I first saw Frank Sidebottom at the Reading Festival in 1993. We'd driven down after a spur of the moment decision that took place late one Thursday night in Bradford's Tumblers nightclub. A few hours later we were on our way, down the M1 in my mate's dad's car. The only slight problem with this was that my mate's dad was on holiday and didn't know he had the car, my mate had only just passed his driving test the week before and had never driven on a motorway, and we had to get the car home by Sunday before his dad got back which would also mean missing New Order.
The journey didn't start well, we were nearly taken out by an artic joining the M1 from the M62 , but we soon settled in, and with just one piss stop at Leicester Forest, we found ourselves at the Reading Festival.
The lineup that year, looking back, was superb. The type of thing you don't appreciate at the time. Porno For Pyros (the then incarnation of Jane's Addiction) The The and New Order headlining, and the likes of Blur, Radiohead, Big Star, Boo Radleys, Breeders, Lemonheads, Rage Against the Machine and The Flaming Lips scattered across the music bill. Eddie Izzard, Lee Hurst, John Thompson and Simon Day were all present over the weekend and would all go on to bigger and better things. But, headling on the Friday, in the comedy tent was Frank Sidebottom.
I'd gone in after Rage Against the Machine , just after my mate lost / had his wallet nicked, so he needed cheering up before Porno for Pyros who we were both eager to see. Not realising Frank was on next we sat waiting. Frank came on and we missed all but the end of Porno for Pyros. He was like nothing we'd ever seen. Yes we knew him from the telly, his days on No 73 and a few other appearances, so we recognised him, but his comedy was something entirely new. Innocent. But funny.
It's the main thing I remember about that festival to this day.
It's with regret (in the words of TV's Lordalun Sugar) that the next time I saw Frank was some 16 years later in the basement of a pub in Bradford. Here he had grown men transfixed with a puppet show and singing along to his hits such as Zoo Scrapbook and Guess Who's Been on Match of the Day. The show went on far longer then it should have but no one cared. Frank gave us our money's worth. Finally, after a posing or photos with blokes more than old enough to know better - and it's with even more regret that I didn't get the chance to - the show was over.
An hour later, and just as I'm finishing my drink at the back of the room, I see Chris Sievey, quietly slipping out of the door. Something that at the time touched me. He wasn't Frank anymore, he was Chris and he didn't want a fuss.
My next encounter with Frank was via Twitter. I was following him and his trials and tribulations as he sought to put on an art exhibition at The Chelsea Space in London, sell his work on eBay to raise money for cancer charities and organise a tour in New York that fell through at the last minute. Then the bombshell news came through, in Tweet form, the "bobbins news" that Frank had cancer, but he assured us "seriously, I'll be fine." I even had the honour of him tweeting me when I got a puncture in Cheshire, and as a homage to him headed into Timperley for a bite to eat. I tweeted asking where was any good, and he recommended a curry place. Unfortunately in the hour or so it took for him to see my request and reply, I'd already found an Italian. Still, Frank Sidebottom had tweeted to me and I was having a meal in Timperley!
And so he continued touring, just the other week with John Cooper Clarke, and he had gigs coming up. Then the bombshell that he'd suddenly been taken from us.
It's doubtful that anyone like Frank could exist today, I've heard him described as the true spirit of punk, the DIY ethos, doing your own thing , and I'd say that probably fits.
Whatever you want to label him, Frank Sidebottom's absence will leave a gaping hole in showbusiness, in comedy and most of all and if this doesn't sound too mushy, in the hearts of whole generation. It will, it really will. Thankyou.