Jon Ronson’s latest book is as an extended essay, clocking in at 43 pages, inspired by his time as a young man working intermittently in Frank Sidebottom’s Oh Blimey Big Band (so you should know from the outset that your enjoyment of Frank will be coloured by your knowledge of the paper mache headed showbiz comedian) and also his work on a new film, Frank, which he co-wrote and which stars Michael Fassbender as a sort of Frank Sidebottom manqué. Kicking off with his accidental employment as keyboard player (Ronson worked in Ents and was drafted in at the last moment when Frank and his then band found themselves a keyboard player short immediately prior to a University gig) – Ronson takes us through the ups (playing to rooms of 500 people, then 750, then sometimes 1,000), as colleagues of Sidebottom such as Caroline Aherne take the opportunity afforded by Sidebottom and run with it (Mrs Merton was originally a Sidebottom character) – and the downs (as the rooms shrink and then disappear altogether, Sidebottom retired and then, sadly, dead). We also get a brief and interesting glimpse into a world in which Ronson managed Manchester band The Man from Delmonte and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Edward Barton (perhaps the book’s finest moment comes when Ronson sees Barton, someone he admires and respects, someone, at this point, who he thinks of as having made it – and realises that perhaps his view of the world is wrong – a view later remarked upon by Adam Buxton who describes himself and Ronson as ‘marginal’).
Much of the last few pages are taken up with Ronson’s thoughts about Mick Middles’ forthcoming and no doubt definitive take on Sidebottom. This isn’t really autobiography. It’s too scattershot for that. We also don’t get much about the film itself (you’ll find out more in the Telegraph review than you will in Ronson’s book). Provided that the idea of Ronson idly reminiscing about his time with Sidebottom is enough for you – and it should be, Ronson is always worth a read – this will more than happily pass an hour or two of your time.
Any Cop?: If you, like me, have fond memories of Frank Sidebottom shouting at Little Frank, performing amateurish versions of Queen songs and saying ‘Thank you’ in that strange nasal voice of his, then you’ll get something out of this – even if it’s only anticipation for the forthcoming film.