It is often said that the most creative geniuses are also quite mad or, if they aren’t at the beginning, there’s a good chance they will end up being come the end.
Chris Sievey is one such tale, though it’s a tale, and a life, that you believe he would have absolutely no problem with, if he hadn’t passed tragically young from cancer.
Sievey began his career, in Manchester, playing music and writing songs. The Freshies were his eventual band, though there were many more prior as he lurched from one crazy, creative idea to the next and quite often back again, and again, and again.
It was with The Freshies that he had his big break when he released a song titled “I’m In Love With The Girl On A Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk”. This gained much notoriety, particularly when Virgin, for some odd reason, decided Sievey couldn’t use the name in his song, forcing him to rename the song “I’m in Love With The Girl On A Certain Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk”, and re-record some of the lyrics.
Whilst on the cusp of fame for the very thing he wanted to do, to be known for, crew on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops program went on strike, on the very show The Freshies were due to perform on. The song lost momentum, the moment had gone, and Sievey’s time in the limelight passed.
However, it would take a random friends fancy dress party for Sievey’s next idea to come to fruition when he came dressed in a giant paper-mache head, and called himself John Smith. This was the start of Frank Sidebottom.
Writer, director and producer Steve Sullivan had hours and hours and hours of old videotape from Sievey’s house, that his brother had rescued from being thrown in a skip, and he has done a great job of combining it all in some form of logical order.
We see Sievey’s attempts at fame and fortune, in many ways he was ahead of the curve. Once, after being sent out to pay the phone bill by his wife, he came home with a computer instead, and proceeded to release a record that, on one side had a single on it and, on the other, had a computer program. It was an early, home karaoke system.
For all of his creative genius though, Sievey had his faults. Towards the end he was an alcoholic, he had no idea about money and bills and his passion consumed him. Whilst others around him gained fame and fortune, Caroline Ahern, Mark Radcliffe, Chris Evans (who was Sievey’s driver for a while), Sievey continued to scrimp and scrap for everything.
Whilst, personally, I was never a fan of Frank Sidebottom when he was around and on TV, I found the documentary utterly absorbing and fascinating. Putting this character in context to Sievey’s life, the way Sievey seemed to compartmentalise these two, seemingly very different, attitudes, was amazing to see unfold.
Sullivan keeps a lot of laughs in the film, a lot of music and keeps the focus very much on Sievey and Sidebottom, and Little Frank. Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story is a wonderful documentary about a character who was a local megastar, before they even existed.