I was unsure what to expect when I arrived at the Grand Theatre on Thursday 14th May. I wouldn’t consider myself a huge fan of The Carpenters but having grown up hearing them on the radio, I can sing along to a fair few of their songs and Karen’s voice is undeniably one of the most beautiful that has ever been. I was accompanying possibly one of their greatest fans to The Carpenter’s Story, a tribute show by Phil Aldridge, so for her sake I was hoping for great things.
One of the most pleasing things about arriving was the discovery that we were easily the youngest people there, something that rarely happens for either of us these days. But the atmosphere was excited and anticipatory and the theatre was very nearly full, which goes to show that even though The Carpenters are long gone, they are most definitely not forgotten..
The curtain rose and upon the stage were a pianist, violinist and oboist, a drummer, guitarist and bassist and a gentleman who played a stunning variety of wind instruments (wood and brass). Indeed, seeing all of the band brought it home to me for the first time exactly how lavish were the musical arrangements of Richard Carpenter, we so often focus on the heartbreaking beauty of Karen’s voice or on her personal tragedies.
The music started with the instantly recognisable opening bars of We’ve Only Just Begun and Claire Furley stepped onto the stage. She didn’t particularly bear any resemblance to Karen but her vocals were definitely very reminiscent of her and after a slightly shaky start, she seemed to grow in confidence and acquitted herself beautifully, evidence by the rapturous applause of the audience around us. She belted out such hits as On Top Of The World, Superstar, A Song For You, Now (which my friend wept shamelessly throughout), Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft, Yesterday Once More, and This Masquerade. The second half of the show included a lot of audience participation and had the whole place clapping in the right places and joining in with singing parts of Sing, Mr Postman, Jambalaya and A Kind Of Hush, before finishing with a medley of the songs they hadn’t managed to fit in.
I’d have previously jeered at the thought of a tribute act showing at a theatre but the quality of the artists onstage blew that thought away. The people around us all seemed to have a fantastic time and were thoroughly entertained for 2 solid hours, which was brilliant to see. I’d say the only false note were the rather ill-advised pre-recorded segments featuring an excruciating American DJ who didn’t really seem to serve much of a purpose other than to fill time, and whose accent wavered bewilderingly between California and Bolton. Other than that, it was a very entertaining show and if you’re a Carpenters fan I would recommend you see this if it comes to town again.