A dark day. You know it is…

For around three years now, I’ve finished various status updates, tweets, emails and blogs with a derivative of the immortal phrase; “You know I am. I really am.”

Some like it, some find it irritating, but I’m often asked one thing: “What does it mean?”.

The truth is it’s mere plagiarism of the legendary Frank Sidebottom. Seeing as the famous last line of almost all of his songs tends to figure heavily in my online musings, I was shocked and genuinely saddened to hear of the death of Frank – or, to give the name of the man beneath the papier mache head, Chris Sievey – earlier today.

While I’d heard that Chris was unfortunately battling cancer, I was blissfully unaware that the situation was as grave as it sadly turned out to be. The sad irony behind today’s news was that merely minutes before the announcement was made, news of his next gig had been published on his official Facebook page. It seems that even his management didn’t realise quite how serious things were.

Frank Sidebottom had already enjoyed the height of his fame long before I became aware of his work. I first encountered the act in around 2006/2007 when Frank guested on Iain Lee’s superb former LBC show.

Frank, typically, was loud, brash, arrogant… and brilliantly funny. I wasn’t entirely sure I really ‘got’ what I was listening to – in fact, I’m still not sure I ever did get it, or if there was indeed anything to get – but I liked what I heard. From that moment I became an avid fan and first ‘borrowed’ the ‘You know I am…’ signature shortly afterwards. I’m currently weighing up whether or not I should drop it out of respect, or keep it as a tribute.

It’s almost ironic that as the world of showbiz lost one of its most original and creative talents, my former colleagues at Global Radio were once again going through the harsh upheaval that’s become an all too frequent occurrence in the world of modern media.

I’m no longer well placed nor qualified to comment on the ramifications of  decisions made by my former employers, so I shan’t declare any opinion of whether I think it’s right or wrong. It’s simply not my business to do so.

However, the changes are indicative of the state of broadcast media in general. Factors influencing the changes in the industry are the financial climate, obviously, but also the general dilution of media outlets.

It was easier to take risks and do something different way back when, because there were less outlets to lose your audience to. Four TV channels, truly independent radio stations broadcasting live content 24 hours a day, and that was your lot.  These days, there’s not only multi-channel TV to contend with, but also the user-generated content behemoth that is the internet – and much less opportunity for people to actually make money from their talents.

Of course, there’s pros and cons to that. As somebody who writes blogs like this and presents on internet radio, I pretty much love the fact that anybody can put their work into the public domain. Conversely, as somebody who sees how watered down TV and radio has inevitably had to become in the face of such competition, I do mourn that much simpler time.

It’s understandable, really. I was brought up on formats like The Big Breakfast, TFI Friday, Fantasy Football League, Shooting Stars – shows that weren’t afraid to break new ground, to take chances, to create something truly different, truly memorable, truly entertaining.

Where does the new talent get to shine now? Every programme is presented by the same few people. Dermot O’Leary, Ant and Dec, Davina McCall, Vernon Kay. Stale, unadventurous formats. So frightened are programmers of their new competition that the only option seems to be to play it safe and familiar. That lack of cojones, together with dwindling revenues demanding cheaper production costs, makes broadcast media on the whole terribly boring today.

Take Gladiators, for example. The original series was filmed in front of thousands at the National Indoor Arena and screened to millions on Saturday nights. Resurrected a couple of years ago, the new incarnation was filmed in a small studio before an audience of a couple of hundred at most. Quite evidently made as cheaply as possible, Gladiators v2.0 received audiences so tiny it was eventually withdrawn with no more than a whimper. Television today summed up in a nutshell.

Currently, James Corden’s World Cup Live is being hailed as some sort of second coming of TFI. The fact of the matter is it’s not in the same league… however, it’s undoubtedly one of the most creative formats that’s been on TV in a long time. I find that so depressing I could hammer my head repeatedly against a brick wall in frustration.

Look at Frank Sidebottom. Had the act launched today, its best hope probably would have been to become a cult hit on the internet. No programmer would be brave enough to give him a spot on radio or TV.

Despite that, people who care will never stop putting content out there for the love of it, regardless of how little reward there is for it.

To that end, I’ll be back on Rhubarb Radio tomorrow night from 6…

You know I will. I really will.

Chris ‘Frank Sidebottom’ Sievey


Why I kind of hate the World Cup

Anyone who knows me will tell you of my sheer passion for football. I’ve been a season ticket holder at Aston Villa for 19 years now, and I can’t ever envisage being without it.

And yet, as the biggest feast of football on earth gets underway, you must forgive me if I feel underwhelmed. The simplest way I can sum it up is it’s akin to somebody who spends their life watching proper bands at small gig venues before finding themselves at a Take That concert at Wembley Stadium – everyone loves them, and you kind of have to admit that they are quite good, but somehow it just doesn’t seem ‘proper’.

So, what are the reasons for feeling like this?

It’s supporting a team containing wastes of oxygen like Ashley Cole and John Terry and money grabbing liars like Gareth Barry, led by a cheating thug like Steven Gerrard (football’s own OJ Simpson).

It’s the jingostic hype, generated mainly by people who don’t even follow the game – where patriotism becomes racism.

It’s the stupid songs in the pub. “There were 12 German Bombers in the air…” / “Two World Wars and one World Cup…” / “No surrender to the IRA…” – SHUT. UP. YOU. EMBARRASSMENTS.

It’s the fact that people somehow believe we have a God-given right to win the damn thing.

It’s crap songs like James Corden and Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Shout’ perpetuating popular culture’s myth of what football fans are actually like. (Genuine true fact: In 20 years of going to football, I have NEVER heard the chant ‘Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’ – it exists only in bandwagoning pop music)

It’s the fact that I kind of want to see James Milner do badly in order to give Villa a better chance of keeping him.

It’s the fact that when we do go out, somebody is going to have their lives made a misery by The Sun newspaper. It may be an England player, maybe one of the opposition. In recent years, it seems mainly to have been referees. But somebody will face the witchhunt.

Aside from England for a moment, it’s the fact France are in the World Cup and Ireland aren’t.

It’s seeing people who usually have no interest in the game suddenly deciding they’re experts on its finer points. Cue the regurgitation of statistics they memorised from that morning’s paper.

It’s the fact that, if England do win a big game, it’s all backslapping and everyone’s happy. Part of the fun is the bragging rights, the feeling that, when you do succeed, it’s special just to you and yours and not to everyone. International Football lacks the feelings of pride and envy that club football heralds. Euro 2008 was brilliant because England weren’t there, everyone supported different teams, and we got to enjoy some of that division based rivalry these tournaments usually lack.

It’s the fact the hype will get worse if England somehow do win the bloody thing…

More than anything, it’s the fact that given the choice between England winning the World Cup, or Villa winning away at Wigan on a cold Tuesday night in February, I’d pick the Villa every single time.

And yet, I’ve bought my England shirts, I’ll be going in to town to watch the match later, and I reserve the right to be a complete hypocrite when I inevitably get swept away in it all.

All I want is for us to show a little dignity… is that too much to ask?