"FROM SUPERSTARS TO POP PARIAHS AND BACK AGAIN"

The Bee Gees have seen It all. But Gibb brother Maurice is happy to have found even ground
(Julia Llewellyn, Daily Express, 3/29/01)

I'm in my car somewhere in Surrey, looking for Maurice Gibb's house. Not his primary residence, you understand - that's in Miami - but a place he and his wife Yvonne visit perhaps two or three times a year.

Maurice, if you're not sure, is the one with the hat, glasses and goatee. I saw him on stage the night before and he was the one who sang least and did stuff with a synthesiser. Elder brother Barry -the one with the leonine hair and beard- belted out the falsettos, while twin Robin was the gaunt one with no facial hair. Those in the know say Robin is the most intense, Barry the most showbiz and Maurice the most friendly. So I'm glad am going to see Maurice.

The car goes on down past big gates set well back from the road. To live round here you have to be very rich indeed. Still, remembering what the brothers performed yesterday -at a concert to be broadcast on Saturday on Radio 2- it's fair to say that Maurice can probably afford it. Saturday Night Fever had big hits included Jive Talkin', How Deep Is Your Love ("I really need to kno-ow"), You Should Be Dancing ("Yeah!"). Then there were songs that they didn't preform, such as Stayin' Alive and Night Fever. And the songs they wrote for other artists such as Islands In The Stream, Woman In Love and Chain Reaction. Singers who have recorded the Bee Gees numbers include Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin and Frank Sinatra and more recently, Steps, Boyzone and Take That. Forget what I just said. Maurice could buy this entire country and still have change for an island in the Caribbean.

We're lost, so we call a contact number. A crackly Hovis-type voice answers. "Allo mate," it says. "Don't worry I'm running late myself."

Something is wrong here. Superstars do not answer the phone. Nor do they let you visit them at home. Yet from what I've already seen of the Bee Gees, they are virtually devoid of celebrity swagger: With a combined age of 156, they've been there and done that and now they treat being rock legends like others would a day in the office.

Maurice lives in a vast Agatha Christie-style villa, at the end of a long drive. There are huge grounds, a tennis court, a small lake. At the kitchen door we're greeted by Yvonne, who is blonde and pretty. Adam, their 25-year old son, is watching TV in the kitchen. Daughter Samantha, 20, is in Miami. A fat Labrador runs around. We drink tea in the living room and watch MTV with the sound turned down. The television is the size of a large coffee table -you'd be hard pressed to throw it out of the window during a drinking binge. The loo walls are covered with pictures of the brothers' family friends, Michael Jackson and Tim Rice.

Eventually, Maurice arrives, slightly built, all in black, still wearing his fedora (does he ever take it off?), eyes hidden behind tinted specs. He has a deep, rock star tan, he is friendly but detached, with a much-employed grin the size of California. We move next door, where there is another gigantic TV, a snooker table and walls lined with gold discs. As soon as we sit down on the deep red squashy sofas Maurice is off, lighting the first of many Dunhills and talking at 100mph, about why their new album is called This Is Where I Came In.

"It's because we've seen it all before. It's what we call the 'first fame syndrome'. You have the Britneys and the Christinas, the boy bands... and I really feel for them. I'm scared for them. It's too much too soon. You become addicted to power and people telling you how great you are and then when it's no longer there you get addicted to something else like drugs or alcohol. That's exactly what we did, and Andy didn't survive it. Luckily, for the rest of us, we woke up." Whoa Maurice! Those unacquainted with the Bee Gees history may need a bit of background. The Gibbs (there was also a sister Lesley and younger brother Andy) come from Chorlton-cum-Hardy, a poor suburb of Manchester. Their father was a drummer with a dance band, their mother a backing singer. By the time they were six, the twins, and Barry nine, had taught themselves to sing three-part harmonies. "My Dad heard us in our bedroom doing the Everly Brothers and he thought the radio must be on," Maurice grins. In 1958, the family emigrated to Australia and the brothers became child stars.

They returned to England, signed a record deal and, in 1967, had their first No.1 with Massachusetts. Since then their career has been a succession of what Maurice calls "mountains and valleys". Troughs included the break down of all of their first marriages, periods when nobody spoke to each other, and a lot of drink and drugs. It culminated in 1988, when Andy, who had a successful solo career, died aged 30 from heart failure exacerbated by cocaine and alcohol abuse. Their most spectacular "mountain" came in 1979, when the brothers emerged from the doldrums to write the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. It sold 60 million copies.

"The film took off in a way nobody had expected. Suddenly, the whole world wanted to dance, " Maurice says with a chuckle. "But I'm grateful to it. Without Fever, we wouldn't have the best of both worlds (houses in America and Britain). We couldn't have built our recording studio."

The Gibb brothers have not always been so gracious about the fever days. For a long time they felt typecast by its disco associations and blamed it for the slump that followed. "It was the same for John Travolta. After that period, nobody wanted to know him but he just persisted. He was actor and he just got on with his craft, just like we continued to write songs."

It was during the "first wave" that the brothers launched themselves wide-eyed in to the Swinging Sixties.

Even now, with a place in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame, Maurice sounds like an overawed teenager as he recalls those days. "We'd been in Australia, so far away from it all, and suddenly here we were back in London, in the inner circle, sitting around with our idols. Ringo was my neighbour and we were going to Tramp every night, parking our Mini Coopers outside the Speakeasy in Margaret Street -you could park in the West End in those days- and then driving home totally blitzed. It was good fun. No one had minders then -we used to get drunk with Prince Charles at Tramp, and Michael Caine and Peter Sellers'd be in the corner. When I was married to Lu (Lulu) the doorbell would go at three in the morning and it would be Rod Stewart or David Bowie. We'd go down in our dressing gowns and get the bar open. We never even thought about the money, we were just so excited about meeting the Beatles. When we had it, we just blew it. I had six Rolls-Royces and eight Aston Martins by the time I was 21. John Lennon was the person who got me to drink my first scotch and Coke. I was 17 and if he's told me to take cyanide I'd have done it. before that I'd only sipped a beer but I liked what the scotch did."

It was the beginning of a descent into Alcoholism ("Bee Gee pulls gun on wife and kids," was a typical headline). Barry and Robin dallied with drugs but they were never really Maurice's thing. "I liked drinking because it was sociable. It was going to the pub and having a pint. It was a way of life. I became a Jekyll and Hyde figure. I was never physically abusive but I was very vicious with my tongue. After Andy's death it got even worse. I just drank and drank to numb my mind."

The drinking had already seen the end of his six-year marriage to Lulu, who left him in 1975. Six months later Maurice met Yvonne when she walked into his dressing room at the Batley Variety Club (she managed the steak house next door). "I just saw her eyes and said to myself: This is the woman am going to marry."

Yvonne felt the same way ("although until she heard me speak she thought I was gay"). They married eight months later. Yet this was not enough to stop the boozing. It was to be nearly 20 years before Maurice finally saw the light and went into Alcoholics' Anonymous. Now he speaks with much touchy-feeliness about how it changed his life. "I owe everything to these people. I go to a meeting every day, Christmas, New Year, wherever I am in the world."

Maurice is evangelic on the subject of 12-step programmes and knowing yourself but he is also rather dull. He's also pretty guarded on the subject on his brothers. They once went through a period of not speaking but today, they say only gentlemanly things to each other. "Contrary to popular belief, we have no leader," says Maurice, although it's obvious that Barry is the boss. "We call it a democratic dictatorship." Yet the brothers are far from inseparable. "We all have our separate friends and families. If we don't call each other for a couple of months it doesn't mean anything. We've always done it. When we see each other again we just pick right back up." The truth about Maurice is that he is disappointingly normal. At least Robin is married to the first woman to be president of the Society Of Bards, Ovates and Druids. When I ask his twin what has been the most rock'n'roll thing he has done in the past decade he grins again, for once lost for an answer. "Paintballing," he says eventually. John Lennon would turn in his grave. And if the Bee Gees have not always received the respect they deserve, it's probably because they are so ordinary. But when you look at their contemporaries -the Beatles, the Stones, the Who- you can only wonder that they are still together. And when you look at the fate of other child stars, such as the Jackson Five, you have to admire them for retaining even some sanity. "We do usually all go to Barry's at Christmas and our for New Year. We make our family movies, sometimes we have a singalong. No, not our songs -we do them for a living. It's be more likely to be something like Dream by the Everly Brothers."

It says it all, really. At heart, the Bee Gees will always be those boys from Chorlton-cum-Hardy, harmonising in their bedroom.

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