So it’s surprising it has taken until 2011 for the story of the Wakefield-born guitar maestro to be set down in generally-available print.
Author Paul Sutton Reeves actually finished work on Music in Dreamland in 2004 before a series of unfortunate events at the publishers delayed its release, initially as a fan club-only limited edition in 2009.
Reeves’ story repeatedly illuminates the contradictions inherent in Bill’s personality, contradictions fundamental to the direction of his career.
It reveals a man of the world, inspired by all kinds of international cultures, yet who has never lived more than an hour from his home town.
It recounts his apparently ruthless sacking of band members who couldn’t match his own ability, yet quotes friends who say he would sooner bury his head in the sand than make an awkward decision.
And it also shows how, right from the early days of Be Bop Deluxe, he has rejected doing what might be popular in favour of exploring something new.
That attitude, Reeves persuasively argues, explains why a man many musicians rank alongside his contemporary David Bowie has enjoyed only a fraction of the latter’s success.
So as fans and record companies shouted for more of the same, Bill moved on: from glam to prog to post-punk to electronica to ambient; swapping his guitar for synthesisers; bands for solo work; rejecting major labels in favour of self production.
It may not have made him a wealthy man (though he did own a Bentley and a Porsche at different times) but it makes for a fascinating story which Reeves tells with the aid of numerous contributions from former colleagues and Bill himself.
He said: “Bill’s a great bloke, a lovely fella to spend time with. Writing the book would have been really hard if he’d been obnoxious, but I’m glad to say he wasn’t!”
The author admits he’s not an unbiased biographer. “I’ve been a fan of Bill’s music ever since I heard Ships In The Night from Be Bop’s album Sunburst Finish on Radio Caroline,” he said. “They had it on heavy rotation back in 1976, and it just got me into Be Bop.”
That shows up at times, not least in the author’s sometimes flowery praise for Bill’s work, but it takes nothing away from an essential read.
Music in Dreamland is published by Helter Skelter, priced £14.99, and available from major bookstores or www.helterskelterpublishing.com