What’s The Book? Windswept And Interesting: My Autobiography by Billy Connolly
What’s It All About, JG? It’s an autobiography, so I have a feeling you can probably figure it out. Anyway, as you would expect, it’s a rambling amble through the life of Scotland’s best-loved comedian, one Sir William Connolly, told partly through anecdotes and partly through sketches and stories (and some very tall tales) from various live performances. It covers Billy’s life up until basically now – even the Pandemic gets a mention – and gives the former welder, folk musician and generally windswept and interesting person the chance to look back over a life of unexpected yet greatly embraced success.
Is It Any Good? It’s… entertaining. Come on, it’s Billy Connolly, it could scarcely be anything else. Much of the focus of the book lies on the early parts of his his life – growing up in Glasgow (my home city, I feel I should declare), his time at school and the shipyards, palling around with his mates, slowly making progress as a folk musician, and so forth. Yet there’s something a touch frustrating about the book too – when Billy actually writes he has an engaging style, free-flowing and really rather charming. But too much of the text consists simply of routines anyone who’s likely to read the book is probably overly familiar with already. That tends to blunt the impact of the bits where he’s just writing off-the-cuff about this and that. Those bits are definitely good, but they keep grinding to a halt so we can get a written-down version of material that’s better delivered from the stage. It’s not that the routines aren’t funny – of course they are – it’s just that it’s impossible not to think, “I should be watching this, not reading it.” Without the physicality of Connolly’s performance – the flailing arms, the booming voice – there’s something missing. Billy Connolly is the best stand-up comedian the world has ever seen, but reducing his routines to print diminishes them – they already exists in their ideal form.
How Many Of These Have You Read? I read Tall Tales and Wee Stories, the 2o2o book which is literally just his routines written down rather than performed (perhaps unsurprisingly, the same problems exist there) and Made In Scotland:My Grand Adventures In A Wee Country (which is considerably better for not being that).
Would You Recommend It? For the bits that aren’t just routines, yes. It’s lovely to get a glimpse of Billy away from hitting all the familiar beats, and there’s certainly plenty of little moment and anecdotes which crop up that really add to the picture of the man. Sometimes they’re very serious, like how he felt towards his parents and the abandonment issues they left him with, and sometimes they’re light and silly like the pleasures he’s looking forward to after the Pandemic is all done and dusted. Of course, his Parkinson’s gets mentioned, and he’s refreshingly direct in talking about it, neither requiring nor expecting pity and just getting on with the reality of how he needs to live now. In those moments the book absolutely shines. It’s just a shame there aren’t more of those kind of insights.
Equally there are some absences which it might have been nice to hear about – his late-in-life interest in art and drawing gets about two pages and could have stood substantial expansion since it’s s a little-discussed part of his career, and it might have been interesting to mention things like the three vast murals of him that have been put up in Glasgow as a tribute to the city’s most famous son (they look amazing in real life, by the way). But nope. In fact, his later life gets pretty short shrift overall, which is a great shame – maybe two volumes would have been a good choice? Yet despite the griping, this is still a relaxed, entertaining look at one of the great performers of the world, it is cheerfully unpretentious, and the work of someone clearly at peace with who he is and his place in the world. There’s real charm here, and for all the laments that it could have been more, this remains a likeable, enjoyable bijou stroll-ette through the life of the best stand-up comedian bar none.
Scores On The Doors? 7/10