Sunday 21st June 2020 marks the tenth anniversary of Chris Sievey’s death (21st June 2020). There is now a tremendous video tibute to Chris on the Old Courts’ YouTube channel
Anyway, the boys from Strand Records wanted to mark the anniversary with some memories of Chris’s alter ego . . .
Back in the mid-1980s, the Strand Record’s boys started to see gig reviews of an artist called Frank Sidebottom in the NME. The reviews described a rather chaotic spectacle of an entertainer still living with his mum and appearing to be incapable of growing up. That really resonated with the Strand Records’ boys . . . although I am not sure we entertained anyone!
Being based in Stoke-on-Trent, we didn’t get to hear any of Frank’s appearances on Radio Timperley and we received Central Television rather than Granada so we missed out on Frank’s appearances on Granada Reports. We did start buying the records though, both on Marc Riley’s In-Tape label and on EMI’s Regal Zonophone imprint. We also started going to Frank’s gigs during 1987-88. The below photo shows Dave Strand prior to a gig at Hull’s Adelphi Club in October 1988. It is fair to say that we were enchanted by Frank’s world. ‘That’ keyboard sound, his fear of incurring his Mum’s wrath for not tidying his room or doing her shopping, the focus on Timperley, his overall quaint nature (as we saw it and meant as a compliment), ‘that’ voice and his hilarious take on the ‘showbiz’ world. Oh, and what other contemporary performer was referencing blow football!
We were also receiving Frank’s COM updates through the post which detailed the various swag you could buy. Apart from vinyl, we ‘filled our boots’ with badges, tapes and t-shirts although we never had enough money to invest in a ‘Sidie’ – Frank’s version of an Oscar. This was because it was the 1980s and when we were not students we were on the dole and when we were not on the dole we were studying. We still dream of owning a Sidie today (despite being in our, erm, 50s) and here is a picture of a Sidie from the Bobbins! exhibition held at Manchester Public Library in 2019.
Anyway, the gigs and record releases continued and our love for Frank’s world grew and grew. We would sit in Ken Strand’s bedroom listening to Frank’s vinyl version of the Saturday afternoon football results being read out – this version was edited with a bacon slicer with genuinely hilarious results. We adored Franks fascination with Subbuteo, The Beatles and Gerry Anderson’s TV shows. At a similar time we were getting into Viz comic and Frank’s world seemed to chime with elements of Viz’s world to us. A big moment for us was when Frank covered the Fab Four’s Being for the benefit of Mr Kite on NME’s Sgt Pepper knew my father compilation album released in 1987.
Frank’s public profile started to heighten towards the late 1980s/early 1990s. In 1989 he introduced NME’s Carry on disarming video which we watched and watched and watached and watched. Frank even got his own TV show in 1992 called Frank Sidebottom’s Fantastic Shed Show. He also appeared on Channel 4 in Tony Wilson’s Remote Control game show as well as ITV’s Saturday morning kids show, no. 73.
By around 1994 or so, the Strand boy’s seemed to lose touch with Frank. I guess it was that age old issue of life getting in the way? As a character, Frank was not as active in the late 1990s and, for us, it seemed as if Frank’s world had come to an end.
BUT . . .
In 2006, Dave Strand happened to notice that Frank was unveiling a mural dedicated to his world on the side of Afflecks Palace in Manchester. Frank was accompanied by the artist Mark Kennedy. Dave Strand popped across town on his lunch hour to watch the unveiling and get a photo with Frank. Dave Strand was so excited and he couldn’t wait to phone Ken Strand to tell him (in all seriousness) that Frank, “had not changed a bit“. With that statement, we guess the inability to mature/’grow up’ was still there in all of us!! Of course, for the next 4 years or so the Strand Records’ boys became Frank obssessives again as can be seen by the below, erm, montage of Dave Strand and Frank from 2006-2009. The photo outside Afflecks Palace in 2006 is middle right.
During 2006, Frank appeared on Manchester’s Channel M in his Frank Sidebottom’s Proper Telly Show in B/W. In 2007, Ken and Dave Strand took some friends who were Frank virgins along to a gig in Wolverhampton. It’s fair to say that they were very doubtful about Frank’s act and feared that the gig would be a night wasted for them. It was so rewarding for Ken and Dave to see their friends’ frowns turn upside down within the first ten minutes of the gig. At the end, they were buying as much merchandise as they could lay their hands on, getting selfies with Frank and singing Great big zoo scrapbook very loudly in the car on the way home. This photo of Ken Strand with Frank is from that ‘wonderful night in Wolverhampton’ (how often has that phrase been uttered!).
The gigs continued and Dave Strand went on the Magical Timperley Tour which was a total hoot. By 2009, Frank was playing a monthly residency at the LMRCA in Altrincham. These shows were truly amazing and the crowds were generally quite small which allowed Frank to really indulge himself, e.g. Dave Strand played two games of Subbuteo against Frank during LMRCA shows. Dave lost both times!! These gigs are etched in the memory. So many great people were met at these gigs, including Dave Arnold, Martin Green, Martin Unsworth, Dave Hudson, Kev Jones, Simon and Susie Zaccagni. At the final LMRCA gig in December 2009, Dave Strand tried to sing Close encounters of the third kind at Frank’s behest whilst on stage (are there any words? Nope!).
Dave Strand was at the final Frank appearance on Friday 11th June 2010 at the Salutation pub in Manchester. It may seem a funny thing to write now but, at the time, Dave had never knowingly seen a photograph of Chris Sievey. He had been a bit too young for The Freshies (Chris’s post-punk combo) and had never really wanted to know what went on under the papier mache head. On that night, Dave stepped into the Salutation’s beer garden and looked at a man having a pint and a fag. The man looked back at Dave and they gazed into eachother’s eyes for a moment in a way that only two men who have met over a Subbuteo table can! At the end of this final gig, Frank placed his gaffer tape Elvis sideburns/Freddie Mercury moustache on to Dave’s head and that was that. Dave still has the gaffer tape (see below photo).
Very sadly, Chris passed away 10 days later. It was so hard coming to terms with the premature death of a perfomer so unique and so incredibly creative. Frank had been forever young and the character never changed. That seemed to make Chris’s early passing even harder to take. The Strand boys have been to Frank’s statue to pay tribute and we have continued to listen to Frank’s music and laugh at his jokes and his wonderful on-stage observations about the world as he saw it.
For the release of Steve Sullivan’s truly amazing Being Frank documentary film, the Strand Records’ shop was covered in posters for the film. It made us feel better. In fact, the posters stayed on the windows for a long time. We could not bear to take them down.
Chris Sievey AKA Frank Sidebottom, the boys of Strand records salute you. You will never be forgotten.