Blog posted by Ste Pickford on Tue, 22 Jun 2010
I've never felt the urge to write about anything other than video games or game development on this blog. I guess I don't know much about anything else. But, the death yesterday of Chris Sievey - aka Frank Sidebottom - has really upset me, and I feel that I should add some of my thoughts and memories to the outpouring of love and affection that's been gushing around the internet for the last day or so.
I don't have anything new to say about his unique brand of comedy, or about the man behind the papier mache head. Like, I suspect, many people in Manchester, I felt like I knew Frank Sidebottom, as he'd been such a constant presence on radio and TV thoughout my life. I used to tune in to his Piccadilly Radio shows and send off for his cassettes when I was a kid. Growing up I bought his records, went to his gigs, and spotted him on TV now and again. In the 90s I remember him as a kind of second mascot at Manchester City matches, messing about with Moonchester on the pitch at half time. More recently I introduced my kids to the delights of Frank Sidebottom, thanks to his regular appearences on the 'Channel M' Manchester TV channel. In the last few years I saw him live a couple more times, and was really knocked out by how much the rest of the crowd were really into him, and knew all the words to his songs. It's hard to accept that he's not around any more.
I count myself as a fan of his music and comedy, but most of all I especially loved his beautiful artwork. I admired that fearless way he had of just hand-drawing anything he wanted. Record sleeves, posters, his website - even new characters. A set of felt-tip pens was all he needed to create anything he needed. I've tried to follow his example and just draw whatever I need, but I don't think I'm as bold or as confident as Frank was.
I loved his independent spirit, and his determination to carry on doing what he was doing without ever getting the rewards of massive acclaim or commercial success. He was always on the periphery of the showbiz world he inhabited, but that never stopped him. I guess he did what he did because he loved it, and he was good at it, and it made people happy. He was a true inspiration.
I had a couple of minor encounters with him, both of which illustrate what a lovely and funny bloke he was.
I remember sitting with my brother in the offices of our studio, Zippo Games, in maybe 1988, listening to his just-released Timperley EP. This included a cover of Glenn Miller's 'Pennsylvania 6-5000' called 'Timperley 969 1909'. Living in South Manchester, it was obvious that this was a real Timperley phone number, and my brother and I began to dare each other to dial the number. I finally plucked up the courage and nervously dialed, and after a couple of rings I was greeted with a bright, nasally, "Helloooooooo!" It was really him! I don't know quite what I was expecting, but I wasn't expecting to actually hear Frank Sidebottom on the other end of the line. I had no idea what to say, but I didn't want to be rude. I remembered that around that time he was constantly moaning about Paul McCartney on his radio show, as I think he'd been refused permission to do a cover of a Paul McCartney song on this or a previous EP, so I answered with a stuttering, "errm, hello, it's Paul McCartney here." Quick as a flash he replied, "Oh, hiya Paul," as if it was the most natural thing in the world, and proceeded to chat merrily away to me - completely in character - about the trouble he was having getting the cover version rights sorted. I promised him I'd do my best to get it sorted, and he seemed really happy with that.
A year or so later around 1990, at the same studio, we were making a self-funded coin-op game called 'Fleapit' featuring a character we'd come up with called Plok. John and I wanted to give a voice to the character, and the first person we thought of was Frank Sidebottom. We thought it would be amazing if Plok came out with lines like, "Oh blimey!" when he died, and, "Absolutely fantastic!" when he completed a level. I managed to get in touch with him (presumably I phoned him up on the 969 1909 number again) and arranged to see him before a gig he was doing at The Ritz in Manchester (our offices were on the same street). I was delighted to see him smoking a cigarette while wearing his big head during the sound check. Backstage, the first thing he said to me was, "I suppose there'll be no money in it?" Well, we had no money, so it was incredibly kind of him to agree to do the voice work for us for nothing, but sadly we never recorded his voice as our studio closed soon afterwards, and that version of the game was never finished. The game eventually saw the light of day several years later as a SNES platformer called Plok!, but as it was now for a big, mainstream American publisher it would have been impossible to get them to agree to recording the voice of a quirky Mancunian comedian for the main character. If only we'd recorded his voice for the first game it might have stayed in and ended up in the SNES version.
I'm kicking myself now. Who knows, we might have even got a beautiful felt-tip cover drawing of Frank-Plok for the game as well. How cool would that have been?
» Tributes to Frank Sidebottom