Chris Sievey: The man behind the papier-mâché mask of Frank Sidebottom

The Manchester musician and comedian Chris Sievey brought a surreal sense of humour, amazing attention to detail and great fun and dedication to both stages of his career. I first came across him in the late 1970s as a solo artist and the frontman of The Freshies, a punk band who embraced the DIY ethos and released a series of catchy power-pop EPs and singles on Sievey's Razz label.

Eventually, Sievey's unbounded enthusiasm and endearing charm and perseverance won through and MCA licensed "I'm In Love With The Girl On The Virgin Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk", replaced the Virgin reference with the vague "A Certain..." to appease Richard Branson and the BBC and secure airplay on Mike Read's Radio One Breakfast Show, and The Freshies spent a couple of weeks on the singles charts in February 1981.

In fact, they narrowly missed out on a Top 40 placing and a Top Of The Pops ppearance because a postal strike affected the collection of chart data from the North-west. However, neither the record-shop-themed follow-up "I Can't Get 'Bouncing Babies' by The Teardrop Explodes", nor the anti-war "Wrap Up The Rockets" charted and, after another single on Stiff in 1982 The Freshies broke up.

Sievey had already introduced Frank Sidebottom, a character wearing an over-sized papier-mâché head, as a fan of The Freshies in the video for "Rockets", and developed this oddball comic creation further. His alter ego wore a 1950s-style sharp suit, played the banjo or a Casio keyboard, spoke or sang in a nasal whine and found everything "Fantastic". Ever the optimist, Sidebottom still dreamt of pop stardom.

He name-checked Timperley, the village within the Altrincham area of Greater Manchester where he lived with his mother, at every opportunity, even when adapting Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" – "Is this the real life, or is this just Timperley?" sung with a stuck-on moustache à la Freddie Mercury – the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy In The UK" or "Panic" by The Smiths. He became a fixture of the comedy circuit, a recurrent guest on Mark Radcliffe's Hit The North programme on Radio 5 in 1990, and developed a cult following.

Something of an acquired taste, Sidebottom and his Little Frank puppet sidekick nevertheless proved hugely popular with both children and students. His persona harked back to the days of George Formby but was also the product of a rich Manchester scene which had already seen the emergence of left-of-centre musical acts with a humorous, satirical or poetic bent like Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias, the Smirks, Jilted John and John Cooper Clarke. Indeed, Sievey helped nurture the comedic talent of Caroline Aherne, who debuted her Mrs Merton persona on Frank Sidebottom's Radio Timperley, the comedy series he made for Piccadilly Radio, while early incarnations of Sidebottom's Oh Blimey Big Band featured the broadcasters Radcliffe and Marc "Lard" Riley, and were driven by a young upstart called Chris Evans.

Born in 1955 in Ashton-on-Mersey, Sievey was a huge fan of the pop music he would later make gentle fun of, most famously with his take on the Beatles' "Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!" for Sgt Pepper Knew My Father, the charity album for Childline, in 1987. He idolised the Fab Four and in 1971 hitchhiked to London with his brother Martin to stage a sit-in at Apple Records in an attempt to secure a deal. They did get to record a session but Apple folded shortly after.

Throughout the rest of the '70s he sent demo tapes to record companies and collected the rejection slips, subsequently publishing them in a booklet packaged with a cassette release, the No-Go Demos, in 1980. He recorded with the drummer Martin Jackson, later of Magazine and Swing Out Sister, and the guitarist Billy Duffy, best known for his work with The Cult, but only began gigging in 1980 when The Freshies settled on a line-up comprising guitarist Barry Spencer, bassist Rick Sarko and former Smirks drummer Mike Doherty, who became his agent when he turned to comedy as Sidebottom, the self-styled Bard of Timperley.

In the mid-1980s, after a spell on the EMI-owned imprint Regal Zonophone – once the home of Formby – he signed to In-Tape Records, the independent label set up by Riley, and also collaborated with him on the satirical comic Oink!, which attempted to mirror the success of Viz and lasted until November 1988. He became a regular on the regional news programme Granada Reports and guested on the Saturday morning children's show No 73. In the early '90s he fronted Frank Sidebottom's Fantastic Shed Show which was shown on most of the ITV network, and appeared on the British version of Remote Control, the game show hosted by Anthony H Wilson of Factory Records fame.

Sievey seemed to grow tired of Sidebottom and mothballed the character while he worked on the children's TV shows series Pingu and Bob The Builder at the Altrincham-based Hot Animation company. In 2006, he reappeared on Channel M, the local Manchester TV channel. He exhibited his drawings and animation work at London's Chelsea Space gallery and also presented "An Evening With Frank Sidebottom" at Tate Britain. More recently, he toured with Clarke and had just released a World Cup comedy song entitled "Three Shirts On My Line". He was diagnosed with cancer last month but had been confident of making a recovery.

Paying tribute to Sievey on his Radio 2 show on Monday night, Radcliffe said. "I genuinely believe him to be one of the very few people I met whom I would call a genius. He never became hugely successful – he defined what a cult figure is in many ways. In the North-west he was elevated to cult hero status. Frank Sidebottom was a meticulous comic creation, almost like Hancock. Chris knew every aspect of Frank's world. He knew who his friends were, what he ate for his meals, what his pets were. The character also tapped into this era where everyone wants to be famous without being equipped, either talent-wise or personality-wise, to do it.

"Frank did his Radio Timperley and TV shows from his shed. Doing "Born In Timperley" instead of "Born In The USA", he punctured the grandiose pomposity of pop music while at the same time maintaining that love he had for it. He was also an incredibly gifted and creative artist. Quite often, he would have brilliant ideas and never quite get to the execution of them. In 1983, I remember he brought me a 12in record. One side of it was a computer game called "The Biz" for ZX Spectrum. Everybody said: a computer game, on a disc? Don't be stupid! He was a wonderfully talented bloke. He taught you that life could be viewed slightly differently from how everybody else views it."

Pierre Perrone

Christopher Mark Sievey (Frank Sidebottom), comedian, singer, songwriter, illustrator, animator: born Ashton-on-Mersey 25 August 1955; married (marriage dissolved; three children); died Wythenshawe, Manchester 21 June 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable