"CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE ROBIN KIND"
(Steve O'Neal, The Manila Bulletin, July 6, 2005)

 

I was busy shopping for the latest CDs and videos at HMV in Hong Kong when my phone rang. It was Jojo San Pedro asking me to rush to the Grand Hyatt Hotel for a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet one of my musical heroes, Robin Gibb. Jojo is the Asian promoter of Robin Gibb’s Magnetic Tour. Without hesitation, I dropped my shopping basket and hailed a cab.

Flashback to October 1974, Cultural Center of the Philippines. My first time to see Robin was when he performed with brothers Barry and Maurice at the CCP in 1974. They were then on an Asian tour to promote their album "Mr. Natural."

Eversince the three Gibb brothers started recording in the early ‘60s, Robin had already been the main soloist. Barry sang solo on occasion and Maurice (may he rest in peace) always provided lush harmonies. The Ambivalent Crowd, then one of the top showbands, provided the opening act for the Bee Gees’ first and only concert in the Philippines. They sang over an hour’s worth of hits and new materials. It was a fun concert and there were lots of laughs mostly provided by the comic of the group, Maurice.

After the Asian tour, the group got its second wind and began climbing back to the charts with more top ten singles. By 1977, their success reached fever pitch with the sound track of "Saturday Night Fever." With this, the Bee Gees had finally arrived and had made a permanent dent in the music industry! This also ushered the era of Barry Gibb singing lead vocals on almost all their new releases.

Although they have been around for four decades now, the Bee Gees have actually done only 15 tours (the first 12 lasted for months — the last three were solo concerts). In the late ‘80s, Barry was diagnosed with a severe back problem and crippling arthritis that made it difficult for him to sing or play an instrument. It was the reason why the trio had very few gigs in the past decade.

The last time the three brothers performed as a group was in Miami, Florida on Feb. 23, 2002. Eleven months later, Maurice passed away.

AUSSIE FIASCO

Just as I adore the Beatles who were the early idols of the Bee Gees, I’ve always had the Bee Gees in my top five Must-See-In-My-Lifetime favorite groups of all time.

In May of 1999, I bought a ticket to their final "One Night Only" concert in Sydney, Australia — an expensive adventure indeed. But, I didn’t care because this was an ultra rare event I’ve always dreamt of.

Alas my luck! The flight got delayed and I arrived in Sydney after the concert. The fiasco went down as one of my life’s most regrettable events and I swore that I will never let the next opportunity to watch the Bee Gees get away again.

My hopes faded when Maurice passed away and Barry announced that as a respect to Maurice, there would not be Bee Gees concerts or new material anymore.

Yet, two years later, Robin announced the "2005 Magnetic World Tour." This, I said to myself, I would not miss even if it was just one Bee Gee performing.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE ROBIN KIND

I was expecting hordes of press people at the presidential suite of the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong considering the battery of cameramen and reporters waiting for Robin at the hotel lobby entrance. But I was pleasantly surprised to find just a pair from Channel News Asia.

Robin walked in 10 minutes later sans any fanfare, with a dark shirt, dark glasses and a baseball cap on. Reed thin but looking healthy, Robin smiled and sat down.

But the more interesting was the off-camera Robin. He talked about his personal life and the agony of getting over his twin Maurice’s death. Although they were not the typical inseparable twins who wore the same outfit and lived together, Robin quipped not a day passed by without him missing Maurice. Here he got misty eyed.

There are no immediate plans for him and Barry to record or tour, Robin revealed. Barry is currently busy producing Barbra Streisand’s next album, after doing for the diva her five time-platinum certified album "Guilty" in 1980.

Nevertheless, Robin was very satisfied with his Asian tour that kicked off in Hongkong on June 8. It has been extended to September with the addition of shows in Tokyo and China. I asked him if he remembers their one-night concert in Manila to which he replied ""Of course, I do!"

THE REAL ROBIN

The concert was at 8 p.m. but as of 6:30 p.m., I still didn’t have the tickets Jojo San Pedro reserved for us. Panic began to dawn. It was Sydney all over again. Composer Nonoy Tan, an avid Bee Gees fan who flew with me discouraged me from purchasing tickets at a hair-raising price. Pinoys who are used to R200 for the cheapest and R3000 for the most expensive tickets will be aghast to know that the cheapest seats for the Robin Gibb concert were around R4,200.

I didn’t even bother to ask the price of the most expensive tickets. I was unperturbed by the cost and we rushed to the Hongkong Convention and Exhibition Center. I shelled my hard earned money from the Cascades concert and flew the seven escalators (yes seven) to get to Hall 3 where the show was about to begin.

The 10,000 capacity hall was 70 percent filled. The lights dimmed and the orchestra started playing a Bee Gees overture. With the first notes of "Emotion," Robin cavorted onstage in a natty canary yellow jacket and an almost reddish hairpiece ala Elton John. I’ve gotten so used to Samantha Sang’s version and lately to Destiny’s Child’s that I felt a little weird hearing Robin perform it.

Then he followed it with a true Robin Gibb song "Gotta Get A Message To You" which he sang at a lower key.

"How Deep Is Your Love" sounded different because Barry sang the lead vocals on the recording. It was at a lower key again but nobody cared. The crowd started to sing along.

I noticed how good the acoustics of the venue were when the orchestra got into "Nights on Broadway." The bass thumps were solid and cymbal crashes were crystal clear despite our seats at the rear of the hall.

The real Robin sound manifested when he sang the ‘68 smash "I Started A Joke" complete with the melancholy feel. With "Massachussets," How Can You Mend A Broken Heart," and I was lulled back to the 70s when I still had long lush hair and wore size 29 jeans.

My reminiscing got interrupted when the orchestra segued to the song that defined the disco era -"Night Fever." People started swaying and dancing while the artist kept his movements to the minimum.

Other hits performed were "New York Mining Disaster," one of the group’s earliest hits; "Please", a song released in 2002 and was sung mainly by Errol Reid, Robin’s only male back-up singer who sounded uncannily like Barry and Robin providing harmony; and "Saved By The Bell," his first solo hit when the Bee Gees went on hiatus in the late ‘60s.

In 1967, the Bee Gees were commissioned to write a song for Otis Redding. But on the week Otis was to record it, he died in a plane crash and the Bee Gees were left with no alternative but to sing it. The song was "To Love Somebody" and it was another top ten hit single.

As he started singing the opening lines of the 1969 hit "First of May" and "Words" , the crowd became all the more anxious. I didn’t realize how great this song ‘You Win Again," was until I heard it sung live. I wrote down a little reminder for me to buy the CD. "Juliet" got the crowd stomping. The part where he sang "JuJuJuliet" reminded me of their earlier hit ‘JijiJive Talkin" and the "JajajaJamby" election jingle of Senator Jamby Madrigal.

NO AGE BOUNDS

Robin said that their music knows no age bounds. Even young artists today are recording their music. In fact, he performed a Steps-revived song "Tragedy," ending the great show.

But the crowd would not let him go and he obliged with "Jive Talkin" and "Stayin’ Alive." The crowd danced and sashayed, already on their feet a la Travolta by the time Robin performed "You Should Be Dancin,"

By this time, Robin was not prepared for a third encore and so just did "Stayin’ Alive" once again. It was like a big disco and the only thing lacking was a mirror ball. There was another encore and he repeated "Night Fever."

Witnessing all of these, I wish that I or any local promoter could bring the Robin Gibb concert to the Philippines. Like Paul McCartney, Robin is one of the very few superstars who will retire from the limelight in a few years. He and his siblings have brought us great music, becoming an integral part of our musical upbringing. It would be a crime if he didn’t perform in the music capital of Asia.

Jimmy Lo, the guy responsible for bankrolling the multi-million Robin Gibb Magnetic Tour of Asia laments that the Philippines is the only stop in Asia were Robin won’t set foot on. My retort with a sigh of regret is the feasibility factor of the project. Sadly, unless a sponsor subsidizes part of the cost of the talent fee, we Filipinos will only get to hear Robin on CD.


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