The Freshies in conversation…
A few weeks back we asked you to celebrate Frank’s Erection – The event Franks Fantastic Final Festive Fundraiser is to take place on Saturday 15th December at the Night & Day Cafe, Oldham Street, Manchester – the aim being to gather the last few pounds to complete the Frank Sidebottom tribute statue; you will all be aware that beneath that papier mache head was Chris Sievey – on the eve of the event we took the opportunity to chat to The Freshies, the band have reformed and now included Chris Sievey’s son Harry in the line-up.
One of Manchesterâs best kept secrets, The Freshies were integral to the late 70âs North West punk/new wave scene. However, this secrecy wasnât through a lack of trying to gain success, main man Chris Sievey once told me he was responsible for 25 consecutive âflopâ records. Thatâs an awful lot of self belief.
A true maverick, some would say Sievey was perhaps more famous for his publicity stunts to get his band noticed: Petitioning for a week outside Granada TV studios or stealing âStiff Recordsâ headed notepaper and then forging âinternalâ letters between executives expressing interest in The Freshies. Not forgetting publishing âThe Complete Book of Rejection Slipsââ¦200 Ways To Say âThanks But No Thanksâ
Sievey pre-empted the punk/DIY ethic by a couple of years when he formed his own label RAZZ RECORDS in 1974 and dutifully tried to put his band together. It took the advent of punk in 1976 to really get the bands wheels in motion
Renowned for doing their own thing, when I asked if they went to see the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, he replied âNah, we were rehearsing that nightâ
Thirty plus years later, listening back to the bands perfect pop-punk, itâs mindboggling that none of these releases had chart successâ¦ âIâm In Love With The Girl From The Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Deskâ faring the best and reaching the lower regions of the top forty chart.
Itâs easy to see why Chris Sievey turned his back on the conventional pop band formula and became the mysterious, elusive and somehow more successful FRANK SIDEBOTTOMâ¦leaving The Freshies to become shrouded in Frankâs big headed shadow.
Sadly Chris Sievey died in 2010 from cancer.
Fast-forward to 2012 and THE FRESHIES are resurrected to play at a fundraiser to erect a statue of Frank in his hometown of Timperley. Original members Rick Sarko (bass) and Barry Spencer (lead Guitar) are joined by Harry Sievey, Chrisâs youngest son now 20, up front on rhythm guitar and vocals – Itâs another chance to hear a great set of songs played live.
I asked them a couple of questions about the state of play in the 21st century:
LTW. Apart from the Castlefield event in 2010 with virtually no rehearsals, when did you last perform musically?
BARRY: I recently played guitar in a stage musical version of âForbidden Planetâ and over the years, played the odd gig here and there. Before that I was in Ed Bangerâs (and The Nosebleeds) band about 10 years ago.
RICK: It was two weeks ago at a jam night in a local pub. I got up and played a love song. It was called âI shit on your Grandfathers coffee tableâ but I was asked to stop by the landlord so I did a Hendrix number called âPurple Shitâ
HARRY: I have my solo project MASK that I do pretty regularly.
LTW. Harry is the splitting image of Chris when he was young and itâs almost spooky to watch you play with him…How does it feel to be playing your 30 year old songs with him up front?
RICK: It freaks me out because Iâm stood there playing Chrisâs songs but itâs with his son. Itâs great, but itâs an eye opener, itâs emotional, you know…but Iâm going for it and Iâm into it!
BARRY: Iâd say itâs very nostalgic rather than spookyâ¦itâs nice to doâ¦.spooky in a comforting way, I Suppose. Obviously the reasons we are playing with Harry and not Chris are sad but itâs also nice we are able to do it in Chrisâs memory.
LTW. Chris once told me something which has stuck with me. He said he was responsible for 25 consecutive flop records….but what’s the true story behind ‘Iâm in love with the girl from the Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk’?
BARRY: âMegastoreâ was our most successful shot at fame and fortune. It was on a major label, RCA. As it started to creep into the charts, we got a call from the âTop of The Popsâ producers saying we were gonna be on the show. We were on âstandbyâ with Salford Van Hire, waiting, ready to go. Then there was a union strike at the BBC, technicians and floor crew that lasted for two, possibly three weeks. Our manager Tosh Ryan (Rabid Records) rang up and complained. To pacify us, after the strike, they played about half the song over the end credits along with a video we had shot partly walking round the Virgin Megastore in Manchester and partly sat in Hilda Ogdenâs front room! God knows where the video is nowâ¦I have no idea.
RICK: There was also a mix up because the original version of the song had the word âVirginâ in the title. The BBC had a policy that they wouldnât endorse any products or companies so the song had to be re-recorded and the title promptly changed to âa certainâ. This caused the single to lose momentum in sales. Add to this a simultaneous release of âIâm in love with a German film starâ by The Passions, added further confusion to the whole thingâ¦even though it sounded nothing like âMegastoreâ….I donât really know what happened but it never happened. After this, when we were playing gigs, there was posters up saying âFrom Top of the Pops…The Freshiesâ. People were coming up to us asking âWhatâs it like on TOTP?â and I just used to say âOh Yeah, I had a beer in the bar with Phil Lynnott afterwardsââ¦I didnât want to upset them. We did go on âThe Basil Brush Showâ though.
LTW. Can you shed any light on any of Chrisâs publicity stunts to get the band noticed?
BARRY: I canât remember when or where it was but we once played an impromptu âLet it Beâ style roof-top gig. We hoped the police would shut us down and we would be headline news but we performed the whole gig with not so much as a murmur of complaint. I also remember protesting with placards outside Granada TV studios trying to get ourselves on the telly. Another thing, Chris used to do, when he sent out demoâs to potential labels, was to fill the packaging with polystyrene balls. When the parcel was opened there would be white stuff everywhere and the recipient would certainly remember usâ¦..if not entirely for the right reasons. Another trick was to render the demo disc unplayable. He snapped some in half and posted them out in a regular envelope. One time, a demo came back from the pressing plant with an audio glitch, so Chris just spray painted them green and sent âem out anyway. His logic was that the labels would be more interested if they couldnât actually hear it. Marketing wise he was very innovative. His agenda was to get in front, by any means necessary, of everybody else who was doing a similar thing.
LTW. Chez (original drummer with The Stags) is on drum duties for this incarnation of The Freshies but what’s occurring with original drummer Mike Doherty?
RICK: Unfortunately, after living abroad for years, Mike is now back in the UK after suffering a serious motorcycle accident in Thailand which has left him very infirm. He is no longer able to play the drums. The last time I saw him he was on crutches but Mikeâs Mike, heâs a great guy and it would be great to play again with him, you know?
LTW. Harry, you must be very busy learning all the chords and lyrics. What does it feel like to be filling your dad’s shoes and fronting the band?
HARRY: I have always listened to The Freshies. Before my dad passed away, sometimes we used to play through the tunes together. I always thought it would be cool one day to play songs like that live. Iâve constantly stabbed it out on my guitar in my bedroom. I already know a lot of them and itâs just great to be able to play these songs with the actual Freshies. Since Iâve been jamming with Rick and Barry…Iâm learning songs Iâve never heard before. Some of the song structures are very complex âI canât get Bouncing babies by the Teardrop Explodesâ has 12 chord changes in just the verse! Then, on the other hand, youâve got a song like âI love TVâ a raw, simple but dead catchy song that never even got released…it was just a demo. I think my dad was really prolific and wrote 100âs of songs and the ones that made it on to vinyl were just the tip of the icebergâ¦itâs unbelievable they didnât get as big as they should have.
LTW. What is your personal motivation for putting THE FRESHIES back together?
RICK: Because itâs part of my musical past. One minute I was driving a fork-lift truck in Salford, next minute Iâm touring the country, hotels, recordingâ¦rock ânâ roll, real rock ânâ roll!
HARRY: When we first sat down to organise who should be on the bill for the fundraiser, I was already playing doing my solo project MASK and Rick Sarko had also been asked to contribute something. After the Castlefield event, I thought it would be cool to do it again at some point. When Neil Taylor, Timperley Councillor, suggested a reformation, it seemed like a no-brainer. A lot of people had never even heard of The Freshies, they are working backwards from Frank Sidebottom, joining the dots and discovering all this great music. We are giving people a chance to hear some of those songs.
BARRY: You go through life trying to do the best you can at things and for me, it was a big achievement. Itâs a sad loss to see somebody you spent that much time with and got that close to pass on. So any opportunity to become embroiled in it all and pay lip service to it, is a very enjoyable thing to do. Not forgetting itâs our way of doing our bit. At the end of the day it will be lovely to have a statue of Frank in Timperley. Nobody in the UK would ever have known about Timperley. Heâs single-handedly put it well and truly on the map.
LTW. Sum up Chris Sievey in just three words…..
RICK: A, Fucking, Genius.
BARRY: Resilient, Creative, Friend
HARRY: Can I use 2 numbers instead of 3 words?…..11.37
(Astonishing fact. The dictaphone recording used for this interview was exactly 11 mins 37 seconds long!)
See The Freshies play live at Frankâs Final Fundraiser
Saturday December 15th
Night and Day CafÃ©, Oldham Street, Manchester
Tickets Â£11.37 available from the venue and online from See Tickets