|Chris Martin & Barry Gibb, Glastonbury 2016.|
Here’s the video footage of Bee Gees legend Barry Gibb onstage with Coldplay at Glastonbury just a few hours ago. There had been rumours Barry would be performing, but these had been quashed in the last couple of weeks. With Barry reportedly pulling out due to the ill-health of a family member, it was also pointed out he’d never officially been “in”. As such, I felt there was still a good chance he might make a special, surprise appearance.
“As we’re coming towards the finale of Glastonbury 2016, we need to pull out some tricks,” said Chris Martin with a chuckle. He then said that Coldplay wanted to take a request from Instagram. On the big screens the face of Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis appeared, saying:
“People keep asking me time and time again, which bands of the world should I have had playing at the festival. Most of them have died actually, but there’s one that I seriously wanted and of course it’s the Bee Gees. Fantastic band, lovely songs, known the world over, and maybe you chaps might like to play one or two of them.”
“Michael we can do one better,” replied Chris before adding: “…we can bring on an actual Bee Gee. Here comes Mr Barry Gibb! Let’s be respectful!”
|Barry Gibb with Coldplay, Glastonbury 2016.|
With that one of the most prolific, most varied, most successful and most acclaimed songwriters in the history of popular music walked onstage in front of more than 100,000 people. Dressed casually in black with a silver mane of hair and his favourite cutaway blue guitar, Barry Gibb took his place alongside a 21st century superstar who ranks amongst his biggest fans, Chris Martin.
“Evening all!” said Barry as if he’d just walked into a dinner party. He then launched into an acoustic version of perhaps the best-known 60s hit the Bee Gees wrote, To Love Somebody. Chris harmonised, the crowd sang along and 100,000 muddy music lovers were reminded of the timeless combination of sincerity, soul and melody that is the chorus: “you don’t know what it’s like, no you don’t know what it’s like, to love somebody, to love somebody, the way I love you.”
Coldplay had alluded throughout their performance to Brexit, a vote they clearly found troubling. From the sombre playing of Charlie Chaplin’s speech from the 1940 film The Dictator to onstage words about the power of music to bring people together in fractured times, the Brexit decision was a backdrop to Glastonbury 2016.
Chris Martin referenced it again with Barry Gibb at the end of To Love Somebody, albeit this time with a sense of mischief: “We’re going to have a Glastonbury referendum, this is very important. Those who want Barry Gibb to leave the stage, speak now. Listen to that… nobody. Those of you who want Barry Gibb to remain and play the greatest song of all time…”
To huge cheers from a crowd the size of 10 Vector Arenas, that’s what they did. With Chris name-checking Barry and each of his fellow Coldplay members to see if they were ready, these two generations of masterful pop composers launched into Stayin’ Alive.
|Barry Gibb with Coldplay, Glastonbury 2016.|
That riff. That opening line (“Well you can tell by the way I use my walk…”). That falsetto. Those hooks. Those horns. That chorus. That breakaway from the main melody (“life goin’ nowhere, somebody help me”). As a Bee Gees fanatic who’s spent the past 20 years making the case for all the other gems in the enormous Brothers Gibb catalogue beyond Saturday Night Fever, I have a confession to make. I freaking love Stayin’ Alive. More than that, I never, ever get sick of listening to it.
On a recent flight from Hong Kong to Auckland I got too tired to watch movies but not tired enough to sleep. I searched through the in-flight entertainment and found a Bee Gees greatest hits. Putting on the headphones, I selected Stayin’ Alive and turned it up loud, pretending I’d never heard the song before. Doing that to the most ubiquitous songs is worth it once in a while because you get a sense of why they’re so much a part of our lives in the first place. Sometimes you’ll even hear something new, like the brilliance of Dennis Bryon’s drum-fills at the end of Stayin’ Alive. Or the weaving lines of violin, or the harmonies on “we can try, to understand, the New York Times effect on man.” The sheer amount of detail and the complexity of Stayin’ Alive only gets more astonishing the closer – and the louder – you listen to it.
For a Bee Gees buff well-versed in introducing people to the lesser-known treasures in the Gibb cannon (Ordinary Lives, Bury Me Down By The River, Railroad, Marley Purt Drive, You And I, In The Morning, Spirits Having Flown, Please Don’t Turn Out The Lights, Come Home Johnny Bride, My Eternal Love, Walking Back To Waterloo, Songbird, Another Lonely Night In New York, Living Together, Don’t Fall In Love With Me, The Longest Night, Tears, For Whom The Bell Tolls, Blue Island etc etc etc), Stayin’ Alive really is the greatest of them all. It’s time to no longer fight the fact that this is the song most associated with Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb and that this is no bad thing at all.
Nearly 40 years after it was written and seeing the way 100,000 people could react en masse to hearing that almighty opening riff, Chris Martin was right. Here it is, “the greatest song of all time.”