Friday, 7 April 2017

Boxing Chris Sievey

After the previous post in which I enthused over my love for Chris Sievey and his much adored creation Frank Sidebottom, you might assume I was a mad collector with more money than sense but the above photo represents my entire collection of Frank memorabilia thanks to both a lack of cash (all contributions gratefully welcome!) and my age meaning almost everything major had come out before I'd even seen a glimpse of old pumpkin head on the telly.  I do have one thing you might not do though... 

The above is a box I received in November 2013 as part of my Kickstarter contribution to the long-in-the-works documentary "Being Frank - The Chris Sievey Story" being made by Steve Sullivan. I'm not a massive one for picking higher tiers on crowd-funding sites simply because I'm invariably skint but Chris / Frank is one of my absolute favourite things in the world and along with receiving various CDs and DVDs of Freshies and Sidie stuff, I would also for my contribution get a "limited edition, sealed, I Should Be So Lucky box containing five thingies from Chris Sievey’s archive."

From all reports, Chris was both a hoarder and as evidenced in photos of Frank surrounded by pop culture ephemera (not to mention the set of his Fantastic Shed Show, see below) he would pick up all manner of toys, figures and games which fit into Frank's world of slightly out of time, out of step, pre-interest in girls nonsense and imagination that made him ultimately so beloved. 

With the chance of absolutely anything being in the box, which had been compiled by his brother Martin, I was incredibly excited about what I might find and I wasn't disappointed. Everything was hugely "Chris Sievey" with his obsessions and love of old tat to the fore, plus considerably more than five "thingies". I haven't been through for a while but with him currently on my brain, lets go back through that box together...

And as I assumed there are toys - lots of toys - which may have been in the background of any number of gigs and photo shoots. This was a man who used to bottle old action figures in water for prizes after all. I wonder what an original 1991 pickled Michaelangelo is going for these days...

A closer look at the toys on offer and if anyone can tell me what some of this stuff is, that'd be great! I'm assuming the big white thing is off Yer Original Star Wars as is that little furry chap next to it, although the guns look a bit more S.A.S. than Stormtrooper. There's also that cheeky looking dinosaur and what I believe was one of the ProStars blind bag toys you could get in the late 90s. The base says "Maldini" so my huge football knowledge tells me this is probably Paolo Cesare Maldini, an Italian former professional footballer who played as a left back and central defender for A.C. Milan and the Italy national team. And I just knew that off the top of my head and everything so shut up.

Also representing the world of sport between the pink football rattle, brown felt tip and other Star Wars ship thingy is our old pal Bill Goldberg, fresh from losing to Brock Lesnar in less time than it took to get from the dressing room to the ring, in his old WWE gear. When I first got this box I thought it was Stone Cold Steve Austin having been out of the wrestling fandom for a while and in many ways I'm not sure why I ever returned (but that's mostly during Roman Reigns matches I think that admittedly...) And finally there's an arm which looks a bit Skeletor-ish, possibly from the 00's reboot - anyone got any ideas?

Ah, good old Our Price stickers. Plus imagining Chris Sievey's face when he bought this at the counter thanks to the mid 90s delight in repackaging everything garishly and "CULT". Not one of the bosom enthusiast and cult director's better known films, "Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers" from 1968 is apparently a mixture of crime drama and marital infidelity although this is Russ Meyer so its naturally set in a topless 'go-go' bar.  Here's one of the more low key parts of the movie...

Oh, I guess I should say its NSFW a bit. Mostly the screaming if I'm honest. If you made it through the full eight minutes of that clip, well done. I haven't.

A slide of someone, possibly an older gentleman, admiring some flowers. Slides often played a big part of what Frank's 'lectures' which happened more in the later years when playing smaller venues without a backing band. Whether this is someone from his family, a home movie or just something random picked up from a boot sale will never be known but its a lovely oddity all the same. 

A selection of records available on Rabid Records, run by Tosh Ryan who put a lot of money into the development of Chris, The Freshies and his mad schemes. Chris would do design work for Ryan who had a lucrative side business making and distributing posters. As you can see above, Graham Fellows was to release the original "Jilted John" single there which brought a decent income to the label although the official spin-off supposedly by Gordon The Moron - actually musician and author Bernard Kelly - himself (not to be confused with the dire "Gordon's Not A Moron" knock-off) didn't recreate the success sadly. You can see the video here. Or hear it as a bonus track on the brilliant "True Love Stories" album here.  

"IT IS ONE OF THOSE TRAPS WHAT THEY DO!" A 1994 American Admiral Ackbar action figure that's strangely (for Chris) still in the box. Like most science-fience, Star Wars would become one of his great obsessions with the theme appearing in Frank's "Sci-Fi Medley" and the huge amount of spin-off toys visible in those great promo picture, of which more in a minute. 

This was particularly exciting, a copy of one of Chris' rare solo records from 1977 although it would be later recorded with the band. "Baiser" sounds like nothing like The Freshies brand of buzzsaw-riffing power pop and comes across more like a bit of upbeat Elton John or even Gilbert O'Sullivan. Comparisons can be made both backwards to The Doors' version of "Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)" and forwards to Scissor Sisters' "Laura" (and by that extension the theme tune to "Thomas The Tank Engine" too.) The B-side is equally radio-friendly pop with the sort-of-ballad "Last".  

"Another Incomplete Razz Record Sleeve" as it says, this is a front cover for the Freshies last proper single before being signed by MCA "No Money" and "Oh Girl", both brilliant buzzing pop numbers that point to the way their songwriting was heading.

Originally appearing on his ambitious double album "5/9/88" the baffling "The Squid Is Correct" was a sketch parodying game shows in which Little Frank takes on "Dave" a Morse Code-communicating pygmy whilst a squid bubbles on incomprehensibly in the background. It was revived I'm assuming as a title for the quiz section in one of Frank's live shows. Whether they also won a trip to Hollywood to write and direct an episode of "The Beverly Hillbillies" as Little Frank did is another matter. 

This is the biggest mystery of the box to me with what appears to be a section of storyboard although for what is anybody's guess. Unless you know, then tell us! 

One of those ace, top and fantastic shots of Frank in his extremely cluttered room surrounded by pop culture tat, in particular sci-fi stuff and lots and lots of Beatles memorabilia, undoubtedly Sievey's main obsession. Lower down is Little Frank in the same room having a lovely rest. I must get this framed soon as its wonderful. 

(Open the image above in a new tab to see a bigger version.)

Frank returned properly in 2006 after threatening to for a while with this no-budget show for Channel M in which he followed on from his "Fantastic Shed Show" format of bringing in guests, some of whom got it and most of whom just looked terrified. The "Proper Telly Show" was unique however in that its original airing would be in black and white whilst the repeats would be in colour. I used to watch it at my friend Andy's house on Saturday afternoon as I didn't have Sky or live in the Manchester area. Sadly Channel M shut down in 2012 and now there's That's Manchester whose budget makes the original station look like the golden age of Hollywood. This particular flyer references what would be the second run of the series which you can helpfully watch here

Here's a lovely little home made fan mail out promoting all the Freshies pre-MCA output. You can tell Chris did it because the spelling is atrocious but when you're an all rounder in showbiz and pop star like what he was, spelling is for other people to worry about. On the inside...

...a reprint of a Sounds piece written by friend and future biographer Mick Middles

A couple of flyers, including one for a gallery which had a Frank exhibit in February 1999. The inside read as follows: 

"Hello fantastic art fans...Frank Sidebottom here actually... and I hope you will all come and see my... ace,... fantastic... and top mixed multi-media extravaganza art thingy... it has absolutely everything in it including felt tip pen drawings (£1.99 a set); poster paint (bit more expensive) pictures; one oil (you need to be a millionaire); pencils / waxes / charcoals / chalks (dirt cheap); videos / slides (all the time) plus super 8mm (selective days weather permitting); fashion; football memorabilia; sci-fi stuff; private photos and not so private photos; original record sleeves; comic strip artwork; sculptures; posters; badges and a cup! In fact everything from my life in show-biz that I can find... (and a bit more too).

Unfortunately there will be some puppets and their art too... (which is absolutely bobbins!) but little Frank said he'd tell my mum if I didn’t let him in the show.

L.S. Lowry (only joking... its me really ... you know it is... it really is... you know ...)

Frank Sidebottom."

There was also a booklet for something called "Denigration Now" which seemed to be a post-main label, pre-Sidebottom art project illustrating songs in various ways, some of which would end up on a fanclub cassette and possibly a video although tracking anything like that down is a nightmare. 

The collage centre of the booklet which is probably making a big statement but mostly just full of tits. What would Frank's mum say? (Nothing because she is a fictional construct.)

And at the bottom of the box, my certificate from Chris' brother to say that its all legitimately from his house although based on the items I received I don't think that was ever in any doubt. The business card and screw were also in there. An actual screw owned by Chris Sievey! Gosh! 

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Did I learn anything about the internal workings of Chris Sievey's mind from all this? God no, people better than me have been trying for years so I haven't the slightest chance but its a fun collection of things that brought him pleasure, however ephemerally, and added into the rich mix of madness that was his musical and television output. Whether he'd want all his stuff giving out to fans all over the world (did anyone else get one of these? I'd love to know and be jealous at what you got!) is a moot point but I'd like to think he'd get a kick of me spending an afternoon going through all this and wondering what the hell it all meant. In the end it probably meant nothing but a good laugh and sometimes thats all you need. Thanks Chris.

1 comment:

  1. For a moment there I thought the spaceship on the left was Sador's flagship from Battle Beyond the Stars! Hooray! But it's not. It is, however, the first ship ever seen in Star Wars, the one Princess Leia is escaping in when she gets kidnapped by the Empire.

    Finders... is nobody's first choice of Russ Meyer movie, so you would have to assume he had the whole set on VHS?

    Battle Beyond the Stars is better than Return of the Jedi, incidentally. I can't stress that enough.