Rolling Stone Bill Wyman on archaeology, photography and art - oh, and music!
PUBLISHED: 17:04 13 November 2013 | UPDATED: 17:04 13 November 2013
These days, the legendary bass guitarist Bill Wyman is more coins and cameras than stadiums and Stones, but be under no illusion that he's considering slowing down, for there's still plenty of life in this extraordinarily talented man yet, as Alice Cooke finds out
Where to start when interviewing a Rolling Stone? The man’s an icon, an enigma, a tour de force – the stories he could tell, the things that he’s seen, the people he’s met and the fun that he’s had. But I’m also well aware that having been famous for about half a century, Bill Wyman must have been interviewed hundreds, maybe even thousands of times – and it’s important not to bore the poor man with questions that he’s heard countless times before. So I start with a curve ball…archaeology. Stay with me here – for those of you who don’t know what Mr Wyman (“call me Bill”, he is quick to insist), gets up to when he’s not strumming and plucking, archaeology is but one of the many strings to his bow, as I was soon to discover…
“The first time I picked up a metal detector, I found two Roman coins. I cannot tell you how exciting that was.” So exciting in fact, that Bill lists it as one of his career highlights – second only to playing Hyde Park on 5 July 1969, two days after the death of fellow Rolling Stone Brian Jones, to half a million people. “London closed down on a Saturday. It was unheard of. There was no-one in the shops on Oxford Street, because everyone was outside listening to the music.” I can’t possibly imagine how mind-blowing this must have been as a performer, so I ask him to try and describe it for me. “From the stage, everywhere you looked, for 180 degrees, all you could see was a carpet of hair. People were up trees, on top of cars and hanging out of windows. It was simply extraordinary. It was also the most fantastic sunny day, and that was the most peaceful, happy gig I can remember.”
There’s no denying that this sounds like the experience of a lifetime, but Roman coins a close second? “Honestly, I can’t describe to you how fantastic it is to be outside in the British countryside, getting some exercise and learning about history that went on right underneath your feet.” Bill was so keen for his four children to be able to share his love of archaeology, that he invented a children’s metal detector, which was lighter and easier to hold, so that they could join him. “I was out with my daughter the week before last actually, we love it.” To date, Bill has found over 300 Roman coins, as well as silver and gold Iron Age coins. He describes archaeology as very similar to music: “When you find something, you know where it came from, just like when you hear a melody, or a style – you know its heritage, you know how it got there, and why it is the shape that it is. That to me is fascinating.”
So if he hadn’t been a musician, would Bill have been an archaeologist? “Maybe, but I also adore photography, and I’m told I’m quite good at it. I take my camera with me everywhere I go – even to the doctors, because you never know what you might see. Life is everywhere.” From his home in Chelsea, Bill often walks down the Embankment to the Physic Gardens, where he likes to photograph the butterflies. “It’s like a mini Kew Gardens in there. I find it very relaxing.”
So there’s music, archaeology and photography, but there is also art, and the books – his latest, Bill Wyman’s Scrapbook, the Legacy Edition, is quite literally, his story. The book (his tenth), tells of his journey from boy, to man, to the person he is now, presented as a glorious pictorial record, accompanied throughout by personal anecdotes and a handwritten commentary.
And when I say there’s also art, I don’t mean that he dabbles with watercolours of an afternoon. Bill met Marc Chagall and César Baldaccini through mutual friends, as all three have homes near Saint Paul de Vence, in the South of France. The three lunched together regularly when Bill was in town, and he often played tennis with Arman (Armand Pierre Fernandez). What makes this meeting of minds remarkable to Bill, is that, in his own words, “they always treated me as an equal, in terms of our art. I found that incredible, and humbling. These men were gods to me.”
But most of the people that Bill mentions as friends, influences and passing acquaintances, would be considered by many to be ‘gods’. He says that Ian La Frenais, (writer of, amongst other things, The Likely Lads, and Porridge), is the most interesting person he knows, but that Roger Moore and Michael Caine are the most wonderful. “They’re hilarious together, and Roger is just fantastic, the way he travels the world for UNICEF.” Bill is no stranger to charity work himself, and is a great supporter of Jeans for Genes, which helps children with genetic disorders.
I can’t help but marvel out loud at the incredible life this man has had. But it’s “far from over yet”, he is quick to tell me, laughing at my incredulity. “My life’s ambition is to be fives times as good as Da Vinci.” That’s some ambition…but somehow, coming from this man, it doesn’t seem all that ridiculous.
GET THE BOOK
Bill Wyman’s Scrapbook is the first of its kind by any Stones member. The book is strictly limited edition, restricted to a volume of only 1,962 copies (the year of the Stones’ first live appearance). Each copy will be numbered, certificated, and hand-signed by Bill. The majority is previously unseen content, and Bill has hand written notes on most pages, explaining the significance of the images. To buy, go to www.concertlive.co.uk
Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings tour dates:
G Live, Guildford on 23 November. Call 0844 7701 797 or go to www.glive.co.uk
Brighton Dome on 26 November. Call 01273 709709 or go to http://brightondome.org
The Lighthouse, Poole on 29 November. Call 0844 406 8666 or go to www.lighthousepoole.co.uk