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Fester Fest

Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential dumped excrement all over the concept of the celebrity chef. Cheffing, Bourdain rallied, was a tough and brutal occupation with absolutely no relationship to the smiling, saccharine-sweet world offered up by the likes of Jamie Oliver. As Bourdain represented it, the life of a chef was closer to that of the errant punk rocker - without the groupies and sundry hangers-on

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It's a sentiment that local chefs would probably agree - George Calombaris is one of Melbourne's best known and favourite chefs, but you're more likely to imagine him firing fast and furious instructions like a punk rocker wired to the walls with whatever. But this Saturday Calombaris and his fellow practitioners of the culinary arts, aided and abetted by a cast of seasoned and serious rock 'n' rollers led by Rose Tattoo are showing their sensitive side to help out chef-come-punk rocker, and Calombaris' one-time boss, Aldo Rubinic (aka Uncle Fester), with a concert and charity auction at St Kilda's Esplanade Hotel to help pay his mountain of bills. "Fester is the genuine article," says Rose Tattoo lead singer Angry Anderson fondly.

 

Fester is best known in Australian rock 'n' roll circles as the lead singer for punk rock band Fester's Fanatics. Influenced by KISS, Led Zeppelin and the tattoos-and-power chord rock of yore, Fester's Fanatics' released What Choice Do We Have in 1987 and Great Aussie Demo in 1996, now legendary small-run releases that still finds plenty of welcoming arms and ears on music blogs around the world (one music blog describes Great Aussie Demo as "This is real Aussie rock blues rock pub rock played loud and angry, not the poxy designer rock you get nowadays by bands with cute hipster sounding one word names").

 

Marc Welsh met Fester while playing in Sydney band Asylum in the then fertile Sydney independent scene in the mid-to-late-1980s. Alongside contemporaries The Hard-Ons and Mass Appeal, Fester's Fanatics held pride of place at the thrashier end of the rock 'n' roll spectrum. "Fester used to come and see us when we were playing," Welsh recalls. "When Fester's Fanatics went to a two-guitar line-up, I ended up joining on guitar."

 

Eventually Welsh moved down to Melbourne to form Have A Nice Day; later on Fester and guitarist Jed Starr also moved down (Starr's other claim to fame was as member of Killing Time, who in the early 1990s found themselves at the centre of a manic bidding war - only to implode in the face of unrealistic expectations). Fester's Fanatics continued on with a rotating line-up, evolving from the band's original thrash metal style to a more blues and pub rock sound.

 

In between his musical pursuits, Fester kept his hand in the culinary industry. "Unlike most musos, Fester had always been a chef," Welsh explains. "After gigs he'd drop straight back into the restaurant scene. He's worked at all the big hotels in Melbourne - because he was working as a chef, he always had money to put back into the band."

 

In recent times Fester has fallen on hard medical times. Fester's battle with chronic diabetes has led to kidney failure, and a permanent reliance on dialysis. Complications from the disease have also rendered Rubinic legally blind. With mounting medical bills, Fester's contemporaries have rallied together to organise a fundraising show at The Espy to help their ailing friend. "Originally we were just going to do a small show at The Public Bar, but then we got a call from Angry in Sydney putting his hand up to play," Welsh explains.

 

Anderson's friendship with Rubinic goes back many years to when Anderson happened upon a Fester's Fanatics show in Sydney. ""It was a magical meeting. Fester's Fanatics was refreshingly authentic," Anderson recalls. The contrast between Angry's own tattoo-and-snarl demeanour and his modern-day philanthropic activities is well known; Anderson says Rubinic shares a similar contrast between outwardly rough exterior and gentle personal emotional side. "Fester himself has a tough exterior with a heart of gold. We are birds of a feather, kindred spirits."

 

The bill also includes an all-star line-up featuring as many former members of Fester's Fanatics as can be drafted in for the evening (including four drummers), plus T.H.U.G. from Sydney and local band Electric Mary. Overseeing the night will be the always suave and stylish Dr El Suavo, who will MC the event. "Dr El Suavo is another friend of Fester's from Sydney who wanted to help out," Welsh says.

 

Rubinic's contemporaries from the culinary industry have chipped in to donate various prizes for a charity auction, including dinners at The Press Club, Fenix, Hare and Grace, Masionette and a gold pass to Lionel Ritchie's Day On The Green gig at Bowral. Welsh doesn't make light of Fester's health problems - "he's on dialysis six hours a day, three days a week, which he has to go to the hospital for" - and hopes the evening will put a serious dent in Fester's medical bills. "Fester doesn't like to talk about it too much, so it's great that so many people are coming together to help out," Welsh says.

 

 

FESTERFEST is a benefit for Fester, frontman for Fester Fanatics, at The Espy this Saturday March 5 - featuring Rose Tattoo, Electric Mary, T.H.U.G, The Fester Fanatics All Star Band and many more guests. Memorabilia and other items will also be auctioned on the night. MC and performing for the night will also be Dr.El Suavo. Bands and all associated will be donating their time for free to help such a great cause. All money raised will go directly to Fester to help with mounting bills and medical expenses. So get down to The Espy on Saturday and help out.