Making It Up As You Go Along: Notes From a Bass Imposter by Bill MacCormick

Release date: April 9, 2024
Label: Iona Books

Generally I don’t read a lot of biographies and autobiographies, especially not ones on or by musicians. When I have too often I have come away wishing I hadn’t, disappointed by my new found knowledge. So, reading Bill MacCormick’s new autobiography Making It Up As You Go Along: Notes From a Bass Imposter was always going to be a gamble…except the subtitle gave me hope; A Short Social and Political History of Rock ‘N’ Roll In South London 1966-80.

Bill seems to have played and written with a long list of the interesting and innovative in British rock; Quiet Sun, Matching Mole, Gong (briefly), Eno, Phil Manzenera, 801, Random Hold.

Thing is, although Bill doesn’t realise it, we go back a long way. In 1976, possibly ‘77 a workmate asked if I had heard 801 Live and lent me his copy. Soon I had my own copy. Such a sublime album of psychedelic tinged rock. All the musicians pictured on the cover assumed greatness in my eyes/ears. This included Lloyd Watson who I was amazed to discover played every Sunday night at a local pub! In 1977 801 were touring their second album, Listen Now, and a few of us went to a great gig, with Bill on bass. I subsequently bought their album.

Time moved on, as did Peter Gabriel, in 1980 on his third album tour the support band was Random Hold, at the night I attended he introduced the band before they played an impressive set with Bill on bass, as I remember, wearing a hooded top. In fact the set was impressive enough that I subsequently bought their album too, The View From Here.

The book traces Bill’s life from his time at Dulwich College and his first band ‘Pooh and the Ostrich Feathers’ with fellow students Dave Buckley, Phil Manzenera and Charles Hayward(!). His friendship with Robert Wyatt. The profound influence of early Soft Machine. A trip to the USA where he got to see an impressive number of bands including Quicksilver Messenger Service and Santana. His evolution from a singer/drummer to bassist.

The coming together of 3/4 of ‘Pooh and the Ostrich Feathers’ with Dave Jarrett led, in 1970, to Quiet Sun, some of whose material was eventually released as the excellent 1975 album, Mainstream.

 

The book moves on to his time working with Robert Wyatt in Matching Mole, their demise after the second album, Little Red Record. Robert’s accident and the plans to reform the band being shelved. 

Reuniting with Phil Manzenera to record Diamond Head and Mainstream, the subsequent 801 project which bequeathed to the world 801 Live and then, with a new line up, Listen Now and then joining post punk art rock band, Random Hold, the record label apathy and then the media/record label feeding frenzy and subsequent tour with Peter Gabriel.

That is the very, very bare bones, the skeleton of Making It Up As You Go Along: Notes From a Bass Imposter, on top of this structure Bill creates an enthralling tale of the lived experience of being a working, touring musician in the 70s. He recounts, remembers, researches and intertwines a wonderful, entertaining, interesting, informative book of anecdotes, observations, character sketches and political points. If you are interested in the Canterbury scene, music, society, history, life then this is worth a read. Bill manages to weave them all together. 

Included in the book are periodic pointers to a great album or band you should check out. In fact he is intending to add youtube links to his web site for a lot of the music mentioned in the book (billmaccormick.co.uk).

I found Bill’s book fascinating, funny and interesting. Some real laugh out loud moments. His observations on contemporary British politics are accurate and amusing as are his frustrated comments on Brexit. But what I liked most about the book is the underlying vibe: his self-deprecating humour, his generosity of spirit, his appreciation of people.

If you want a big hearted, kind, amusing book that expands out from an easily neglected experimental, adventurous stream of music to discuss Britain now and in the 60s and 70s this could be the book for you.

Making It Up As You Go Along: Notes From a Bass Imposter is available here and I am sure in lots of other places as well!

 

Also referenced.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_MacCormick   

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