WOMEN, DRUGS AND DRINK
(By Michael Odell, Daily
Express, October 23, 1997)
Meets the Bee Gees, Pop's First Wild Brothers
They swagger in -sharp-suited, bantering like school children in the matey Mancunian
accents which have survived showbiz affectation and emigration to Australia and America.
The "ladies" have been safely dispatched to Harvey-Nicks, and chain-smoking
Maurice ("Mo"), limping Barry and bouncing Robin stop being husbands and become
the Bee Gees once again. Psychiatrist Robin Skinner once wrote that healthy, happy
families exude an air of excited chaos, talking over each other and giving an air of being
telepathically in tune. And despite the splits, the drugs, the drink, and untimely deaths,
the brothers Gibb from Chorlton-Cum-Hardy, Manchester, are one such family: they joke,
they spar and they disagree.
Forty-three years after they first took the stage at Manchester's Gaumount theatre watched
by their father Hugh, and more than a 100 millionre cord sales later, they chatter about
their recent album, Still Waters, as if it were their first.
Their Sixties' contemporaries -the Stones, The Who and The Beatles- have all had their
difficulties and personal changes. But the Bee Gees have survived intact. "We could
be the Fame Advisory Board," says Robin. "We watch people like Oasis fighting
and splitting and we think: 'Sorry guys, we did that in 1967. If you want to know what
happens next, give us a ring.'"
Maurice believes that most groups only know fame once and the average life-span is five
years. "We made all our mistakes during what we call 'first-fame syndrome'," he
adds. "We split, we fought, we abused our bodies, lost money, watched love ones
destroy themselves, everthying. It's only now we cherish what matters." The Gibb are
clear about their roles: Maurice is the backbone, shyer and quieter than the other two.
Robin, Maurice's twin, is the wit, Barry -big, handsome and at 51 the eldest by three
years- seems to be the brood's daddy.
Amazingly, these dynamics we in evidence in the Fifties, when the Gibbs were destined for
a life on the wrong side of the tracks. Barry and Robin we delinquents, torching buildings
and stealing cars. Even then, Maurice was the quiet one.
"Even though we were aged 8 to 11, the Gibb name in Manchester was like the Krays in
London," remembers Barry. "We were street kids. Our parents had no control over
us. It was only when I got two months probation for stealing a car that I got frightened.
"I took the blame for a kid named Graham, who would have gone to reform school if
he'd been done. His mum asked me to take the rap and I did. He ended up getting sent down
later, and I would have gone the same way, I'm sure."
The police told their mother Barbara that Barry and Robin would end up in prison if she
didn't do something. So in 1958, she took the family to Australia to start a new life.
Once there, they focused their energies on music.
Robin draws a literary comparison. "We were like the Bronte sisters in that we
created our own world and fed off our fantasies and ideas. Once we'd created this inner
world we immersed ourselves in that. The Brontes wrote stories, we wrote songs. Outsiders
thought we were mad, but once we discovered music we never doubted we would succeed. And
it was never about money, it was about being recognised and being liked."
After nine fallow years in Australia they returned to England to be part of the
late-Sixties pop boom and enjoyed hits with "Massachusetts," "I've Gotta
Get A Message To You," "New York Mining Disaster" and "Words".
Ironically, it was this success that destroyed the brotherly love.
They may have been fresh-faced, harmonising lads, but they lived the hard rock'n'roll
life. "In the Sixties, everyone was doing drugs, and so did we, but we had limits. We
never did LSD or heroin. We loved grass because it helped us create. But we were virginal
compared to some others," says Maurice. "I remember sitting in a room talking to
John Lennon and I didn't realise he was tripping on acid. I just thought he had a very
vivid imagination. Another time I was in a club and wondered why the Beatles were all
sharing a cigarette..."
Robin adds: "Apart from Mo having a problem with the booze early on, we always
stepped back from the brink. One time we were offered really hard drugs and I remember
standing in the bathroom with Barry and deciding we couldn't do it."
As the Seventies approached, they craved independant lives. "What broke us up was
Robin and Maurice moving out from our suburban home in Hendon," remembers Barry.
"They went crazy with drink, female pop stars and the rest. We turned our backs on
one another." Robin says: "We became obnoxious and arrogant. We didn't take
phone calls from each other, we got accountants and lawyers to deal with it."
They parted for two years and competed as solo artists. All three had married -Maurice to
Lulu, Barry to Linda and Robin to Molly. Barry's marriage remains intact, but Maurice
split from Lulu and Robin has since remarried. Two years after the brothers split they
re-formed -but it was strictly business, although their bond was still strong. "We
were proud fools, too scared to admit it at first, but we had missed each other,"
Appropriately they came back with "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart" and
"Lonely Days", which reflected the split. Robin adds ruefully: "There was a
third song drawing on the split called GO F*** Yourself, but we didn't use that one."
Then they moved to Miami, attracted by the weather and tax breaks, but would have to wait
for Saturday Night Fever and disco to climb back on to the roller-coaster. This
was their second heyday, the era of harmony and hairspray. This time there were no rifts
and the "Fever" soundtrack brought them a second surge of fame. There were more
drugs, too: songs such as "Tragedy" and "Too Much Heaven" were written
during cocaine binges.
"We had been down on our luck and someone said, 'Would you write some songs about a
painter who goes out dancing in the evenings?' so we did. If we'd have known Travolta
would make such a good job out of it we wouldn't have knocked out any old rubbish and sung
in those stupid voices," jokes Robin.
They had each recovered from problems with either drink or drugs when their brother Andy
died in 1988. The youngest Gibb had enjoyed his own successful career and was trying to
overcome a drink and drugs problem. He eventually succumbed to heart failure while staying
at Robin's house. "He and my mum knew he had a heart problem, but we didn't,"
Even in death the brotherly bond is strong. All three believe in reincarnation and the
after-life. They use Andy's old chair in their recording studio and claim it moves by
itself. These days, the secret of their bond is two-fold: the humour which defuses tension
and the distance which allows them to make their matrimonial relationships work. They
still live in Miami and there is a handful of young Gibbs hoping to follow in their
Barry's son Steven will play lead guitar in the brothers' backing band when they film a
tribute show in Las Vegas next month. Robin's son Spencer is a record producer and
Maurice's daughter Samantha also has an eye on the charts.
"They're all musical," says Barry. "But it took more than being musical for
us -you had to be passionate and hungry. To be honest, I don't see that in any of our kids
yet. We started this because we had to, we knew nothing else. They've got other choices. I
just hope we're around to stop them making the mistakes we made."