for the show, never to be sung again…


The stage was set with a comprehensive array of instruments - this was the first time I have witnessed a performance by the duo supported by other players. Jason Toth (drums) and Alex McMahon (guitar, pedal steel) joined Brett (centre-stage) and Rennie Sparks (stage-left). Chester’s fans provided an enthusiastic welcome as the band struck up with the characteristically dark ‘No One Fell Asleep Alone’ with Rennie on guitar and Brett on vocals making their mark from the onset.

What followed was no less than a selection of their best songs from almost all their LP releases. One of my favourite tracks (and something of a country musical classic, covered by many artists) ‘Weightless’ which covers love, loss and life - intimate storytelling at its best. Brett’s nasal baritone triumphed backed by Rennie’s sweetest of backing vocals. Throughout were triumphant spells of pedal steel from McMahon that brought home the country underpinnings of Handsome’s music.


The musical storytelling continued with dazzling skill and firm audience connection, as did Rennie’s introduction to each song and marital banter which the fans loved. For me, this was my favourite Handsome show and will remain in my memory for a lifetime.



No One Fell Asleep Alone
So Much Wine
Bottomless Hole
Back in My Day
The Loneliness of Magnets
Weightless Again
My Sister’s Tiny Hands
24-Hour Store
Far From Any Road
Don’t Be Scared
Darling, My Darling
Good Nite



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