Frank Sidebottom – Original Review | Review by Steve Bennett

Frank Sidebottom – Original Review

Note: This review is from 2006

Review by Steve Bennett

In these Big Brother days anyone, it seems, can become a celebrity. But back in the day you needed a real talent. Like the ability to don a papier-mache head, master the ‘demo;’ function of your Yamaha keyboard and sing badly in a nasal Northern whine.

Welcome to the world of Frank Sidebottom, a surreal, enduring figure on comedy’s lunatic fringe whose lasting appeal is almost impossible to explain.

His audience can usually be split into two. The die-hard fans utterly absorbed into Frank’s world and the rest – predominantly the friends and partners of the first group – who are left completely bewildered by the madness that their seemingly sane pals are participating in.

Indeed, the most priceless moment in the show is when Frank sings, out of nowhere, ‘Guess who’s been on Match Of The Day?’ Half the crowd chant back the correct response, as if drilled into their consciousness as part of a secret society’s initiation rites, while the rest are utterly confused about how anyone could possibly have know the proper comeback.

That’s the key his appeal. Frank is the unlikely but charismatic leader of a bizarre and exclusive club with archaic rules. It’s a place where everything is ‘fantastic’ or ‘brilliant’, where songs have to have a ‘proper’ ending and where slide shows made in his garden shed in Tmperley are as good as any Hollywood blockbuster.

Musically, he offers cheesy club-style cover versions of everything from Elvis to the Arctic Monkeys, Queen to punk, all with lyrics altered to reflect his mild-mannered suburban viewpoint. Thus we get ‘Anarchy in Timperley’ or ‘I’m gonna raise a fuss, I’m gonna raise a holler/I’ve been working all summer just to try to get a pound’.

But an all-round entertainer like Frank doesn’t restrict himself to one talent. He also has a bash at ventriloquism with his sidekick Little Frank, who shares the same perfectly spherical head and wide saucer eyes but has a body made of cardboard. And, to be fair, you certainly can’t see big Frank’s lips move during the act.

And, in the most accessible part of the show, he displays a series of brilliantly-drawn sketches with running commentary: one set telling the story of thwarting pumpkin rustlers ahead of the Timpeley annual fair, another suggesting possible outfits for a fancy-dress party with a sci-fi theme. This is comic surrealism at its most sublime.

At other points in the full show, we indulge Frank a little as he witters on about Paul McCartney or conducts a raffle draw for his DVD. But humouring the exalted leader is all part of being in a cult, and Frank Sidebottom truly is a cult among cults.

Review date: 23 Oct 2006
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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