In 1964, with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones breaking into the big time and Christchurch’s Ray Columbus and The Invaders riding the success of ‘She’s A Mod’ across Australia and New Zealand, there were few things more fab to have in your backyard than a beat band, especially a British beat band.
Albert "Gib" Williamson, guitarist with Judge Wayne and the Convicts, still lives within 20 yards of the seaside rental house in Bayswater, Auckland, where the band stayed when they first arrived in New Zealand 30 years ago.
Williamson and his brothers Mike and Tom (bass and guitar), along with drummer Dave Camp and vocalist "Judge" Wayne Thompson (AKA Wayne Harrison) – arrived in New Zealand on a whim after watching Ray Columbus and The Invaders perform ‘She’s A Mod’. "We can do better than that," the cocky quintet decided.
They landed at a barren Whenuapai airfield with their prized Burns and Fender guitars in hand.
After a quick exploratory mission by bassist and manager Mike, they landed at a barren Whenuapai airfield with their prized Burns and Fender guitars in hand. At first Auckland seemed backward after the bigger cities of Sydney, Melbourne, London and Los Angeles, but they soon picked up work around town and as far away as Whangarei.
The Williamsons were only marginally British: the brothers were from Gibraltar (hence the nickname "Gib"), the rocky British colony at the foot of Spain. Spurred on by the sounds of Buddy Holly and The Shadows, a desire to emigrate to Australia and compulsory military service, the brothers joined the British merchant navy. Together with a drummer, they played the ports of call visited by their ship Orion before deserting in Sydney in 1963.
Anxious to escape the notice of the Commonwealth Police, the band decamped quickly to Melbourne where they used the English association to maximum effect. They called themselves The Steele Brothers and plied their take on rock and roll, The Shadows and The Animals around the Melbourne clubs, in the process enlisting a new drummer, Dave Camp.
The band were spotted by Cottee’s soft drinks and dispatched on a promotional tour from Melbourne to Townsville playing dances and local TV stations along the way. By then the band had a short, wiry Scottish-born beach bum named Wayne Thompson up front.
Cut to New Zealand, early 1965. In Auckland the group was playing the Surfside in Milford and Delmonico’s Coffee Lounge in Devonport and venturing further afield to Whangarei before settling into a spot at the Shoreline and scoring the occasional tour support slot, including opening for The Pretty Things and Sandie Shaw.
As part of the act Judge Wayne would proclaim the court in session and lock band members up in a prop cage.
Now there’s a thought ... the leering Judge Wayne out front of a band dressed in mock prison issue arrowed shirts, all manacled to a fake ball and chain while raving it up to The Animals’ 'I’m Crying'. As part of the act Judge Wayne would proclaim the court in session and lock band members up in a prop cage.
Equally bizarre is the thought of Judge Wayne and the Convicts sailing their way across the harbour in a wooden keeler they had borrowed from the inlet near their house, weighed down with band gear and heading for the harbourside Shiralee dance spot.
Despite the packed shows, the band was barely surviving. Gib took a job on the lines with the Post Office to help buy food and pay the rent. Then there was the unexpected large toll bill to Australia to square up. The three to four quid the band members would each score a night barely covered anything.
There was a bright spot though: they were about to record. Ron Dalton from Viking Records had caught their act at the Surfside and wanted something on tape.
Judge Wayne and the Convicts put down four songs for Viking – The Animals’ ‘I’m Crying’, The Hollies’ ‘Bus Stop’, the traditional ‘Mr Moonlight’ and the band’s close harmony original ‘Rocker Turned Surfie’. Viking issued the songs as a single and a June 1965 compilation EP, scoring a regional hit with ‘Mr Moonlight’.
A 12-song album of rock and roll standards was recorded but never released. Judge Wayne and the Convicts soon ground to a bitter halt.
Gib explains: “We [Tom and Gib] turned up at the Surfside to play. We looked behind for the gear, but it wasn’t there. The crowd started coming in so we played a record, but we couldn’t find the gear anywhere. In the end we had to give all the money back."
Tom, Gib and Dave were devastated. They tried to carry on, but it just wasn’t the same and Judge Wayne and The Convicts ground to a premature end.
Judge Wayne left for a solo career that included a minor hit with Barry Gibb’s ‘Little Miss Rhythm & Blues’ b/w ‘Here I Am’. Both tracks were recorded before Judge Wayne left for Australia, using the Mike Perjanik Group (Doug Jerebine on guitar, Mike Perjanik on piano, Bruce King on drums, Yuk Harrison on bass, Allan Nash second drums on ‘Here I Am’) as backing."
At the age of 13, Evan Silva got up on to a stage for the first time and sang with Judge Wayne and the Convicts. Silva went on to have a long musical career with The Action and The Compulsion and as a solo performer.
"Judge" Wayne Thompson - vocals
Albert "Gib" Williamson - guitar
Tom Williamson - guitar
Mike Williamson - bass
Dave Camp - drums