WOMEN, DRUGS AND DRINK
(By Michael Odell, Daily Express, October 23, 1997)

Michael Odell 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," insists Robin.

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," says Robin.

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 footsteps.

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."

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