Frank Sidebottom, aka Chris Sievey, was a hero of mine and I was very sad to learn of his death yesterday at the age of just 54.
No-one ever seemed to know the exact age of Frank Sidebottom while he was alive because, with his papier-mâché head, he never looked any different. He was originally created by Chris Sievey to be a fan of his band, The Freshies, in a 1984 ZX Spectrum computer game, The Biz. The band are most remembered for 80s track, I’m in Love with the Girl from the Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk, a song which later replaced ‘Virgin’ with ‘a certain’ at the insistence of the BBC for brand-naming reasons.
I first came across the man when he appeared on Piccadilly Radio with his Radio Timperley show in the mid-1980s, where we were introduced to his younger equivalent, Little Frank, with a smaller head and a body made out of cardboard, plus voices for other characters such as the latter’s girlfriend, Little Denise, as well as Amoeba Frank, with a high-pitched voice, and a comical deep voice for Mr Matching Suit. It was also where we first met Caroline Aherne‘s character, Mrs Merton, who had a never-ending screaming baby, Reggie.
One of my favourite episodes from that was one where they all got lost and ended up in a cave, along with Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon, who had no lines in it other than, when asked a questions, constantly repeating, “I’m not sure… I really don’t know.”. Of course, it was recorded and he wasn’t really just repeating the lines every time when asked but it was a perfect example of the surreal nature of everything Frank was about.
Forever telling us that he was having to do the shopping for his Mum, Frank spent an awful lot of his time in the shed in his back garden, and eventually we were brought the ITV show, Frank Sidebottom’s Fantastic Shed Show, as well as being a regular on on Granada Reports, No.73 and the Channel 4 gameshow, Remote Control, alongside Anthony H Wilson, another Manchester icon who was taken from us far too soon.
He also performed a version of the Beatles’ “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” for the charity album, Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father, also featuring Wet Wet Wet, The Christians, The Wedding Present with Amelia Fletcher, Hue & Cry, Billy Bragg with Cara Tivey, Sonic Youth, Courtney Pine, Michelle Shocked, The Triffids, The Three Wize Men and The Fall. He also recorded “Flying” for a later Beatles tribute album, Revolution No. 9.
One of my most treasured possessions is a 7″ cut-out picture disc of his Sci-Fi EP (right), with Frank and Little Frank as Batbottom & Bobbins. Tracks include Space is Ace and Oh Supermum. Click on the image for the full-size version, and you can see more pictures of it here.
Frank faded into obscurity in the late 1990s, but made a great resurgence in the latter half of the last decade, doing more live shows and presenting two series of Frank’s Sidebottom’s Proper Telly Show in B/W (with repeats in colour), a bizarre mixture of music, animation and celebrity guests. My favourite episode was the one featuring David Soul, who really got into it, and as the show concluded he could be heard laughing and saying, “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life!”. As the title suggested, the first episode of the programme was broadcast in black-and-white, “So you don’t have to turn the colour down”, with all of the repeats in colour. Suffice to say, I tuned in for the repeats.
A third series was always promised but never materialised. It seemed the original set had been dismantled and a move from the original broadcast location of Manchester’s Urbis building was on the cards, but Channel M itself is practically on the verge of shutting down after most of its staff were made redundant, following cutbacks, and most of the content is broadcasts of live traffic cameras and Euronews simulcasts.
In the middle of this period I spent a wonderful hour at the Stockport Art Gallery where a collection of his works were put on display for about a month.
Another example of his unique nature included the fact that he’d perform at gigs where the entry wasn’t a clear fiver, but a seemingly-random £4.73.
Only last month, Chris Sievey was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer and was due to have an operation to remove a tumour from his chest, following a stent having been put in place to enable some food to go down as his oesophagus was blocked, and he was also due to begin chemotherapy. In anticipation of this he changed the picture on his Twitter account to one without hair – “me as me after chemotherapy” and released a picture of this on Ebay, which raised £480 for Cancer Research. He even continued to work up until last week, with every intention to carry on for as long as possible. To this end, he had originally arranged to put on “A Fabulous Evening With Frank Sidebottom & The Oh Blimey Big Band” at The LMRCA Club In Alrincham, on Sunday July 4th, where Frank would have been live on stage with his Oh Blimey Big Band, playing classic Frank anthems including his new World Cup Song, Three Shirts on My Line (see below). Not only did he
perform in his home town of Timperley, but even as far afield as New York!
Frank would tweet regularly, right up until Sunday, commenting “i’m still feeling very poorly,… here’s a interview i just did with “yuk n yum” (which, sadly, isn’t online any more)
Yesterday it was reported that he had collapsed at his home at 12.40am and was taken to Wythenshawe Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
I think what makes this whole thing more hard is that Frank was timeless, while we aged. From now on, Frank IS timeless.
I never got to meet you in person, but I will miss you, Frank. The world will miss you.
Check out the websites and Youtube videos below:
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.