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Being Frank : The Chris Sievey Story


Muso's was invited this past Tuesday to an advanced screening of Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story a film by award winning and BIFA nominated filmmaker Steve Sullivan which opens across the UK in March. Before you, the reader, reads any further there are probably (most likely) mild spoilers in this piece. If you're cool with that, keep reading, if you're not cool with that go watch the film and then read this.

I didn't grow up in the UK so I was never privy first hand to any of the antics of Chris Sievey or Frank Sidebottom, but I do fall into the appreciation age bracket and you can bet I would've loved to have been part of the fiasco. Years ago when I first came to the UK I did see the indie film Frank  which after seeing Being Frank I understand was only loosely based on the Chris Sievey's character (and not at all on the man himself). Before seeing a film, whether I'm reviewing or not, I try to stay pure, meaning no posters, trailers, articles, anything. I find I'm not searching for anything I might have read about or seen previously but I was aware of Frank. Sullivan's film does a pretty great job tearing down any preconceived notions the viewer may have. When the Chief asked if I'd like to see Being Frank I jumped at the opportunity because I thought I'd witness the birth of a spectacle. Only after watching the film did I realize I wouldn't learn more about Frank , I'd learn more about Chris. In hindsight I'm glad I did, my only regret is I didn't learn more. It's not that Steve left his audience wanting more but how do you sum up a man's life, and his personas, in its entirety in a hundred and forty minutes?

I wanted to learn more about Chris and watch him develop as whatever he decided to be from one moment to the next whether it would be as a musician holding record companies hostage until given studio time or a contract. Or maybe an artist swiping official label letterheads and passing it off as a Top Secret industry insider communication, real 'eyes only' stuff, fooling even the top brass as a PR stunt to gain The Freshies (his band) some much needed attention. The antics of Chris Sievey held the public at large as hostages whether they knew it or not (most of the time not). I think halfway through creating Frank Chris developed Stockholm syndrome if you ask me. Frank was a byproduct of Chris's imagination, another stunt, but quickly ended up becoming an identity enveloping Sievey and everyone around him taking over their lives FANTASTIC! Such were the life and times of one Chris Sievey. In the end, inseparable from Frank Sidebottom.

What I took away from the film was that Frank has an unquenchable thirst which is a completely destructive force for Chris who seemingly has a bottomless imagination and ingenuity and ends up hollowing him out as he eventually spirals out of control turning to drink and substance abuse.

Sullivan somehow manages to gently guide us through the whirlwind of Sievey's life, all the while it feels like a roller-coaster screaming to jump off the tracks but Steve somehow manages to rein it in. The last quarter of the film just left me drained and exhausted however. Although I felt sorry for myself I felt worse for Sullivan who had to slog and log and even edit all this footage and images, most of which we learn were in near ruins found in a basement. It must've amounted to hundreds if not thousands of hours of work! The documentary was made on a shoe-string budget with a contribution from the BFI (undisclosed) and from a paltry sum of a £48,000 which was raised by 2,500 members of the public via Kickstarter. You wouldn't be able to tell though because the documentary is VERY watchable even though I found the end to dragging a bit, that was probably just Frank's fault though.

Animated scene transitions of Chris's journals as his thoughts were written out on lined paper thought by thought dotted throughout the picture pulls the viewer in and embraces them. If there's one thing that Steve's film manages to create it's a candid environment that feels unique to the individual watching and listening, like any good story teller does. The curtain is pulled back on a man's life, we're brought deep inside Chris's life, and to the bottom. It's intimate and personal but not soppy. It's got a life of its own moving and jumping through one event to the next culminating in the life of a talented person who wanted to leave a legacy behind but likely never realized he was already doing so. I went in wanting to learn more about Frank not knowing I'd leave not having learned enough about Chris. Maybe that's how everyone felt that knew him. He liked to spend time alone but wanted an audience at the end, says his former wife Paula at one point. The film takes the audience along for the ride that was Chris's life dipping in and out all aspects which have been thoroughly documented by Chris himself and those around him including his family, friends, and the media. We're taken through milestones like his bands, dreams, marriage, kids, Frank, separation from his wife, scandals, fame, infamy, divorce and death.

Nothing is left untouched. The story is unfolds from the perspective of Chris's former wife Paula, their two sons Stirling and Harry, daughter Asher, brother Martin, ex-bandmates, agents, managers and even a former employer. Just about everyone who's ever been at one time or another an integral part of Chris's life has been opened up and left bare I hesitate to say 'for us' because it feels like it's just 'for you'. The interviews are all shot tightly framed and at low angles like someone telling a story to a child. I don't know how Johnny Vegas became part of the roster, maybe that's just what he does? He's even ended up in my life that one time when he nearly burnt a set I was on, but there he is, empty Guinness at his feet talking about Chris and Frank.

Chris's life was like the Russian Matryoshka dolls, open one up there's a family, open another there are The Freshies, another, Frank, another, Little Frank, will we ever get to the last doll to find the man that wants to make a living solely off his imagination in music while chowing down on burnt cheese and beans on toast? With Chris the end is never an end, it's another opportunity for something to be really fantastic ...even taxes. Just after the halfway point we see Chris's face for the first time after removing Frank's sailor head in front of the camera from the deck of a boat, for the first time since he donned it in his younger years in the film. He has visibly aged and looks the way I feel, a bit haggard. If this is how I felt after an hour-forty what did his family, friends and the people around him feel like after a lifetime? What had Sullivan felt like after years of working on this story? I recommend going to watch the documentary and finding out for yourself.

Walking out of this film I was reminded of a Hunter S. Thompson quote I'd read in Hell's Angels, “The Edge... There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over.” Chris and Steve go over the edge so you don't have to, the least you can do is buy the ticket and take the ride. it is are the ones who have gone over.” Buy the ticket and take the ride.


Garage Rockin' Craze : The Story Of Tokyo Garage Punk!

This much anticipated documentary film, made by Mario Cuzic and BB Clark, certainly kicks off as it means to go on. From the get-go, this film is packed full of rocket-fuelled, high-octane, in your face Rock and Roll - Nihon style.

The film centres around one of the protagonists of the garage scene in Tokyo. Meet Daddy-O-Nov. Quite an unassuming guy, with an obsession for cycling, garage punk and hanging out with teenagers. ‘He’s always hanging out with young people’ cheerful Enocky (of surf band Jackie & The Cedrics) comments, ‘hence the name Daddy’. Daddy is not concerned with a pecking order (which in Japanese culture is a huge deal) and likens the scene to a more Western way of being.

Daddy-O-Nov’s story is quite a familiar one. He kissed a few frogs (Elvis, Glam, Psychobilly) before meeting his true love, ‘60s garage punk, via the Crypt label's Back From The Grave compilations. Inspired, he went on to open the eponymous club night in the late ‘80s. 5678s drummer Sachiko comments that BFTG ‘significantly influenced its patrons. The patrons and bands being interchangeable’. And thank goodness they were saved - they were heading down the punk-pop route prior to their discovery of the BFTG club. By the early ‘90s the club had propelled BFTG regulars such as the 5678s, Jackie & The Cedrics, Guitar Wolf and Teengenerate into the western eye; particularly the eyes of Dave Crider (Estrus Records) and So-Cal degenerates The Mummies, Trashwomen et al where a similar scene was happening simultaneously and gig swaps ensued.  

There’s also input from DJ Jimmy Mashiko, who ran a club night prior to BFTG called Garage Rockin’ Craze. He talks solemley about the GS (Group Sounds) movement of the ‘60s, how it was very much steered by the industry (sound familiar?). Subsequently a discography, and book of the more obscure GS bands appeared in the late ‘80s. ‘Everyone was wearing really exciting clothes’ he marvels ‘and the fuzz was intense - wild like Pebbles’ (Pebbles comps released late ‘70s onwards). The love and reverence for the music, and scene stalwarts Jimmy and Daddy-O, are just a few the things that are so uplifting about this film. That and the real edginess conveyed throughout the live performances - it’s primitive kids.

I don’t want to give too much more away, but expect raw fuzz-soaked music from more obscure bands like The Saturns, heartwarming anecdotes, intergenerational rock 'n' roll, crazy spills and thrills and many Yokai. An absolute must see for any garage nerd. 5 stars.  


RM Hubbert, Filmhouse, Edinburgh


RM Hubbert played his new score to accompany the showing of By The Law at the Edinburgh Filmhouse on 3 December 2017.

The audience files in early to Cinema 1 escaping a blustery Sunday afternoon. They take their plush red velvet seats in front of the stage and screen for a live performance by the composer of his new score for the Russian silent film, By The Law. RM Hubbert (aka ‘Hubby’) takes his seat stage left with an acoustic guitar on his knee seeming all too relaxed as this is the last of seven showings that he has accompanied on a tour by the film around Scotland.

His score was commissioned by the Hippodrome Silent Film festival based in Bo’ness. It accompanies a film from 1926 about a team of five gold prospectors in the Yukon. The story is not one to cheer the heart as greed and inhuman treatment lead to a double murder followed by the need (or not) to exact justice in one of the remotest places on Earth.

Hubby begins to play and the curtains open. His rhythm and the backbone of his composition are triplets that he describes as reflecting the river that almost the entire film is shot beside. The logic of his choice is clear as nature is like an additional main character in the film as we passage through summer to frozen winter and then flooding in the spring thaw.

The score is not a dull uniformity. The main characters have themes and from time to time there are breaks that reflect the action in the film such as a jig in the happy, sunnier beginning of the expedition. Hubby also uses some obvious suggestions from the action such as a snippet suggestive of Happy Birthday which features with a tension laden scene as the birthday candles burn down to a decision about the fate of the murderer.

There is always debate about the degree to which a score should intrude on the consciousness of the viewer of a film. Hubby says later that he did no research into composing a film score prior to writing this piece but he judges very finely where there should be more or less. The highlight of his efforts to create atmosphere matching what is on screen is the burial scene. There is a raging storm outside the cabin and those inside are going crazy with loneliness and the burden of deciding what must be done to their friend, the murderer. The score slowly breaks down but still incessantly repeats and it seems to become yet another feature of the environment that is driving the characters towards their madness. It achieves its goal to drive the audience beg for the tension to be over and for order to be restored.

At the end of an 80-minute performance without any break, Hubby stretches his fingers in obvious relief and the audience bursts into applause. There is a short question and answer session after the film during which the audience are treated to the black humour that punctuates Hubby’s gigs. The questions range widely from how often he has watched the film (about 100 times) to who was his favourite character (the dog, who has the sense to be around during the sunny opening then only reappears once the good weather returns after the spring floods). After such a marathon playing session and such a bleak melodrama, Hubby’s humour and honesty make for an effective decompression from the tension of the performance.

Here's the film, albeit with someone else scoring it -


Public Service Broadcasting - Live At Brixton

After missing Public Service Broadcasting twice in Glasgow, once in Edinburgh, and after opting not to go to their show at the National Space Centre, I was getting disappointed with my track record seeing this band, a band whose music I was in awe at. When their largest headline date to date was announced in London, I was in Barcelona for a few months studying, and whilst I did look up flights to attend sense eventually prevailed.

Watching and listening to Live At Brixton therefore helps to reduce my sadness whilst waiting for their return to Glasgow, although as a service announcement of my own I should probably let you know that the previous two CD/DVD live albums I enjoyed were Green Day’s Bullet In A Bible and Linkin Park’s Live In Texas, so you know what to expect from this review.

In its entirety, the seventeen-track set played that night spans the band’s career so far, drawing tracks from both albums and their original war-themed EP. Opening like the most recent album The Race For Space, Kennedy’s inspiring words fade in to the bleep of Sputnik, as a large model of that first satellite graces centre stage for the whole performance with dazzling lights. If you’ve seen the band live, you’ll know about their usual audio-visual stage arrangement and novel method of crowd interaction, so I’ll leave that for your enjoyment later, rather than spoiling the whole thing.

Next is a run of older tracks, featuring the incendiary ‘Signal 30’ and soaring ‘Night Mail’, both obvious crowd favourites as the “drop” in both kicks them into some vigorous dancing. Existing as a duo usually, the wealth of additional personnel involved in making this show the breathtaking spectacle it is is impressive. From the usual brass accompaniment to backing singers to string arrangements… all crammed onto the Brixton Academy stage for maximum musical impact.

After some shy words from one half of the band – J. Willgoose, Esq. – the crowd is introduced to the “voice of Public Service Broadcasting”, and then a triumphant end to the set begins… with five tracks left. The enthralling ‘The Other Side’ kicks things off, with the closing duo of ‘Gagarin’ and ‘Everest’ seeing the emergence of shiny jacket and some killer dance moves.

Confetti cannons bring proceedings to a close, and this show is a deserved triumph for the band whose two albums have been generously received by fans and critics alike. A euphoric night of celebration if ever there was one, immortalised forever in a live album, to be enjoy and relived by fans – and even the band if they were so inclined – time and time again. Public Service Broadcasting’s music and performances are a spectacle, and this show is no exception, with the air of celebration giving these recordings an edge over their original, record-forming counterparts.

Live at Brixton is available from iTunes and Amazon.


Gary Numan - Android In LA LA Land


“At the end of the 1970s a nervy young musician topped the music charts...

He quickly became one of the most famous men on the planet...

Three decades of ground-breaking and hugely influential music would follow...

Then six long years of silence...Until now.”

Android In LA LA Land is about the breaking of that silence. It’s shot as a semi-bio and semi-fly on the wall documentary by filmmakers Rob Alexander and Steve Read. It follows Gary Numan as he leaves the safe and leafy suburbs of southern England to transport himself and family to LA LA land.

This is something Numan has always wanted to do at various points in his musical career. A career that has seen him at the very top and also in the depths of musical despair. His dramatic rise to fame in the late 1970s and early 1980s saw him conquer the world. Yet his ease with fame and all its trappings was never something he ever really dealt with. His recent diagnosis with Asperger’s syndrome explains the problems he faced in an industry that at the time would not have understood his condition or more importantly even cared. The media was always quick to label had him down as a freak. “Is Numan Human?” was one headline, with another paper going as far to say he shouldn’t have even been born.

However we now find him embarking on a new life and plans for making his new studio album Splinter.

This transformation has been made possible in part due to his wife Gemma. She was a lifelong ‘Numanoid’ and even stalked Gary through his early career.  She gives a fascinating insight to the life of a dedicated fan and then her own part in beginning the resurgence of his career. At a time when he was suffering from severe depression and facing bankruptcy she convinced him to get back into the studio and back on the stage. This was done via Numan acting almost as a recluse and releasing the works himself as he confirms that during this time he had no record company that would touch him.

However the strength of his fan base allowed him to justify making these albums and helped to form a new-found love for touring and an ever younger, growing number of fans. Now it’s time to get back to what he does best and he realises that the United States is a great opportunity to tap into. He also mentions that he would ideally like to work on movie scores and again LA is a perfect setting for this.

It helps that he is moving to a modern day castle complete with tunnels and secret corridors which his three daughters Raven, Persia and Echo are obviously excited about. That and the new swimming pool. Although not quite able to explain what dad does, they can confirm that he sings but doesn’t go to work like a proper job, he doesn’t work in buildings he just sits at home and sings.  

Work on the Splinter album is soon underway in his new home studio. We gain a fascinating insight into his recording methods and how he creates sound to vocals. This is then whisked off to production in London and the album starts to be built. Gary speaks openly about the pressure of building an album and the sounds he hopes to create. The panic in the process and what he started with and what he hoped to achieve changes and evolves over the process.

We then follow the journey through to the mastering of the final album. He reflects that this album feels completely different from anything in the last 30 years. He openly admits to panicking about its reception and confirms that if this doesn’t go well then he simply won’t know what to do. Speaking in very open and candid terms Numan attempts to describe what fame is actually like.

“It’s like watching a speeding train fly past you on a platform, you stick out your hands and you are rushed away…everything’s a blur… at some point you lose your grip and fall off and you find yourself alone, battered and lost …"

The album is a huge success and gives him his highest position in a UK album chart in over 30 years. The following European and North American tours are equally successful and his conquering of his new hometown is captured in a live album released this year Here In The Black : Live At Hollywood Forever Cemetery. His return brings his career to an almost full circle. He is now selling out venues in the UK and a new album is due out next year. This film shows his vulnerability along with his charm. He is very open about his past and the mistakes he made with his family. Now he’s in a place that allows him to simply work on what he wants to do. Settled in the Hollywood hills with his studio and family he is ready for another train to race towards him.

Here In The Black is available from iTunes.


Lee Scratch Perry, Vision Of Paradise Premiere, Duke Of York Cinema, Brighton

Most birthday parties are dismal, dull affairs with poor cake and screaming kids. Imagine how boring our own 80th birthday would be like.

However if you are a musical legend, and I use the word legend in its proper context, your birthday parties are somewhat different.

Lee Scratch Perry has been producing and making records for close to 60 years. We have been lucky enough to get a premier of his new film that celebrates the last decade of his life and his vision for the future. To say he is young at heart is to do him a severe injustice.

His film Vision Of Paradise is a dream for any reggae or indeed music fan as it takes us behind the scene of his creative process, which is unlike any artist we know. His sheer brilliance and at times bonkers approach to music production is unparalleled. He almost seems to be to feel every note and echo and has a spiritual connection to some higher purpose.

The documentary claims to be his life, his history and his story. Perry himself is here to conquer all vampires and a host of talking heads from some of the main producers in the business pay homage to a guy that brought colour into their world. Yet this is more than just another documentary of a legend. This feels like this is Perry almost last attempt to make us see the world in his eyes. To understand the beauty of nature and how corruption and money are temporary and yet how music can transcend all barriers. The film is part documentary, part story and his visions are played out using colourful cartoon imagery. It is a feast for the eyes and the ears that enriches the soul.

It is amazing to see the sheer amazement from fellow musicians about how someone with the very basic technology produced and is still producing music, dubs, echoes, rhythms and sounds which are unique to him and still amaze and puzzle our ears. These productions have lasted decades and are still as fresh and as relevant as they were the day he made them.

These sounds came from the famous Black Arc Studio which Perry set up as a production centre. He would latter burn it down in one of his erratic periods with Perry thinking that evil spirits which he cited as money and greed had taken over the studio. So the film shows some footage from his productive 1970s period and then we are shown into Perry’s home for a never before seen glimpse into his life and times.

If you like your musicians as true artists then this is for you, if you like music then this is for you. If you have never heard of him then this is for you. As the great creator himself says in the closing moments of the film.

"Words give I the power to say anything/Words give I the power to control the universe

There is no reason for God to grow up for God must be a child forever."

We left the Duke Of York feeling closer and educated into a world vision from one of the true legend in modern music. No amount of cold or rain could dampen our spirits as we had just been educated by the wonder of Mr Lee Scratch Perry.

Vision Of Paradise will be available to stream via iTunes, Amazon Prime and Netflix from the April 8.  

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