The other reason I didn’t get The Chain finished this week was because on Wednesday night I stumbled upon a documentary that was really fantastic.
You know it was. It really, really was.
So fantastic, I watched it again on Thursday.
Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story tells the story of one of the UK’s greatest, most innovative yet unknown entertainers, his school years and his struggle to make it as a pop star (unsuccesfully, by and large), the almost accidental discovery of an alter-ego who gradually took over his whole life and brought him fame and fortune, the almost inevitable slide into drink and drugs addiction, the redemption, and then the tragic end.
I speak, of course, of none other than Frank Sidebottom, and his creator Chris Sievey.
The film really is fantastic, including previously unseen footage (mostly of the grainy home video type), interspersed with interviews from friends, family, wives, girlfriends, children, fans (both famous, such as Ross Noble, John Cooper Clarke and Johnny Vegas, and non-famous, which seems only right) and former band members, including Mark Radcliffe and Jon Ronson. Speaking of Ronson, if you were as underwhelmed as I was with the 2014 adaptation of his book Frank into film, well this is the real deal.
Here’s the trailer:
There’s so many funny moments in the film: from Frank falling off a chair when interviewing Keith Chegwin, followed by an interview with the utterly bemused David Soul (“Nobody’s ever asked me questions like this before…..”), through introducing Bros, at the height of their fame, in front of 55,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, described by Frank like this: “Hands up if you like Matt? ‘Yehhh’, they all went. Hands up if you like Luke? ‘Yehhh’, they all went. Hands up if you like Bros? ‘Yehhh’, they all went. Hands up if you’ve got Betamax? Total silence in Wembley Stadium.” (What makes that even funnier is that a) it’s true,and b) he even breaks the comedy Rule of Three and it’s still funny.) through to his son Harvey relating how, at the height of his addiction issues, Chris kept asking him what he wanted for Christmas to which his son kept replying “All I want is you.” And this is what he found waiting for him on Christmas morning:
See, I can relate a couple of high moments from the film without fear of spoiling it, because there are just so many laugh-out-loud bits, spoilers don’t even come into play.
I wish I owned more records by Sievey, or The Freshies, or Frank even.
I own this, the most famous record by The Freshies, but only on digital:
That’s such a great pop record, I think it might actually be criminal that it wasn’t a bigger hit than it was(n’t) back in the day.
I own a few bits and bobbins by Frank, again mostly on digital, but a couple of tracks on vinyl compilation albums I picked up back in the day.
I am fortunate though in that I once met and worked with Frank.
Back in my college days, Frank had been instrumental in me getting voted to the unenviable, inevitably course-failing, position of Social Secretary/Entertainments Officer. He didn’t know he’d been instrumental, of course, but he featured in some of my promotional material.
Back in 1990, when standing for office within the Students Union, you were given an allocation of promotional material you were permitted to use. This was, to the best of my memory, a pack of A4 paper with which we could do what we pleased as long as it didn’t offend anyone. My mate Keith and I set about cutting photographs of people from newspapers (and NME), photocopying them and then adding a speech bubble with the subject of the photo saying something supportive about me.
So, we had one of Bez from the Happy Mondays, in full maracas and Bez-dance-flow, with a speech bubble saying “Vote Jez” and a caption: “Bez Sez Vote Jez for Ents Prez.” And so a slogan was born, and it appeared on all of my campaign material.
I wish I’d kept some of these, but from memory there was one of Rude Kid from Viz Magazine, simply saying “He’s the dog’s bollocks”, with the slogan underneath; one of an unknown boy, sitting in a classroom, the only one looking backwards at the camera in a class of children all studiously working, and his speech bubble read: “Pssst! Vote Jez! Pass it on!!”; and then there was one of Frank, bright blue eyes (or they would’ve been, had we had access to a colour photo-coper) looking out with a bubble simply saying: “He’s absolute bobbins!” and the Vote Jez for Ents Prez slogan splashed across the bottom of the poster.
And yes, we were aware that not all of the speech bubbles were actually terribly complimentary, but that was part of the joke as far as we were concerened.
As you know from previous posts, I won the election. Comfortably, but let’s not get into that *cough landslide*.
A few months later we learned that Frank wsa going on tour, and we were offered him for a pretty reasonable price. At the time, we’d started a comedy night at the Student’s Union, and had some success with up-and-coming (at the time) acts like Jack Dee, Jo Brand, Jim Tavare, Hattie Hayridge, John Thompson, Rob Newman.
So we booked Frank for the comedy night, and that was a mistake. Not that we booked him, but that we booked him as a comedy act, rather than as a musical act – the difference being that for the comedy nights, we filled the floor with tables and chairs, to create a comedy club atmosphere. And, watching the documentary, I realise that was not the right environment to watch a raucous Frank show, as we – and he – found out.
He went down like the proverbial sack of do-do. Utter silence from the floor after every gag.
Frank Sidebottom is definitely one of those acts that you either got and loved, or didn’t get and hated. And that night it seemed I was the only one laughing. Which, when you’ve been involved in booking them, and charging people to see, is not a good look.
In the year I did the job, it was the only time anyone ever asked for their money back. Two girls accosted me as soon as he went off stage. I refused, pointing out they’d stayed right until the end. Had they stormed out after ten minutes, they may have had a case. (I bumped into them in a pub ten years or so later. They said hello and asked if I remembered them, and were astounded that I did. I ended up buying them both a drink to shut them up.)
Anyway, here’s one of the songs I do own on vinyl by Frank. I’ve posted it before, ages ago (sorry!) and it features on a compilation album called Bananas! which I bought around 1989/90-ish.
The record was released to raise funds against the introduction of ID cards for football fans, and had this as the closing song. Given the impending start of the football again south of the border, it seems about right to post it again now (although please excuse my shonky cropping of the album sleeve):
Anyway, I imagine the documentary is on Sky’s catch-up streaming facility which I don’t have (it’s not appeared on NOWTV’s yet), so keep an eye out for it and watch it if you can. You’ll either love it or hate it.