❚ O.M.G! ANOTHER WACKO TRAILER for a feature film. This is one everyone born North of Macclesfield will want to see – Frank, a fictional story loosely inspired by the brilliant life of eccentric Mancunian musician Chris Sievey, who built a comedy career as Frank Sidebottom, the man in the giant papier-mâché head. He died in 2010 aged only 54.
A young wannabe musician, Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), finds himself out of his depth when he joins a band that includes the terrifying Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and is led by the enigmatic Frank, played by the Irish actor Michael Fassbender. (Why?) And what goes on inside the giant head? The trailer alone reveals weirdnesses you never knew before. He never takes it off. When bandmates try to force him to remove his head, Frank says: “I have a certificate.” Sob.
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Frank the film (2014): Michael Fassbender as Frank Sidebottom
Frank the film (2014): Sidebottom’s avant-garde band recording unusual sounds
Frank the film (2014): Sidebottom frolics to seek inspiration
Filming Frank: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson in the New Mexico desert. (Picture: Artificial Eye)
❚ WITH TIMPERLEY COMEDY LEGEND, Frank Sidebottom, cremated barely 18 months ago, a biopic titled simply Frank started shooting this week in New Mexico. Making his feature debut as a screenwriter is Jon Ronson, former member of Frank’s Oh Blimey Big Band in the 80s and investigator into The Men Who Stare At Goats. The comedy about a young wannabe musician is a fictionalised account of the life of Lancastrian cult comic Chris Sievey, who was revealed finally in death as the creator of Frank Sidebottom, a character recognised across the North by his outsize papier-mâché head.
Ronson is co-writing the script with the Oscar-nominated Peter Straughan (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), while Film4, the BFI, the Irish Film Board are signing the cheques. The Irish director Lenny Abrahamson has marshalled an exceptional cast led by Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Scoot McNairy …
❚ TIMPERLEY COMEDY LEGEND FRANK SIDEBOTTOM IS NO MORE. The man in the papier-mâché head like a Max Fleischer cartoon has been revealed only in death to have been aka Chris Sievey. Almost entirely unknown to the effete south of England, Lancastrian icon Frank was unleashed on the world through a record given away with the video game The Biz, presciently created by Sievey for the pioneering ZX Spectrum computer in 1984.
Only last week, he launched a comedy song for the World Cup, titled Three Shirts on My Line. Campaigns to Make Frank No 1 in the pop charts have begun at twitter.com/MakeFrank1 and at the Facebook group Let’s get Frank Sidebottom in the charts, which is bursting with tribute images. The Manchester Evening News reports that Frank is facing a pauper’s funeral after dying virtually penniless, so visitors to this impromptu Facebook page have already established a fund, being helped by Guardian writer and former bandmate Jon Ronson who asks for donations to go via this Paypal account: firstname.lastname@example.org. [Appeal now closed, see update below]
Official unofficial World Cup song launch: Frank at The Salutation pub in Manchester last month. Right, Nick Hilditch’s concept for a statue in Albert Square, pointing to Timperley
Frank Sidebottom zoomed to cult status through comedy records on the Regal Zonophone label and his broadcasts on Radio Timperley for Manchester Radio Online. Within minutes his stand-up routine rocketed him to 80s superstardom, accompanied by Little Frank, a puppet who was his deadringer. From 1986 he had his own comic strip in an anarchic children’s comic called Oink! which was top-shelved by many newsagents. He regularly reported for the regional TV news programme, Granada Reports, graduating to his own ITV showcase, Frank Sidebottom’s Fantastic Shed Show.
Sidebottom, whose fame was greatest during the late 1980s, can truly claim to have put on the map such names as Timperley, St Helen’s, Altrincham FC, Mrs Merton, Mark Radcliffe and most notoriously Chris Evans. Among the final appearances of Big Frank and Little Frank was the living test card shown on late-night television in Greater Manchester on Channel M.
Sievey left a daughter, Asher, 31 and two sons, Stirling, 31, and Harry, 18, who still lives with Sievey’s ex-wife Paula. Frank’s catchphrase was “The Robins aren’t Bobbins”. Another one was “You know it is, it really is”.
Sidebottom the broadcaster: Frank meets Vicky at Cheshire FM . . . and interviews MP Edwina Currie for Granada TV
❚ FRIDAY JULY 2 IS THE DATE for Chris Sievey’s funeral. A private service for family and friends will be held at Altrincham Crematorium to celebrate the life of the man who created the cult hero Frank Sidebottom. It is being funded by donations from an internet campaign. Within six days of his death from cancer, donations to the funeral fund saved Sidebottom’s creator from a pauper’s funeral. More than 2,500 supporters signed up to the Facebook group Frank’s Fantastic Funeral, with Twitter claiming 3,400 followers. The appeal fund closed on Sunday June 27 at £21,240.
His son Stirling, 31, said the private funeral would give those who knew his dad the chance to mourn the man behind the mask. “The funeral is for friends and family of Chris. We want to hold a celebration of Frank within the next couple of weeks. We are looking at venues, including Manchester town hall.” [More at the Manchester Evening News]
❚ IGNORED BY THE MAINSTREAM ALL HIS LIFE, the cult comedian cum cod pop star finally made headline news in death. Plenty of people didn’t get Sidebottom. The first time he appeared at Liverpool University, he bombed. “Did Sievey like being Frank? Yes. Would he prefer to have been a Beatle? Yes.” – Simon Hattenstone in The Guardian, June 26, 2010
❚ THE END OF THE SERVICE for Sievey at Altrincham Crematorium, July 2, was marked by the Beach Boys hit God Only Knows. A celebration of his life, titled Frank’s Fantastic Farewell, is being held in Castlefield Arena on July 8, 7-10pm, admission free.
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MORE INTERESTING THAN MOST PEOPLE’S FANTASIES — THE SWINGING EIGHTIES 1978-1984
They didn’t call themselves New Romantics, or the Blitz Kids – but other people did.
“I’d find people at the Blitz who were possible only in my imagination. But they were real” — Stephen Jones, hatmaker, 1983. (Illustration courtesy Iain R Webb, 1983)
“The truth about those Blitz club people was more interesting than most people’s fantasies” — Steve Dagger, pop group manager, 1983
“See David Johnson’s fabulously detailed website Shapers of the 80s to which I am hugely indebted” – Political historian Dominic Sandbrook, in his book Who Dares Wins, 2019
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✱ If you thought there was no more to know about the birth of Blitz culture in 1980 then get your hands on a sensational book by an obsessive music fan called David Barrat. It is gripping, original and epic – a spooky tale of coincidence and parallel lives as mind-tingling as a Sherlock Holmes yarn. Titled both New Romantics Who Never Were and The Untold Story of Spandau Ballet! Sample this initial taster here at Shapers of the 80s
CHEWING THE FAT
✱ Jawing at Soho Radio on the 80s clubland revolution (from 32 mins) and on art (@55 mins) is probably the most influential shaper of the 80s, former Wag-club director Chris Sullivan (pictured) with editor of this website David Johnson
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