BARRY GIBB casts his mind back to the first time he and his little brothers, Maurice and Robin, appeared on TV together.
He was 13 and the twins were only ten.
Barry Gibb says he is ‘finally able to enjoy the songs again’ after recording a new albumCredit: Desiree Prieto
The Bee Gees legend claims the new record is ‘profound therapy’Credit: Desiree Prieto
They were living with parents Hugh and Barbara in a suburb of Brisbane, Australia, where the local network had picked up on the sibling boy band’s sublime harmonies.
“Maurice and Robin were too short to be in the same frame as me,” he recalls. “So they found a couple of tea chests for them to stand on.”
Still so young, the determined brothers had begun their journey to the big time, a life in music as the Bee Gees their destiny.
“Once we started hitting our harmonies, there was no turning back,” Gibb says. “We recognised the beauty.”
Despite being prime victims of a disco backlash in the Eighties, their place at the top table was sealed by Gibb’s “legend” slot at Glastonbury in 2017 when the 130,000 adoring fans sang every word of every song.
“To me, it was a love fest from the moment I walked on stage,” he says.
“They showed love to me and they showed love for my brothers.”
The hits, from loved-up ballads like How Deep Is Your Love to dancefloor fillers such as Stayin’ Alive, are ingrained in our collective consciousness.
“It was the most surreal, nerve-racking experience,” he says. “I was talking to Prince Charles, who I love dearly, and couldn’t think what to say. My mouth opened but nothing came out.
“I was kneeling down and forgot I was supposed to stand up. He said, ‘You can get up now’ but my knee was killing me. ‘I’m not sure I can, your highness’, I replied and he said, ‘It doesn’t get any easier, does it?’ ”
Barry and his little brothers Maurice and Robin of the Bee Gees pictured in the SeventiesCredit: Getty – Contributor
With his flowing locks, permatan, trim beard framing immaculate white teeth and inimitable falsetto, Gibb wore his superstar image with apparent ease during the Bee Gees’ heyday.
But, for the past nine years, he has been the last man standing.
It’s poignant to think of the older brother enduring “lonely days” (to borrow their song title) without his siblings and having sole responsibility for keeping the group’s iconic music alive.
Maurice was just 53 when a ruptured intestine led to his death from cardiac arrest, while Robin lost a long battle with cancer in 2012. Remember, too, that Gibbs had to suffer the untimely passing of their solo artist youngest brother Andy, five days after his 30th birthday in 1988.
Now, after years struggling with such painful loss, Gibb is at last able to celebrate the Bee Gees’ towering legacy with a duets album recorded in Nashville, aka Music City.
He has a new expression to reflect the euphoric highs and crushing lows he’s experienced. “The past is unpredictable,” he says, before adding: “But the present can be fun.”
The Brothers Gibb perform together at London’s Wembley Stadium Credit: PA:Press Association
Joined by a stellar cast including Dolly Parton, Keith Urban and dear friend Olivia Newton-John, he’s made the beautifully crafted Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers Songbook Vol. 1, the first release of a planned trilogy.
It includes country pop re- imaginings of I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You, Words and To Love Somebody as well as revamps of lesser-known revelations, Words Of A Fool and exquisite early composition Butterfly.
It confirms the abiding power and appeal of the Bee Gees’ back catalogue as well as Gibb’s long-standing infatuation with country music. Little wonder he calls it “a labour of love”.
With the album in pole position to be No1 in today’s UK chart, the elated singer is talking to me from the Miami home where he’s been in lockdown with his wife of more than 50 years, Linda.
“I’m floating,” he reports with some of that old-school charm, “and keeping everything crossed!
“If it makes it, it will be my first (UK No1 album) for more than 40 years,” he adds, referring to the 1979 Bee Gees LP, Spirits Having Flown, with its hit singles Too Much Heaven and Tragedy.
Robin and Barry hold their CBE’s after receiving them from the Prince of Wales at Buckingham PalaceCredit: PA:Press Association
Gibb describes the 12-song Greenfields collection as “profound therapy”.
“It was all done in a month, before the pandemic, and it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, probably THE most,” he affirms.
“The therapy for me is being able to enjoy these songs again and to have other people sing them.
“After Robin died, I went for about a year, maybe two years, not knowing what to do with myself, not knowing whether I could carry on by myself.
“Then my wife walked in and said, ‘Get off your backside and do what you know how to do’.”
Her well-timed prod encouraged Gibb’s return to the live arena and the creation of his heartfelt 2016 rock-orientated solo album In The Now.
Barry’s late Bee Gees brothers are never far from his thoughtsCredit: Getty – Contributor
“But I was still bewildered by losing my brothers,” he continues. “Though I do have my older sister in Australia (Lesley). She has eight children . . . so we’re not giving up.”
With five children and eight grandchildren of his own, Gibb draws much comfort from his big family in Florida, and reserves a special mention for his wife, a former Miss Edinburgh.
“Linda’s been my rock and she’s a wonderful woman. She watches out for everybody and that’s what makes her very special,” he says.
And yet his Bee Gees brothers are never far from his thoughts. He maintains there were few conflicts in the early days but suggests the stresses of superstardom did have consequences.
“Suddenly, we all wanted to be the frontman and that’s just the way with every group, isn’t it? The only thing more unnatural than a pop group is being in a family that’s a pop group. Of course we didn’t always get on, we’re brothers.”
So, what would Robin and Maurice have made of his latest project?, I venture. “I think they would have loved it,” he replies.
“I’m trying to do this for them but it also brings me a lot of spiritual enjoyment.”
Gibb believes one brother in particular would have revelled in the Greenfields album doing well.
“Robin liked having a hit regardless of what chart it was on. He had drawers packed with charts,” he says.
“But then he didn’t like singing socially, in our lounge or anywhere else, only on stage. Maurice was always like me. We were The Everly Brothers if there was ever a sing-song.
“It’s a pity Rob didn’t enjoy things like that so much but that’s how it was.”
Mention of the Everlys is key because Don and Phil’s intoxicating mix of rock ’n’ roll and country (Bye Bye Love, Wake Up Little Susie, Cathy’s Clown) proved vital inspiration for the young Gibb brothers in the late Fifties and early Sixties.
Barry during his brother Robin’s funeral service in 2012Credit: AFP – Getty
It helps explain why the Bee Gees survivor has decided to recast his immortal songs, Nashville-style.
But the project actually began when his eldest son, Steve, lead guitarist in his backing band, played him country’s man of the moment Chris Stapleton.
“It just freaked me out,” says Gibb. “I said, ‘I want to make records like that’.”
He marvelled at Stapleton’s raw and real sound and his songs about relationships and whiskey, so next came a trip to the Tennessee capital to hook up with the big, bearded singer’s in-demand producer, Dave Cobb.
Cobb just happens to run what used to be RCA Studio A in Music Row, next to the legendary Studio B where Elvis, the Everlys and Roy Orbison all recorded.
“It is sacred ground,” says Gibb, adding that he felt “very honoured” to conduct the Greenfields sessions there.
Barry was particularly thrilled to work with Dolly Parton againCredit: Getty Images – Getty
“Dave booked the artists and it was mind-blowing that they actually said yes,” he explains. “And nobody came with their egos.”
He was particularly thrilled to be working with Dolly Parton again, some 36 years after the Bee Gees wrote and produced her duet with Kenny Rogers, Islands In The Stream, now a karaoke favourite.
“Dolly chose to sing Words with me. She was a riot,” says Gibb. “I hadn’t met her since Islands In The Stream but it was like yesterday.
“We’re both a little older and wiser, not so naive, and she’s always been a very joyful person.
“I was listening to the outrageous way she curled her notes. ‘It’s my Appalachian roots,’ she said. So I thought, ‘Yes, I’m going to harmonise with you but I’m not going to copy you!’ ”
Aussie Keith Urban, who, like the Gibbs, grew up in the outskirts of Brisbane, brought his wife Nicole Kidman to the recording of I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You, leaving Gibb starstruck.
Aussie Keith Urban also grew up in the outskirts of BrisbaneCredit: Getty Images
“All I could think of saying was Big Little Lies, Big Little Lies,” says the fan of Kidman’s acclaimed HBO drama co-starring Reese Witherspoon.
“In fact, I’m a fan of everything Nicole does, she’s my favourite actress.”
The Australian streak running through Gibb’s album is further enhanced by an assured performance from Olivia Newton-John on Rest Your Love On Me, which she once sang with Andy Gibb.
“Olivia and I have been acquaintances since we were about 16. We met again in London on Carnaby Street of all places.”
Despite her recent worrying health issues, Gibb is happy to report that Olivia nailed the song “instantly”.
“She’d done it before with Andy, which was wonderful, so there was a lot of nostalgia involved,” he adds.
‘A LOT COOLER’
“She really brought a good vibe and I think she’s coming out on top. It’s amazing how tough she’s been,” says the man who wrote the title song Grease for THAT film.
Gibb is also keen to praise Jason Isbell, who tackled Words Of A Fool “and just blew me away”, and bluegrass queen Alison Krauss (Too Much Heaven) for being “the shyest, sweetest person, a wonderful singer and amazing fiddle player”.
There’s a Southern soul groove to Jive Talkin’, taken from the Bee Gees disco era but here featuring Miranda Lambert and Rival Sons vocalist Jay Buchanan.
It takes its cue from the version by Rufus & Chaka Khan, “a lot cooler and more laidback than ours, which was quite neurotic”.
Buchanan also stretches his vocal cords on To Love Somebody, originally penned by Barry and Robin for Otis Redding “but he didn’t live long enough to record it”.
This brings us to the final song, Butterfly, written when the Bee Gees were still making their way in Australia, performed here with country folk couple Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings, who first came to Gibb’s attention via the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack.
Barry Gibb & Friends Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers Songbook, Vol.1 is out now
“When I heard they’d arrived in Nashville, all I could do was run into a restaurant and shout, ‘I love you!’ ” he admits.
Butterfly’s opening line “green fields where we used to wander” provides the album title and is inspired by Barry, Maurice and Robin’s childhood stomping ground on the Isle Of Man, their birthplace, and then south Manchester’s leafy suburbs.
Gibb says: “I remember the Isle of Man for its beautiful fields, streams, mountains and walking to school as a five-year-old.
“There was a little place called Spring Valley where we used to go. You can’t take any of that away from me.
“Then we were in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, West Didsbury and Stretford — it was wonderful. It was during the Tommy Steele and Lonnie Donegan days.
“There was a malt shop near the cinema and where we got to sing and make a shilling.”
“I was about nine and Maurice and Robin would have been six.”
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