Re­mem­bered in mu­ral

The mu­ral of Fred Gam­berg is a sta­ple in down­town scenery, much the same way Fred once was in life

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - FRONT PAGE - BY MIKE MOORE

Wall paint­ing pays trib­ute to mu­si­cian Fred Gam­berg

If you live in the area or have vis­ited his­toric down­town St. John’s, chances are you’ve seen Fred Gam­berg’s face im­mor­tal­ized on the con­crete wall near the LSPU hall on the cor­ner of Prescott and Duck­worth streets.

Gam­berg was 24 when he drowned on the night of July 10, 1995. He and some friends had gone swim­ming near Fla­trock, and Gam­berg had slipped from a cliff and fallen into the wa­ter. Close friends of his say he didn’t know how to swim, and it went un­no­ticed when he fell.

As a cu­ri­ous kid grow­ing up I al­ways wanted to know who Fred was. I would walk by the orig­i­nal mu­ral — in the same lo­ca­tion as the cur­rent ren­di­tion — with my par­ents and won­der who this per­son was and why some­one had painted his por­trait there. I imag­ine oth­ers who don’t know have won­dered, too, whether they are vis­i­tors or lo­cals. For years Gam­berg’s face has re­mained on that wall, even with the paint peel­ing, ran­dom scrib­bles of graf­fiti and the wall phys­i­cally crum­bling un­der its own weight.

After speak­ing to many of Fred’s friends from the era, and to my own sur­prise, it turns out Gam­berg was in­stru­men­tal to the punk rock and me­tal scene in the late 80’s and early 90’s lo­cally.

To me the story of the por­trait had come full cir­cle. My ini­tial cu­rios­ity of the paint­ing of Gam­berg as a kid, cou­pled with dis­cov­er­ing punk rock as I got older, and then be­ing in the po­si­tion to un­cover the story as a jour­nal­ist has re­ally made the story of the mu­ral some­thing spe­cial for me.

Brian Down­ton has fond mem­o­ries of Gam­berg and said he never wants him to be for­got­ten.

“I want his face to be on that wall next to the LSPU Hall to re­main in mem­ory of a great man who ap­pre­ci­ated the al­ter­na­tive arts of this city,” Down­ton said. “A mon­u­ment of a le­gend that im­pacted my life at an early age. I loved him. He is missed ev­ery day. The scene has never been the same since he de­parted. When he died a ma­jor piece of the scene died.”

Frank Nolan, a close friend of Gam­berg, echoed sim­i­lar thoughts about the mys­te­ri­ous man on the wall.

“I left the Rock a few years back. I’m sur­prised the mu­ral is sur­viv­ing,” Nolan said. “Fred was an in­spi­ra­tion to the scene. While mu­sic was in­deed a pas­sion, he touched on so many lives, in so many medi­ums. He was as unique and gen­uine as the ground you walk.”

To­day the wall is painted with an up­dated ver­sion from the orig­i­nal mu­ral, and was com­mis­sioned by the city of St. John’s with ad­vo­cacy for restora­tion from lo­cal mu­si­cian and writer Mike Hef­fer­nan. Hef­fer­nan is cur­rently work­ing on writ­ing an early his­tory of New­found­land punk rock ti­tled “Scum Tribe,” and in there is an en­tire chap­ter ded­i­cated to Gam­berg.

“I’ve never met Fred Gam­berg. I feel like I kind of know him though hav­ing spo­ken to a lot of peo­ple that were close with Fred,” Hef­fer­nan said, which is a sim­i­lar dis­cov­ery I’m mak­ing after speak­ing to sev­eral of Gam­berg’s friends for this story.

“He was one of these in­die con­cert pro­mot­ers, he worked at the (LSPU) hall as a, if I re­mem­ber cor­rectly, a kind of jack-of-all-trades,” Hef­fer­nan said. “Whether that be shov­el­ing or putting up lights, and he was putting off a lot of al­lages shows. He was kind of, for that scene, a bit of a force.”

As much as the mu­ral of Gam­berg has been a fix­ture down­town, so was Gam­berg when he lived.

“I mean he was a fix­ture down­town. I guess that’s Fred Gam­burg in a nut­shell,” Hef­fer­nan said. “Nos­tal­gia is a very pow­er­ful thing. Fred kind of rep­re­sents for me, and I’m sure a lot of peo­ple who would call him a friend, he rep­re­sents the ex­cite­ment of the 90’s in­die rock scene in St. John’s which ex­ploded. Fred is kind of the icon of that.”

Hef­fer­nan says that the mu­ral is as much nos­tal­gia for him as it is for me when the idea came about to write a story about the man on the wall.

“I hap­pened to in­ter­view one of his best friends, and I thought to my­self ‘Fred rep­re­sents the en­thu­si­asm and nos­tal­gia for that time and place in peo­ple’s lives,’” he said. “Go­ing to shows as young peo­ple, Fred was re­spon­si­ble for a lot of the all-ages shows. The un­der­ground mu­sic scene is so im­por­tant to the cul­tural his­tory of St. John’s I wanted to do some­thing about it. Like mem­ory it fades, and I didn’t want Fred or the mem­ory of what he rep­re­sents to peo­ple who were around then (to fade).”


The orig­i­nal mu­ral of Fred Gam­berg on the cor­ner of Prescott and Duck­worth Street.


The cur­rent mu­ral of Fred Gam­berg on the cor­ner of Prescott and Duck­worth Street.

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