Here’s the audio of my latest interview with Barry Gibb. Thanks so much if you read the transcribed sections on the Roxborogh Report and I hope you enjoy listening to the interview as it sounded on a special “Sunday Lunch” show I did for the New Zealand radio station Coast.
This is what I’ve written in the YouTube blurb for the interview:
Hear Barry discuss the inspiration for In The Now (written alongside his sons Stephen and Ashley), how his upcoming tour will be different from the Mythology tour of 2013/2014, what it was like performing with Coldplay at Glastonbury, the incredible backstory of You Should Be Dancing, why his childhood in Queensland, Australia had such a profound impact on him, why he kept getting his heart broken as a teenager, the role his wife Linda has on his professional life, whether his mother used to give him any musical advice, the unusual structures of so many Bee Gees songs, whether or not he’s satisfied with all he’s achieved and the very vivid dreams he has of his brothers Robin, Maurice and Andy.
When I did the interview I’d only heard some tiny snippets of Barry’s new album. In the three weeks since the release date I’ve come to know these songs and on the basis of their strength I hope In The Now is just the beginning of a late career flourish for Barry. Some Bee Gee-ologists have given major praise for the contributions of Barry’s sons Stephen and Ashley. I hope to ask Stephen and Ashley one day about the songwriting process, but the assumption is that Stephen has given Barry a slightly rockier sound on several songs, while Ashley has steered his father in a more lyrically direct and confessional direction. This is of course just the speculation of fans and it will be interesting to see how the three of them view the gestation and evolution of their songs.
For me it’s the back half of this new album that is really remarkable. Track 6 is Cross To Bear and it’s a 6-minute mini-epic with mentions of Gandhi, Krishnamurti and Jesus. Barry’s rumination on religion and the state of the world comes with a sizeable hook (“let’s hit rewind…”) that repeats enough times that I knew on first listen it was a song I’d be coming back to time and again.
Track 8, Shadows, is intentionally written to have the melodic and emotional drama of the most devastating Roy Orbison songs. It’s a reminder of the great gift Barry and his brothers had for writing material in the style of their favourite performers. Even if the end game was always to use these songs themselves, just the idea that Abba might record If I Can’t Have You, or that Otis Redding might record To Love Somebody, or Andy Williams How Can You Mend A Broken Heart etc was enough for the Gibbs to step out of themselves.
|With Barry & Stephen Gibb, LA 2014.
But what really makes Shadows for me is the incredible beauty of the Spanish-influenced instrumental that is the song’s final 90-seconds. This is a contender for the most gorgeous Gibb outro after Spirits Having Flown.
My next standout is Diamonds (track 10) with the intrigue of lines like, “Not even one brave soul is gonna’ walk that mile from the curse to the legacy, but I must try.” Later in the song this is subtly switched to, “Not even one brave man is gonna’ walk that mile from the hearse to the funeral, but I don’t cry.”
Is the “curse to the legacy” the path Barry was on from mourning the loss of all three of his brothers to the point where he felt safe enough to resume cementing the Bee Gees standing in music history as a solo act? Or is it more-so the journey the Bee Gees took from the quite staggering ridicule they faced in the 80s to the time of their critical comeback in the late 90s? Barry walked that mile from the “curse to the legacy” and saw his records go from being burned at the infamous “Disco Sucks” bonfire in Chicago in 1979 to now where there isn’t a single major lifetime achievement award in popular music he hasn’t won (Brits, Grammys, AMAs, Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, Songwriters Hall Of Fame etc).
Diamonds is full of time changes and swings from sounding like a folk ballad to an early 70s singer/songwriter tale to a mid-tempo rock song. As I write it’s probably my favourite song on the album.
That said, the song I most want a major artist to do a cover of is track 12, End Of The Rainbow. This is a sublime piece of emotional pop songwriting and almost sounds like a Christmas song with the line, “we think of each other this time of the year.” Though as many Bee Gees fans will already know, this song was really written about Robin, with Barry previously having the chance to sing some of it to his brother who lay dying in a coma. The song tells the story of Barry, Robin and Maurice achieving everything they set out to do; they reached “the end of the rainbow.” It’s desperately sad, but the basic message is one of contentment. It sounds like a standard and Michael Buble, you’re welcome to make this your signature song, sung the world over, if you so choose. Thank me later.
The special edition of In The Now also features three excellent bonus tracks that date back as long ago as 2006/2007 for Barry and his sons. Grey Ghost (track 13) was later dedicated to the victims of the 2011 Japanese tsunami and like much of the album is sonically (use of what appears to be a sitar) and melodically (counter melody background vocals) interesting. Which is a boring way of saying I love the song.
While the second half of In The Now is what I’m playing the most, the smooth R&B of the title track (track 1), the nifty guitar riff of Grand Illusion (track 2) and the pair of Bruce Springsteen-inspired songs Home Truth Song (track 5) and Meaning Of The Word (track 6) are strong enough that this could be my preferred half down the line. Regarding Springsteen, it’s been well documented that Home Truth Song – a song Barry says is about “bluster and ambition” – was Barry getting some mojo from the indefatigable Bruce.
What I’m going out on a limb on is that Meaning Of The Word is just as likely to have come about from Barry’s circa-2014 Bruce Springsteen listening sessions. Having covered I’m On Fire on the US leg of the Mythology Tour in repsonse to Bruce doing Stayin’ Alive onstage in Australia, Barry listened to Bruce in greater detail than he’d ever done previously. With that in mind, the prettiness of the music and the falsetto adlibs at the end of Meaning Of The Word recall Bruce songs like Secret Garden and I’m On Fire and in a good way too.
If you haven’t yet bought your copy of In The Now, go out and buy it. Let’s not have this return of a 70-year old songwriting genius be a fleeting one. The interview is below, thanks for listening! Tim.