Matthew Floyd Jones is used to feeling a little left out the spotlight as the keyboard player for musical duo Frisky and Mannish. He talks about his new show Richard Carpenter Is Close To You and the similarities of his life experience to that of the less-memorable half of The Carpenters.
It’s obvious now that I’ve been building up to a show about Richard Carpenter for my whole life - I just didn’t realise it before. When I was six, for instance, shuffling across the playground sheepishly at a new school, the first friend I made was a tiny Carpenters’ fan who sang ‘A Kind of Hush’ to me by the monkey bars. At university, I found that taking regular Carpenters breaks from revision was the best way of clearing my head. Richard and Karen’s music has been the soundtrack to my life in so many ways, and don’t even begin to tell me that they’re corny or embarrassing - I will cut you!
But when I became the piano player in popular musical double act Frisky & Mannish, it didn’t even strike me that I was anything like Richard, because I never saw myself as “just” a piano player. I identified as an actor, who played piano. I was quite resentful of people who in my eyes viewed me as “just the pianist.” As if playing the piano was somehow servile, secondary, thankless - an anonymous accompanist to the exciting showstopper. It’s taken me quite a while to get over that resistance to being “just” a piano player.
And that’s what my show deals with: that difficulty of accepting how other people view you when it doesn’t tally with how you view yourself. An issue that is especially grating when you’re paired with someone who gets the sort of response that makes you question your own. Richard’s sister Karen had qualities that were immediately and powerfully resonant with the public - she had a quirky sense of humour and gawky charm, her eyes were so huge and appealing they drew you in, and that was before she even picked up a vocal mic or a drumstick. Add to that the aching vulnerability and personal demons that all the greatest tragic stars possess, and you have an icon. Everyone feels for Karen Carpenter.
Richard was (and is) not of that ilk. He had All-American preppy looks, but his gawkiness was more awkward than charming. Clearly multi-talented, but seemingly more coldly ambitious and focused than the apparent free-spirit Karen, he came across like the sort of straight-A, goody-two-shoes that no one warms to, rather than a sloppier lovable genius. Someone once observed that, “even when he was talking, you didn’t take your eyes off her.” And apart from the piano, which was mostly used as accompaniment to her voice, Richard’s qualities were not so visible. A great deal of his genius occurred behind the scenes. But he still has an ego, and a need for validation, as we all do.
All of this might make you think that the show is a very dry psychological drama about sibling competitiveness, which isn’t quite right. It’s much more broadly comic than that, and the main character is a loving caricature of the real man. It’s really about Richard’s struggle with himself as opposed to Karen. But I absolutely do take his frustrations seriously, and there’s a weight to it that makes the whole thing very profound for me. Then again, it’s also a chance to wear yellow polyester and 3 inch white platforms, and sing spoof songs, and imagine what it might be like if Richard had a meltdown on a talkshow, or released a rap song, or travelled to space (all of which happen in this show)… I’ve definitely been guilty of overlooking Richard Carpenter, even as an ardent fan and fellow piano player, so I am treating this as a golden opportunity to turn him into the fellow superstar he deserves to be.
Richard Carpenter Is Close To You is on from 2md-27th August at the Underbelly, George Square.
Tickets available at www.edfringe.com