Written and directed by Oliver Murray
Starring Bill Wyman, Suzanne Accosta and Tony Chapman
Running time: 1 hour and 38 minutes
by Dr. Ashley Jane Carruthers
Have you ever played in a band? I was in a band for over a decade. It took on many forms, had many names, and went through many personnel changes. I started as a rhythm guitar player, which was my preferred role, but with the band shrinking to a three-piece, I was forced to take up the bass guitar. It wasn’t really a choice, per se. It was more a matter of the lead guitarist and vocalist (ie: *that* guy) saying, “If we’re gonna keep playing, someone’s gotta play bass. It ain’t gonna be me.” In comes ol’ reliable Ashley Jane. Bill Wyman was also a guitarist thrust into the role of “guess you’re the bass player” in perhaps a slightly more well-known and successful band - The Rolling Stones. He had the equipment the other (broke) guys desperately needed, and so there he was. In a band.
Bill Wyman is honestly not a musician I have ever thought too much about. I do enjoy The Rolling Stones more than your average baby boomer dad (I maintain their back to back albums Aftermath and Between the Buttons are overlooked gems), but they were not charismatic fellows to me at all. Beyond loving literally every single item of clothing Brian Jones ever wore, I was really only interested in the music. After watching director Oliver Murray’s documentary, The Quiet One, I learned that Bill Wyman was very much the same – just there for the music.
This film uses Bill’s own extensive archival material to tell the story of his life, from a young boy urged to drop out of school and join the workforce, to an old man, showing off his stamp collection and his thimble collection and his projector collection and his (insert noun) collection. An avid record keeper, his archive room where the new footage for this film was shot, was absolutely overwhelming. Rows upon rows upon rows of film reels, tapes, recordings, photos – who knows what else!
The manner in which Bill tells his story is…well, quiet. He isn’t excitable, doesn’t get into details at all, and kind of reminds me of a librarian reading to a class of second-graders. This is not a man that screams ROCK STAR in any way. Think of his bandmate, Mick Jagger (thankfully missing in the new interviews). He is a r-o-c-k s-t-a-r. I can imagine Mick snorting a line of cocaine off an endangered and poisonous snake before a concert, while Bill warms up with a cup of health tea and a crumpet. Maybe. But does the quiet one equal the innocent one? Nah.
Bill’s personal life is not delved into too much here. However, anyone that can do simple math will realize that his second marriage to Mandy Smith in 1989 (spoken about for less than a minute, I’m sure) does notttttt add up. I mean, lawfully or ethically speaking. He “waited for her to grow up”, and then married her when she was eighteen. Uh huh. Gross. He also mentions how he wasn’t addicted to drugs or to wine, so he supposes he had a sex addiction. Okay, so I guess if you’re in a big rock band you just *have* to be addicted to something? Ewwww. Fast forward.
However, Bill’s philosophy on bass playing is interesting. “Play simple. You’re leaving holes and space for people to fill in.” Record producer Glyn Johns said regarding Bill, “It’s not what you play, but what you don’t play - what you leave out.” The self-discipline needed to just plug along and serve the song is not to be underestimated. Think of some other well-known bass players in this time period of music. Paul McCartney had melodies for days. John Entwistle had the chops to play circles around most others. James Jamerson of Motown’s Funk Brothers was (maybe?) god. And Bill Wyman? Served the song. Always.
The most interesting scenes in this film for me were any mention of his solo career. I simply did not know that he had one. I never had an interest in ever searching out solo work of any of the band members (not even that one Mick Jagger album that is, without fail, in every single used vinyl store on planet earth).
In one scene, Bill is surrounded by dreamyyyyy musical equipment, synths and machines and things I could never identify, and I wanted to pause it and look at everything and learn how it all works! Then I heard it. This song. This has been stuck in my head for days. This was my biggest takeaway from this film. I feel like I have found the world’s most British “French” accent.
While this documentary did not seem to dig too deeply into what fans might not already know about the subject, I enjoyed this film for the fact that we are not hearing from Bill’s school teachers, or Bill’s childhood neighbor, or Bill’s old boss. We are hearing from Bill himself. He is telling his story, using his own archives. This gives the documentary a very welcome and different feel from the many, countless, tragic rock docs about stars gone too soon. It certainly didn’t make me like Bill Wyman as a man any more than I already did(n’t), but I appreciate the kind of subtle theme of not letting what some may see as a personality flaw (being “the quiet one”, for instance) hold you back from doing what you want.
There is a scene near the end of the film where Bill is literally in tears describing meeting Ray Charles after seeing him perform in concert. Ray asked Bill to play on his next record and Bill’s response actually really moved me and reminded me how we’re all just humans here. We all have insecurities and sometimes think we’re not good enough. But if ya really wanna do something, then do it! You don’t have to be flashy or extroverted or…anything! You can be a quiet one and still do what you wanna.
“You make your own way, don’t you? Head in a direction that you think is right.” - Bill Wyman