December 25, 2021

Everyone knows Bill Wyman, don’t they ? He’s the one who stood nonchalantly near to the back of the stage, taking the mayhem all around in his stride while holding his bass guitar arm upwards and, alongside Charlie Watts, while Jagger pouted & pirouetted, laid down a solid rhythm section for Keith and Ronnie to build songs from. This he did from the band’s early inception in 1962 until late 1992 when, after a massively successful tour, he decided the time was right to walk away from the ‘greatest rock ‘n roll band in the world’ and start a new life.

The Quiet One features Bill Wyman taking us on a trip down memory lane, from his “scarred by poverty” childhood in post-war Penge, South East London, recalling how the Luftwaffe would have claimed him but for the prompt actions of his grandmother in getting him to safety, and he goes on to admit to being closer to her than his own parents, particularly after his father takes him out of grammar school and makes him start work. While doing his National Service … yes, he is that old, having been born in 1936 … he recalls meeting Lee Wyman, the man who became an inspiration to him, so much so that, disliking his given surname of Perks, he formally took his friends name as his own.

Married with a small child, his life changes when his drummer friend Tony Chapman (Charlie gets offered the gig) tells him about this R&B group who rehearse in a pub called the Bricklayers Arms, Soho, and Bill becomes an immediate favourite because he has an AC30 amp, shares his cigarettes and buys beers all round as he was the only one working … Jagger still an LSE student and Richards and Jones being layabouts. Bill gets the gig and the film then takes us through several stages of their evolution into the iconic status they currently enjoy, showing some of Wyman’s unseen footage of the band in their early days being mauled on and off stage by screaming fans. Touring America, he gets to meet blues idols like Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf, and his pleasure at this is heartfelt.  His attitude in the years when drugs and busts become almost everyday occurrences was, he says, to keep his head down and wait for normality to be resumed so they could play again. It’s a pity he didn’t say more about Ian Stewart’s role in the Stones, and also Brian Jones, as views about these two from the inside of the band are hard to come by.

Bill was also the band’s archivist and, from their very early days, he began collecting anything and everything to do with the Stones and, in the process, has amassed an almost unrivalled collection of Stones memorabilia – including hours of never-before-seen footage of the various group members either posing, clowning around or playing on stage – and many of his observations are interspersed with unseen home movie clips of the band performing onstage. His archive room where his vast collection of … you name it, he has it … is the holy grail for Stones fanatics, and we’re allowed a tantalising glimpse inside his private collection of badges, backstage passes, tapes, stage gear, interviews, guitars, etc. His volumes of diaries are so encyclopaedic, when Keith claims, ‘if I wanna know what I was doing then, I have to ask Bill,’ you can believe he gets the right answer.

There’s a sense of disenchantment in the eighties when Mick and Keith don’t talk for years, and when the Stones return with the Steel Wheels tour in 1989, Bill senses the end for him is nigh and, finishing touring a couple of years later, he sees his cue and leaves the band. But still musically inclined, with his passion for music evident all throughout, he now plays R&B with the Rhythm Kings, featuring a who’s who of British musical talent.

The Quiet One is a wry, sensitive trawl through the life and archives of someone who was there when ‘Beatlemania’ exploded and who experienced his own version of it when, as Marianne Faithful says, ‘The world changed from monochrome to technicolour.’ It’s  probably fair to say Bill Wyman’s seen and experienced everything; from the highs of chart success and fan adulation, to the lows of tax exile in France (which he hated) when management rip-offs meant the Stones couldn’t meet their tax liabilities, right up to the horror of Altamont … even attracting societal derision for marrying Mandy Smith. But through it all he’s remembered what happened and archived it. This is a film, part musical narrative and part social history, which can be watched with interest even if you’re not a Stones fan.