Critics, colleagues pay tribute to Knightshade lead singer and founder Wayne Elliott

Wayne Elliott, centre, was in the midst of his battle against cancer when Knightshade reformed for a “farewell” gig in 2014. He is flanked here by bandmates Craig Pollock, left, and Rik Bernards

The voice of revered Hamilton rock band Knightshade has fallen silent.

Wayne Elliott, the charismatic founder and lead singer of the group that had a string of hits in the 1980s and beyond died on Tuesday, following a lengthy battle with cancer. 

Elliott, 67, had been diagnosed in 2013 with an aggressive, asbestos-related form of the disease that affects the lungs.

A post on the band’s Facebook page broke the news to fans on Tuesday night.

“It’s with heavy hearts and deep sadness we say farewell to the man with the magic voice and founding father of Knightshade, Wayne Elliott.”

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“All the boys in Knightshade were fortunate enough to individually spend some time with Wayne during his last months, we talked, argued, laughed, and cried about old times the way all families do! Knightshade is a family, and today we mourn the loss of our fallen comrade, our inspiration, our hero and our friend.

“From all the boys of Knightshade, we wish to extend our heartfelt condolences to Charlie, Jed, Dale, and Kate.”

Knightshade was formed in 1982 in Te Puke under the moniker Clearlite before relocating Hamilton in the mid-1980s. The band opened for international stars including Guns N’ Roses, Bon Jovi, ZZ Top, and Deep Purple.

They produced several top 20 singles including Out for the Count (1986), You Don’t Need Me (1987) and Television Eyes (1995) and toured the country numerous times.

Despite Elliott’s dire diagnosis, the band reformed for what proved to be several “last hurrah” concerts in 2014. Reflecting his group’s hard-rocking attitude and sound, Elliott opted for an equally hardcore remedy – the contentious and infrequently-applied “hot chemo” technique to literally burn the cancer out of his body.

Knightshade packed away their gear for the last time after their final show in August 2016.

Broadcaster Paul Martin, who was a member of Knightshade in 1986 and ’87, hailed Elliott as “a great role model and a fantastic mentor”.

“The great thing about Wayne is that he treated everyone with respect. He led by example. There was no leaving a trail of broken and trashed hotel rooms behind us. You could say he put me on the right path.

“I was the number one fan of the band before I joined them. I had been playing in a band in Wellington and Wayne took a chance on me. He saw something in me and I will always be grateful to him for that. So I left Wellington and went and had some wild times with him and the boys in Te Puke.”

Martin, these days best known as the bassist of the chart-topping band Devilskin, said he saw Elliott on the day he died.

“He was pretty much in la la land, which was good because he deserved a break. I also saw him on Saturday and he was pretty lucid then and we were able to have a talk.

“It’s pretty hard to imagine a world without Wayne Elliott. He made a huge contribution to New Zealand music and we are all going to really miss him.”

An early champion of the band was fellow broadcaster Max Christoffersen, who was a music reviewer at the Waikato Times and announcer at student station Contact FM.

“Elliott’s flamboyant stagecraft set Knightshade apart,” he said.

“He was among the first to really work a live stage with between-song banter. He brought his own style of hard rock front-man showmanship to New Zealand rock music – and he pulled it off.

“The Hillcrest Tavern rocked when Knightshade was in town. When other rock and metal bands came and played live the exuberance that Wayne brought to the stage was missing. I saw most of them as the Waikato Times live music reviewer at the time and every time I thought something was missing from the other bands – and it was Elliott’s command of the stage and natural rapport he had with the audience. Crowds loved him. We all did. And man, he could wail.”

Knightshade came to prominence at a time when New Zealand music was becoming increasingly influenced if not dominated by alternative bands, many from the Flying Nun label.

“Knightshade unashamedly went in the other direction – it was commercial, melody-laden rock and they were a local version of what we had seen from the mainstream bands Knightshade would later open for.

“Like many others there is a lump in my throat today to recognise the passing of one of Hamilton’s great musicians and the end of an era.”


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