Sievey as Frank Sidebottom at the Bull and Gate, Kentish Town, London
|Born||Christopher Mark Sievey
25 August 1955
Ashton-on-Mersey, Sale, Cheshire, England
|Died||21 June 2010
Wythenshawe, Manchester, England
Christopher Mark Sievey (25 August 1955 – 21 June 2010) was an English musician and comedian known for fronting the band The Freshies in the late 1970s and early 1980s and for his comic persona Frank Sidebottom from 1984 onwards.
Sievey, under the guise of Sidebottom, made regular appearances on North West television throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, even becoming a reporter for Granada Reports. Later, he presented Frank Sidebottom's Proper Telly Show in B/W for the Manchester-based television station Channel M. Throughout his career, Sidebottom made appearances on radio stations such as Manchester's Piccadilly Radio and on BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 5, alongside Mark and Lard.
- 1 Early life and career
- 2 Frank Sidebottom
- 3 Television work
- 4 Awards and honours
- 5 Discography
- 6 Death and legacy
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Early life and career
Sievey grew up in Ashton-on-Mersey, Sale, Cheshire (five miles from Timperley, the town with which Frank Sidebottom would be associated). In 1971 he decided on a career in music and hitch-hiked to London with his brother, staging a sit-in at the Apple Records HQ, demanding to see one of The Beatles. When they were asked to leave they insisted on recording something, and were booked into the studio after playing a song to head of A&R Tony King. Sievey subsequently recorded several demos, which he sent to record companies, receiving many rejection letters which he later compiled into a book. Unable to get a deal, he set up his own Razz label in 1974.
Sievey released two cassettes under his own name in 1975 and 1976 – Girl in My Blue Jeans and All Sleeps Secrets. He then began working under the name The Freshies, with various other musicians involved including Martin Jackson, Billy Duffy and former Nosebleeds bassist Rick Sarko. A string of singles and several cassettes were released between 1978 and 1983, most credited to The Freshies but "Baiser" (1979) credited to Chris Sievey, and the Red Indian Music EP credited to 'The Freshies with Chris Sievey'. In 1981, Sievey played on "Some Boys" by Going Red?, the band formed by former Jilted John star Graham Fellows. The Freshies biggest UK hit was "I'm in Love with the Girl on the Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk", released initially on his own Razz label (RAZZ 10), it was reissued by the US giant MCA Records with a slightly different title ("I'm in Love with the Girl on a Certain Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk") as there were objections about using the Virgin brand name. The record peaked at No 54. They had regional success in the Manchester area with "My Tape's Gone" (Razz 4), "No Money" / "Oh Girl" (Razz 5) and "Yellow Spot" (Razz 6). Radio 1, and in particular Mike Read, on his breakfast show, gave The Freshies a lot of airplay, especially the MCA release. The Freshies also produced a couple of "jingles" for the programme. After the "success" of "I'm in Love with the Girl on the Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk", they released further singles, "Wrap Up the Rockets" and "I Can't Get Bouncing Babies by the Teardrop Explodes", and although commercially successful in the Manchester area, they failed to make the national charts. They released 2 further cassettes, "Manchester Plays The Freshies" and "London Plays The Freshies", these were both essentially radio interviews with local and national DJ's and concert recordings from each city. Chris had written his first LP by this stage, "The Johnny Radar Story", which, for various legal and contractual complications, was never released on vinyl. There are master copies on cassette in circulation though (albeit, very few). By 1983, he had abandoned The Freshies and began moving in a new direction.
The character was instantly recognisable by his large spheroidal head, styled like an early Max Fleischer cartoon. This was initially made from papier-mâché, but later of fibreglass. In the documentary Being Frank, Martin Sievey (Chris's brother) states this was made using Plaster of Paris.
Frank, usually dressed in a 1950s-style sharp suit, was portrayed as an aspiring pop star from the small village of Timperley, near Manchester. His character was cheerfully optimistic, enthusiastic, and seemingly oblivious to his own limitations. Although supposedly 35 years old (the age always attributed to Frank irrespective of the passage of time), he still lived at home with his mother, to whom he made frequent references. His mother was apparently unaware of her son's popularity. Frank sometimes had a sidekick in the form of "Little Frank", a hand puppet who was otherwise a perfect copy of Frank.
Comedy character Mrs Merton started out as Frank's sidekick on his radio show Radio Timperley, and the similarity of the characters is evident, exuding a sense of great ambition which belies a domestic lifestyle in the North of England. Sidebottom's former Oh Blimey Big Band members include Mark Radcliffe and Jon Ronson, and his driver was Chris Evans.
Frank was first revealed to the world on a 12 inch promotional record which came free with the Chris Sievey-created video game The Biz for the ZX Spectrum computer in 1984. The Frank Sidebottom character was initially created to be a fan of Sievey's band The Freshies but the popularity of the character led Sievey to focus his output on Frank Sidebottom comedy records, many of which were released on Marc Riley's In-Tape record label of Manchester and previous to that, on EMI's Regal Zonophone imprint.
He developed a following in the late 1980s/early 1990s thanks to extensively touring the country. Performances were often varied from straightforward stand-up comedy and featured novelty components such as tombola, and a lot of crowd interaction. Sometimes the show also included lectures. Contrasting against the alternative comedians of the time, Frank Sidebottom's comedy was family-friendly, if a little bizarre for some.
Frank was perhaps most popular in the North West of England, where his success was caught up in that of the Madchester scene, and for a time was a regular on regional ITV station Granada. He even featured as a reporter on its regional news programme, Granada Reports. At one point Frank had his own television show on ITV entitled Frank Sidebottom's Fantastic Shed Show. He also made numerous appearances on Channel 4, including the British version of the game show Remote Control which was presented by Tony Wilson, where each week he would pose "Frank's Fantastic Question" to the contestants. He also made several appearances on the Television South/ITV Saturday morning children's shows No. 73  and What's Up Doc?.
Along with television, the Frank Sidebottom character also made appearances on radio, on stations such as Manchester's Piccadilly Radio and on BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 5 BBC Radio 5, alongside Mark and Lard. Frank also had his own comic strip in the children's weekly comic Oink! which was launched in the mid-1980s.
Frank sang the Beatles song "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" on the charity album Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father, which featured other acts like Michelle Shocked, The Christians, Sonic Youth, Billy Bragg, Hue and Cry, The Fall and Wet Wet Wet. He later recorded "Flying" for another Beatles tribute album, Revolution No. 9.
Frank faded into obscurity in the late 1990s, rarely appearing either on TV or live appearances. A one-off performance at Manchester's Club Indigo Vs Manic Street Mania in December 2005 seemed to be the catalyst for a comeback.
In 2006, Frank reappeared in Greater Manchester on local television channel Channel M. His new show, Frank Sidebottom's Proper Telly Show in B/W, featured celebrity guests and animation. The first showing of each show was in black and white ("so you don't have to turn the colour down"), whilst subsequent repeats were shown in full colour. He also made five appearances on Iain Lee's programme on London's LBC as well as on numerous community radio stations such as Forever Manchester. Frank appeared as a test card shown late at night on Channel M, where he and Little Frank ramble on and sing songs whilst framed in a parody of the classic Test Card F. On 6 March 2007, in an episode of the Podge and Rodge Show on Ireland's RTÉ Two, he appeared in their 'Sham-Rock' talent section, performing a medley of songs by The Smiths. He received an overall score of 22 points from judges James Nesbitt and Glenda Gilson, putting him in first place for all the series' acts so far.
Frank starred in his own exhibition of drawings, animation and cardboard at London's Chelsea Space Gallery next to Tate Britain between 4 July–4 August 2007. He also appeared at "Late" at Tate Britain on 3 August 2007.
He appeared in the Series 3 Christmas special of BBC Scotland's Videogaiden, performing "Christmas is Really Fantastic", and later appeared on the Series 3 Awards show, and the final web-exclusive episode ("Closedown"). Frank appeared briefly as a Manchester United fan in an advert for the FIFA 10 video game in 2009.
Frank's last professional appearance was at the Pyramid Arts Centre, Warrington on 4 June 2010. His last personal appearance was at the Salutation pub, Higher Chatham Street, Manchester on 11 June 2010 when he launched his World Cup single, Three Shirts on the Line.
Following Sievey's death in June 2010, a social networking campaign was launched to gain Frank his first UK hit. "Guess Who's Been on Match of the Day" entered the charts at No. 66. In December 2010, Frank Sidebottom's 1986 song "Christmas Is Really Fantastic" was re-released in an attempt to become the Christmas number one.
Frank Sidebottom's Fantastic Shed Show was a television programme shown in 1992 featuring Chris Sievey as fictional character Frank Sidebottom. Guests included Caroline Aherne, Phil Cornwell, Midge Ure, Gerry Anderson, Pop Will Eat Itself and Keith Chegwin.
Awards and honours
Sievey was posthumously recognised with the special judges' award at the 2011 Chortle Awards. A publicly funded statue of Frank by Colin Spofforth was unveiled on 20 October 2013 at 11:37 in Timperley village, the timing a reference to one of the character's catchphrases.
Solo/as Chris Sievey
- Girl In My Blue Jeans cassette (1975), Hey Boss
- All Sleeps Secrets cassette (1976), Razz
- Chris Sievey's Big Record LP (1986), Cordelia
- "Baiser"/"Last" 7-inch single (1979), Razz
- "Camouflage"/"Flying Train" 7-inch single (1983), Random/EMI
- Denigration Now VHS Video (1982), Razz
with/as The Freshies
- Fantastic Tales (1987), 11:37 – cassette
- 5:9:88 (1988), In Tape
- 13:9:88 (1988), In Tape
- Medium Play mini-LP (1990), In Tape
- Radio Timperley (1991), 11:37
- A B C & D (1997)
- Soundreel A (2005), mail-order only CD-R
- E F G & H (2009)
- Radio Timperley 2 (2010), Sidetrack
- Frank Sidebottom's Fantastic Show Biz Box Set (2010), Cherry Red – 4 CD's + DVD
- Frank's Firm Favourites EP (1985), Regal Zonophone – UK No. 97
- Oh Blimey It's Christmas EP (1985), Regal Zonophone – UK No. 87
- "I'm the Urban Spaceman" (1986), Regal Zonophone
- Sci-Fi EP (Playlist1) (1986), Regal Zonophone
- Sci-Fi EP (Playlist2) (1986), Regal Zonophone
- "Christmas Is Really Fantastic" (1986), In Tape
- The Oink! 45 (1986), Oink! – Frank Sidebotton with Uncle Pigg & The Oinkletts
- Frank Sidebottom Salutes The Magic of Freddie Mercury And Queen And Also Kylie Minogue (You Know, Her Off Neighbours) EP (1987), In Tape
- Frank Sidebottom Salutes The Magic of Freddie Mercury And Queen (1987), In Tape
- Timperley EP (1987), In Tape
- World Cup EP (1990), Rodney Rodney! – with Frank Sidebottom's World Cup Mexico '90 Togger Annual book
- Panic EP (1993) – credited to The Sidebottoms
- "Guess Who's Been on Match of the Day?" (2010), Cherry Red – UK No. 66
- Frank Sidebottom's Fantastic Shed Show (1997)
- Frank's World (2007)
Death and legacy
Sievey was diagnosed with cancer in May 2010, and died at Wythenshawe Hospital on 21 June 2010 at the age of 54 after collapsing at his home in Hale, Greater Manchester. Sievey left a daughter, Asher, aged 30, and two sons: Stirling, 31, and Harry, 18. After it was reported that Sievey had died virtually penniless and was facing a pauper's funeral provided by state grants, a grassroots movement on various social networking websites raised £6,500 in a matter of hours. The appeal closed on Monday 28 June with a final balance of £21,631.55 from 1,632 separate donations.
On 8 July 2010, over 5,000 fans of Frank Sidebottom gathered for a party at the Castlefield Arena in Manchester to celebrate Sievey's life. The acts included Badly Drawn Boy and surviving members of Frank's Oh Blimey Big Band who played in tribute.
The 2014 film Frank was largely inspired by the Frank Sidebottom character, telling the story of a young wannabe musician who joins a group led by the enigmatic Frank (Michael Fassbender). The film was written by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan, and was based on Ronson's experiences playing in Sievey's Oh Blimey Big Band. Although drawing from Ronson's memoir, the story is set in contemporary Ireland and America, and the Frank character combines elements of Sievey with Daniel Johnston and Captain Beefheart.
A feature-length documentary about the life and art of Chris Sievey, entitled Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story was announced for release in 2014. It is directed by Steve Sullivan, and was funded through a successful Kickstarter campaign. The film documents Sievey's entire life, including his band The Freshies and his creation of the Frank Sidebottom character. It is expected to feature interviews with many of Chris Sievey's family and colleagues and exclusive access to Chris' own personal archive of home movies, diaries, notebooks, props and costumes.
Jon Ronson, who worked with Sievey, published Frank: The True Story that Inspired the Movie in 2014, a memoir of his time in the Frank Sidebottom Oh Blimey Big Band.
A biography of Chris Sievey has been written by Manchester author Mick Middles, and is due to be published in May 2014.
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