One week on, the numbers for Barry Gibb’s ‘Legends slot’ at Glastonbury are looking even more impressive with news the latest Bee Gees best of, Timeless: The All-Time Greatest Hits, has shot into the UK top 10 at #9*. This is as a direct result of Barry’s 15-song Glastonbury performance, a setlist that contained no less than 10 different songs to have reached US or UK #1.
Aside from the colossal size of the live audience who saw the last Bee Gee (over 100,000) at the world’s biggest music festival, the TV figures are if anything more remarkable. For start, with an average UK TV audience of 2.48 million and a peak of 3.7 million, Barry now has the highest Glastonbury TV ratings ever for the Legends slot, beating previous record holder Jeff Lynne (2.4 million average).
While just shy of Ed Sheeran’s record peak of 4.1 million viewers against a 2.9 million average for his headlining set this year, 70-year old Barry Gibb had so many eyes glued to British TV screens that he had roughly the same number of viewers as Radiohead and the Foo Fighters combined (Radiohead averaged 811,000 with a 1.32 million peak and the Foo Fighters averaged 1.6 million with a 2.5 million peak).
From the Barry Gibb masks to the fans dressed in late 70s-styled wigs with shimmery gold lame jackets and attendant oversized fake teeth, Barry should see this as evidence of how much affection the music public have for him. When you have thousands of fans chanting “Barry wear the jacket!” on the way to the man himself having a laugh and putting on one of those jackets that are rightly or wrongly emblematic of the Bee Gees 70s peak, take it as a good thing. People remember you. Younger generations know who you are and love your songs. And long after the fragments of exploded vinyl from radio DJ Steve Dahl’s subtly racist and homophobic “Disco Sucks” demolition at a baseball match in Chicago in 1979 fell to the ground, those helium-voiced hits still sound incredible.
And that’s not even mentioning the joy of seeing the security guards who did a pre-planned flash-mob dance to Stayin’ Alive. Though of course, this was a setlist about so much more than the Saturday Night Fever years that occupy the greatest space in the collective consciousness regarding the Bee Gees. With music spanning from 1966 (Spicks And Specks) through to 1983 (Islands In The Stream), Barry gave a small sampling of the mix of pop, soul, R&B, country and soft-rock that is Gibb brothers whopping back catalogue.
Of most interest to me in all the followup articles and interviews after Glastonbury 2017 was Barry mentioning he’d love to record a “high energy” dance album with Nile Rodgers. Nile – who is arguably more famous in 2017 than at any time in his staggering 40+ year career as a songwriter, producer and rhythm guitarist – performed with his band, Chic, right after Barry.
As somebody on Twitter reminded me, I’d tweeted Nile back in 2013 saying I thought the potential pairing of him with Barry could lead to some sensational results. Both are at the top of the tree when it comes to 20th century songwriter / producers, but more specifically, both men have crafted a sizable whack of the greatest melodic, danceable R&B songs of all time. Barry doesn’t need a producer, but nor does he need to release another solo album. The point is not about need when you’ve sold over 200 million records, won every imaginable lifetime achievement award and written 21 different songs to reach US or UK #1.
I’d argue the point is more about the possibility of what if? What if Barry presented Nile with half a dozen song ideas? And then collaborated as co-songwriters on a further five or six? Remembering that Nile is the man who took the acoustic, folky-strummings of an early 80s David Bowie song and reworked it into Let’s Dance. Yes indeed, Let’s Dance was, ironically, not much of a dance song in its original incarnation. Which immediately makes me want Nile to go and listen to Barry’s excellent 2016 solo album In The Now.
In The Now peaked at UK #2, Australia #3 and New Zealand #2 and was just the second official Barry Gibb solo album in a career that now spans more than 50 years. It was also precisely the album Barry should be making at this stage in life and career in that there’s nothing left to prove, so just go and make the music you want to make. And that music drew from Barry’s passion for artists like Roy Orbison and Carole King as well as his more recent delving into the works of Bruce Springsteen. For what was still very much a pop album, there were forays into country and rock, though with the exception of the title track, nothing that could really be considered R&B.
I’ve got no issue with that. The back half alone of In The Now, including the three bonus tracks on the extended version, was so gorgeous and full of hooks as to make it my favourite album of last year. But what it does mean is that if there’s still gas in the tank as far as Barry’s creative drive is concerned – and I believe there is – then a return to the R&B and blue-eyed soul that he and his departed brothers are most associated with seems very right.
Look at that huge Glastonbury crowd for Barry: I’d speculate / am fairly certain there may’ve been more casual Bee Gees fans there than diehard. Which is fine because masses of casual fans are the difference between selling a million copies of an album and selling 10 million.
If the diehard fans are always going to buy a new Barry Gibb release and they were given that album last year, what’s wrong with the next project being something directed at the more casual fans? These are the people whose fond attachment for the Gibb brothers stems from all those weddings and parties where More Than A Woman, Stayin’ Alive, Night Fever, Jive Talkin’ and You Should Be Dancing have been the highlights of the night. Casual fans can still love you an awful lot. And if Night Fever and Stayin’ Alive is their entry point to Sun In My Morning and For Whom The Bell Tolls, then all the better. Indeed, a joint Barry Gibb / Nile Rodgers album could be their introduction to In The Now.
I leave you with my three favourite songs from In The Now: Diamonds, Shadows and Cross To Bear.
*Timeless: The All-Time Greatest Hits has risen to UK #6 in the midweek charts at the time of writing.