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Page last updated at 11:00 GMT, Friday, 9 July 2010 12:00 UK
Manchester's send-off for Frank was simply 'ace'
By Chris Long
Journalist, BBC Manchester

Little Frank
Frank's sidekick, Little Frank, was on hand to join in the fun

The first brush I had with Frank Sidebottom was a phone interview a few years back.

When I called, it was Chris Sievey, the man inside the mask, who answered and for a moment, I was thrown - should I ask to speak to Chris or Frank?

I chose Frank and as soon as I had, Chris stepped away from the phone and shouted 'Frank, phone call for you.'

A moment or two later, that unmistakable nasal voice responded with a simple 'Coming'.

It's a story that has always summed up the gentle lunacy of Frank Sidebottom's comedy for me and it turns out I'm not alone in having such a tale.

At Castlefield Arena on Thursday night, there were thousands of them bouncing around the ether and every one voiced with their own personal impression of that unforgettable timbre.

Frank's Fantastic Farewell was one of those moments that Manchester does best - as joyful and affectionate as the Elbow open-air extravaganza that graced the Manchester International Festival a year ago, but with the added pathos of knowing that the 'genius' we were here to celebrate was gone.

Great as Frank was, Chris was even better and it was his presence that was truly missing from tonight's show
Chris Long

Frank Sidebottom was utterly unique, as was the man who donned the head, Chris Sievey, and the night was a celebration of both.

Led by the Oh Blimey Big Band - the Big added for one night only to incorporate returning members - and the newly found, long-lost elder brother of Frank, Hank Sidebottom, it was ramshackle and loose, unpredictable and hilarious, touching and, well, fantastic.

In truth, it could have been rubbish and the crowd, made up of fans young and old, would still have loved it, such was the affection in the arena.

'Nothing short of genius'

There were red and black shirts around and about, each one adorned with the name Sidebottom, flags, T-shirts and even the occasional papier-mâché head, dotted like the oddest death masks around the crowd.

Fittingly, the arena was a hijacked World Cup Fan Park, a fact that Frank would have appreciated, and with around 5,000 fans squeezing in for the fun, you couldn't help but wonder if Manchester City Council might have been better off putting on Sidebottom shows instead of the football.

Fans wearing Frank Sidebottom football shirts
Many fans came wearing Frank Sidebottom shirts

On stage, turns by a couple of Frank's favourite comedians, Charlie Chuck and Mr B the Gentleman Rapper, kept the laughter rolling on, while Badly Drawn Boy made one of the most touching tributes when he revealed, between songs, that he'd felt inspired by Frank to buy a magazine he came across on the way back from Chris' funeral.

It was called 'Bobbins', cost "four quid" and it turned out to be about knitting, something which Damon saw as being a perfect reminder of the comedian's leftfield humour.

As lovely as the performances and tributes from the likes of Frank's former manager Guy Lovelady and band mate Jon Ronson were, it was the showing of Frank's work on the big screen that inevitably stole the show.

His animated film, made during Chris' time at Altrincham's Hot Animation, was innocent, bonkers and sharp as a razor, while an unseen TV pilot, in which he forced himself into the life and home of former Smiths' drummer, Mike Joyce, was nothing short of genius.

The closing set came from The Refreshies - an updated version of Chris' DIY band, The Freshies - and it was fitting that it did.

Great as Frank was, Chris was even better and it was his presence that was truly missing from tonight's show.

He would have thought that the evening in Castlefield was, quite simply, 'ace.'




SEE ALSO
In pics: Frank's Fantastic Farewell
09 Jul 10 |  People & Places
Frank Sidebottom: behind the mask
23 Jun 10 |  People & Places
Chris was 'genius' behind Frank
21 Jun 10 |  People & Places
Man behind Frank Sidebottom dies
21 Jun 10 |  Manchester


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