I grew up in Geelong in the early sixties, when the likes of Owen Yateman's Jazz Band and the Crescent City Jazz Band were huge. I knew of Frank Traynors as a jazz venue, and every so often as a teenager would scrape together a train fare to come up to Melbourne and go to Traynors, to hear whatever band was on. I came up to Melbourne to university in 1965 and, since I didn't have access to a piano, bought myself a banjo at Davis Music in Russell Street - it cost 22 Pounds, and was a Rex zither banjo (I couldn't come close to affording the proper jazz banjos, like the Bacon and Days ... it was only many years later that I discovered how rare the Rex was, even then - but that's another story!) So I spent 1965 teaching myself banjo, standard G plectrum tuning of course!
At the same time, I was 'studying' at the University of Melbourne, and folk music was all the rage. As a fresher, I joined Mufolk, the Melbourne University Folk Club, and largely because I had no idea what was involved was asked to become 'Publicity Officer' ... I wound up writing regular columns in the Mufolk magazine (... was it 'SingOut', or am I confusing it with the Folkways publication ... it was a long time ago!). I also became interested in folk singing, and particularly the songs of Jesse Juller, Sleepy John Estes, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Leadbelly. So I occasionally took the stage at Mufolk events, but I wasn't in the same league as the likes of David Lumsden, Brian Mooney, Gordon Macintyre, Shayna Carlin, Glen Thomasetti ... I could go on. Still, sometime in the middle of 1966 I managed to get a residency at Traynors, singing the midnight to 3 am shift on Wednesday nights.
Probably because the place wasn't packed to the rafters during these sets, Frank occasionally stopped in, although I doubt he was gripped by my performance! Come to think of it, my performance wasn't helped by a poor memory for songs, so I had my repertoire hand written on the interleaf sheets of X-ray film - long orange sheets of paper that were used to keep the film plates apart, that were abundant in the lab where I worked. So, seeing these strange, long orange sheets of paper strewn about my feet as I was singing one night, Frank enquired what on earth they were - I can still see that slightly twisted, quizzical smile and hear his soft voice. So I showed him - the Four Strong Winds is an example. He scratched his head and paused, and then produced a small notepad from somewhere, saying "Why don't you try something like this?" He drew a nice square grid - I think it was for a simple 12 bar blues - and wrote the chords in the relevant square. For me it was a revelation, and I've used 'The Brain's' format ever since.
I didn't last too long doing the Wednesday night graveyard shift - perhaps Frank decided he'd put me out of my misery by closing Wednesday nights early - but by then (September-ish 1966) I'd fallen in with Wendy Lowenstein and Shirley Andrews, who, with Glen Thomasetti and several others, were the driving force behind the first Port Phillip Folk Festival, held at the University of Melbourne. And I'd also joined the Gut Bucket Jug Band, which became a whole new story ...