[Slowhand] Sticky Wickets

John Mills turbineltd at btconnect.com
Fri Jul 11 13:01:43 EDT 2008


´Struttin´ Our Stuff´- The ´Lost´ Rhythm Kings Sessions.
Stephanie Lynne Thorburn
July 11, 2008

Music journalist Stephanie Lynne Thorburn recounts some evocative ´tales of
the unexpected´ in the diverse career of bassist Bill Wyman, whose musical
odyssey has seen him embrace some unlikely performing platforms over the
years, in both the fields of music and English cricket..

Bill Wyman is without a doubt an uninhibited soul when it comes to
practising the essential creative tools of his trade. On bowing out of the
Rolling Stones, completely gracefully, he immersed himself in the language
of the heart, documenting his ´Blues Odyssey´ with Richard Havers for
Dorling Kindersley books and reinventing the spontaneous avant-garde of jazz
aficionados Billie Holiday, Fats Waller and Louis Jordan with his enchanting
Rhythm Kings.

The evolution of his musical renaissance with esteemed colleagues is well
documented in certain sectors of the music press. Bill´s less well-
celebrated performances represent perhaps his most evocative moments though,
as he has not always utilised the most conventional outlets to execute his
drive toward his own distinctive musical nirvana. My first taste of the
definitive Rhythm Kings sound was back in the solstice of 1991, standing in
the pouring rain of Blenheim Palace, Woodstock Oxon. As I huddled toward
shelter I bore silent witness to the distinctive figures of Ron and Jo Wood,
en route to the VIP marquee, disgruntled yet elated. Bill Wyman´s formative
´fun´ band ´Willie and The Poor Boys´ had just mastered the art of the
earthy venue gig - no entourage, no guitar techs, just soggy amp, balls rock
´n roll, laced with a sense of achievement. This was the scene of a
pro-celebrity cricket match, hosted by the now world renowned Bunburys in
the salubrious retreat of our own Woodstock, here in Blenheim Palace, Oxon,

The Bunburys project was originally masterminded by Eric Clapton and Dr.
David English, (ex-President of RSO Records). This enduring project brings
together personalities from the sports, music and showbiz worlds in aid of
major charities and has to date raised in excess of 10 million pounds.
During the summers of 1991 to ´94, Blenheim proved to be ´the´ venue for
Bill Wyman and his ´poor boys´ to get together for some back to basics
spontaneous jam sessions. Invariably sheeting down with rain, the neo-gothic
palace of Blenheim shone as the Oxfordshire locals looked on at the gods of
rock n´roll, breaking the ice with ´Whiter Shade of Pale´ and ´Wide Eyed and
Legless´ providing incendiary anthems for the otherwise sheltered locality.

The magnificent seven had taken up their respective positions, the
formidable line- up comprised Bill Wyman (cigs, bass), Andy Fairweather-Low
(guitar), Gary Brooker (keyboards), Henry Spinetti (drums), Terry Taylor
(guitar), Frank Mead and John Altman (sax). Bill poised and surrounded by
his dignified ´poor boys´ began to perform. They played for a couple of
hours until they´d done, after which the party just kept rolling and Bill
was able to fit in a menthol cigarette before his retreat. Fuelled by
nostalgic memories of small club dives and finger bleeder gigs delivered for
a sixpence, he explored thoroughly his immaculate musical repertoire. The
romantic ambience and occasionally antiquated sounds of Rhythm Kings
splendour could even see these musicians equally fitting as a classic ´big
band´ in the foyer of the Hilton, with the addition of Bill Wyman on double
bass. The imagination also leads towards more grass roots comparisons, such
as jump jive scenes at Butlins in the ´50´s, yet at Blenheim Palace the ´big
mama´ was the Duke´s wife, with minder Prince forming a nimble partner
following his role in a succession of Bond sets. The couple´s memorable duet
came to a crescendo with an adept pirouette on the table top- they must have
almost forgotten that Sandie Shaw, Errol Brown, Oliver Tobias and Richard
O´Brien had just popped in for some hospitality. As the word spread for
miles around, the celebrity marquee just kept on jamming, packed to full
capacity, like a waterproof oasis, forming the ultimate drive through
picture show!

It was a more sedate reception for ´the band´ as they performed at the Royal
Festival Hall to an equally full house in October 2004. Their latest album
´Just For A Thrill´ definitely captured the atmosphere at one of London´s
most classical haunts. The evening also proved to be significant for the
diaries of Stones connoisseurs who were blessed with the presence Ron Wood
and Charlie Watts. Ronnie jammed to ´Soul Man´, ´634-5789´, ´You Never Can
Tell´, and ´Flat Foot Sam´, putting the night to rest with the fitting
´Knock On Wood´, ´Tearing It Up´, with a finale number from Albert Lee.

As I made my way to the after show activities, I instinctively felt a strong
sense of familiarity that nothing much had changed over the years. Wandering
down a maze of corridors to a hobbit´s lair backstage to share some vintage
blue moments with the Kings, my sense of excitement was met with no meagre
disappointment on reaching the door- step of Bill´s dressing room retreat.
Mr. Wyman remained in character, reserved and unaffected, still on the weak
Darjeeling as he delivered some joy to the passing trade of unsolicited
press demands, signing and posing for snaps with decorum. The evening did
not expire without the addition of a few ´tales of the unexpected´, with
Jeff Beck sauntered into the frame as an apparition from behind the back
stage curtain, swallowing Ron in conversation, they disappeared like a house
on fire into the night. So it would seem that the crème de la crème industry
party is set to continue with Bill´s Rhythm Kings forming a secure bass for
future musical liaisons, with assured connections to a host of stars and
creative projects.

Since this time the Bunburys have come to the fore of the media seeing
further collaborations between some true greats of the contemporary music
and sporting worlds. The Bunbury´s enjoyed their 21st Anniversary party at
Grosvenor House in 2007 and as the new incumbents of Grosvenor House´s
´Great´ function room, this May brought a further seminal evening into
fruition, with around 1,200 attending a gala dinner, celebrating the
knighthood of cricketer Sir Ian Botham. Bill Wyman was reunited with Charlie
Watts and both found themselves in the loquacious company of Rory Bremner,
Jeffrey Archer, Sir Viv Richards and Eric Clapton. Eric performed a one hour
set, auctioning a Fender Crossroads Stratocaster Limited Edition guitar,
raising some £45,000- the evening was in aid of The Crossroads Centre,
Leukaemia Research and English Schools´ Cricket Association. Next year I
trust we might be graced once again by an outing of the outstanding Rhythm
Kings band at the now annual ball, reincarnating those inspired early ´lost´
Blenheim Palace sessions.. The Rhythm Kings and their peers truly represent
a generation of sublime musicians who are still growing in their musical
connections and stature, playing out into the dusk of their careers, ´just
for the thrills´.

The combined legend of the Bunburys and Rhythm Kings will doubtless continue
throughout 2008 and beyond, eclipsing the performing arenas of sport and
popular music with a very special panache. On June 8th Eric Clapton and
'friends' took on the Bunburys for a special match in the locality of
Cranleigh School, Surrey frequented by a stellar team comprising Eric
Clapton, Bill Wyman, Roger Waters, Mike Rutherford in collaboration with
cricketers including Phil Tufnell, Mark Ramprakash & Liam Botham for the
Crossroads Centre and local charities. Bill treated the audience to a
handsome looped style wicket, bowling Mark Ramprakash out on his third
effortless delivery. Bill, Eddie Jordan and The Bunburys have since
reconvened once again at the start of July at Stowe House, near Silverstone
for the Eddie Jordan X1 match, which featured the Formula One Ball at the
close of match play.

At 72, Bill´s esteemed reputation in the arenas of music and more latterly,
English cricket remains paramount to his identity. His greatest televised
success in match play is his hat trick at the Oval in 1995, although his
love affair with the game of cricket dates way back to the nostalgia of a
youth spent in Lewisham dreaming of cherished visits to Lords. Ultimately,
cricket was a fascination shared and savoured by the other Stones over time,
although it was the intimacy of the Bunburys cricket club that enabled the
memorable spectacles and stellar collaborations that have so captured the
imagination of both Bill Wyman during the renaissance of his sporting career
and the press at large in recent years. Given a little help from musical
friends like legendary Bunburys Eric Clapton and Roger Waters, Bill
continues to realise his dreams, collaborating with his blues idols in the
musical domain and his cricketing idols of youth. With the passions of his
early life and loves still burning, Bill has cancelled his retirement from
the cricket pitch this season and we are now very likely to be blessed into
the sunset with more displays of his ingenuity on stage and on playing
fields from leafy green Surrey to Silverstone!

Stephanie Lynne Thorburn. July 2008.

´Struttin Our Stuff´- The ´Lost´ Rhythm Kings Sessions, contains featured
extracts from my autobiographical manuscript ´Great Expectations- Candid
Memoirs Of A Writer and Rock Critic´.

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