Freddy Negro: St Kilda’s Own Rockstar

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By Shiv Nalapat

“I remember once in Geelong, I think it was Brady Bunch Massacre playing, and I walked in, and this really burly lesbian girl, dyke chick with overalls, piercings and a shaved head, she came up over to me and said, ‘Freddy Negro?’ I said, ‘Yea?’. I thought she was gonna hit me. She goes, ‘I once saw you shove four kilos of raw sausages up your arse at the Prince of Wales and it put me off f**kin men for life!’ And then she goes, ‘Thank you’.”

Make what you want of it, this is just one of the many crude anecdotes that bob up from Freddy Negro’s mercurial mind.

Freddy isn’t your average local. In fact, he isn’t your average anything. Growing up in Richmond, he moved to St Kilda in 1975 and soon began a musical career that would go on to span three decades. Playing in over 20 bands, and across an eclectic range of musical genres that includes punk rock, country and gospel among others, he has lived a life that many aspiring musicians dream of. On the way, he managed to get married and had two kids. He is now separated.

Over the course of his career, Freddy has founded and played with some of St Kilda’s most recognizable acts including I Spit in Your Gravy, The Band Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Peptides and The Fuck Fucks. After 37 years of juggling schedules of multiple bands, showmanship has become second nature to him.

Recounting his latest gigs with The Fuck Fucks at Lost on Barkly St during the St Kilda Festival, he says, “The Fuck Fucks haven’t rehearsed for about 20 years! The last time we played was about a year ago, also at the St Kilda Festival. Me and Mol (the guitarist) play two or three times a week with just voice and guitar. We know about 2000 songs. We don’t need to rehearse.” Staying true to the devil-may-care character of the Fuck Fucks, Freddy couldn’t have put it any better when he says, “The rest of the band find out where we’re playing by reading my comic strip!”

But his talents do not end with music. If you’ve ever found yourself having a pint at The Epsy, Prince of Wales, The Greyhound hotel, or ANY of St.Kilda’s iconic watering holes, you’ve surely come in contact with Freddy’s other love, drawing. He has drawn over 2000 comics for bands, venues and magazines, all chronicling St Kilda’s pub culture.

“When I started being in bands, I started doing handbills for bands, and posters. And then all these other bands asked, ‘Can you do our posters?’ And then all the venues – the Prince of Wales, The Esplanade, the old St.Kilda Inn, and every other venue, they said now we want you to do our ads, our posters too!”.

So what makes Freddy’s Pub strip so popular? The same thing that makes his bands so popular. His no-holds-barred, unadulterated and sometimes even impetuous approach to his art. He does note that it hasn’t always been clear sailing. Now more mellow than he once was, he is able to recount a number of run-ins he has had with the cops, often being charged with obscenity.

“I’ve been in trouble many a time. Frequently the Press black it (his comic strip) out, especially if it’s anything political. In the 80s’ I had to go to the court several times for obscene handbills, where I fought and won. For a while there I was being harassed by the cops for I Spit in Your Gravy and for my handbills. They had me go to court for obscenity several times. I always got off,” he says.

Recounting one particular case where he was let off the charges of obscene graphic material, he says, “I ran out of the court and said to everyone, I am allowed to draw whatever I like! and then I just went nuts from there.”

The hot water he’s often found himself in has done little to drown his bad boy reputation. But trying to set the record straight about his music and his comics, he says, “In the old days of the Gravies, I never vandalized any property or anything. But the audience did, cuz they were off their heads. Somebody set fire to the curtains at the Prince of Wales, while we were playing. We kept playing. I tried to piss it off. Nah, we were just having fun, and the cops were just busting us every second week.”

Freddy’s lyrics, records and comics are almost entirely about St Kilda.“St Kilda is all I know. I just draw ning-nongs and rat bags around St Kilda. It’s kinda like a social history of drunks in St Kilda. That’s why it’s called ‘Pub’. It’s my mission to draw everyone in St Kilda. Well everyone who drinks at pubs anyway,” he says.

Freddy may be closing in on his goal of caricaturing every one of St Kilda’s frequent bar-goers but this hasn’t stopped him from venturing into films. He has been in a number of films, perhaps, most notably in Andrew Leavold’s horror flick, Lesbo-a-GoGo, which the director himself has hilariously critiqued as: “ugly, reprehensible and morally repugnant. And I made the film.”

In his typical candid, charming style, Freddy recalls shooting it.  “That was a cheap sorta Lesbo spoof. And it was all black and white, with lotsa titties and stuff. Then there’s a scene in the middle where it just goes into Hell and that was full colour, and we filmed that at the Greyhound. And I can’t remember one bit of being filmed, I can’t remember ever seeing the film, I remember nothing about it ‘cuz a couple years later they made a documentary about the making of the movie and they interviewed me and I said I couldn’t remember, I was so pissed! I had to have so much alcohol that night, I can’t remember what I did…and neither could the director! And the bloke who was making the documentary about the making of Lesbo-a-GoGo, everyone he interviewed, all the other actors and actresses, couldn’t remember anything about what they did ‘cuz they were all drunk.”

Describing his foray into acting and film, Freddy says, “I’ve always been typecast as the devil, the face from hell, or the last psycho-killer on Earth. But I acted once in a proper ad for a photocopy business, and I played a priest in the ad. So that was totally different. I was a priest taking a photocopy machine down death-row, with all these other inmates, walking down the Green Mile to execute this photocopy machine ‘cuz it had really shit paper. That was a pretty successful ad.”

Perhaps, the highlight of Freddy’s acting career comes in the form of his appearance in a Vance Joy film clip that went on to be nominated for a Grammy. He says, “I had to cry in that one. I said to the director what’s my motivation? and she replied, ‘You’re in a f**king Vance Joy film’. I had maybe the best crying performance ever. There goes my credibility. There was Vance Joy, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry and all those people and their film clips. He was nominated but didn’t win. But Miley and Katy, and all of them would have been looking at my face, and they would have been going, ‘Who’s that guy crying? He’s no good!”

Yet Freddy’s true filmic claim to fame might still be in the pipeline. His life is due to be turned into a documentary film. The film will include interviews from Freddy’s band members, close friends, family, and other acquaintances, incorporating animation and claymations resembling Freddy’s own artwork. Titled Pub: The Movie it is set to be directed by Freddy’s close friend, Andrew Leavold, and is expected to premiere at the Melbourne Film Festival in 2018.

Freddy recounts how his buddy, Leavold bunked at his place, relentlessly documenting even the most mundane details of his routine. “He stayed at my place for 10 days and he stalked me with the camera. Everything I did. He got me drawing, catching a train down to Prahran and 10 feet away, he just followed me, everything I did. I said you know, well, I’m gonna have a shit now, you gonna put it in too? That’s what I put in the comic strip. Hope you don’t mind if I lie on the couch and have a wank, might as well eh?”

But there is far more to Freddy Negro than his raunchy humour, and his breezy idiosyncrasy. Having lived in St Kilda for over forty years, Freddy is also the best witness to the winds of time that have come to shape the St Kilda we see today. Lamenting about its waning pub culture, he says,

“This was the capital of punk rock in Australia during the 80s’ ‘cuz of the Crystal Ball Room, The Espy, and The Prince of Wales. All the old pubs are gone. All the old places where we used to play. They turn a perfectly good pub with lotsa people in it drinking, and they get rid of those people, and put craft beer in, and real expensive food, and nobody goes. Like The Greyhound – that was one of the best public bars, and band rooms ever. And it was inclusive. All the gays drank there, the punk rockers, the ning-nongs, the old blokes, the sheilas and that. And everyone got on and it was just beautiful. It had great bands playing in that room. It had really good artwork all over from St Kilda artists. Then they just tore it all down, shinnied it up, and charged 10 bucks more for a drink and no one came. And now they’re gonna turn it into apartments that’s f**ked!’

Acknowledging that St Kilda may no longer be the musical hub it was once, with other suburbs like Brunswick and Fitzroy now more prominent, he still remains ever the optimist and loyalist when he says, “It’s still the same to me. There’ll always be little places that start up again. I don’t get out much you know? Gotta’ get me passport stamped to go over to Brunswick! It’s just too far, and I’m a bit scared. I like to walk to every gig I go to.” Channelling his inner Trump, he also jokes, “I’ll be the last man in St Kilda. I’m not going to Brunswick! Not even to visit! We should build a wall around St.Kilda to stop them coming in!”

Even at the age of 59, Freddy Negro maintains that the thrill of performing on stage has not diminished even in the slightest sense. In fact, he claims he’s getting even better. When asked what kind of advice he would give to young up and comers who might want to follow his path, he remains down to earth in his response, “I kinda’ fluked it all. But yea, be willing to do anything, don’t expect to be paid for a long time, and get really good at what you’re doing. Don’t set fire to curtains, don’t have barbeques on stage, and don’t shove 4 kilos of sausages up your arse! Just get good at playing drums or guitar, and try to be entertaining. That’s what it is – the entertainment industry.”

Already boasting a most illustrious and action-packed artistic career, Freddy Negro’s days continue to be littered with several gigs across his multitude of bands. Yet, he does live more of a quieter existence than he once did, often even undertaking book reviews, when he does find time beyond his drawing. Always a figure at his local, the Balaclava Hotel, Freddy has more than consolidated his status as a seminal figure in St.Kilda’s history. And as far he’s concerned, he’s got a lot more golden eggs to hatch.

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