There are a couple of very worthwhile internet campaigns going on at the moment to celebrate the life and work of Chris Sievey, better known as Frank Sidebottom.
A film-maker called Steve Sullivan is working hard to raise money to make the definitive documentary film about Chris/Frank. It’s called “Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story” and you can watch the fantastic trailer below and donate whatever you can.
Also there are plans afoot to put a statue of Frank in the place he put on the map, Timperley. More details on that on this website.
I have vague memories of seeing Frank’s big papier mache head on various programmes in the 1980s but I didn’t really get what he was all about until I accidentally saw him live. This happened at a festival in the early 90s, possibly Reading but I’m not sure. I wandered into the comedy tent late one night in search of entertainment after all the bands had finished. The marquee was packed and I couldn’t really see anything. I could just about make out his head and the keyboard on the ironing board. Don’t remember much of it really but I can recall Frank doing various covers in his own inimitable style. The bit that really stuck with me was when he explained why he ended all his songs with a proper ending (“oh yes he does, he really does!”) and he went on to berate other fantastic pop stars who put fadeouts at the end of their singles. I remember Cliff Richard coming in for particularly heavy criticism on this score.
Back in those days, I lived in London and Frank gigs down that way were as rare as victories for his beloved Robins. I bought the A B C & D CD when it came out and treasured it. I loved the covers but my real favourites were the football songs like “Estudiantes (Striped Shirts Black Panties)” and especially “Guess Who’s Been On Match of the Day”. (You have, in your big shorts!)
Fast forward a few years and I was playing in a tribute band called The Smyths. I was lucky enough to play a couple of gigs with Frank. Both times, Frank was the support act which struck me as ridiculous, he should have been top of the bill!
At the end of each gig, Frank would come back onstage dressed as Morrissey complete with quiff to sing a couple of Smiths songs with us. Usually he’d sing “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” and “Don’t Make Fun of Daddy’s Voice” (b-side of “Let Me Kiss You”)
I don’t play in The Smyths anymore because they’re based down south and I’ve moved to the north but during my time with them the main highlight was meeting and playing with Frank. Running a very close second is the time when QPR legend & Morrissey fan Kevin Gallen came to see us at the Half Moon in Putney.
I wish I had some decent photos of those gigs with Frank but I don’t. All I have is this rather poor quality video.
That video is from the first time we played with Frank at the Guided Missile in Islington’s Buffalo Bar. After the gig I wanted to get my beloved A B C & D signed. I looked around the venue with the other bandmembers and we realised that having never seen him without his head on, we didn’t have a clue which of the people there had been onstage with us. Eventually the promoter pointed Chris out and he very kindly signed my CD, but all the time he was understandably low-key about it because he didn’t want people to know that he was the man behind (or rather inside) Frank.
The other time we played together was at Pacific Road Arts Centre in Birkenhead. Just like in Islington, the best bit of the night was watching Frank’s act before we went on. After that gig, we all got to meet and chat a bit with Chris and his very friendly family.
I know The Smyths played with Frank a few more times after I’d left, including benefit gigs for Salford Lads Club.
3 years on from Chris’ sad death, it’s great to see that there are people like Steve Sullivan out there determined to make sure that Chris / Frank are not forgotten. I’ve just chipped in my small contribution towards making it and if Frank’s records, gigs or TV appearances made you smile, then you should make a contribution too.
And how else can I end this piece but like this: “oh yes you should, you really should.”
- Stars donate to Frank film fund (manchestereveningnews.co.uk)
- The award-winning Cardiff filmmaker and the tragedy of the cult paper mache funnyman (walesonline.co.uk)