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The Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb: ‘There’s fame and there’s ultra-fame – it could possibly destroy you’


From beneath a black Stetson hat, Barry Gibb stares out of my laptop computer display screen. He’s in Miami, the place he has lived since 1974 when the Bee Gees’ profession was within the doldrums and Eric Clapton recommended a change of surroundings would possibly do them good. They relocated en masse, shifting into the home Clapton immortalised within the title of his album 461 Ocean Boulevard. Gibb by no means actually left, though he nonetheless has a house in England. He appreciated Miami, he says, as a result of it reminded him of Australia, the place his mother and father emigrated when he was 11.

He lives in a waterfront mansion in an unique nation membership, which is clearly a good distance from the penury the Gibb household skilled in Australia – of which extra later – however that’s what comes of promoting between 120m and 220m data, relying on whose estimate you consider. His late brother Robin used to personal a home a few doorways down – Tony Blair induced somewhat a fuss by holidaying there when he was prime minister – and, as he places it, “a number of Gibbs” dwell close by: 5 kids, seven grandchildren. There are clearly worse locations on the earth to be holed up throughout a pandemic. “We’ve been attempting to self-isolate and do all the pieces we’re imagined to do,” he says. “As you’ve seen on the information, [coronavirus] is fairly rampant in Miami.”

So far as one can inform over Zoom, Gibb is in fairly fine condition for a person who just lately celebrated his 74th birthday and his golden marriage ceremony anniversary on the identical day: he met his spouse Linda, a former Miss Edinburgh, backstage at High of the Pops within the late 60s. A 50-year marriage is a uncommon factor amongst rock aristocracy, however Linda sounds a somewhat redoubtable determine. Gibb’s brothers all famously struggled with their fame: Maurice’s fondness for a scotch and Coke was a drink drawback that plagued him till he entered rehab within the early 90s; Robin was overly keen on amphetamines; the youngest brother, Andy – catapulted to solo success on the again of his brothers’ fame – developed a cocaine habit that killed him aged 30. That Barry appeared to emerge comparatively unscathed is outwardly right down to his spouse. “My brothers needed to take care of their demons however I used to be married to a woman who wasn’t going to have it,” he says. “I may convey medicine into the home however they’d find yourself down the bathroom. She by no means allowed me to go in that route. I needed to take care of my brothers being just about on the market, however I used to be fortunate.”

He appears in a brighter temper than he did final time I met him, maybe understandably. That was seven years in the past: he was about to embark on a solo world tour, nevertheless it was barely a yr since Robin had died of most cancers and Gibb was clearly nonetheless haunted by his demise, questioning aloud why Robin had refused to inform him he was ailing, and distressed that that they had not been on good phrases when he died. It was the identical with Maurice, he defined – they “weren’t actually talking” when he died immediately throughout an operation in 2003 – and with Andy; of their final dialog, Gibb had tried some powerful love, hoping to shake him out of his addictions, however a couple of days later he was lifeless. “Jesus,” he sighed at one level. “That’s all my brothers.”

At the moment, he’s extra sanguine in regards to the previous. No, he says, it wasn’t painful revisiting the Bee Gees’ profession for a brand new feature-length documentary, How Can You Mend a Damaged Coronary heart: “I’ve needed to take care of loss, not simply my brothers however my mom and father. However what I’ve discovered from all of it’s that issues simply roll on, and also you roll on with them.”

He’s positively effervescent over with enthusiasm for a brand new album he has made, the place he revisits the Bee Gees’ again catalogue within the firm of a raft of nation stars starting from Dolly Parton to Alison Krauss: he calls the periods “the joys of a lifetime”, though there appears one thing faintly telling about the truth that his son Stephen needed to persuade him that anybody could be taken with working with him. You get the sensation the virulent crucial opprobrium the Bee Gees attracted within the wake of Saturday Night time Fever’s record-breaking success has by no means fairly dislodged itself from his psyche: the times of comedians making enjoyable of their enamel and Gibb’s falsetto voice are lengthy gone; the backlash in opposition to disco is now seen as an aberration fuelled by homophobia and racism. How Can You Mend a Damaged Coronary heart is filled with huge names paying homage to the Gibbs’ songwriting expertise: Chris Martin, Noel Gallagher, Mark Ronson, Justin Timberlake. However one thing of the outsider nonetheless appears to cling to Barry Gibb. He appeared genuinely startled by the rapturous reception he received at Glastonbury in 2017, when he performed the Sunday afternoon “legend” slot, regardless of having turned up as Coldplay’s particular visitor the yr earlier than. “I’m the final individual to suppose I’d nonetheless be listening to these songs now,” he shrugs, “or that anyone could be taken with them now. It’s a very long time in the past.”

Brothers gonna work it out … Maurice, Barry and Robin Gibb in 1968. {Photograph}: Jan Persson/Redferns

Then once more, the Bee Gees had been outsiders from the beginning. In clips from Australian TV within the early 60s, they give the impression of being extra like an old style selection act than a rock’n’roll band: a lanky teenager and his little twin brothers, telling jokes and mugging for the digital camera in between songs. Youngsters being what they’re, you’d have thought the 14-year-old Barry would possibly view being shackled to his 10-year-old siblings as fatally injurious to his cool, however apparently not. “I by no means considered them as my little brothers,” he frowns. “It simply wasn’t like that. There was one thing all of us liked doing and we stored on doing it. There was nothing extra enjoyable than singing in three-part concord.”

Moreover, from the second they had been found by a neighborhood DJ performing between races at a Brisbane speedway assembly, they had been the household breadwinners. “We had been a household who had actually no cash and we may get 10 {dollars} a present,” he says. “We needed to earn cash; it couldn’t be achieved some other manner. We in all probability rented 20 homes through the seven years or in order that we had been in Australia. I feel, with out overemphasising it, my father simply didn’t pay the lease. We had been that household in the midst of the night time with the suitcases.”

By 1965, they had been sporting Beatle boots and writing their very own songs, however they couldn’t get successful. In what it’s a must to name a reasonably radical resolution to the issue, the brothers introduced to their mother and father that your complete household must transfer again to England so as to additional their profession. With impeccable timing, they left Australia days earlier than their newest single, Spicks and Specks, reached No 1: their document label despatched a ship out after them, however the Gibbs hid of their cabin and refused to return out. On arrival within the UK, they noticed one other band – “absolute Beatles lookalikes” – standing on Southampton dock. It ought to have appeared like omen, nevertheless it didn’t actually work out that manner. “We went down the steps, and there within the fog was this group. Heaven is aware of what they had been doing there.” He laughs. “They usually mentioned: ‘Return to Australia, there’s nothing taking place right here. They gained’t signal teams any extra.’”

That ranks as probably the most hopeless predictions in pop historical past: inside a month, the Bees Gees had a administration contract with Brian Epstein’s firm NEMS; inside two, their single New York Mining Catastrophe 1941 was a transatlantic hit. A band who had struggled to get wherever in Australia had been immediately revealed to be preternaturally gifted songwriters. Nonetheless of their teenagers, they might knock out each ballads that grew to become fashionable requirements and a deeply odd, idiosyncratic model of pop: To Love Any individual and Phrases co-existed with stuff like Barker of the UFO and Mrs Gillespie’s Fridge, songs that don’t sound psychedelic a lot as peculiar and interesting.

They had been vastly profitable. In archive footage included within the documentary, Maurice Gibb says he owned six Rolls-Royces by the point he was 21, however once I point out it, Gibb rolls his eyes. “Maurice,” he says, in what are unmistakably the tones of a long-suffering older brother, “was the grasp of exaggeration. It by no means went away. Maurice solely had one Rolls-Royce, however he liked increasing all the pieces that occurred to him.”

However, he says, the Bee Gees’ fame was so large and got here so quick that anybody would have struggled to deal with it. “There’s fame and there’s ultra-fame and it could possibly destroy. You lose your perspective, you’re within the eye of a hurricane and also you don’t know you’re there. And also you don’t know what tomorrow is, you don’t know if what you’re recording can be successful or not. And we had been children, don’t overlook.”

No sooner had they turn into well-known than the Bee Gees fell out, or somewhat, Barry and Robin did: not one of the brothers had a clearly outlined function within the band they usually ended up arguing over who was the frontman. “Earlier than we ever grew to become well-known had been the most effective instances of our lives,” he says. “There was no competitors, it didn’t matter who sang what. After we had our first No 1, Massachusetts, Robin sang the lead, and I don’t suppose he ever received previous that; he by no means felt that anybody else ought to sing lead after that. And that was not the character of the group,” he says firmly, an older brother as soon as extra. “All of us introduced songs in; whoever brings the thought in sings the tune.”

Barry Gibb at Glastonbury, 2017.
Barry Gibb at Glastonbury, 2017. {Photograph}: Richard Isaac/REX/Shutterstock

So the Bee Gees break up up in 1969, re-forming a few years later, solely to look at their superstar slowly wane. By 1972, they had been so not sure of who their viewers had been, they launched an album known as To Whom It Might Concern. In a last-ditch try to salvage their careers, they moved to the US and took up their document label’s suggestion that they “make some data for enjoyable, make some dance music, simply get pleasure from yourselves”. Anybody with even a passing curiosity in pop music is aware of what occurred subsequent: Jive Speaking, You Ought to Be Dancing, the Saturday Night time Fever soundtrack, 45m albums offered, complete domination of the US charts and radio, one No 1 hit after one other.

Gibb says they solely realised how large that they had turn into after they launched into one other venture: a disastrous all-star try to make a movie musical out of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album. “We tried to speak our manner out of Sgt Pepper, that didn’t work, after which immediately Fever turns into the album that everybody within the movie began to bop to at lunchtimes: what’s occurring? It had began promoting 1,000,000 copies every week. We solely had one Winnebago between the three of us when the movie began, and inside two or three weeks, we had a Winnebago every! It was a measure of success.”

A mixture of the disco backlash and US radio stations’ fatigue at having to play one Bee Gees observe after one other introduced them crashing down, earlier than Barbra Streisand requested them to work on her subsequent album. Gibb says he was “terrified” when the supply got here in – “You by no means know if one thing’s going to end up, do you? You simply hope and pray it can” – however 1980’s Responsible went on to promote 15m copies, sparking the Gibbs’ 80s profession as songwriters for rent. Sarcastically, provided that radio wouldn’t play Bee Gees tracks, each hit they wrote for another person – Dionne Warwick’s Heartbreaker, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s Islands within the Stream, Diana Ross’s Chain Response – sounded precisely like a Bee Gees tune.

They even labored with Michael Jackson, though the outcomes had been by no means launched. “Nicely, we sat round in my lounge for days at a time, simply having enjoyable, probably not writing songs. We got here up with one, All in My Identify, however we had been by no means that severe about it. I feel Michael was simply attempting to flee the authorized atmosphere he was trapped in, he was visiting folks he knew that he may relate to, as a result of he didn’t know who his associates had been. However then he began to hang around on the home on a regular basis and I needed to rise up within the morning; I’m 12 years older than him, I needed to take my children to highschool. Sooner or later, I mentioned: ‘Michael, wherever it’s you’re going, you’ve received to go.’ So,” he chuckles, “I politely requested Michael Jackson to go away my home as a result of I couldn’t get anything achieved.”

Robin Barry Gibb
Music royalty … Robin and Barry accumulate their CBEs in 2004. {Photograph}: Getty Photographs

Maurice’s demise in 2003 introduced the Bee Gees’ profession to an finish: Gibb says Robin was determined to proceed, however he demurred – “We are able to’t simply hold forcing ourselves on everybody, saying we’re the Bee Gees with out Mo” – inflicting one more falling-out. “He was very hyper about it, wanting us to stay the Bee Gees. I feel he may need identified that he was ailing not less than a few years earlier than it grew to become very severe. And I feel spiritually, he didn’t need to turn into an invalid. He simply by no means needed to be recognised as somebody who had one thing mistaken with him, so he hid it, from me anyway. And once I lastly found what was mistaken, I understood why he was so hyper, why he needed to maintain going, it doesn’t matter what. I understood it then.”

Gibb thought of retiring after Robin’s demise, he says, however then he realised that, because the final surviving Bee Gee, it was right down to him to maintain the music alive: “I care that the music lives, and I do all the pieces in my energy to boost that. That’s my mission.”

So he went on tour and began making albums once more. And, sooner or later, he modified his thoughts in regards to the Bee Gees’ legacy. Earlier than he goes, he tells me a narrative about his daughter listening to Stayin’ Alive on the radio whereas driving to dinner. “They turned the amount up and opened the home windows and other people on the road began dancing,” he says. “It’s not explainable the way it occurred, however these issues appear to have penetrated the tradition to the purpose that I don’t suppose this music’s going to be forgotten.”

• The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Damaged Coronary heart is on Sky Documentaries at 9pm on 13 December



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