Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story

Frank Sidebottom
(C) Piece of Cardboard Productions

This documentary about one the most peculiar of musicians is best described in the words of his most famous creation: “Absolutely fantastic!”

Chris Sievey was a musician from the north west, who was the frontman for a band called The Freshies, a new wave band which sadly didn’t achieve much in the way of success – partly due to the fact that their appearance on Top of the Pops to play their big single “I’m In Love With The Girl On A Certain Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk” was cancelled because of a strike at the BBC. Even then the original title of the song has to be changed because it originally referenced a Virgin Megastore and the BBC refused to mention the name of a brand.

This resulted in Sievey taking a strange change in direction. He created a papier-mâché head, wore a nose-plug to give himself a nasal voice, and made the creation that was to dominate his life: Frank Sidebottom. Starting off as a fan of The Freshies and being their warm-up act, eventually Frank became big in his own right.

Being Frank tells the story of both: we follow Sievey in his serious musical ambition, and Sidebottom’s more comic path. One of the best moments in the film is footage of Sidebottom on a ship, when he goes into a cabin and we see him taking the head off, revealing Sievey wearing the nose-plug attached around his head with elastic – the transform, while simple, still knocks you back, because the head of Frank is so iconic.

Sievey was certainly a man who had a fair share of problems: not being taken seriously by the music industry before his days as Frank, alcoholism and going through a divorce among other things. He then launched a five year plan to launch a comeback as Frank, but his plan was never completed due to Sievey’s untimely death from cancer, aged 54.

The film features material from an extensive personal archive that was almost thrown away after Sievey’s death. Even Frank’s head was nearly got rid of. Among the material featured include one of an appearance of Sievey as himself promoting a solo single called “Camouflage”, where the A-side contained the single, while the B-side contained a programme for the Sinclair ZX-81, which allowed you to create a tape for what was the first ever computer-animated music video. Also featured in the film are interviews with friends, family and people who worked with Sievey, including John Cooper Clarke, John Thomson and Jon Ronson.

It is certainly a very affectionate film, as is evidenced by the fact that the project was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, funded by ordinary fans, and the love that has been shown to Sievey since his passing is clear, especially in the statue of Frank – mostly bronze but still with a colourful head, erected in Frank’s beloved hometown of Timperley. This release also comes with plenty of extras – namely 45 minutes of material from Sievey’s archive, and half-an-hour of interviews with film contributors.

No doubt the best way to sum up the film is again to paraphrase Frank himself: you should watch it. You know you should. You really should!

 Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story is out on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital download from Altitude.