It is a good time to be be Sir Barry Gibb. 74 years old, his first ever solo number album in the UK, the oldest person to top the Australian album charts, gigantic billboards in New York’s Times Square, a highly-acclaimed big-screen documentary generating awards buzz, and a biopic in the works from the same people that smashed records with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody film.
With all of that in mind, I chose Barry’s words of, “you can’t make dreams come true unless you try,” as the both the opening quote as well the overarching tone for my just published 2000-word New Zealand Herald feature article about him; the soul surviving Bee Gee and the disbelieving owner of a hit album, Greenfields.
Dreams have been a regular discussion point for me and Barry across our now seven interviews going back to that first recorded conversation together in 2005. After our latest chat a couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me just how much it’s been a recurring theme. I’d argue it’s an ethos that both grounds and motivates him.
As in, every triumph, every accolade and every collaboration is frequently categorised by Barry as “a dream come true”. Though with the Nashville-recorded Greenfields debuting not just atop the UK and Australian album charts but also the Amazon’s international best-sellers list on pre-orders alone, it’s clear this is a dream even he can’t quite believe.*
And that’s part of why Barry isn’t just a music hero to his fans, but is an inspiration for his humility as well as his remarkable refusal to ever give up. It’s that relentless drive that sees him in the position of doing “dream come true” collaborations on Greenfields with everyone from Dolly Parton to Jason Isbell, from Keith Urban to Alison Krauss, and from Olivia Newton-John to Brandi Carlile.
The stories behind those songs – both the original Bee Gees recordings as well as their wonderfully-realised Americana Greenfields remakes – are wildly entertaining and Barry was more than happy to tell some of these yarns in that New Zealand Herald feature (paywalled, published January 16). You’ll also read about the role Barry’s eldest son Stephen played in spurring his dad into getting into a Nashville state of mind with dozen or so of the biggest names in country, Americana and folk.
But beyond Greenfields, the New Zealand Herald article also draws on interviews I did with Barry in 2016 and 2012 to look at how his wife of 50 years, Linda, helped him through his darkest days following the loss of brother Robin in 2012. Speaking of which, we delved into why the emotion of losing all three of his younger brothers means Barry can’t watch the December-released documentary about the Bee Gees, How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.**
Barry might not be able to see it, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Indeed the Frank Marshall / Nigel Sinclair doco has been so well received that it’s a huge part of why the Bee Gees have almost doubled their monthly Spotify streaming numbers to just under 14-million different listeners.
Those numbers are destined to get even bigger when the long-awaited Bee Gees biopic hits cinemas in a couple of years, something that will happen in conjunction with the release of Barry’s first autobiography.
Those are just two topics that you can hear Barry discuss in my 35-minute Newstalk ZB radio interview that played nationwide in New Zealand on January 8th as a precursor to my Herald article. The feedback I get anytime I interview Barry is overwhelming, but what I’ve loved the most about the responses to interview number seven is just how relaxed people thought Barry sounded.
30-Minutes Of Off-Cuts & Deep Cuts From The Interview That Weren’t Broadcast
To let you in on a little secret, Barry and I spoke for a fraction under 100-minutes, which, funnily enough, means I had a fraction under 100-minutes of audio to edit and transcribe, but given it’s not every day you’re on the phone with Barry Gibb, I wasn’t about to end that conversation any sooner than I absolutely had to. C’mon! This is my biggest hero we’re talking about!
What that amounts to is that Barry and I got to cover pretty much all of the things I wanted to for my radio and print features, while also having the oh-so precious time to dive deep into some stuff that I knew would be more for the diehard fans only.
And this is where things get really interesting. I assume if you’ve read this far you’re more than just a casual admirer of Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb. Ever wanted to hear what Barry thinks of some of his finest, lesser-known songs? You’re in luck!
With a view to what Barry hopes will ultimately be a Greenfields trilogy, I decided to put to him some of the Gibb songs that I’d most love to hear redone for volumes two and three. There are few things in this life more awesome than talking to Barry Gibb about his music, and hearing how he reacts to reminders of some of the buried treasures in the Bee Gees catalogue is priceless.
So yes, please do read my NZ Herald article, please have a listen to my Newstalk ZB interview special, but if you’re a Bee Gees fanatic in search of something a little different, please also check out this 30-min clip of previously unheard (and unread) off-cuts from my latest Barry interview:
In the above clip we go further behind the scenes on the making of Greenfields with Barry sharing stories of what it was like working with people like Sheryl Crow (find out Sheryl’s controversial nickname…) and Jay Buchanan (listen for how Jay made full use of the huge RCA studios in Nashville).
You’ll also hear Barry talk about what fame at an early age is like, whether the Bee Gees ever strategically wrote country songs, what Barry is like as a piano player, why he’s recently reached out to old friends like Albhy Galuten and Karl Richardson, why Maurice stopped playing bass guitar at the height of the Bee Gees fame, why the Gibbs never got to choose which singles to release, what Barry thinks of Bee Gees’ album covers like Mr Natural and Main Course, what’s on his bucket list once Covid subsides, plus which little-known Gibb songs he’d most like to record for future volumes of Greenfields.
I’ll whet the appetite with a couple of tracks that Barry has insisted have to be on Greenfields Volume 2. Starting with For Whom The Bell Tolls, this was a UK top 5 in 1994 and even a number one across South America too, but outside of those markets, it was inexplicably left unreleased. As a result it’s that curiosity that is both famous as well as being largely unknown, depending on where in the world you live.
What is without doubt is that For Whom The Bell Tolls is one of the absolute elite of late-period Gibb tunes. The duelling Barry and Robin leads (how stunning is Robin’s chorus lead of “when the lonely heart breaks / it’s the one that forsakes”), the three-part harmonies on the chorus, the mixture of falsetto and natural-voice; this is pop balladry of the highest order. It’s also a song whose melodic and lyrical bones are so strong it could be successfully adapted into the more Americana arrangements that Barry’s looking for on future Greenfields volumes. Most importantly, it’s a song he feels is too important not to find a new audience.
From the mid-90s back to the early-70s, South Dakota Morning is a gorgeous country-influenced track from the underbought Life In A Tin Can album. It’s long been one of my favourites and it’s a song Barry’s wife Linda has of late taken to reminding her husband just how good it is.
The truth is, these are just two songs out of catalogue of Gibb songs that extends well past 1000. The good news is, Barry is fired up and not at all ready to just sit back and fade away. I can’t wait for Volume 2.
* In addition to debuting at UK #1 and Australia #1, Greenfields has also debuted at Austria #2, Germany #4, Switzerland #8, New Zealand #13, Netherlands #15 and USA #15.
** It’s one of the greatest thrills of my career to have acted as an advisor on How Can You Mend A Broken Heart. It’s streaming on HBO Max in the States and on Apple TV in New Zealand.