Tonight Manchester is staging a live tribute to Chris Sievey, the recently deceased creator of one of the city’s most-loved comedy characters, Frank Sidebottom. Sievey made his career by donning a papier machee head that made him look like a kewpie doll, and then exploring a kind of happy northern amateurism. Predictably, it was not long before Frank disappeared into his own parody. From the 1980s onwards the big-hearted, big-headed figure straddled a line between underground and mainstream media. In his heyday he appeared on national TV shows like The Tube. Indeed, Frank’s forays into comedy, TV presenting, cabaret and popular music were ongoing. Sievey had been in a band called The Freshies and there is now a campaign to get Frank’s recent football song to the top of the charts.
Hailing from the mythic town of Timperley, Frank was already the stuff of nostalgia. He will now be able to take his place alongside Tony Wilson and others to become part of the cultural pantheon of the city. The character’s larger than life head branded him as an icon, and now he can begin to find his place as a minor but very welcomed legend. Tonight’s tribute show is being headlined by fellow Manchester eccentrics Badly Drawn Boy and John Cooper Clarke.
The odd thing about Sievey’s death is simply seeing the man behind the mask; during Frank’s heyday you never did. Credit must go to the late Mr Sievey for his struggle against the slick professionalism of the corporate media to construct what became a genuine folk legend. One wonders if, like some mythic superhero, the character might return with his huge head on fresh new shoulders, propped up by a heroic yet anonymous citizen who agrees that entertainment should remain a genuinely public service.