By Jeremy Miles
WHEN Bill Wyman suddenly quit The Rolling Stones a decade ago there were those who thought he was mad.
After all turning your back on a lifelong gig with the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world is not a decision to be taken lightly.
But bassman Wyman, who brings his new band The Rhythm Kings to the Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth on Thursday is absolutely certain that he made the right decision. “Best thing I ever did,” he says.
And when I ask if he’s not just a tiny bit envious when he sees footage of Mick and Keith striding across the stage of some monstrous US stadium, he simply laughs. “Envious? I’m absolutely thrilled not to be there.”
I caught up with Wyman last week as he prepared for the latest leg of the Rhythm Kings annual six week UK tour. He was adamant that he has no misgivings about leaving The Stones. “I’ve never regretted it, not even once. I’ve been to some of the shows and never felt that I wished I was up there. “
Bill still shudders when you mention the bad old days when drugs and exhaustion took their toll on the working day.
Stories of waiting three days for Keith Richards to wake up, he says, are “absolutely true” and bring back memories of “horrible frustration.”
He sighs: “It was just wasting money, wasting time, sitting around wishing you could be doing something more useful or creative than, you know, waiting for someone to turn up or waiting for someone to write a song.”
He adds that The Stones are much more businesslike these days. “Even the last album I did - Steel Wheels - was done much more conscientiously but back in the days of Satanic Majesty’s and stuff like that we were in the studio for a year on and off. It was stupid. What’s even worse was the end result was bloody awful.”
He’s much happier, he says, working with his current band, a bunch of virtuoso musicians with a common love of vintage blues and R&B.
Apart from Wyman on bass The Rhythm Kings features Georgie Fame on piano, Albert Lee on guitar, Graham Broad on drums, Mike Sanchez on organ and Beverley Skeete on vocals.
He put the band together, he says, to provide what he calls “traditional music” for its many fans. The emphasis he says is on quality for he is
aghast at the feeble efforts of some of his former contemporaries.
“There are a lot of old fogeys who’ve left major bands, just like me in fact , and they whack together some outfit and go out there but they’re pretty dire actually.
“We often have to play with them at Jazz Festivals in Europe and its like two remnants of some famous band playing a bloody awful set.
“These are people I used to know and were once very good at what they did but now they’re past it, they can’t get it together or they just can’t be bothered...whatever the reason they don’t come up with a good show and its very disappointing.
“I spend a lot of time and effort with the quality people in my band to produce something that’s better than that, something that’s memorable.”
The Rhythm Kings project started small with just a few gigs and a CD. Now there’s a CD every year, an annual six week trek around the Uk and another six weeks playing in Europe.
And that, says Bill, is as “big” as he ever wants things to get. “It’s great we get guests in the studio like Clapton and Andy Fairweather (Lowe). “Those people can’t always come gigging because they’re busy and anyway I’ve already got a full band but it’s nice for them to sit in sometimes.”
The up-side is that he has an extraordinary group of musicians ready and able to lend a hand when needed.
Last summer when Georgie Fame was temporarily unavailable he drafted in Eric Clapton’s keyboard player Chris Stainton. There are others waiting in the wings too.
For instance, he says, drummer Graham Broad also works with former Pink Floyd bass player Roger Waters who occasionally calls him up for lengthy foreign tours.
Bill is not only philosophical but realistic about the situation. “When that happens, off goes Graham. He has to go. It’s better money and he’s got four kids....But I can get Henry Spinetti so, you know... it’s a great pool of talent I’ve got out there.
“It’s a bit like Manchester United leaving Nicky Butt on the sidelines. You know he plays for England but can’t get in the Manchester United team. My band’s a bit like that. Let's just say I have a nice reserve team on the bench.”