Saturday 25 May 2013

Being Frank: The 7th Inning Stretch

Today is the 25th May. On 31st, the book closes on the crowdfunding effort to support the production of a definitive film about the genius we know as Frank Sidebottom.

In three weeks, almost £30,000 has been raised towards Steve Sullivan's project, spanning the period when a teenage Chris Sievey camped in the lobby of Apple, then to the legendary Freshies, and on to his best-known and most productive persona, Frank Sidebottom. The support this project has attracted is amazing, but again demonstrates the affection and love Chris retains - a statue (left) is due to be unveiled in fantastic Timperley in the next couple of months, paid for by subscription and fundraising. When the great man passed, his fans paid to give him the send-off he deserved. And now, three years after his desperately sad loss, two major projects are close to being realised.

Steve Sullivan's 'Being Frank' is, to me, the most important. This is no flight of fancy, no Hollywood A-lister with a big head on. This project captures the work of an artist to whom punk gave a voice, but for whom, technology offered an outlet. I've noted before, the records, books, art, the animation, the TV programmes, the music. A renaissance man, despite knowing his mum would go up the wall and across the ceiling if she stumbled upon his secret showbiz career.

If this comes off, you'll see Chris Sievey discuss his computer game programmes on the Old Grey Whistle Test. You'll see Frank hold his own with Alf Garnett in Talking Turkey, a 'spirit of Xmas' thing Channel 4 did when they were edgy and relevant. You'll see The Freshies reunited, Frank's greatest fans talking about him and his work; this project is the once-and-for-all chronicle of a life in art. Some footage is already in the can, and a new trailer is available here...

Frank fans who want this film made have come across with an eye-popping offer as part of the stretch-funding appeal on Kickstarter. Prints of some iconic Frank street art, uber-rare posters from his contribution to a Chelsea Art Space installation in 2010; tee-shirts, music, stuff. All these people want his work documented. All of them are giving way stuff to entice you into supporting this project. Every extra pound helps towards licencing a bit of Frank TV history to share.

And I'm still offering stuff here. Until the appeal shuts down, be first to donate £75 (down from £100 at the beginning of May) and I'll give you a signed CD, and some other rare Frank stuff. Just message Steve Sullivan via Kickstarter and tell him you supported the film after reading my blog, and he'll pass me your details. First person to tell him gets the schwag. Likewise, if you already gave and can double your donation, don't change your funding tier, but message Steve, tell him you're doing it because of this blog, and I'll send you rare Frank stuff. This is all on top of the amazing freebies you'll get anyway for backing the project.

Almost a thousand people have chipped in around £30K to see this film get made. If everybody who already donated can up their support by 25%, chances are that £40K target can be met by Thursday. I'm going for it, and I hope you can too.

You know you can, you really can.

Thank you.

Monday 6 May 2013

"There Are Planners, Plodders And Plonkers..."

Thus spake the bloke who, in 1998, delivered defensive driving training to a bunch of Facilities staff, of whom I was one. He was talking about road sense, but I think it's a benchmark you can apply in a whole range of environments.

So, then. London's Brewing. The successor to the directly-arranged and run London Brewers' Showcase event from 2010 and 2011. Not an LBA-organised event, strictly speaking. The LBA brand underpins this festival, but the London's Brewing thing is London Fields, not the LBA. Important to note this for what comes later.

It was clear that the upstairs at Vinopolis couldn't have coped with 40 brewers, so faced with choices which, I am told, were either no fest or this one, the LBA sanctioned London Fields to organise something at their event space. PR and branding were sorted, speakers arranged, beer ordered, tickets sold. I was one of the bloggers asked by the PR lot to preview and cover the event. A couple of tickets offered as recompense. Discounts promoted and a few days before the fest Trade Day, it was a sell-out. All good.

Then we get to the trade day. A harbinger of the catastrophe to follow. Opening delayed by an hour. I go to The Cock Tavern and wait until after 2pm. Hardly any beer available until the second bar was finished, cellar services lads complaining they'd done a week's work in two days to set up Bar Two, the larger of the spaces. Bar One runs out before 3pm, so it's 20-odd beers available for around an hour before they close at 4pm. It's clear there's a lot to sort out before the big public launch on Saturday...

The weather is rubbish as I get to London Fields after midday. It's not looking good. You can read twitter (#londonsbrewing for a sample) and CAMRGB or Matt Curtis for more contemporaneous accounts and different experiences, but the doors didn't open until 1245, and the queue had hardly moved 30 minutes later. People who had been on line before midday were leaving, complaining that (again) only the smaller bar was open. Bar Two didn't open until 2.15, but by then I was one of the disgruntled camped in The Cock Tavern. Rich Burhouse from Magic Rock was there, his day wasted by accepting an invite to judge beer that the organisers couldn't identify. Brewers from London, muttering about the piss-poor organisation, ticket-holders who'd queued long enough to get money back, alarmed by the reports from inside.

I was due to go and cover that session, but there was no point. The steady stream of disaffected drinkers and brewery people told me everything I needed to know. And a bit of gentle scratching at the surface revealed a lot of disquiet, something that I'd picked up on earlier in the week.

So, to the aftermath. Fingers will get pointed. I've seen the fest described as the London Brewers Alliance fest. Not to split hairs, but they don't 'own' London's Brewing. That's a separate delivery vehicle for this fest, which I believe is owned by London Fields. However, this is not to excuse the LBA from some culpability. They don't have a process for oversight and assurance which would have tested the model for this fest. So a learning point must be to acquire or develop a planning or project model that does cover this, as well as issues like risk appetite.

Despite this, LBA can't have had any clue about what was in store on Friday lunchtime, but London Fields could have, and they should have been flagging it, seems to me. Their twitter feed refers to 'left-field issues' or 'outside issues', but is anybody clear what they are? Although they hold events at their 'space', I'm not clear if they've ever run a beer festival in there, and that's what I'd have wanted to know if I was the LBA. Reports highlight the poor door management (tickets not scanned, so who was controlling numbers?); lack of readiness of bars (what happened to the rest of the 20 beers put on sale late on Bar Two on Friday?); mislabelling of beers - unforgiveable; overcrowding - there must be a safe limit on numbers, was it observed by controlling ticket numbers for each session?

And then, the fact that the space simply wasn't big enough. Seems to be that LBA need to speak to an events organiser to see what kind of workable model can be developed. Others have observed that this could significantly up ticket prices, but it's clear that, when punters could find it on the bar and correctly labelled, the beer was the least of the problems. If I was the LBA, I'd be asking London CAMRA for advice. Like 'em or loathe 'em, they know beer festival planning and delivery back to front.

If you rotate the logo, it looks like drinkers are being flipped the bird
Who are the planners, plodders and plonkers here? I can't say there was very much planning evident, certainly none that could be defended with credibility. The plodders and plonkers? London Fields certainly don't come out of this well. A case of reach exceeding grasp? LBA need to protect their brand. We need a body which speaks for London brewing, but maybe they also need to look at themselves and work out whether, with so many members now, their own structure is robust enough. This weekend will likely leave a reputational stain on the LBA, and, I assume, a hole in London's Brewing's pocket. I could be generous and say that everybody will learn from this, but in the meantime London will get a reputation for not being able to, erm... organise a piss-up in a brewery. Must do better.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Oh, Blimey! Being Frank...

Long-time readers of this blog will know I'm a big fan of Frank Sidebottom. The Bard of Timperley (or, correctly, his alter ego Chris Sievey) passed in 2010, but his fans haven't forgotten him. There have been exhibitions, music fests and fundraisers. Plans seem well-advanced for raising money to pay for a statue in Timperley, and former Oh! Blimey Big Band member Jon Ronson is one of the creative forces behind a new film called 'Frank', which will star Michael Fassbender, shown below as the eponymous lead.

The big news today, though, is the launch of a crowdfunding drive for a much more relevant project, Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story.

Visioned by filmmaker Steve Sullivan, it's a feature-length documentary covering the varied and fascinating career of one of Britain's most creative and overlooked artists. As well as unknown and lost footage of Frank Sidebottom, Sullivan has been able to reunite post-punk band The Freshies (remember 'I'm In Love With The Girl On the Virgin Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk'?) to talk about their work; there's interviews with his family, long-term sidekick Dave Arnold (whom I once watched as he struggled in vain to flush poster paint out of the sandstone facade of the Chelsea Art Space), and features on Sievey's work as an animator. He's been shooting footage since last autumn, interviewing fans and generally joining up a highly unusual arrangement of dots to bring a full appreciation of this body of work to a wider audience.

Having gone as far as possible, Steve is now reaching out to fans, asking them to back the project through Kickstarter. He's aiming to raise at least £20,000 by the end of May, and there are some excellent incentives to back the film, even if you aren't a fan of Sievey's work. Amazingly, the project is already halfway to the target in the first day, but the word needs to be spread which is why I'm writing this. I don't think 'genius' is too strong a word to use to describe Chris Sievey. An excellent musician, illustrator and animator, to me he wasn't just technically gifted, he expressed a peculiarly non-linear worldview through his art, as evidenced in the fully-realised Frank's World he formed around his best-known creation.

As mentioned, Steve Sullivan is offering some nice rewards to backers of Being Frank, and I'm going to sweeten the pot. That's right. The first of my readers to pledge £100 (and you'll need to prove it - email from Steve perhaps) will get some Sidey stuff from my own collection, some of it signed, all of it hard-to-find. I'm thinking a CD, postcard from the Frank's World DVD or similar. The Kickstarter page is here, and you can visit the film's website to download this poster which you can share online or print out and display.

This Is From The 'Frank' Film...
 It won't be bobbins, little frank. It'll be ace, fantastic and top. I think about the films they made about Manchester contemporaries of Sievey. It took over 20 years to get Joy Division on the silver screen. The idea of getting Chris Sievey's work out a few years after his passing doesn't make up for the loss, but the belated appreciation of a genius deserves to succeed. So help it to succeed already!

Thank you.