“I remember when my mum finally relented and bought me a guitar for my 13th …or was it my 14th birthday. I enrolled in a communal guitar class situated behind a music store in Melbourne, called The Banjo Club. There I learned my first three chords – A, D and E. I practised and practised until I became quite fluent.. With those three chords under my belt I could now sing and play most of my favourite pop songs. If a tune required more than 3 chords, I would block the strings and strum out a muted rhythm until I hit the next chord.
We lived in a weatherboard house in a less salubrious part of Melbourne called Reservoir. I used to stand in our hall way which was surrounded by ply-wood timber doors. When all the doors were closed it made a perfect echo chamber. – I was in my element – Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Ricky Nelson,- Suddenly I was able to imitate my favourite singers and churn out songs.
My mother, although an educated woman took on a job as a Tram Conductress which at that time provided equal pay for women. Mum was independent and determined and often worked double shifts which enabled her to save enough money to put down a deposit on the weatherboard house. This meant I spent a lot of time on my own which allowed me to indulge my passion for Pop & Rock music and I would spend hours in my echo chamber wailing away.
When I was 14 , I entered a talent competition called The Three Gong Award, a radio talent show in Melbourne. In the 1950s & 60’s it was Melbourne’s answer to the X factor – well ..perhaps more like Opportunity Knocks.
The show was aired live on Saturday morning on the most popular radio station in Melbourne (this was before the advent of TV which arrived a few years later.) I remember how nervous I was as I traveled by tram to the studio. I had told all my mates at school that I had entered the competition and they along with mum were tuned in to the radio waiting for my performance.
As I arrived at the studio, guitar in hand I wondered if I had done the right thing.
The studio looked a little like “Dragon’s Den” with three grim looking judges sitting on the left hand side and a piano accompanist called Mabel Nelson, on the right. Mable was what you might call an “ample” lady with a large posterior larger than the seat she sat on… Fortunately her smile was just as large which made me less nervous. I had brought my own guitar so I didn’t need Mabel’s accompaniment … however she was to prove invaluable during my performance.
There were several contestants going through their routines and I waited anxiously for my turn. – After being announced, I launched into Elvis’s “Mess of Blues”. All seamed to be going well until halfway though the second verse I noticed something was drastically wrong as my guitar started sliding down to my knees. In my excitement I had dislodged the strap from my guitar. – This was live radio – no second chances so I just I plowed on. Mabel, noticing my predicament, waddled up behind me, put her arms and hands under, so as to support my guitar and I just wailed and played on …” Since you’ve gone ..I’ve got a mess of blues.” Somehow I finished my performance without further incident and waited for the judges verdict which was indicated by one, two or three gongs. – Three being the highest accolade. Gong one sounded and I was relieved that I had made it to the preliminary level. Gong two sounded and I was thrilled to have had the second highest accolade. Gong three… I couldn’t believe it. I had won … and became a legion in my schoolyard.
You may be interested to know someone else who won the “Three Gong Award”…
Yes, Olivia Newton John.
Years later we both appeared on the “Go Show” (Australia’s Top Of The Pops”) and later still we renewed our acquaintance on the Cliff Richard show where we were both regulars at the time of the 1972 Eurovision period.
I suppose this early success prompted me into eventually carving out a career in music. I continued with my studies at school during which time I became instrumental in organizing school concerts. I joined some embryonic school rock bands and we occasionally played in church halls. This was all good fun but school had to come first. On the weekends, to provide pocket money, I worked in my friend’s auntie’s Cafe called the “Anchor”. It was situated in Port Melbourne (which although now is a salubrious part of Melbourne) was the rough Port area. My wage for a 12 hour day was £1.
On odd weekends I would go to a Rock dance hall with school buddies at a place called Thomastown. There I would spend my time watching the bands and a singer called Colin Buckley. I knew all his set backwards and was thrilled when one of the band invited me to one of their rehearsals. I cheekily asked if I could get up and do a song with them at their next gig. After rehearsing the song “Memphis Tennesse” they said OK and I couldn’t wait for the next week end.
Saturday night arrived and my mates cheered me on as I rocked with the band. I was surprised and thrilled when the manager of the venue asked me if I could do a regular spot. – I had to get the band to agree to back me and lo and behold I had a regular spot at the weekend doing three songs and getting paid £5.00 for the appearance. As I was still at high school it was great pocket money for doing something I loved – If they but knew it, I would have paid to do the gig. Needless to say I gave up the cafe job at the Anchor in favour of rocking with the “Leadalls” in Thomastown.