GIB WILLIAMSON

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First published December 2013


The following is extracted from a book that Gib is writing about his life and music.......


Music on Board

I had been travelling the world, just having the greatest of times.  I had bought a guitar in Naples on one of my trips.  Lots of guys on board used to play and sing.  The gays were masters at entertainment.  They all played the piano and guitar, sang and danced.  I soon picked up how to play a few chords. 

The great names of show business were just becoming famous: Elvis Presley, Johnny Mathis, Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, The Shadows – Fats  Domino great stars at the beginning and huge stars now.  We had a little combo band on the ship, just a guitar band, easy to carry our instruments.  We played in America, New York Los Angeles , North and South Carolina, Charleston , Canada, Philippines, Africa - anywhere we could con our way into playing.  Just to see girls really.  Although I loved the navy life I thought I could do well in a guitar band, as that’s what was sweeping the world at the time. 

One of the guys in the cabin had a record player - no IPods or CDs in those days.  He had three Johnny Mathis LPs that he played continuously.  Johnny Mathis was the Elvis of the day, but after three months of rotation music we chucked everything out the porthole; we didn’t think it was cruel at the time.  We had been so brainwashed with the music day and night, none of us could get to sleep unless it was playing.  We all chipped in to get him a new one in the next port. 

I had sort of dipped my feet in the water (so to speak) guitar-wise, and on a couple of weeks leave in Britain I had seen a notice in a coffee shop: ‘Guitarist wanted.  Must be good, must play Buddy Holly tunes’.  Holy fuck, I almost wet my pants in excitement.  I grabbed my guitar and shot over to the address.  Nobody was there.  I bashed and kicked the door and shouted.  One of the neighbours said, “They’ve gone out, mate.”  I walked home dejected, kicked all the cans, rubbish bins, cats, and dogs.  I went to the coffee shop the next day and saw a long-haired layabout looking at the ‘guitarist wanted’ note.  I went over and said I was interested in the job but there was nobody home.  He said “Mate, I put this up.  We had someone but he has had to go at the last minute I’m looking for someone and the gig is tonight.  If you’re any good, you can do it.” 

I was as pleased as punch.  We talked about our favourite singers and groups.  I told him that I had been to the States.  He almost gave me a blow job he was so excited that he had found someone.  I sang a couple of songs in the café, no guitar or anything and he said, “Bring your guitar tonight and you’re on.” 

I think he was pretty pleased.  I know I was.  I didn’t realise at the time that Buddy Holly was strumming his guitar when he played on the records.  It just sounded to me like a huge drumbeat.  I had actually been hitting the strings with my open right hand in a drumbeat fashion.  (It would have been novel if it ever took off, but it didn’t.)  I got to the venue, really on fire - what do they say these days?  Feeling ADHD.  I walked on stage with the rest of the blokes.  The leader said, “We are going to start off with Peggy Sue, by Buddy Holly.”  The crowd went wild.  He gave me a nod, said, “1234…”  I thought, holy crap, I’ve made it into the big time. 

I started bashing my guitar, da, da, da, da, the Peggy Sue drumbeat intro.  The leader put his hands up and the rest of the band stopped playing, but oh no, not me.  The crowd was so excited and yelling.  He said, “What the fuck are you doing?” 

I said, “Peggy Sue by Buddy Holly.” 

“No you’re fucking not, that’s something else completely.” 

I said, “What, you mean, this?”  And I bashed the guitar again, which I can tell you, I was pretty pleased with. 

He said, “Get the fuck off the stage.”

“What?” 

“Fuck off, you’re fucking useless.” 

“What do you mean useless?  Where have I gone wrong?”  

He took my guitar off me and did an amazing guitar riff.  It all fell into place.  All of this was happening on the stage in front of a boisterous crowd, who had seized the bait and were all yelling, “Off, off, off, throw the fucker off.”  Well you didn’t have to tell me twice.  Feeling pretty rejected, I slunk off and caught the bus home. 

How could I not have heard that on the record?  Which I might add, I had slowed down with my finger as it was playing to see how it all went.  Of course, as soon as I put a weight on the record or my finger to slow it down it altered the tune, so if a song was in C, when it was slow it came down to A.  I vowed to do better next time.  Still, everybody at the gig who saw me gave me ‘street cred’.  I think that band became the Troggs. 

My Brother  John, the ace con man, had gone to see somebody in Melbourne.  He’d worked out a deal to travel to as many towns as we could, to play music and to promote their fizzy drinks (Cottee's - sort of like Coke and Pepsi).  We would advertise a couple days ahead of the venue, arrive, set up camp, and play the town hall.  At the venue we would advertise the Cottee's drink, charge people a door fee and make them bring a plate.  (That’s what you did in those days)  People would bring a plate with food on it, we would play for an hour or so, and then put the food on the tables for the crowd.  The band and family members always ate well. 

At first, because we were a live band playing all the latest music, people would turn up in droves so the money was quite good.  We played in Broken Hill, Mildura, Swan Hill, Victoria, Ballarat, Geelong, Mornington, Albury, Dubbo, Canberra, Orange, Wollongong, lots of venues in Sydney, Tamworth (which is now the centre of country music in Australia), Moree, Armidale, Port Macquarie, Newcastle, Coffs Harbour and Toowoomba.  (In 2011 Toowoomba got flooded and the town washed away due to heavy rains and floods.)  Surfers Paradise - what a great place that was.  We travelled all along the Gold Coast of Australia and Brisbane.  It was fun days playing and singing.  There were lots and lots more places we played:  Just about every night was Giant party night , Hordes of girls and Guys would turn up and the whole evening would turn into a giant Shag/drink/fest.  Some of the guys in the band and other bands and groupies  didn’t give a shit who they shagged, we toured, Townsville, Cairns, Magnetic Island, Daydream Island, all on the Great Barrier Reef.  (After the war the Americans dumped tons and tons of equipment, guns, tanks, jeeps, motorbikes, and planes off the edge at Magnetic Island.  This made it into an artificial reef.)

We were up in Townsville playing, there was an open air concert going on and the MC announcer,,,,,,, said over the speakers,,,,,,,,,,, “Now Ladies and Gentlemen, straight from New Zealand with his number one hit and NZ's greatest export, welcome to the stage “Ray Columbus” with his “Invaders”.  I thought to myself “F***k me, if this is NZ's greatest band, we will go over there and kill em,,,,,,,and of course the rest is history,,,,,,,,,

 

Across the Ditch to New Zealand  

We all arrived in New Zealand in 1964, at a place called Whenuapai Airport.  Whenuapai is a Maori name and all the “Wh” words sounded like our ‘f’, so anybody else would say Fenuapai.  It took me awhile to understand it.  Mike (previously John) picked us up from the airport with another guy called John Mason, who said that he was our new manager.  He had a parrot on his shoulder and was a bit of a smarmy-looking bloke who owned a couple of hairdressing salons.  He was the sort of bloke, that if you shook hands with him, you would count your fingers to make sure you still had them, I think in an earlier life he might have been one of the Kray twins, most probably both of them.

They drove us through lush green trees and down long winding roads; everything was green and wet and very cold.  We had left Australia in about 32C weather and arrived to a not very tropical 14C.  They drove us to a place called Bayswater on Auckland's North Shore.  It didn’t look like a Bayswater, it looked like a backwater, with dusty gravel roads on the peninsula of a small seaside village called Devonport.  We all got out of the car on Norwood Road and walked down a bush-clad grassy hill to a little inlet.  There it was, the most enchanting house I had seen in a long time.  At the bottom of the garden were a couple of 35ft-keeler boats moored and a small jetty.  Mike said, “The boats come with the house.” New Zealand is a great boating nation, and nearly everyone had some sort of sea craft: launches, dinghies, big sailboats, small sailboats.  My god, it was glorious. 

I had been in New Zealand a few years earlier on a ship.  The talk then was that in New Zealand there were only two and a half million people in a place the size of Great Britain.  Two million women, half a million blokes, two hundred million sheep - a sailor couldn’t go wrong, When I had been there as crew years before, we would tie up in dock, the ship’s phone would ring, and a female voice would say, “Do you want to come to a party?”  “Sure, what shall I bring?”  “Just bring yourself and the other crew,” usually to nurses’ quarters. 

But in 1964, I just fell in love with the place and thought, I’m home. 

John Mason looked a bit like Arthur Daley (the used car salesman on the early TV show).  He was very dodgy, he did anything for a dollar, he was a charmer and he and my brother Mike were made for each other.  We practised in the house on the water, a really idyllic place.  We would belt out all our songs and every girl and guy for miles around came over to see us.  People walked down to our house or sailed across Nataringha bay in the Bayswater area to hear and find out where all the music was coming from.  Those practise days and nights were just magic  

We had changed our band name a few times and were now called Judge Wayne and the Convicts, because we’d come over from Aussie.  We had a ball and chain and striped suits.  We were very impressive, if I say so myself.  We were on the same stage as Sandie Shaw (of ‘Puppet on a String’ fame) and The Pretty Things, an English group who were diabolical everywhere they played in New Zealand. 

Once we were in the Auckland Town Hall, waiting for the curtain call.  Everyone was in the same dressing room.  We had one bottle of whisky between us, with all of us taking a swig.  They (the Pretty things) had a bottle each, and were flicking matches at each other straight from the match box so that it lit up in the air and almost burned the dressing room down.  We went on and did our thing to a yelling, screaming crowd.  We had a dynamic singer in little Wayne Harris, a Scottish bloke that we’d had in Australia.  The Pretty Things came on, did a couple of rowdy songs and then got kicked of the stage for playing with matches and trying to set the curtains alight. 

Ah, halcyon days. 

 

Things Fall Apart  

The band was really going well.  There was great rivalry among all the bands.  We always thought that we were better than the rest.  We were doing gigs on TV plus playing shows at all the clubs.  “Ron Dalton” from Viking records who had seen us at the “Milford Surfside” thought we were an exciting band good enough to record We all trooped up to Viking Studios in the City and recorded “I’m Crying”, ”Bus-Stop”, “Mr Moonlight”, ”Rocker Turned Surfie”, "Little Miss Rhythm & Blues”, and  “Here I Am”, we also did a 12 song album with some of my originals, but it never got released.  At the same time we were doing our recordings, Dina Lee was recording “Don’t you Know Yokomo” in the next booth with Max Merritt and the Meteors.  Our songs and her songs raced up the charts, Our “Mr Moonlight” became a small chart topper, Dina’s “Yokomo” went through the roof,,,,,,,,,,Oh, the injustice of it all, (All to do with promotion mate)  

We played at Northcote Point’s Delmonico's on the North Shore (which is now part of the Bridgeway Theatre), the Takapuna RSA, the Galaxy, the Pink Pussycat, the Monaco in Federal Street, the Shiralee opposite the old city post office, the “Top Twenty” in the little lane off Durham Street, the Oriental Ballroom in Symonds Street, the Eden Roskill Hall, the Crystal Palace, the Surfside Ballroom in Milford run by Ron Wheelhouse, and a jazz club in High Street where Tommy Adderley had a three piece band, I think Bruno Lawrence was the drummer.  I think Tommy jumped ship the same time as I did, in different parts of the world.  Max Merrit was on the scene and doing rather well, Phil Warren who promoted us in later years was doing well with groups, The Gremlins were doing well, the Blue Stars (I think they were called the Nomads at one time), Clive and the Dark Ages, we tried Clive out with a couple of gigs.           

Other groups at the time.  The legends,,,, Roger Skinner was and is still playing  All the groups used to drive up to Whangarei and Kamo to do weekend gigs.  A promoter (forgot his name) up there used to run a Bereavement service (Funeral parlor) and if he had more than one group up there, one band would stay in a hotel the other band stayed in the Morgue, we used to sleep in coffins, on the floor, in chairs, scary as shit, and of course if you picked up girls, none would want a shag  in there, so we missed out, however, we did stay in the hotel in the main street, and old place with great huge windows is the only way I can remember it these days, but no doubt if I ever travel back to reminisce it will still be there.,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,But now, all the old staunch guys like Ernie Garnia, Phil Warren, Benny Levin, have all passed away.  We gave all the guys nick names, Benny Levin, we called Lenny the bin,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, 

There is lots more that I have written, but far too much for here,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

 

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