It’s an unusual venue to find one of the Grand Old Men of rock but on a cold crisp borders night, 300 or so people gathered to spend the evening with Bill Wyman. Staged as a fundraiser for The Eastgate Theatre, this was an opportunity for supporters of the theatre to mix with middle aged music fans. It was difficult to tell which were old Stones fans and who, if anyone, had never even heard a Stones song. There were no badges, T-shirts or Stones embazoned jackets. this was going to be a very laid back evening.

The wine reception before the main event got everyone in exactly the right mood. The crowd was split between the Studio (playing host to an exhibition of Bill’s photographs) and the bar with the corridor between the two often clogged with people. Bill seemed very much at his ease as he stood, seemingly happy to sign items for anyone who asked.

Just before 8pm, we were asked to make our way to the auditorium, a fairly small, rather intimate theatre with two leather sofas set on the stage with two microphones between them. The host for the evening was Edi Stark. The event was being recorded and will be broadcast by BBC Radio Scotland on October 24th - Bill’s 71st Birthday!

Here’s a transcript of part of the discussions:

BW:That was a very strange time to grow up because you were always in the shelters. You were always sleeping in the shelters. They were damp, they were wet, horrible musty smells. Families, three families sharing the shelters. And I was taken out once to see a doodlebug go over. The guy next door said come see a doodlebug and we went out and it was flying over just with the jet behind it. You just hoped that it didn't stop because once it stopped it came down and everybody used to pray that it would go over and once it didn't and all the back of the houses were blown out and we had to move because we were bombed out.

ES:Do you look back then on a childhood which was unhappy?

BW:No, because you were all going through it. It was normal.

ES:You spent time though...

BW:The adults were the ones that were scared you know. The kids weren't. You only knew the dangers because the parents, and the wives and the mums and the aunts, they were the ones the were going, "Oh my God" and jumping on top of you to cover you you know, when the bombs were falling

ES:But you did have friends who died so you must have been aware of the danger.

BW:Yeah you did but we were all sharing it so It was part of life, reality It wasn't something that was bizarre because it was always there

ES:You spent time with your grandmother

BW:A lot, yeah

ES:And with your parents. Which time was happiest for you?

BW:My grandmother really. Yeah, she taught me everything. She was a fantastic reader of books. She introduced me to all kinds. Dickens. All kinds of books on history. She taught me to collect things.

ES:So she's the one to blame.

BW:Yeah. She taught me to collect cigarette cards, collect postage stamps, to collect coins and all that. She taught me my alphabet backwards so that when I first went to school and the teacher said, "Anybody know their alphabet?" I said I know it backwards. And the teacher went (turns his head to look askance) She said, "Alright, recite it". And I went Z, Y, X, W, V, U, T, S, R, Q, P, O, N, M, L, K, J, I, H, G, F, E, D, C, B, A (audience applauds)

ES:Nowadays we call that dyslexia (laughter). So you were happy being with your grandmother. Your dad was a bricklayer

BW:Well she would devote time to me you see, whereas my mother couldn't. Dad was in the army

ES:Well she had four other kids

BW:Yeah, well she had three others during the war. I was the eldest. So she didn't have the time to spend with me but my gran did. So she would tell me nursery rhymes, fairy stories and read me books. All that sort of thing.

ES:Key to your life though I think is that you were just about to sit your exams at grammar school and your father...

BW:Yeah, I got in grammar school. I was one of three kids that passed, out of a class of 52. I mean, you couldn't learn in those days. The classes were so big and... (ES: but you did) ...just two boys and one girl passed, yeah, and went to grammar school.

ES:So you went to grammar school and just before you were to sit your exams, your father, who was a brick layer (BW: Pulled me out) decided to take you away (BW: Yeah). Why would he do that?

BW:He didn't like me stepping out of being working class. He always said, "Never forget you're working class and nothing else. Don't step above your.. you know, where you're supposed to be". And he had an attitude  which... He didn't want me to succeed. You know, it's very strange. I made amends with him in later life but it was very difficult.

ES:So what was his attitude to you being one of the most famous bass players in the world and being part of the greatest rock and roll band ever. He must have had a big problem with that.

BW:     He was kinda proud of it to other people but not to me. Ever. In fact I did movie music for a film called "Green Ice" with Ryan O'Neil, Omar Shariff. I did the music for the film. And I took him to the private viewing, you know and all the great people were there. All the people that put the film together and all that. And they came up after the film and they said to my dad, after we'd seen it, "So, what do you think of your son's music?" And he said, "It's too bloody loud" (laughter). I mean, he could never say to me, "Well done" or anything. It's very difficult. But that's the way parents were in those days.

ES:     Very often that can be at the root of greatness

BW:I've heard the same thing from many musicians about how...

ES:Did it maybe give you a drive to try and prove yourself in some way?

BW:Yeah it probably did, yeah, but you did want them to sort of say "that's good" or something. Never did. My mum did.

ES:So you wouldn't recommend it as a parenting technique?

BW:But my dad had a horrendous life. When I hear about what... it was like Charles Dickens. 10 kids, south London. Right through the... You know the 20's and... I mean it was an awful life, so he thought he was being much nicer to us than he got dealt with. So, I can forgive him for that.

After an hour an ten minutes featuring three tracks to be included in the radio show and four open-mike questions from the audience we made our way downstairs to more wine and a mouth-watering buffet. At one side of the room, there was a table heavy with haute cuisine whilst opposite it was a chocolate fountain!

When everyone had finished eating, there was a chance to get to talk to Bill, take photos and get items signed. All in all, a wonderfully pleasant evening and great value at £ 45. Well done Eastgate!


Above: Bill onstage after his audience with one of his three daughters.

Right: Signing after the buffet