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EXCLUSIVE: Bill Wyman's Scrapbook Looks Back On Childhood, A Self-Built Guitar And The 'Disappointing' Rolling Stones Reunion

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Bill Wyman is an affable chap, as you would expect of a wealthy, happily-married rock star, with a big house - with moat - in the country, lots of friends, children, a band of his own still on the road and even his own restaurant still going strong.

So only a glimmer of bemused frustration passes his brow when the subject of the Rolling Stones, specifically the 50th anniversary gigs last year, comes up... was it like pulling on an old, comfy pair of slippers? He chuckles.

rolling stones
Bill Wyman was with the Rolling Stones from 1962 to 1993

"You could say that... the nice thing was that my kids saw me on stage with the Stones. They'd asked me the December before, and I had to jam with them for three days. I was under the impression I was going to get really involved, but when it came to it, they only wanted me to do two songs, which was very disappointing.

He shrugs. "I've always maintained that you can't go back to things, and they can never be the same. It's like a school reunion, or Tony Hancock's Army reunion. If you try to go back and have a relationship with someone, it doesn't work, and it's the same musically. It doesn't work. It was a one-off. Five minutes. Ok, never again. No regrets, we're still great friends."

But, contrary to most interviews, we're not here to talk about the present, or the near past, because in front of us is a massive coffee-table book, in which Wyman, already a 7-times published author, presents his life, all the way from his wartime childhood in south London, which sounds straight out of something John Boorman would make a film about...

"We were wandering around bombsites, nicking stuff, taking things home as freebies, not at all nice really, but we were all at it."

bill wyman
"All I ever wanted was a normal family life - changing lightbulbs, toilet rolls"

The publishers could not have found a more diligent archivist. Wyman has had diaries, pictures, letters all tucked away for years... why the collection?

"Nostalgia. Originally, because my son, when I joined the Stones, was 8 months old, and I wanted to keep souvenirs for him when I thought it would be one gig, one radio appearance, and then I just kept adding... and working backwards as well."

There's the first picture of him aged six when he still just William Perks, another photo of the music-hall where his parents first met, snaps of his manor house in Suffolk complete with aforementioned moat, but adding a frisson to any lord-of-the-manor appearances is Wyman's description of its previous owner, the Krays' godfather.

"They went there after their last crime, the murder of Jack the Hat," he tells me matter-of-factly. "When he died, his funeral was at our local church, so I met Charlie, and the Daily Mirror loved that. I didn't know any other hoodlums, really."

Each picture is captioned and explained in Bill's beautiful writing. "The reference ones I've had to find, but the personal ones are all mine." They include his foray to Germany for national service, where listening to Fats Domino and Elvis on the radio sent him running down the road to buy his first guitar. Everybody in these snaps has got the same DA haircut - "we tried to fit somewhere between Gene Vincent and Tony Curtis."

rolling stones
"It's like any other reunion... you can't go back," says Bill of his time with the Rolling Stones, which came to an end in 1993

Pretty soon after these pages are the first pictures of the Stones, "mainly taken by fans" according to Bill. "There have been thousands of pictures of us over the years, so for me it was trying to work out what people would still like to see. There we are in my parents' old-fashioned house. We were just ordinary lads having an extraordinary time."

Are they really that ordinary, even now? Bill is at pains to claim these credentials for certain members of the band, anyway...

"Me and Charlie are just like we were, we're working class kids, we've always not gone into the showbizzy star thing at all. You do it as a career, you try to be nice to people, but you want to keep an ordinary life, you want to do normal things, you want to change lightbulbs, you want to change toilet rolls. I do everything, clear the garbage, I used to do hoovering. When I first got married, I did all the plastering, and put new plugs in. I like doing ordinary things, and being ordinary. It's part of the charm of growing up."

Yes, but few ordinary folk have the option of meeting Elvis backstage, and then turn it down, something Bill can claim after watching The King in concert in the early 1970s.

"I didn't want to spoil my image of him. He did 20 minutes of rockabilly, which I loved, but then it was all showbizzy 'My Way'. And I remembered what John Lennon told us, about how they went round to see him and he just kept putting the jukebox on with all his own records."

david bowie
Ronnie Wood and David Bowie are two of the famous faces on the pages of Bill Wyman's Scrapbook

So Bill doesn't do that then, once his guests have traversed the moat? He scoffs. "I don't have anything in my houses, no memorabilia, no gold records, nothing. Loads of people do, and I always think, 'Why do this? This isn't a home, it's a showpiece.' All my stuff is in the attic, gathering dust."

Bill's admiration evidently lies elsewhere, particularly for talented musicians he has met along the way, many of whom are featured on the pages, and between whom he rates himself as somewhere in the middle.

"I can pick up things quite quickly, I'm quite musical, I had piano lessons when I was young, passed exams at the Royal College of Music and all that, so when I hear the beginning of a song, I know where the chords are going to go. The rest of the band don't hear that, they have to learn it, so they always thought I learned things quicker than them. But you can just feel it... "

How do people divide up responsibilities in a band? Bill grins mischievously...

"Well they don't very often. I'd better not go there... well, if you're in Van Morrison's band, I don't think Van Morrison would say the keyboard player helped me write this song, you know what I mean? And so you wouldn't get credited, and you just have to live with being in this pop band, basically."

bill wyman
"All this stuff's just been gathering dust in my attic"

A pop band that has sold an estimated 200 million albums and lasted half a century, mind you. There must have been some surreal moments along the way, I'm guessing. Bill's chosen example of his biggest pinch-me episode is extremely revealing...

"I tell you when it was... in the autumn of 1964, when I moved from a three-room flat where the wallpaper was peeling off the walls it was so wet, there was a big hole in the front room, which we had to cover with a sofa, and I tried to live there when my son was born, and then I got into the Stones, made some money, and we were able to move into a flat over a garage opposite Beckenham Grammar School, with a toilet inside for the first time in my life. We had hot running water and a bath - all in the flat. £7 a week. And just enjoying that luxury, I thought, 'this is living, what I've been aiming for all my life.'

"All I wanted was a nice home, good car, nice wife and family. That was what I'd wanted all my life. After that, it just got silly."

A huge number of diverse personalities, from tennis player Vitas Gueralitis to artist Marc Chagall pepper the book's pages. "Lots of my friends are dead," notes Bill, flicking through, before going back to the pictures of his childhood. "That first photo of me, I look so innocent, I find it hard to relate to it, actually, because I don't feel like that's really me. I didn't have the slightest idea, when I left grammar school, before I took my O levels, I had no idea what I wanted to do. Not the faintest idea.

"I always had interests in other things. I would follow those interests in books, archaeology, ancient cultures, all that, but I could never go forward with writing books or visiting the pyramids. I just could never do it while I was in the band, and that's one of the reasons I left."

In his broad canvas of interests and friends, Wyman reminds me of another oft-uncredited band member, George Harrison, a comment that makes him smile. "We were great friends, I used to see a picture of him, and think it was me. A whole bunch of kids in New York once asked me to sign a whole load of autographs, and it turned out they thought I was George. It got that weird."

And like Harrison, Bill Wyman proves a genial, multi-faceted man who, while proud of his time with the world's biggest band, refuses to be defined by it. His book provides ample evidence of a huge life, both in and away from the Stones. "There's loads more where this came from. I could do another 15 books with all the stuff I've got."

So is this to be continued, then?

"I don't know about that. You have to find a different way each time. You can't just keep repeating."

Bill Wyman's Scrapbook is available for purchase now from www.concertlive.co.uk RRP £229. Each book is signed by Bill, numbered and certified. Strictly a limited edition out of 1962 copies (the year Bill joined the Rolling Stones)

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