that’s because i was a huge fan of frank sidebottom, the bizarre and incredible creation of the genius that was chris sievey, who also us brought us the freshies‘ i’m in love with the girl on the manchester virgin megastore check-out desk, which also had a non-product placement version by changing the words in the title to “a certain manchester megastore check-out desk”, as well as zx spectrum game the biz.
my one regret regarding this great man is that i never went to see him live – one of those things that you’re constantly putting off – since sievey passed away in 2010. however, i have heard great tales from his gigs, such as the time someone bought him a pint afterwards, as a thankyou, expecting him to take off his head to sup the golden nectar within. instead, frank simply brought the pint glass up to his ‘mouth’, the majority of it gushed all down his front, and with that, he was off. no doubt, he also said, “thankyou!”
(and as i watched being frank, a clip of the same thing happening in a green room is here!)
before I get into more about frank, i’ll first post a vlog i uploaded about some fantastic frank items i’ve bought online and since made a vlog about, ahead of the blu-ray and dvd release (extras for those are further down in this review)
i still have great memories of buying his musical works, however, including a 7″ shaped picture disc of the sci-fi ep with the lead track space is ace, featuring frank and little frank as, respectively, batbottom and bobbins, plus his legendary double lp, “5/9/88”, so-called because it was released on september 5th 1988. throughout his career, he had many memorable tunes including guess who’s been on match of the day, the robbins aren’t bobbins, and even a cover version of the beatles’ being for the benefit of mr kite.
in his later years, he wrote and presented his wonderful channel m show, “frank sidebottom’s proper telly show in b&w (with repeats in colour)” – where the first-run episodes really did run in black and white! it ran for two series from the urbis building in manchester. a third series was sort-of planned, but sadly chris’ death meant it never happened.
in the meantime, we’ve had frank, starring domhnall gleeson and michael fassbender, and was co-written by manchester radio stalwart jon ronson. he began this career in the early ’90s alongside terry christian on the best radio station ever to have existed, kfm, in stockport, which was also home at the time to the royle family‘s craig cash and the late, great caroline aherne, and which continued to excel, but… then died on its arse in september 1991 when it was taken over by signal radio and went overnight from wonderful indie/rock music to… kylie and jason. and not even in an ironic way.
today, you can still listen to kfm online, but as for jon ronson, i can only assume he suffered some sort of aneurysm which made him think that frank was a good idea. my review for that will detail all the reasons why it was not.
and here we finally have the long-awaited true documentary, and i’ll run through a number of elements of it that show frank at his madcap best for anyone who hasn’t come across his work before. if that’s the case, please watch it anyway. and if you were a fan, you’ll definitely check this out.
the film begins with the caption: “most of what you are about to see was left in a damp cellar for many years – songs, photos, artwork, mouldy vhs tapes… and a head. it was almost thrown away”.
there’s tons of archive and off-the-cuff footage, and all before youtube was so gargantuan. if we had decent smartphones 15-20 years ago, imagine how many performances would’ve been captured for us all to enjoy today. thankfully, being frank does include some footage at times, including his final gig on junen 11th 2010, just ten days before he died.
amongst the many highlights:
- frank signs a picture with “it’s a proper pen.. it doesn’t wash off or anything” and says that chris sievey is “bobbins”
- he had no problems with bullies at school because he’d rather make friends with them by making them laugh.
- he had a subbuteo league with friends at school. i had a subbuteo too, but chris would sell tickets and make progammes for the games!
- there’s early home movie footage as chris, blowing up an action man.
- trying to get a band together with his brother, martin. it didn’t work out, so chris went solo, but there was still more to come as they worked together later.
- after meeting his wife-to-be, paula, she and chris went for a walk along the canal and he… pushed her in! but she was still mesmerised by him. in fact, they even got married on their lunch break!
- we also see how he was an incredible dad, in his own way.
- the freshies were due to be on top of the pops, but a technicians’ strike meant that week’s show was cancelled, and by the time the next chance came along… they’d gone down, so couldn’t be on as a result.
- i knew he wrote the biz, but i had no idea that he wrote a single called camouflage, on which the b-side contained three zx81 programs! one of them played like a pop video to the song, and he was the first person to put computer programs on vinyl. he was also on itv’s good morning britain with nick owen chatting about it.
and this is before we even get to talking about frank – the man who lived at home with his mum, regularly doing her shopping before coming home for tea. – who enters the frame around 35 minutes in, since he was initially designed as an obsessive fan of the freshies. and his tv performances continued on saturday morning kids tv shows such as motor mouth and no.73.
there’s so much to experience, such as the band playing travel snooker with a half-sized table in the back of the tour van… as it moved!
and the mysteries of his home town: “that way is the timperley triangle… which is a very dangerous place. i’ve been in it once, and i came out with no trousers on.”
when we get to later footage of programmes like his aforementioned channel m show, i know it was shot in 16:9 as current tv shows were filmed then and, mostly, now, but i’m not sure why they’ve been given an anamorphic squeeze into 4:3. i know there’s a ton of 4:3 footage in here, but this does seem a little odd. then again, not a lot that frank appeared in made much sense, so that in itself… makes sense.
about the show, and i uploaded the entire thing to youtube here for the benefit of mr kite… i mean, for fans of frank’s, and channel m are welcome to monetise it if they wish – well, they could if it had over 1000 subscribers, but at the time of posting this, it has 301. highlights include an episode with david soul, who says it’s the craziest thing he’s ever done in his life, and when frank asked emma bunton about a song she wrote for the spice girls, he asks the question no-one else would ever think of: “what colour pen did you use?”
even a small moment – such as when an audio impromptu recording session in his bedroom is interrupted by his dad asking chris when he’s going to get round to cleaning the car – brings a lump to your throat. as did, soon after his death, a fan-made drawing of a microphone on a stage with the spotlight on it… no-one standing at the microphone, because he’s no longer there… and on the floor of the stage is little frank’s head… because frank’s not there to hold him up.
plus, seeing all of frank’s stuff without the man – and i will refer to him as frank – makes me want to weep. the good really do die young.
when the also late, great colin vearncombe (aka black) was on a bbc4 repeat of top of the pops recently, someone tweeted in awe, “why weren’t they absolutely fucking massive?” and the same goes for frank sidebottom. however, as it shown in this documentary, at times, he did seem quite content to play to 100 people in a small club. part of that would be down to the fact that he would have full creative control over it. that would not always work for mainstream outlets, as they would want to exert some control. this reminds me of when i once was going to do some movie reviews for obsessed with film (now the clickbait-ridden piece of trash that is whatculture). they said they didn’t like this, that or the other in a review… didn’t say why, and then just called it a day. i can do without a headache like that.
in fact, as i watch this, i also remember popping down to stockport art gallery, about 10-15 years ago, to spend a happy hour looking around the frank sidebottom museum they had set up at the time. again, oh, how i wish i had a decent phone or camera to take pictures with. i just had a look round and then came home. why can’t we turn back the clock? until that becomes a reality, his entire achieve has been housed forever at manchester central library.
alas, what goes up can come down, and we experience the dark times chris sievey went through, which affected both him and his family, including youngest song, harry sievey, who sadly died in 2017, aged 24, when he was one of two cyclists involved in a collision with a Vauxhall Corsa in Withington.
there’s so much in this documentary, including more archive footage and images than you can shake little frank’s head at, that i could rewatch it several times, and pausing often, before i see every last element in it… and just while watching the first time, i kinda did that as i took twice the film’s length to rewind so many great bits as i went through it from start to finish.
and if you haven’t yet spotted, then yes, i have made this entire review in lower case, in tribute to the wonderful man who gave so much joy to me and millions and others. i’ve never done that before, and i never will again, but then everything about the man was unique.
kudos to filmmaker steve sullivan for bringing all this material together, along with every single person who has contributed to its creation. you are all fantastic!
being frank: the chris sievey story is a film which, after watching, has left my brain feeling so befuddled, i can’t even remember what my name is… and this could well be the best film i ever see in 2019. oh yes it is, it really is.
ps. there’s a brief post-credits scene where the secret code in his pattern is revealed…
update 28.4.19: i’ve now received the blu-ray and while the interviews are in 1080p HD, and overall, the disc has a 5.1 DTS HD-MA soundtrack, but everything is spot-on, and do allow for the fact that archive home movie footage will be reflective of the time at which it was filmed.
the menu features frank going round and round a merry-go-round as he plucks away at his guitar. english subtitles are on the disc, and there are 18 chapters across the running time of 1:40:34. i had this down as 103 minutes, before. has something been taken out? i am confused.dom
although there’s only two ‘extras’ listed here, there’s more than meets the eye, and it’s difficult to give an objective score for them, so just get the disc bought!
this first one compiles 18 bits and pieces, and a couple of these are full versions of clips which have appeared during the film but which have been partly talked-over as the narrative progressed, but this is for your full uncut pleasure.
these are one-off clips and performances, whether it’s frank with little frank at a pub in parrswood, an intro from chris sievey, or even frank going to collect his dole giro on december 16th 1982, all of mr sidebottom’s little oddities are captured here:
- fantastic archive (44:51):
- a vhs personal message from chris sievey
- the sheep joke
- denigration now – off key siren
- chris sievey’s non-award winning small film (early frank)
- frank’s guide to keeping pets – boddington’s tent, manchester
- free download – lmrca club, 11:10:09y
- frank & little frank – parrswood inn, didsbury, 19:02:10
- chris & frank sing willow tree
- little frank does a song on his own – southport floral hall
- who needs a trowel when you’ve got crab teeth?
- being frank vhs 1983 extract (early frank)
- magical timperley tour documentary by steve sullivan
- diddling your mum out of the change – chelsea space
- early beatles line up changes – the cavern club, liverpool, 28:05:08
- frank’s fantastic football chants – lmrca club, 10:05:09
- frank’s website song – salutation arms, manchester
- playing ebay – oldham
- shall we sing that song we rehearsed? – lmrca club, 13:09:09
- a vhs personal message from chris sievey
then, there’s a total of 20 not bobbins bonus scenes (27:52) on top of the 90 fantastic minutes we’ve already seen:
- wind up letter to royal mail
- catalogue hamper
- teaching asher to swim
- pint pot punk
- audience kickabout
- half time magic
- a bit of a row going on
- frank’s cheque refund scam
- chris and frank vs nigel round
- on an eater
- chris’s first time abroad
- producing the joker
- gun day
- chris’s first christmas alone
- i’m thinking of a biscuit
- thrash metal musical chairs
- little men
- chris & martin paint the living room
- chris’s promotional stunts
- chris invents 3d television
To find a cinema showing the film in your area, check out beingfrank.com
running time: 103 minutes
cinema release date: march 29th 2019
blu-ray and dvd release date: april 29th 2019
studio: altitude film distribution
blu-ray cat.ref: spalbd180
director: steve sullivan
producer: steve sullivan
music: frank sidebottom, chris sievey
cast (as themselves):
frank sidebottom (archive footage)
martin sievey (older brother)
paula sievey (chris’ wife)
stirling sievey (his oldest son)
harry sievey (his youngest son)
asher horsefield sievey (his daughter)
paul molyneux (childhood friend)
michelle pouncey (former girlfriend)
john cooper clarke
bruce mitchell (the duritti column)
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.