"BATTLE OF THE BEE GEES"

(Nicole Lampert, Daily Mail, 12 November 2005)


How sadly apt that one of their most famous songs is Tragedy. Barry and Robin Gibb - two-thirds of The Bee Gees - have suffered the early deaths of two of their brothers. But instead of bringing them together, they are so estranged that they have not talked to each other for months.

Indeed, nearly three years after the death of Maurice, at the age of 53, the pair's arguments have reached such a bitter level that they appeared separately on American TV this week to denounce each other.

While their enmity is ostensibly over a tribute album for Maurice, the feud really goes back to decades of sibling rivalry and an anger that they are more famous for their mocked 'medallion men' image than their catalogue of hits.

Adding to their problems is the pair's devastation not only at Maurice's sudden death in a Miami hospital, when he suffered a heart attack during an abdominal operation, but also at the loss of their youngest brother, Andy, who died aged 30 in 1988 from a heart attack following cocaine addiction.

Unable to grieve together, their differing ways of coping have only compounded their problems. And while there have been many rows before - The Bee Gees have split and got back together more times than Jude and Sienna - this time they are missing Maurice, who acted as peacemaker between his twin Robin and their elder brother, Barry, the driving force behind the band.

The first time fans realised there was a problem was earlier this month, when Barry, 59, posted an email on his website saying he would not be involved with the tribute album.

'Two years ago, at Buckingham Palace, Robin and I discussed with great enthusiasm a tribute to Maurice,'he wrote. 'We agreed on what was going to happen and it sounded great. After I left England, Robin decided to form a company called Magnet Productions to control any tribute and, in so doing, precluded myself. This is for the benefit of the fans who would like to know why things have not been good. The Bee Gees are three people and not one person.'

And on Monday, he went on the U.S. show Entertainment Tonight to explain why he was not talking to his brother.

'Tragedy does two things. It either fuses you together or it blows the family apart,' he said. 'I think it's very sad. It wasn't good for our family to lose Andy and Mo.'

Asked about the tribute album, Barry said: 'I'm not involved. I have been deliberately dis-involved. People have actually excluded me from that process. It's personal in my family and I can't go into it, but certain things were done by the people who look after my brother to stop me being involved.'

Three days later, Robin, 55, went on the show to reply to the accusations. While trying to pacify the situation by saying his brother had been working on new material, he turned the blame on Barry, saying he had rebuffed all entreaties to be involved on the tribute album.

'I can't understand where it comes from,' he said of his brother's outburst.

'I have been in touch with Barry and have asked him a few times to be involved, but he's not been ready, for various reasons, because of Maurice's death, to go out there and do as many projects as possible, so he's had to work through this thing slowly on his own.'

Yesterday, spokesmen for both sides were eager to contain the feud. 'Barry wishes Robin the very best,' said Barry's. 'Robin is still hoping Barry will be involved in the tribute album,' said Robin's.

Fans obviously want the pair to patch up their public row before feelings become even more bitter.

'We don't want to choose between the brothers,' said a fan club member, who asked not to be named. 'We don't want to see either hurt and we hope they realise they have too much to lose to not talk.'

Robin, who lives next door but one to his brother in Miami, believes the cause of the feud is the grief both are still feeling for Maurice.

Certainly the brothers have different ways of dealing with their pain. While Robin is throwing himself into an album and concert for Maurice, Barry has been concentrating on other projects, including the recent Guilty Too, a sequel to his hugely successful 1980 album Guilty, with Barbra Streisand.

But the problems between them are not new. Barry has admitted the pair have been almost estranged for more than five years.

'I think the group was well-worn. It had become quite tainted over the years, especially the last decade,' he has said. 'If we'd all been healthy, especially if Andy had still been with us, we'd be a family.'

Sources close to the pair say that problems set in at the beginning of their careers, when each of the Gibb brothers tried to outdo each other in impressing their father.

The story of The Bee Gees starts on the Isle of Wight [Wrong: Isle of Man], where Barry, Maurice, Robin and their sister Lesley were born to ambitious bandleader Hughie Gibb.

When Barry was seven, the family moved to Manchester, where Hughie hoped to find more work, and Andy was born.

The three older boys had a prodigious talent from a young age. By the time the twins were six and Barry was nine, they had taught themselves three-part harmony.

They were so good that when he first heard them sing, their father was convinced they were miming to the radio. He immediately started taking them to perform in clubs.

The crowds loved them, but instead of praising his sons, Hughie simply told them they were lucky to have 'a good audience'. His favouritism of Barry also fostered divisions among the brothers.

Discussing this five years ago, Maurice and Barry acknowledged those feelings had never dissipated.

'Barry was Dad's favourite,' Maurice said. 'When we were on tour, he'd always say: "Come on Barry, let's go and eat." He never used to say that to Robin and me.' But Barry disagreed, saying he, too, felt left out. 'I never felt like his favourite. The firstborn was Lesley, who was the daughter, then me, and then you had a set of twins, so I was between two worlds. I felt isolated. I didn't sense I was the favourite.'

When the boys were teenagers, the family moved to Australia, where Hughie was promised work.

It was there that the brothers, who were by then calling themselves The Bee Gees (standing for the Brothers Gibb), started notching up hits in the Australian charts. But it was the Sixties and Swinging Britain was the place to be, so they returned to their homeland.

It was always believed that Andy - the fifth child in the family and 12 years younger than Barry - would one day join The Bee Gees. But, partly because of the age difference and partly because of a desire to strike out on his own, he had a solo career. Barry wrote many of his songs and his brothers often sang backup vocals on his singles.

After signing with Robert Stigwood - business partner of Beatles manager Brian Epstein - The Bee Gees had hits with Massachusetts and I've Gotta Get A Message To You, their falsetto voices marking them out from other bands.

From the start, Barry, as the main songwriter and the elder brother, took a bigger share of the royalties (40 per cent, while the twins got 30 per cent each) and was the recognised band leader.

Their first break-up happened in 1970. All three had married - Maurice most famously to the singer Lulu - and had become so competitive they would argue over who should be on camera the most during recordings of Top Of The Pops.

In 1977, Stigwood asked them to pen some songs for a film about the disco culture. It was called Saturday Night Fever. The album relaunched The Bee Gees, sold 30 million and remains the biggest-selling movie soundtrack of all time.After that success, they split again, but got back together for the film's sequel Staying Alive in 1983. At the same time, they wrote hits for a host of stars including Diana Ross, Cliff Richard and Dionne Warwick.

Altogether, The Bee Gees have sold 110 million albums and are the fifth best-selling act in history. But like so many showbusiness success stories, their wealth did not appear to bring them happiness.

The brothers were devastated by Andy's death, in particular Maurice, who by then was an alcoholic. After a four-week brandy binge in 1991, he threatened his second wife - he and Lulu had divorced - and children with a loaded pistol. His brothers put him into rehab and he never touched another drink.

As for Barry, he has had a long problem with arthritis, triggered by a car accident. A failed back operation further complicated the problem.

Meanwhile, Robin had become hooked on amphetamines. His divorce from his first wife, Molly, was so bitter he did not see his oldest son for six years. He has admitted that he and his second wife, Dwina, have an 'open' relationship.

When the disco era came to an end, the brothers battled to reinvent themselves, but the medallion men image has persisted. Their touchiness over the subject was all too clear when they appeared on TV's Clive Anderson Talks back in 1997. After one joke too many, Barry, followed by his brothers, walked out.

Sources close to the band say it was Barry's anger at their outdated image, as well as the fact he was not recognised by the public as a great songwriter, that is behind his estrangement from his brothers.

In 2001, he severed ties with lawyer Michael Eaton, who had represented the group for more than 30 years, and music publisher BMG.

'He thought the band were being mismanaged because they could not shake off their cheesy image,' said one source. 'He wanted it known that he was the dominating force.

When he moved to a different management, he thought his brothers would come with him. The problems started when they refused to follow.' Even before Maurice's death, Barry's relationship with Robin was so poor that he did not know he had made his solo album, Magnet, until it was released two years ago. He said he was 'devastated' to discover Robin had recorded an altered version of The Bee Gees song Wish You Were Here.

Picking up their OBEs from the Queen in May last year, the -brothers did appear to be reconciled. They happily revealed their joint plan to bring out an album in Maurice's honour and to continue as The Bee Gees.

'The most important thing is that we go forward for Maurice,' Robin said. 'He would want that.'

However, he wouldn't have wanted his brothers to have fallen out -perhaps this time for good- over his tribute album. For their family, friends and fans, it may be the ultimate tragedy.

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