|Maurice, Robin and Barry Gibb, 1979.|
Today, December 22nd, would’ve been the 65th birthday for Bee Gee twins Robin and Maurice Gibb. I was with friends playing backyard cricket on a New Zealand summer’s evening, January 12th 2003, when I got a phone-call saying Maurice had died. Fast-forward nearly a decade and it was under a Balinese sun while checking Facebook by the pool, May 20th 2012, that I opened at least a dozen messages letting me know about Robin.
Like countless Bee Gees fans around the world, you remember what was happening when you heard about another loss for the Gibb family (including youngest brother Andy on March 10th 1988). And just like so many of those fans, you also shared in some way that sense of loss. These weren’t just record-breaking songwriters, they were a trio of brothers who had always allowed their fans inside their world.
Clear evidence of the devotion fans have to the men who made the music and not just the music itself was seen on Barry’s 18 month Mythology tour through Australasia, the UK / Ireland and the States over 2013 / 2014. Undertaking his first ever solo tour, tears were a frequent and always comfortable companion to these cathartic, unforgettable concerts. There was Barry onstage – statistically popular music’s second most successful songwriter after Paul McCartney – so comfortable in the presence of his fans as to be open in his grief.
To understand how these concerts were emotional but never mawkish, click here to read my review of Barry’s Hollywood Bowl concert from June this year. The article explains why a large part of the Mythology tour’s triumph was of how no matter the location, it was always a homecoming.
|Maurice and Robin Gibb, late 90s.|
As for Maurice and Robin, they are missed by fans, friends and family alike. Click here to read my essay marking 10 years since Maurice’s death and an explanation why I always felt the most easygoing Gibb brother was also the “rock ‘n’ roll” of the Bee Gees. Regarding Robin, this eccentric, perpetually old soul had a voice like no other in the annals of popular music history. These are the words that spilled out at that keyboard in a sweaty Balinese internet cafe back in 2012 and they explain the fight the brothers fought for their legacy – a battle they ultimately won.
To Barry’s wife Linda, you are a vivacious, gorgeous woman and I thank you once again for kicking your husband back into life. He has so much joy to offer but more importantly, he seems to be happy himself. To Dwina (Robin’s wife) and Yvonne (Maurice’s wife), we are indebted to the inspiration you inspired – thank you. And to all the wider Gibb family, thanks for always being so good to the fans. Thinking of you all on this day while also wishing you a merry Christmas and a wonderful year ahead for 2015.
I leave you with what is quite simply the greatest live medley I’ve ever heard. Performed after receiving the Brit Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997, the brothers were at a worldwide career high they hadn’t experienced since 1979. They had an international top 5 hit single with Alone, their LP Still Waters was on-track for global sales in-excess of 5 million and a new generation of acts like Boyzone, N-trance, Wyclef Jean and Take That were topping charts with Bee Gees covers.
Despite all the hits written in the early-mid 80s for other artists like Barbra Streisand, Dionne Warwick, Kenny Rogers and Diana Ross, despite the Bee Gees own late 80s / early 90s top 10 hits like You Win Again, One, Secret Love and For Whom The Bell Tolls, 1997 was different for the brothers as far as the post-Fever years went. You could probably sum it up with one word: respect. And respect that finally arrived in an unprecedented deluge. Not just the Brit award, but lifetime achievement gongs from Australia’s Aria’s, the American Music Awards and the World Music Awards*. Career retrospective documentaries were made for the US and UK markets and for a while I worried not if the Bee Gees were getting enough exposure but if it was too much.
Radio programmers readily rather than reluctantly embraced new Bee Gees songs while the back catalogue rebounded across multiple formats, from easy listening to classic hits to R&B. People finally understood that only the elite of the elite could sustain a career in pop music for 30 years and that irrespective of the ephemeral nature of image, Barry, Robin and Maurice had written timeless song after timeless song.
It was in that climate, or perhaps on the cusp of that climate, that the Bee Gees performed a medley of such perfection I still can’t think of a short set to match it – Superbowl Half-time shows from Bruce Springsteen, Bruno Mars, Prince, Beyonce, the Rolling Stones and U2 included.
In just seven and a half minutes the brothers delivered seven songs of such lyrical and melodic impeccability that it should be the condensed how-to course of study for would-be popular songwriters: To Love Somebody, Massachusetts, Words, How Deep Is Your Love, Jive Talkin’, Stayin’ Alive and You Should Be Dancing.
The medley’s pacing, not to mention its segues, is flawless. Starting with four ballads, ending with three dance favourites, a mixture of natural voice and falsetto, each song a classic. They looked great too: sharp in black, Robin’s best ever blue sunnies, Maurice never cooler on the bass and Barry dodging confetti without missing a note. Speaking of which, vocally the brothers were in top form and the sense of excitement that builds with each song seemingly superseding the preceding number is also a lesson in building intensity in a hit-packed medley. Just listen to the crowd at the start of Jive Talkin’. Then it steps up a notch for Stayin’ Alive**, but how can you top that? Not easily is the answer, but so to is commanding anybody not yet on their feet that You Should Be Dancing.
Watching this, seeing the crowd increasingly overcome with the magic of the Gibbs, has always felt for me like the crowning glory in the Bee Gees astounding career: Three brothers who dreamed as kids of one day being famous. Not of being rich, but of fame. Not of fame for fame’s sake, but fame for being good. And for having hits. That night at the Brits in 1997 was all Barry, Robin and Maurice had ever dreamed of.
When Maurice died the only happiness I could muster was knowing he’d lived long enough to appreciate he’d departed this earth not only with the respect of his fans, but with the music world in general. Happy birthday Robin and Maurice, wherever you are.
*A Grammy Legend award would arrive just days after Maurice’s 2003 death and in 2015 the Bee Gees will also be Grammy recipients of yet another lifetime achievement award.
**Of insignificant note for most but important for me is that the sound of the Stayin’ Alive riff heard in this medley is also the identical match of the sinewy original rather than than the more bass-heavy sound usually heard in live Gibb performances post-1979. The riff is playing on electric guitar, though the original always sounded more like the high notes of bass guitar to me.