Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story
Directed by Steve Sullivan
HOME, 3 April 2019
I is another, and all that gubbins.
Although largely unknown, Chris Sievey had a good life. He achieved some recognition early on with his band The Freshies (they are usually called a punk band, but their sound is closer to pop – an outfit like The Boo Radleys, say). Their song ‘I’m in Love with the Girl on a Certain Manchester Megastore Check-out Desk’ almost, very nearly, but for myriad mishaps of fate would likely have been a big hit. But it wasn’t to be. When that song didn’t make it, interest in the band gradually petered way, and Chris Sievey, in time, created an alter-ego: Frank Sidebottom.
Frank caught on. Songs, a TV show, bathos, all that gubbins. With the birth of Frank, mind, Chris Sievey’s career effectively ended. He receded into the shadows. There is some protracted, inconclusive discussion here about the relationship between Chris and Frank. Did Chris have complete control of Frank, as (say) a novelist (allegedly, anyway) has control of his protagonist (say: P.G. Wodehouse with Bertie Wooster) or was it more complicated than that? Some interviewees here claim that Frank could be an autonomous or semi-autonomous personality – though maybe Chris just acted in character. Maybe Frank was Chris’s heteronym as Pessoa’s co-writers were? Probably, it was a bit of all these – it oscillated – but mostly the first. Certainly, you get the sense that Chris could completely immerse himself in Frank’s world – and loved to do this. Though no doubt he also at times saw Frank as a sort a straitjacket, a mask that ate into the face. Naturally enough: as an artist you want to innovate.
What is impressive is how fully realised Frank was. There was a comic strip in Oink!, Chris began a football team (big-shorts) managed by Frank, and at one point there was an art show about Frank and his world. Not really surprising, this last one: there is an obvious kinship between Frank Sidebottom and the performance artist Leigh Bowery.
Early on, in one of his notebooks, Chris Sievey expressed an ambition to be in show biz, to write and perform songs, and that is pretty much what he did all his life. He had some personal problems, moments of unhappiness, money troubles. But he did what he wanted, he entertained people, he touched others’ lives. And he paid his dues.
This is a very full, a comprehensive documentary, though it still leaves you with a mystery. Who was Chris Sievey?
Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story is showing at HOME now. Details here.