Image: Fred Negro lying on his artwork. Image: supplied

If you lived in inner city Melbourne during the 1980s, frequented music venues such as the Crystal Ballroom and Prince Of Wales, picked up the weekly free mags like Inpress and collected handbills at your local coffee shop, then the name Fred Negro was omnipresent. For those that survived the decade and are still alive today, albeit with grossly shrunken livers, the music, cartoons, artwork and good natured notoriety of Fred is legendary.

A unique and brilliant graphic artist, Fred’s prolific output has always remained a Melbourne phenomenon and never really recognised around the country. Whilst much loved in his home town and sometimes referred to as the “unofficial mayor of St Kilda”, his longevity has seen him somewhat taken for granted. So when a group of interlopers from Brisbane and Sydney decided to make a documentary about his life story, there were murmurings of resentment from some of the citizens of bleak city.

Fred Negro on his expansive artwork. Image: supplied


All that was forgotten a few weeks ago when Pub: The Movie screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival to a rapturous reception. Brisbane director Andrew Leavold of The Search for Weng Weng fame, co-producer Jonathan Sequeira and executive producer Brett Garten have put together a remarkable documentary. It not only celebrates the incredible life of Fred Negro, with all its ups and downs, but captures a slice of Australian cultural history that will never be duplicated.

The original inspiration goes way back to 1985 when a then fifteen year old Andrew Leavold read a RAM story about Fred’s band at the time, ‘I Spit On Your Gravy’ and a story titled “Singer Fred Negro Fucks Chickens On Stage”. It took a while to track down the Gravy’s album and some of Fred’s other anarchic groups such as ‘The Band Who Shot Liberty Valance’, but Andrew was hooked.

In 1992, Fred toured Brisbane with the Brady Bunch Lawnmower Massacre with Andrew recalling:

“The prospect of finally meeting Fred was terrifying! I’m pretty sure I imagined a G.G. Allin style lunatic ready to roll around in his own faeces; instead, I discovered he was reserved, bookish, and intimidatingly smart. Then he got on stage, smashed his own head AND mine with a microphone and had sex with a cantaloupe – and I realized there are indeed two quite distinct Freds! A few years later Fred and I sat in the front bar of the Esplanade Hotel in St Kilda for our first interview and over a terrifying number of schooners I got to explore his Freduverse in more detail.”

Making headlines. Image: supplied

Fast forward a couple of decades and Andrew broached the subject of making a film about Fred.

“Fred told me he’d been asked by different filmmakers for years to star in a documentary. When I showed him The Search for Weng Weng in 2013, he said, “Great. Now are you going to do a film about me?” Seriously, how could I refuse? Immediately I saw parallels with Weng Weng – both are underdog stories, both have been maligned, marginalized and misunderstood.”

After delays with Covid and what must have been a painstaking but highly rewarding task collecting archival material and filming interviews with musicians, promoters and members of Fred’s extended family – not to mention some wonderful modern day footage of Fred in his beloved St Kilda, ‘Pub’ was ready to hit the big screen. Andrew notes:

“I can’t imagine watching Pub: The Movie and NOT being struck by the depth of talent Fred has. Even if you don’t necessarily dig the ribald humour or its Melbourne-centric (or St Kilda-centric!) references, I think you’ll see the humanity behind the cartoon façade. I think audiences have been most shocked to discover Fred is actually a warm, compelling and utterly fascinating central character who, possibly more than anyone else in Australian music, represents the anarchic and hedonistic spirit of rock’n’roll. You’re also shown a previously-unnavigated cultural history of St Kilda.”

Indeed – Fred Negro’s art, music and culinary exploitations need to be shared with all Australians, if not the world. As writer and music historian Clinton Walker recently commented:

“Somewhere in between Robert Crumb and Ray Ahn – between San Francisco and Sydney – Melbourne’s Fred Negro is similarly a musician and artist whose comic strips on the St.Kilda scene, deliberately crude both metaphorically and literally, say more about it than all the seemingly interminable stream of books, films, and museum exhibitions about Nick Cave ever could. Andrew Leavold’s new film about the man and his art – Pub: The Movie – is a magnificent, engrossing, even touching tribute.”

Pub: The Movie screens on Saturday 10 September at Event Cinemas in George Street as part of the Sydney Underground Music Festival.—Pub-The-Movie#cinemas=15&date=2022-09-10









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