Francis Sidebottom, performing a puppet show on the stage at the heart of London’s glittering theatre land? Blimey.
I last saw Frank at Glasto ’91. Adored by the inkies, our Francis had successfully cornered the market in Northern style cabaret, all performed on a bon tempi organ by a man with a pumpkin style head. It wasn’t a burgeoning scene, but it was highly original, all the same.
Frank seemed to have peaked around this period. The music world was changing. Old style DIY indie status was on the decline; the majors were muscling in on the cash.
How refreshing then to find in these days of manufactured chart wars, a sold out Monarch crowd turning out on a bitterly cold midwinter evening, to see a cardboard cut out puppet theatre.
Any doubt over Frank’s showbiz status soon disappeared, once the sight of Pumpkin Boy descending from the top of the stairs at The Monarch became visible. Guided by a minder (not so much for security, more to do with the problems of being able to find the stage with a paper mache mask on,) Frank made a triumphant NW1 entrance.
The cult of Frank is built around comedy genius with a Northern ’80’s indie twist. Hit the North opened the show, with backing from
Scritti Politti minus Green Frank’s Oh Blimey Big Band. The real identity of Mr Sidebottom remains a closely guided secret (sort of) but as keyboard player @rhodri confirmed to @funkturm and I during the interval, Pumpkin Boy may, or may not, be Green Gartside.
The run of mis-hits continued – Panic, Hey You Riot Policewoman and Zoo Scrapbook.
A brief break, and then it was time for the bizarre puppet pantomime. Predictably, anything involving Little Frank and his cardboard cut out girlfriend, Little Denise, was utter bobbins. But that’s kind of the appeal.
The bon tempi and banter continued, climaxing with Guess Who’s Been on Match of the Day?
And so some eighteen years since I last saw Francis Sidebottom, I departed into the bitter North London nigh time air, grinning with a smile that was almost perfect to be captured in paper mache form. Frank hasn’t aged over the years, and hopefully neither has the market for Northern style cabaret, all performed on a bon tempi organ by a man with a pumpkin style head.
You know it hasn’t, it really hasn’t.