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Jim Cardboard Interview

Jim is in charge of production operations at 11:37 Sievey Enterprises. First and foremost a Frank fan, he also has a degree in fine art and decade’s worth of design and printing experience. We sat down with Jim to find out a little bit about him and what’s currently occurring at Sievey Enterprises.

11:37- Can you tell us how you came to be involved with 11:37?

Jim- Miscommunication really, I realised I was no longer getting updates for the Being Frank documentary. I’d missed the Kickstarter backer screening prior to the national cinema release and I was aware there was talk about an exhibition. From a fan’s perspective I was concerned I was starting to miss things so I contacted the director Steve Sullivan to reconnect. I mentioned in my email that if any help was needed with printing or merchandise that I ran my own printing business. He came straight back and said “Actually, can you print on cardboard?” I replied “of course we can print on cardboard, that’s what we do!”

11:37-Steve was referring to needing some help setting up the exhibition, wasn’t he?

Jim- Yes. You guys needed help taking over the wonderful circular public space in Manchester Central Library that would normally be filled with rather serious and important documents about the history of Manchester. The intention, from the very beginning was to try and do it as if Chris/Frank had done it himself. There were two reasons for that. Firstly, to keep it true to the original spirit and secondly, there was virtually no money! This wasn’t a problem, if anything; it gave us motivation and incentive. If Chris was still around, he would not have wanted to spend money on it...even if he had access to it.

The fact that there was no money made it authentic. Most of Chris’s creations were done without spending a fortune on materials.

11:37- “it’s only cardboard!”

Jim- That’s the thing that a lot of people totally miss with Frank. The creativity passes them by. They assume because on first impression they see it as childlike or naive when compared with other forms of art but actually he was a completely rounded artist who could adapt to all mediums. He was able to get onstage and entertain people completely on his own, operating out of a suitcase with a couple of bits of cardboard. That’s quite incredible, not many people can do that.

11:37- I know that with THE FRESHIES. Chris eventually became worn down and tired of the trappings of being in a conventional band. For Chris, becoming Frank was the antidote to the stereotypical rock band formula.

Jim- I know he had people in the background but I still believe He could have done it all on his own without any help at all...and he did a lot of the time, didn’t he?

11:37-Apart from the fact he couldn’t drive!

Jim- (laughs)

11:37- Just getting back to the exhibition, by bringing you onboard, I think there was a certain level of professionalism, even though we were still using cardboard, would you agree?

Jim- The professional element we did was all in the preparation. You need to know how things work in order to do it well. We couldn’t have just turned up with a load of bits of cardboard because they would most likely be the wrong bits of cardboard. Things had to be quantified, measured and prefabricated.

11:37- There was strong continuity throughout all aspects of the exhibition and that stuff doesn’t just happen, does it?

Jim- No it doesn’t. The majority of it was carried by the archive that has been left behind. The opportunity to pour over the exhibits whilst displayed in glass cabinets was a little bit surreal. However, the journey through the exhibition was further enhanced by the things that were created specifically for it. I don’t know, maybe Chris wouldn’t have bothered with all that.

If we were asked to do it again tomorrow with a big budget, I don’t think we would approach it any differently. I don’t know what we would spend it on?

I know a lot of people who visited the exhibition and they absolutely loved it. I also must say that Larysa Bolton, the ‘Heritage Collections Officer’ who we liaised with, was fantastic. Her contribution was huge. She opened the door and allowed us to do our thing. When you consider that a lot of people in her position would be a lot more cautious about letting us in and just sticking things up on walls, etc. She was brilliant and that kind of made it really.

11:37- So when did our paths next cross?

Jim- You brought me in to create the ‘Cardboard Red Carpet’ for the national cinema release of the documentary in Manchester. Steve Sullivan phoned me up just a few days before the event and asked me if I could create it. It turned out there was only one way to do it. We could have done it much differently if ‘Health and Safety’ wasn’t an issue. If you think about the potential for people to trip up over a cardboard carpet, it kind of had to be a roll of cardboard. It was expensive and actually cost more than buying a real red carpet...but that’s not the point.

11:37- Chris/Frank has taught us that if a joke is worth doing, then you have to take it to the full conclusion.

Jim- Wilkinson’s do a really nice shade of red carpet-coloured paint and it worked a treat. In fact it worked so well that I reckon most people didn’t even realise it was cardboard...even though it was sign-posted “No Stilettos.”

For me it was like going back to Art College and it interested me. Public art was a big thing for me. We would attempt to do things in a public space, whilst working in and around the general public. Trying to be unobtrusive and put something arty out into the real world and it just slotting in, inconspicuously. Learning multiple skills with a practical approach, how can we do this where the cost remains minimal and we get the job done in the most effective way?

11:37- tell us more about your college days.

Jim- I discovered Frank just as I left home in 1989 and went to college to study fine art in Newport, South Wales. Frank had become massive and was everywhere, telly, radio; in the music couldn’t miss him. Obviously I was intrigued by him and I was dabbling in that world, not music but dabbling in art...which is definitely where Frank/Chris’s head was. It’s obvious to me, without a doubt.

When we’d study surrealism or Dadaism, it would make me look at Frank in a different way. He’s a legitimate artist. As I’ve got older, that’s where it sits for me, it’s never left me. My formative years are definitely influenced by him. The way he went about doing things, I legitimatised that in myself and saw it as a justifiable way to make art. I was very happy to poke fun at myself.

11:37- By not taking yourself seriously you can become fearless?

Jim- Yes! I think that is a thing that people miss completely. Chris uses Frank’s head as a shield. On the most basic level, it is utter genius. He sets himself up not to fail but yet he makes a triumph out of failure. He must have laughed to himself endlessly. As a concept, it’s a total winner.

11:37- Did you get to see Frank perform during your college years?

Jim- Yes I saw him a lot. The previous summer to going to college I was living in Leeds with some friends. One of which got a job with a production company that made ‘Frank’s Fantastic Shed Show’ for Yorkshire Television. He got all his mates on the guest-list and we went to see it being recorded. I remember there was a real clamour for tickets, people were begging for them!

I attended a run of ‘Timperley Lectures’ at Leeds Polytechnic. I remember one of my earliest Frank shows in Bristol. It was as if something had caught fire, it was just magic. From the very first minute, I was just doubled over laughing. Everything hit its mark. It was a large, boozy crowd and he wasn’t short of heckles… and obviously he loved that.

11:37- So you left college with a degree in fine art?

Jim- Yes but the greatest thing I came away with was a familiarity with Apple Macs. I was taught by a guy called Roy Ascot, who had previously been head of art at the University of California. He was at the forefront of new technology, specifically Apple Macs and he brought it all back to the UK and the place he chose was Newport. He installed Macs in the fine art department, they were very early machines, Photoshop had not yet been invented. We used a program called ‘Mac Paint’, which was just painting with pixels.

There was another Apple program called ‘Hypercard’ that allowed you to import video and pixelate it. Imagine a really low-resolution video where you could create situations that people could click on. Looking back now it was basic but I suppose you could call it revolutionary!

11:37- I see another parallel with Chris Sievey!

Jim- Exactly! It was very early Macintosh computing and I learned how to use a Mac. I took a part-time job at the local newspaper, the South Wales Argus. When I came out of college, I went to work for the Press Association doing exactly the same thing. A job came up in London at The Guardian where I stayed for a few years until I eventually moved on to Match of the Day magazine in 1997. It was five years of living in an office resembling a teenage boy’s bedroom, not taking any notice of deadlines and using any excuse to go to football matches or play football.

11:37- so yet another Frank/Chris parallel!

Jim- I was the designer but I suggested to the editorial team that they should interview Frank. They didn’t know much about him at all. They went to Timperley to do the interview but unfortunately I didn’t get to go. It did make the magazine but it ended up not being a big thing. I don’t think he gave them what they wanted, which is Frank through and through. He didn’t like to toe the party line or being told what to do. I maintain that the football stuff he did is still amazing. The football chants such as “Nil-Nil” and “You’re going home on an organised football coach” are just brilliant. It’s a subversion of terrace humour and any football fan would laugh at it.

11:37- Tell us about 11:37 Sievey Enterprises?

Jim- It’s nothing romantic about keeping the legacy alive or passing this on to another generation etc. Although I do think that is going to be inevitable.

For me, there is such a wealth of material that just hasn’t been seen. It’s always been there but a lot of it was on the periphery. It’s beautiful and needs to be put out there. What we have hit upon with the 11:37 shop is that we are operating almost as if Chris was still here. It’s full of merch that I’m sure he would have been happy to put out...and people seem to love it. There is no better pat on the back than someone buying something off you.

Something I’ve learned from being in business, making and printing stuff is you just have to do the best you possibly can. Otherwise there just isn’t any point. People don’t buy crap twice. So if you are going to produce a tote bag, then make it THE BEST tote bag because then people will love it. A lot of merch companies just want to chuck out the cheapest products because they want to make the biggest profit. What they don’t see is that the end user is getting short-changed.

If you create something that is the absolute best you can do, when someone makes criticisms, then you can hold your head up. If you make crap and you know it is crap...then you deserve to get the flak, don’t you?

I get a lot of enjoyment out of seeing artwork in minute detail that I haven’t necessarily seen before and then turning into really nice merchandise.

We are realistic about the demand for Sidebottom product. It has a limited niche appeal and that’s perfectly OK.

It’s been almost 10 years since Chris died and in that time there has not been any official commercial focus on Chris/Frank. A negative consequence of that has been the rise of opportunist bootleggers. The hope is that the more stuff we put out, it stops the crap. To quote somebody who shall remain nameless “It starves them of oxygen.”

I think bootlegging is inevitable. You would be hard pressed to find any popular band or film that doesn’t attract bootleggers. Some of it is amazing but I’ve yet to see any Frank/Chris- related bootleg stuff that is up to scratch.

11:37- It’s poor because there is so little source material out there.

Jim- It’s well-documented that Chris died penniless but with the advent of the documentary, his legacy was salvaged. In hindsight, it’s almost by default that he has left us the most important things, boxed –up, waiting to be delved into. The most valuable thing he had was the thing that looked to most people, utterly worthless.

11:37- we have Martin Sievey (Chris’s elder brother) to thank for that!

Jim- Chris had a reputation for not caring much about money. There was always a reason not to pay a bill...There was something else to do with that money, surely? Maybe that set his mind free and allowed him to develop a dual personality, which in turn facilitated Frank taking all the blame when things went wrong.

11:37- Tell us about Stirling’s involvement with 11:37 Sievey Enterprises.

Jim- I never met Chris (only Frank) but Stirling is Chris’s eldest son and he is so unlike I imagine his dad to have been. By that I mean he’s very organised, diligent and reliable, not traits a lot of people would attribute to Chris. It’s brilliant to have a working relationship with Stirling because he is very careful and protective about the things he remembers from his childhood and to that end, Stirling has final approval on everything that we do. It’s in his nature to actually take everything very seriously and his opinion is always valid and adds an air of qualification. 11:37 is a solid team and I feel we are all on the same page.

Stirling is calm and level-headed, a lot more so than me. He’d make a really good poker player! It’s brilliant because my first instinct is to just steam in. When creating something, I was always encouraged to imagine it as far away from ‘common sense’ as possible. Make it as mad as it can be and then draw yourself back in just a little because some of that nonsense that you first came up with, quite often, that’s the genius. Don’t discount the craziness. Obviously, it’s not for everybody. Sometimes Chris was just way over there. By the time you’d been introduced to Frank’s world, you were quite used to seeing and hearing completely surreal things. It became perfectly normal to hang on the every word from a piece of cardboard!

11:37- And finally, can you tell us what you are working on in the lead up to Xmas?

Jim- Well I think everybody needs a Sidey Xmas sweatshirt? I can’t say anything more about that at the moment.

There are rumours that for the first time since 1990 (discounting the Chris Sievey ‘Being Frank’ soundtrack on picture disc) there will be an official ‘Frank Sidebottom-only’ release on vinyl!

There is going to be merch to suit all sizes of pocket: from badge sets and sticker packs, 2 different t-shirts designs to hopefully, some additional bespoke art prints etc. It’s still early days for us. We are buzzing with ideas and as long as there is a demand, we will continue to push forward with quality merchandise.


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