Richard Ashcroft Sampling The Bee Gees – 10 Years Since Maurice Gibb’s Death

He was the glue, the joker, the multi-instrumentalist and the rock ‘n’ roll of the Bee Gees and today, it’s 10 years since Maurice Gibb’s sudden death.

Thinking back to the news headlines after Maurice died (due to complications from a twisted intestine), so many stories referred to him as “the quiet Bee Gee” which never sat right with me. The quiet Bee Gee who had the superstar wedding to Lulu who was also great mates with Ringo Starr? The quiet Bee Gee who in his later years was one of the best paintballers in the world (not just at friend’s stag-dos)?

Maybe he was called “the quiet Bee Gee” because he only occasionally sang lead vocals, but as a harmonist, an arranger and as a proponent of everything from the guitar to the bass to the keyboards to the drums to the mellotron, he was essential to the success of the Bee Gees.

One writer who I thought got it right described Maurice as “the rock ‘n’ roll of the Bee Gees,” and for music fans (particularly in the States) who got a bizarre dose of collective amnesia after Saturday Night Fever and somehow forgot the preceding 10 years of hit songs and albums, it is the perfect description. In those early days of first-fame in late-60s London, Barry was the pretty, strong frontman with Robin as the vulnerable counterpoint. The two didn’t even really look related, but enter Maurice – all psychedelic charisma and cool, with fat, round-tone bass-lines dripping from his fingers – and you had the whole package. If rock ‘n’ roll must encompass attitude and image as well as sound, Maurice had it.

Bee Gees with Robert Stigwood.

Visually it was captivating: Maurice was identifiably Barry’s brother and of course, he was Robin’s fraternal twin. With frail Robin* standing in the middle of the stage, holding his hand to his ear – a contradiction of awkward and majestic with one of pop’s greatest, most soulful vibratos – handsome Barry on the right with a pimped-out guitar and Maurice, cool like any bassist should be, on the left; it was an image (and set-list) that could never just wash over you.

Maurice’s easygoing demeanor possibly hid insecurities (as his battles with alcohol may attest to), but that personality allowed Barry and Robin to flourish, to co-exist and to be the tension and spark most great songwriting teams need. And when Barry and Robin weren’t working with each other, just check those writing credits and whether it’s a Barry solo album or one from Robin, Maurice was always there.

Diehard fans will also be familiar with the Gibb brothers demo album for Kenny Rogers from 1983 entitled Eyes That See In The Dark. The project is best known for the mammoth Kenny & Dolly Parton duet Islands In The Stream, but if you go back and listen to the full album and indeed, the full demo album, you’ll hear the Bee Gees at their country crossover best.

Listening closely to the excellent demo versions, Robin is present as a writer, but is not as apparent as a vocalist, leaving Barry and Maurice to sing in two-part harmony. It’s in this setting as well as in concert and on another country-tinged project – Barry and Maurice’s Cucumber Castle from 1969 – you can hear loud and clear the mastery of harmony that Maurice possessed.

Two years ago, on the eighth anniversary of Maurice’s death, I wrote a tribute which featured the song Railroadyou can link to the piece here. Railroad is a country song in the same way Massachusetts is: the influence is there, but so too are strands of folk and in Railroad‘s case, the kind of kind of roots-rock The Band did so well. Railroad is not only my favourite Maurice Gibb song, but is one of my most loved of any Bee Gees songs.

Two years on (the title of fine Bee Gees album I might add – 1970), I’ve chosen another song from the same era, Maurice’s self-proclaimed “swamp-rock” period. This song has recently had a second-life having been sampled by The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft. So for you, if like me you miss Maurice Gibb and are thankful for all he did, here is On Time plus Richard Ashcroft’s very Oasis-like (and very good) reworking entitled Are You Ready.

*The early visual image of the Bee Gees onstage during the late 60s was unforgettable. Alongside their compelling songs, the three brothers had such a unique visual presence. The symmetry of the visual of Maurice, Robin and Barry was fantastically unusual. Regarding Robin, in 1960s London, he was a pop star like no other: vulnerable, shy, awkward and though still a teenager, an old soul with a massive imagination and a knack for mysterious, sad, hilarious and emotional lyrics.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this lovely tribute to Maurice. He truly was "the glue" and "the rock n roll of the Bee Gees." Sadly, I think most people did not realize just how important he was until after he was gone.
    I saw Barry and Robin perform and the loss of Mo was painfully obvious (made me cry). Maurice was very talented and just pure fun to watch. He was my favorite and greatly missed.

    1. Anonymous says:

      He was truly the best in everyway. Barry & Robin had the spot light, but OMG Mo was truly the glue. He had a charming & beautiful personality. His good looks are so far beyond anyone else on earth. He had a beautiful family that I really feel sad for today, not to mention all of us fans who will never get over the loss of him. Thank you for letting us write our feelings. Joan Flaherty

  2. Joy Rothke says:

    Nicely said.

    The day Mo died was also, sadly, the day the Bee Gees died. The three of them were inextricably linked, and created that sublime harmony.

    [p.s. You didn't call Robin ugly, did you? Thousands of his female fans would disagree.]

  3. Well, well, well – who knew that one day it would be me, Tim Roxborogh who could upset Bee Gees fans! I never plainly called Robin "ugly" – what I said was in the context of the image of the Bee Gees onstage in the late 60s. But for those who live life on such a knife-edge that they are always poised to needlessly get upset – even my fellow Bee Gees friends and the good Lord knows how often it's been me getting angry and passionately defending them – I have substituted the word "ugly" for "awkward." Stay calm everyone and all the best.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Tim, we loved Robin he was not just a subject to write about and he died of cancer while he was dying of cancer he spent all his energies helping others why can't that be written.

    1. Hi there, thanks for reading and writing the comment too. Of course Robin wasn't just a subject to write about. He was a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a songwriter, a legend, a philanthropist, a comedian and a Bee Gee. He was a Bee Gee! That means I will always be going out of my way to spread the wonder of his music to as many people as I can. I have been doing this on the radio for 14 years now and through this blog, for 2 years with my writing too. Time and time again I have brought to people's attention songs like "Don't Fall In Love With Me" – breathtaking Robin-led Bee Gees songs most people don't know. You can read my thoughts regarding Robin's funeral here:

  5. Joy Rothke says:

    Tim: We're all fans, and sometimes we get protective of "our" Bee Gee.

    I adore Robin, but he was physically awkward. I'm always endlessly touched by his attempts to "dance."



  6. Anonymous says:

    Tim: Thanks for this thoughtful and well written piece, as well as several others you have written about the Bee Gees over the years.

    As a heterosexual female though, it always amuses me when it is unquestioningly assumed that Barry was the best looking one of the group. In the late 60s, I really think it was Maurice who was the most handsome. Robin was a bit of a late bloomer in comparison, but once he reached his 20s, he was just stunningly gorgeous. Have a look at the photos from the 1970s. And yes, Robin could be a bit awkward at times, but to me that just added to his charm.

    Keep up the good work.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Wooo! “On Time” has the timeless swagger of a true hepcat who lives his talk. Another great Maurice is “Suddenly”. Rare is a Bee Gees song that is playfully sardonic, charismatic with a bite. A personal favorite is his production on “Robot”, which boasts the kid-friendly and zany many have described of him.

    Behind every great group is a great silent partner. Maurice understood both sides of a conflict (within complex companies) and put his brothers before he concerned with himself. For anyone who has put their dreams and wishes aside, to support their better halves, children, and/or friends realizing their potential, this is all too familiar. You have to be heartened by such generosity, and never deny Maurice his place in the group’s legacy.

    About 60’s Robin appearance: there was the amphetamine to kick (and hair to comb:P) before getting back to brass tacks (of adding to that “Something for Everyone” appeal of the Bee Gees!) From 80s Aussie and 90s Howard Stern appearances, Robin’s looks often served as a running gag for all three brothers. The reference to his teen years though, had to do with finding self-confidence independent of one’s looks (and yes there are old Aussie anecdotes about meeting the group, and being aghast by, That One Kid! LOL)

    Perhaps sometimes it’s not about what is said, than what can be inferred from the context and history of the topic (which is surely, too complex for this group, even based on the differences mentioned in this blog post!) Their physical/visual differences, belie an amazing bond between the twins and among the trio. It may have made too long a read, but Maurice and Robin shared some amusing comic routines that showed a perfect complementary of each other (was the Peter, Paul & Mary gag ever documented?) It is amazing to see how such different guys could simultaneously grow so far apart, yet close together – when the chips were down. “Saved by Maurice”, time and again indeed!

    If only Maurice could see how important he was to Robin: for the type he said wouldn’t make overt show of affection, Robin had a beseeching moment of “ILY” on national TV (2005 Ent Tonight.) Also uncharacteristic, is Robin revealing his never-was, last “kiss” goodbye for Maurice; a loss oft-told and battled til the end, even in an urgent, stark contrast with the peaceful sunshine on the day of unveiling the Maurice Gibb Memorial Park. Maybe his twin long understood, before ever having to be told.

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