Barry brings out new generation
By Martin Hutchinson
BARRY Gibb, the eldest of The legendary Bee Gees is bringing his acclaimed Anthology tour to the UK for a short series of dates.
Possessor of one of the finest (and most ear-splitting) falsetto voices in the business, his singing was the trademark sound of the band from the mid-seventies onwards. But before they became the Kings of Disco music, the band had been plying their trade since the 1950s, when they were living in Manchester having moved there from the Isle of Man.
“They were wonderful times,” the 66-year-old told me at his Miami home. “I love Manchester. – the sun not going down till 11 at night.” He laughs.
“Mum and Dad were always working, and we were always in trouble, then destiny took over and we started singing together.”
Along with his two younger brothers, the twins Maurice and Robin, Barry discovered their voices blended in a unique way and they were singing every time they got the chance. Not long after their brother Andy was born in 1958, the family emigrated to Brisbane, Australia. There, they formed The Bee Gees and perfected their harmony style. Not only that, but they were blossoming song-writers and whilst their song Spicks and Specks was at the top of the Australian charts, Barry (aged 19), Maurice and Robin (aged 17) were on their way back to Britain to audition for Robert Stigwood. Then history was made. The New York Mining Disaster (1941) and To Love Somebody were their first two singles and their third Massachutsetts topped the charts. It is understandably difficult for Barry to put into words what it was like for them back then. “They were great times,” he said simply.
In the early seventies, the hits dried up and, for a time, Robin left the group. “We thought it was over in 1970/71. We assumed that every group had about five years in them and, of course, we were growing and having families at that time.” Maurice famously married Lulu. “But we never stopped writing, and Robert Stigwood was always creating something for us, bless him.” The resurgence began in 197f when the album Mr Natural was released with the hit single Jive Talkin’.
Then that Barry’s vocals started to become a focal point. “The falsetto vocals came about when we were looking for someone to scream really. Arif Mardin, the producer, suggested that we try them out on Nights on Broadway, which was a hit for Candi Staton, and it went from there.” From that moment on, The Bee Gees became one of the biggest bands on the planet. “No-one could have foreseen what happened then – all the opportunities were there.” They were asked to supply songs for the movies ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and ‘Grease’ – and they delivered. The three brothers could do no wrong as they had hit after hit. As well as those from SNF, there were Tragedy and You Win Again among others. They were also in demand as writers and producers, with hits from Diana Ross (Chain Reaction), Dolly Parton (Islands in the Stream) and Barbra Streisand (Guilty). Barry explained their writing as a total collaborative process. “One of us would bring in an idea and we all worked on it. We had a room where we worked, and no-one ever saw us write – it was always just the three of us. “Robin and Mo were such great talents and it was always a pleasure writing with them.”
The Bee Gees garnered Ivor Novello awards and each were awarded CBE’s in 2002. Since then, things have not been so great, personally, for Barry. Maurice sadly died in 2003, and Robin passed away late last year. “In fact, the last time I was in the UK was a few months ago for Robin’s funeral,” said Barry. But he has decided to celebrate the music of The Bee Gees with his first ever solo tour. Entitled Anthology, it is a journey through an astounding and fulfilling career. “Although it’s essentially my show. I’m celebrating all of us.” The decision to do the tour was fraught with indecision. “It was a big decision to do it. It took a year, in the end, as I always go though a ‘self-doubt’ phase, but once I’d done a trial show I got bitten all over again by the performing bug. “It’s been more than 10 years since the three of us toured and it’s about time. I have a real hunger to play and to play for people who care about the music.”
He recently took the show to Australia where it went down a storm. “They (the shows and audiences) were wonderful. We have such as history as we spent so long there, it was a spiritual thing really.” And the show is coming to the UK. “I’m really looking forward to coming back home and playing the show in the UK. We’ll have about a dozen musicians on stage, including my eldest son Stephen, and Mo’s daughter, Samantha.
“Sammy’s a great singer, she has a wonderful voice, where Stephen’s voice is more primeval and he’s a great guitarist. It seems the musical streak in our family goes on as dad was a drummer and mum a singer.” It’s almost a Bee Gees – The Next Generation. “You said that. Not me!” he laughed. “I have an incredible band and the show is quite visual too.” In all the celebrations, it must be strange singing those songs without Maurice and Robin by his side. “They’re always by my side,” he said, poignantly. “I don’t encroach on their songs, either. I don’t sing the songs they sang lead on.” On a personal level, Barry is looking forward to revisiting his past, especially his old Manchester home. “I still own the house in Keppel Road where we lived, and I plan to see it and our Oswald Street School.” Barry, who cites How Deep is Your Live and How Can You Mend a Broken Heart as among his favourite Bee Gee songs (“How Can You Mend a Broken Heart means a lot to me.”) does not mind the many cover versions of their hits. “I always think of it as a compliment,” adding that Al Green’s version of How Can You Mend a Broken Heart as one of his favourites.
After losing his younger brothers and having a heart scare himself a few years ago, Barry is philosophical about live in general. “It was devastating to lose Maurice and Robin, and it was worse for mum. I live in the moment now and I’m learning not to worry about the future.” Barry Gibb brings his Anthology tour to Birmingham LG Arena – Saturday, September 21, Manchester Arena – Sunday, September 29. and London O2 – Thursday, October 3.