It’s been a decade since Frisky and Mannish burst onto the scene with their own brand of ‘musical infotainment’.
And rather coincidentally, The Spring Arts Centre, in Havant is also celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
So who better to help them mark the occasion than everyone’s favourite self-described ‘pop PhDs’?
Singer Laura Corcoran and pianist-singer Matthew Floyd Jones are on the road with their new show, PopLab, after a sell-out run at this summer’s Edinburgh Fringe.
Matthew says: ‘This was our 10th year at the fringe so it had a kind of special feel for us. We had decided we would go back and do a show that in some ways went back to the heart of what we originally started doing – which was originally just us and the piano and packing the show with as much as we could think of!
‘And the response we got and the great coverage and the audiences, it was much better than we’d expected – I’m very glad we’d already booked in a tour!’
So what does it take to get your Pop PhD?
‘Sheer bravado and far, far too much time spent as teenagers watching MTV,’ cackles Laura. ‘The essence of what we’ve done has often had an educational slant, like when we’ve pointed out that No Scrubs is in fact a song originally performed by Elizabeth I. It felt more fun to tell people that this is something very important and you need to know about it…
‘Our first show was School of Pop, then The College Years, and then the Pop Centre Plus, which was basically the job centre – there was always a sense of the curriculum to what we were doing, so we wanted to come back to that.
‘There was a review that referred to us as the mad scientists of pop and we rather liked that .’
‘That’s our qualification, right there,’ says Matthew, ‘someone else called us it!’
With their shows demonstrating a keen eye and ear for skewering pop and its trends, one might imagine the pair are immersed in pop-culture 24/7 to create their work. But apparently this is not the case.
Matthew explains: ‘Luckily, we have a very different approach to this, and I think it’s the marriage of those two approaches that makes what happens, happen. Laura is a radio fan, and likes to have it on in the background…
‘That’s true,’ says Laura, ‘but I have just made a crucial transition from Radio1 to Radio2.’
‘Isn’t that depressing?’ cuts in Matthew with a giggle.
Laura continues: ‘I think it just happens to everyone in their mid-30s when you think: “I just don’t want to listen to that racket”, so you put Radio2 on and you go: “Ah, amazing!” But it’s aimed at our generation now, so when they play a bit of old-school Backstreet Boys, you’re there going, yes! This is what I want, thank you!’
On the other hand, Matthew says: ‘I never have the radio on, I’m not really a radio fan, I don’t have a TV, I don’t watch music videos, really…’
‘He just plays vinyl with a crank,’ deadpans Laura.
‘I’m not even hipster and cool enough to have that,’ he replies, mock ruefully. ‘I’ve never really thought of myself as a pop fan in my own life – I love the hilarity and comedy in pop that we bring out.
‘Laura has got her finger on the pulse when it comes to actually what’s being released, what people are listening to, and she knows the references, whether they will be understood by audiences or not.
‘But with me, coming from a background of liking old musicals, and folk and some classical, or whatever, when I come to it, it’s purely from an angle of what might be funny or ridiculous in this because I don’t really have an attachment to it, so I can come at it from more weird angles. And then it’s what makes us both laugh and we can imagine doing it and the audience getting it and finding it funny too.
‘It’s a good method because it weeds out all of the too obvious jokes or too niche jokes, and hits the sweet spot in the middle.’
How do they go about writing their material, or choosing what to parody?
Laura explains: ‘I’d love to say we write hours and hours or material and we can then afford to just throw it away, but it can be a funny thing – some things come together very quickly.
‘We’ve got this thing in the new show – we loved the idea of a Cockney knees up, and we had an idea of something we could do with Stormzy, but we couldn’t quite make it work.
We wanted to bring Stormzy and Olivia Colman in together, but it didn’t quite work. We loved that Cockney idea though, so then it was: “Well, what about Bruno Mars’ 24k Magic?” We did it once, and it was like: “Yeah done! Box ticked, on to the next one”.
‘For this show, when we got to Edinburgh, I was worried we didn’t have enough, but we were actually 10 minutes over, which was good, because we could chop things out that we didn’t’ think were quite working, or were a bit boring, and make it really tight.
‘Everything that’s still in there has earned its place, which is great.’
The pair met when they were both cast in a production of Guys and Dolls at university, so there was a musical element to their friendship from the start.
‘Then we started writing songs for the comic revues at the university,’ says Matthew.
‘I never thought necessarily that it would be something we would do for a living, I just thought it was a way of having fun in a creative way with my friends.’
But Frisky and Mannish came into existence when they were asked to do some songs for a charity night.
Matthew recalls: ‘I think they just wanted us to turn up and play some songs, and we decided that we were in a point in our lives where that wasn’t really what we wanted to do.
‘We wanted to do something silly, and something… like a little bit of a challenge of ourselves. But even then it was only doing songs in a different way to how people expected them, so we did Come On Eileen as a musical theatre ballad, we did Papa Don’t Preach but as an opera, and Eye of The Tiger as bluegrass – just very simple things, not even necessarily thinking about why they worked like that, but now when I look back at it, I think: “Wow what genius choices!” And the audience felt the same!
‘Afterwards, people were going that’s your thing, that’s what you should do. And there was someone there who had a bar who said I want you to come along and do your hour long show – as if we had an hour long show!’
Laura adds: ‘To which we said: “Of course, absolutely, no problem”. And she said: “How about next week?”
‘It’s been the perfect accident. It was one of those things, we were totally ready for it when the opportunity arose.
‘One of our friends from university was Matt Trueman who is now a critic for The Guardian. He came to one of our very first things, and afterwards he told us: ‘”It’s great guys, but, where’s it going?”
‘A year later he came back so sheepish and admitted he was wrong…’
FRISKY & MANNISH: POPLAB
The Spring Arts Centre, Havant
Saturday, October 5