With a new Bee Gees album in the Top 10 Robin
Gibb tells Paul Sexton hes still haunted by his brothers death.
Staying alive has long been a challenge for rockers: they either suffer dramatic
drug-induced deaths in swimming pools or they lazily fade away in the rock-broker belt to
The Bee Gees are the exception. They have remained one of the worlds most successful
bands since they first warbled onto the wireless back in 1967 surviving, in the
melodramatic word of one of their greatest hits, tragedy, followed by more tragedy: first
in 1988 the drug-related death of their younger brother Andy, then last years death
of Maurice after intestinal surgery went fatally wrong.
It seemed that would be the end of a group that, in their 1970s pomp, contrived to make
excessive chest hair, medallions and falsetto voices almost cool. But the boys who sounded
as if their manhoods were being mangled in a garlic crusher are back. A greatest hits
album called Number Ones (yep, not a modest title, but few rivals could fill a CD with 19
top-selling singles) has boogied into the top 10, a tribute concert to Maurice is planned
and there is talk of a collection of new songs. The fever might have cooled since those
John Travolta disco days, but the bands two surviving brothers are still prepared to
sweat to maintain the success that has shifted 110m records.
Rather heroic though all this vitality is, Robin Gibb clearly struggles to accept the
death of his twin brother Maurice, which he blames on the "neglect" of a Miami
hospital. Indeed, Robin, 55, discloses that he and brother Barry are being frustrated in
their attempts to sue Mount Sinai Medical Centre: "Barry and I are not legally
allowed to be involved in a suit before the wife, and Im not sure if a settlement is
reached by the wife whether were allowed to sue, even though hes part of the
A whiff of Yoko-esque resentments, here: Yvonne Gibb, Maurices Mrs for nearly 30
years, is never referred to by name. Under Maurices 1991 will, she inherited his
£24m fortune, which included six homes and copyright of her hubbys share of Bee
"Maurices death was so incomprehensible, given the illness he had," says
Robin. "He walked into hospital (with a stomach blockage) and was in a coma the
following day. His death was absolute neglect. Thats something the lawyers are
Except no lawyer can really "sort out" the death of a brother. With more
money than a medium-sized bank, it would hardly help the Bee Gees to win compensation;
still, the desire to see the alleged mistake acknowledged is understandable.
"He was in a hospital without the medical facilities that could have helped him,
and he had an illness that could have been corrected by routine procedure. If you leave
anything unattended it has the potential to kill, including flu. They say Mo died through
heart failure. Well, all deaths are caused by heart failure eventually, if unattended.
Its not that he had a heart attack." Pause. "Those were the circumstances
we had to come to terms with a death that could have been prevented." Ouch.
Just when you think it is going to be too painful for Robin to continue, he suddenly
displays that famous determination: "I dont have any emotions talking about
Maurice any more, because death is a fact of life," he says glibly.
"Mo wasnt old and he was never ill, it just happened out of the blue. It feels
like its happening only to you, but the idea that youre alone in this is
ridiculous. Im very philosophical."
So he has not sought refuge, in time-honoured rocker fashion, in a designer religion:
"Far from becoming more spiritual, its more that we have to live for every day.
Its too depressing to dwell."
True to his words Robin has been touring Germany, belting out Bee Gee hits with the
Frankfurt Philharmonic. A tribute concert to Maurice was mooted with Michael Jackson,
Justin Timberlake and Travolta, but "its cancelled", says Robin firmly.
"There will be a tribute concert put together by Barry and myself only, at a time
when Barry chooses." Hmm.
He is deeply protective of his twins memory. A few weeks after Maurice died, when
Graham Norton made a typically toe-curling joke about him, Robin called Norton
"scum" and said he would "rip his head off": a bantam-weight contest
if ever there was one.
We are talking in a cosy living room at Robins inevitably huge estate in Oxfordshire
where, as I arrive, as if to enhance the image of the country idyll, the church clock
really does stand at ten to three. Gibb, small and wiry, is cautious but ultimately warm.
He may have outed himself as bald last year, but now a rich auburn weave sprouts with
enough gusto to make Sir Elton John jealous; although softly spoken, he seems content with
the place in pop history that the new retrospective underlines.
Only monster hit-makers such as the Beatles and Elvis Presley could boast such a
collection of number ones. As Robin says: "There arent many people whove
had those kind of albums." The new Number Ones CD sleeve notes contain a simplistic
but heartfelt poem called O Mo: "Theres a lot of in memorial to
Maurice about this album. We feel hes still here, so its a way of paying our
respects to him as a musician and songwriter, as well as a brother."
It is clear how much they went through when Robin says that Saturday Night Fever
"burnt almost white-hot, to a point where nobody was in control, not even us".
The teenage Gibbs stepped off the boat in Southampton from Australia in January 1967
without any money, but somehow it seemed things would always turn gold for them.
By May they were in the British charts: "Wed only been in England a few weeks,
we didnt realise how much competition there was or how lucky we were."
Gibbs profile was boosted last year when he became tutor on the BBCs Fame
Academy and then recorded with Alistair Griffin, the runner-up. Impressively, they remain
friends after Griffins 15 minutes expired. Otherwise, Gibbs solo success has
been limited: "I dont really like being a solo artist, its pretty lonely.
When youre on stage on your own, the pressures all on you. Being part of
something together; thats what we ve had with the Bee Gees. Im not
talking financially, but were an equal part of our achievements. When youre
solo, you really only have your lawyer to share that with."
What of that reunion? "Well see what happens: me and Barry definitely want to
record in the future." Which sounds like a gentle nudge to his remaining bro to
leave the lawyers to their litigations and get back into the studio.
For the Bee Gees, it really is all about staying alive.