Michael Fassbender, crazy German name, crazy Irish guy, is as hot as any film actor in the world today. The title role in Ridley Scott’s movie “The Counselor” is done & dusted. The new X-Men, a Terence Malick joint, “Macbeth”,as the Thane, “Prometheus 2”, possibly “Assassin’s Creed”. Hot, hot, hot. Busy, busy busy. Then there’s “Frank” currently in post-production & the one of this long & heavyweight list which is most likely to get my cash. The imaginative yet deranged character of Frank Sidebottom, a naif with a papier-mache head from Timperley in Cheshire, was created by Chris Sievey. Frank was an endearing, hilarious character to whom I am most partial, a luminary in the pantheon of British comedy. There are those who fail to discern humour in his work…well…move right along because we probably disagree on a whole bunch of stuff. Anyway, before Frank there was Chris Sievey & there was the Freshies.
Young Chris really, really, wanted to be a pop star. At just 16 he hitch-hiked to that London with his brother, headed for Apple HQ & demanded to see a Beatle ! They left after playing a song to the head of A&R then heard no more. You know, I really do hope that that story is true. By 1974 Chris had a scrapbook full of rejection letters & his own Razz label on which he released his cassettes. By 1978 the Freshies were a band & their tunes were being pressed on vinyl. The optimistic “Straight In At Number 2” EP failed to live up to its’ name but the 6th single released by the band in 1980 (those were the days !) stood out from a crowded market & got itself played on the radio.
“I’m In Love With The Girl On The Virgin Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk” is a powerpop companion to the Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen In Love…”. It charges along & has a similar Mancunian self-deprecating humour. The record was picked up by a major label, the brand name removed from the title &, 40,000 sales later, reached #54 in the UK charts. That was a commercial high point,as good as it got for the band & I’m just not sure why. “I’m In Love…” is a good song but there are songs like “Tell Her I’m Ill” with a little less novelty, the same dry humour, which pack a punch & deserve a hearing.
“Wrap Up The Rockets” was the follow-up. It’s just as good but perhaps nuclear disarmament or annihilation doesn’t appeal as much as unrequited love. I certainly did not know much about this song until recently (Jah bless the Internet). There is a Y-tube clip of the band playing this at a “Rock Against the Missiles” gig in Alexander Park, Manchester 1981. It’s tipping down, the audience are getting wet through & the sound is poor. Just another grand day out with the Freshies. “Scrap our defence plans. That’s 12 grand each for everybody in the UK. I’d buy a sports car but I wouldn’t go far just go to Rhyl”. That is good stuff & it is funny stuff, with a musical tip of the hat to Thin Lizzy too.
“I Can’t Get Bouncing Babies By The Teardrop Explodes” is another song of Freshies’ frustration. This time it’s not a girl but a rare record which is out of reach, maybe it’s a metaphor. This was the last of the 3 singles released by MCA, a third strike & the band was back on the Razz. There were other releases but if the Freshies did ever have a shot then the opportunity had gone. Those wry songs concerning life’s small but vexatious torments could break through. Chris would loved to have been as big as Squeeze, hell, he may have settled for one hit like Splodgenessabounds. Anyway this time we get to actually see Chris & the band & that’s great. Any poignancy regarding the stymied record collector is undermined by the “Boing, Boing” refrain but the Freshies liked things to be funny.
There were a couple of solo records in 1982/3. “Camouflage” is a 7″ single with 3 programs for the Sinclair ZX81 home computer written by Chris. There are 2 versions of a game, “Flying Train”, & a video for the aforementioned song. Any of you familiar with this antediluvian form of technology will know that hardly any of the attempts to load the program were successful. Here are the fruits of a very painstaking obsessive’s labour, doing things we don’t understand with machines of which we have even less comprehension. A similar device was used later by Pete Shelley on his electro “XL-1”. This is the 2nd brush with the Buzzcocks on this post…no coincidence.
There are bands who have recorded just one song as good as “Camouflage” & are regarded as powerpop paragons. In 2005 Cherry Red Records compiled “The Very Very Best of the Freshies: Some Long & Short Titles”. It is 23 tracks that got away. There was no more music from Chris. In 1984 he put on the papier-mache head & embraced his inner Frank Sidebottom. It’s a pity that the Freshies were overlooked but a world without Frank would be a worse place. You know it would, it really would. Thank yew !