Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The Ultimate Expression

Chris Sievey, creator of Frank Sidebottom, has died, aged 54 after suffering from cancer.

 He was what is known as a 'cult comedy entertainer' which pretty much sums up his bizarre show and engaging manner. He first came to my attention when Him Outdoors and I were courting. He used to play me his records - Timperly Blues; Guess Who's Been on Match of the Day etc. His nasal delivery and insistence on singing versions of famous American songs with English grammar and an off-Manchester accent intrigued me.

I suppose he was a bit of a student cult favourite (Frank Sidebottom, not Him Outdoors) and we saw him perform at pubs in Manchester and at Reading Festival: they used to have a comedy tent - do they still?

I was enthralled by the way he could be so expressive without having any expression. You sort of transposed your own feelings onto his papier-mâché head, and you could envisage raised eyebrows, moues of disapproval, frowns of bewilderment and smiles of pure joy - even though, obviously, his features never moved.

There is something intrinsically compelling about a person in a mask: think Carnivale; mummers' plays;  masquerade balls; Phantom of the Opera; any number of comic book characters from Batman to Zoro; mascots; Walt Disney figures; horror films (Scream; It; Friday the Thirteenth).  

I remember being slightly terrified by the ballet dancers of Beatrix Potter because I couldn't see their eyes. I could feel Squirrel Nutkin's pain because he danced it beautifully, but I couldn't gauge whether he needed to be comforted or whether he was plotting revenge because his facial expression was hidden. The fact that he was an extremely large rodent appeared not to bother me.

This was probably all part of the fascination with acting. You have to do it with your whole body. And obviously, your face is one of the most important aspects of this, but if that is removed from the equation, you can still develop characterisation and appeal or repel people by your mannerisms (not to mention voice).

So I learned a lot from Frank Sidebottom (and Little Frank, of course). He is part of my student life in Manchester and I will always remember that fondly. As Martin Kelner wrote in this interview, first published in the Independent in 1991, "I have entirely forgotten that underneath the papier-mâché head is a nice chap called Chris Sievey, with a wife, and children, and a mortgage, who used to front a rather good Manchester post-punk band called The Freshies."

He really was larger than life. Oh yes he was; he really was. Thank you!

Monday, 21 June 2010

The Great Scone Debate continued

Hi Mum! I know she reads my blog, because she tells me. And she alludes to it in her phone calls and correspondence, without actually mentioning that she read it. I don't know if she is too modest to leave a comment, or prefers writing with pen rather than keyboard but, in her latest letter, she had some fabulous insights into my recent posting on the great scone debate. She writes very well and thoughtfully, my mother, and although she wouldn't commit her opinions in full to something so public, I shall do it for her.

"I have been thinking about scones and the pleasure I get from them. Cutting through the slightly crumbly biscuit, putting a dollop of the gorgeous gooey cream on each half, spreading it over the surface and topping it off with a dollop of strawberry, blackcurrant, or at present, blueberry jam from Oregon.

"I then survey these jewels nestling on my plate before picking one up and biting firmly into it. Oh what joy! What rapture. The coarse biscuit, the thick cream and the slippery jam combining to produce a state of almost ecstacy. The are always so morish and leave you with an anticipation of a future delight.

"As a child on our annual holidays in Devon with my Godmother, they were always an eagerly-anticipated treat on our return from a fun-packed day on the beach and the long walk back. We always had the cream first followed by jam and that is what I continue to do to this day."

So there you have it; mother's always right. Isn't she?