Stone me, he's a metal detector: Interview: Bill Wyman

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Never trust anyone under 60. Sympathy for the church restorer. Let's spend the night together going through my stamp collection. Hope my village doesn't die before I get old. Talking about my g-g-g-g-g-gentrification. Sex and drugs and metal detecting.

Unlikely slogans for a long-time figurehead of youthful rebellion, foul- mouthed depravity and all-round unwholesomeness. Yet Bill Wyman, ex-bass player of a band deemed "perverted, outrageous, violent, repulsive, ugly, tasteless and incoherent", is now safely ensconced in his moated mansion, seemingly happy to play the role of old fogey. He even dares utter the phrase guaranteed to provoke derisive guffaws from his younger self: "The kids of today..."

Occasionally, he uses the f-word - "I'm a family man, now... this is a family business... l know it's corny, but we've a family atmosphere here" - preferring to talk about the quality of balloon animals on offer at his Sticky Fingers restaurants rather than the quantity of female conquests notched up in the Sixties.

(In his 1990 autobiography, Stone Alone, he claimed carnal knowledge of more than 1,000 women in the decade that safe sex forgot. "I just wrote the book from my diaries and I was naive enough not to realise it would cause a furore.")

While child-friendliness might be an unwise bait to hook a public once scandalised by his bedding of Mandy Smith, a teenager 34 years his junior, Bill is determined to promote the restaurants as a "paradise for children". So, bring on the colouring books, crayons, T-shirts, jackets and baseball caps - all designed to make the kids' visit "an experience they will never forget".

The rock icon's eyes dampen as he tells Connie, his publicity woman, about his Father's Day card. "Stephen wrote: `Thanks, dad, for always being there for me.' I was so moved, you know?" (Stephen had an affair with Mandy Smith's mum, but it seems the wrong moment to ask Bill how he felt about the prospect of becoming his son's son-in-law.)

So, goodbye to all that. Goodbye to those lazy-ladykilling, crazy- guitar-smashing, hazy-hotel-trashing, racy-establishment-bashing days of yore. When Bill's legendary opening riff to Jumping Jack Flash stunned cinema audiences in Godard's Sympathy for the Devil.

Actually, he's just been involved in an exciting new film. What's it about? "Metal detecting." He's proud of his involvement in this unglamorous hobby, but even prouder still of a forthcoming book on his Tudor home in Gedding, near Bury St Edmunds.

It's too easy to get carried away with the notion that the Bad Boy of Rock has metamorphosed into the Laid-back Lord of the Manor, swapping a life of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll for the unspoiled beauty of the East Anglian countryside. For a start: "I was never like the others. I was sex and rock'n'roll but not drugs." And, although this Stone is no longer rolling - leaving in the early 1990s "when we had reached a pinnacle and could only go down" - he is still rocking; next month a new album, Struttin' Our Stuff, will appear, although it is unlikely to get airplay on yoof-obsessed Radio 1.

Je suis un rock dinosaur? For the first time, the quietly-spoken, mild- mannered Wyman gets riled. "Why not be an elder statesman of rock? Dizzy Gillespie did it, Louis Armstrong did it, Duke Ellington did it. Why is it if you're playing jazz or classical or country you can still be appreciated for what you do?" But surely, in an earlier incarnation, he advised fellow degenerates not to trust anyone over 30. "Yeah, I did," he chuckles. "You always think, as teenagers, that someone who's 30 is ancient."

In fact, when the Stones first got together, his "advancing age" (a creaking 27 to Mick and Keef's 20) was kept from screaming teenyboppers. And just as press releases back then made him five years younger and failed to mention his marriage, so Connie's biog has mysteriously erased his infamous liaison with Ms Smith.

He's neither ashamed nor embarrassed by the Mandy episode. "The trouble is, she's nothing else to talk about. So she talks about that, doesn't she? If she hadn't met me, no one would ever have heard of her. She'd never have achieved anything. When I have an interview, I've got a million things to talk about so I don't talk about that."

The problem is, the media ignore these "million things", refusing to acknowledge his many and varied interests, especially those of a business and archaeological nature. They never mention his book of photos on Chagall or his cricketing feats. Nor his village duties - "I contribute to the church restoration fund, help with garden fetes and light the bonfire on Guy Fawkes' night ."

Instead, they concentrate on the well-worn myths of dirty-old-Wymanology. This depresses him "I often read things about me and I think: `Who the hell are they talking about?' I can't relate to it."

He is now, and always has been, an ordinary bloke. He never did drugs, drove cars into swimming pools or cavorted with world leaders' wives, preferring instead to collect trunk-loads of memorabilia - pounds 250,000-worth of Stones artefacts line the restaurant walls - and detect metal. He was the band's anchor, holding the boys together. Yet he wasn't invited to Mick's wedding and the group's label passed over his discovery, Eddy Grant. Still, no hard feelings. Or perhaps a few. "I can't see the Stones stopping unless someone dies," he mutters. "There is very little else they do."

A natural-born collector - stamps, butterflies, cigarette cards, women - Wyman reckons his life is far more interesting than either Mick's or Mandy's. And there are even more exciting restaurants to open, more amazing archaeological finds to discover, more fascinating books to write. And more seminal riffs to let rip, as he proves with new band The Rhythm Kings on his fifth post-Stones venture. "I'm very proud of my bass playing. I used to get accolades, you know. In fact, quality musicians still come up to me and say they were inspired by me." Not that he's one to brag. "I don't have to boast, know what I mean? I don't have to. If you've driven the fastest car in the world you don't have to brag about being a fast driver. Do you?"

Struttin' Our Stuff is released on 6 October

Comments