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interview 1997

 
STAYING ALIVE
(Chris Hutchins, OK!, March 2, 1997)

As the Bee Gees are awarded for an Outstanding Contribution to the British Music Industry at the Brits, OK! talks to Barry Gibb about  his fortune, his family and 30 years of fame and comebacks 
In 1977, when John Travolta strutted down the street to the strains of the Bee Gees' Staying Alive in Saturday Night Fever, a  whole generation suddenly saw the world in a different way.  Big hair, rug-covered chests, gold medallions and flares were in - and soon everyone was dancing to the Bee Gees.  But when fashions moved on in the Eighties, the group lost out big time.
     'Suddenly, no one wanted to know us, ' says Barry Gibb, the eldest Bee Gees.  'And it hurt like hell.'
     And though the group has continued to be a major force in the music world, they've never really been given the respect or recognition they deserve.  So it will be a considerable solace to Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb that, after 30 years in the business, they've been given an award for their Outstanding Contribution to the British Music Industry this week.
     It will probably come as a surprise to many that the Bee Gees have sold more records than The Beatles or Elvis Presley and penned a string of hits, incuding several number ones, for the likes of Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross and Dolly Parton.  Remakes such as last year's Take That version of How Deep Is Your Love? have made it to the top of the charts, and they've even got a South Bank Show devoted to them on Sunday.  Yet the group is often seen as a joke.
     'People seem to enjoy ridiculing us and putting the group down,' says Barry.  'Maybe it's because of that that we enjoy getting back just one more time.  I've reached that point in my life when I feel liberated.  At long last I'm not a teenager trying to make it.  I'm not that person who was desperately changing everything about himself in order to have a hit record.  Today, I'd rather not have a hit, thank you.'
     That said, the Bee Gees are releasing a new album, Still Waters, next week and are off on an 18-month tour later this year.  'It's just one more time on the merry-go-round,' Barry says.  'If they like us this time, maybe we'll go on a little bit longer.'
     The best-looking Bee Gee - and, by all accounts, the most talented - has come a long way from the boy who grew up in the back streets of Manchester and learned to play the guitar aged nine.
     Now 50, Barry has made his fortune and owns a £2 million mansion in Buckinghamshire plus a home in Miami Beach where he spends most of the year.
     'I love living in Florida,' he says. 'How could you not if you're a kid who was brought up in Manchester, where the taps were frozen up on cold winter mornings?'
     Life in America can be hectic, especially if he's networking in Hollywood in order to further his career in the movie business - he wrote the screen play for Hawks, which starred Timothy Dalton, and wants to produce more films.  But when in Britain, Barry leads a quiet life. 'I've never felt like a pop star,'  he confesses.  'A pop star is someone who revels in it, actually enjoys being on show, and that's just not me.'
     Although many things in the world of pop are fickle, Barry's home life has been stable.  He first met his wife Linda in 1967 on Top of the Pops - the Bee Gees were singing and Linda then the reigning MIss Edingburgh, was one of the show's glamour girls.
     'We went for a cup of tea in the BBC canteen and never looked back,' he recalls.  The couple have four sons aged from 12 to 23 and six-year-old Alexandra, whose existence is nothing short of a miracle.  Little Ali was the girl Barry and Linda had desperately wanted,but she was born 16 weeks early, weighing just 1lb 4oz.
     'I remember the doctor telling us, "You've got to love this child.  It's that commitment that may save her life."  So we made the commitment, all or noghing,' says Barry.  'For three months, I lived and breathed the thought of that child.  I hung a little cross around the mirror of my car.
     'To have my little girl at this time of mfy life is the thing that's most special of all to me.  When I told Ali later that I was the one who cut her umbilical chord, she said, "Oh thank you, Daddy".  I thought that was great.'
     Sadly, Barry's father, bandleader Hugh Gibb, died before finding out that his granddaughter would make it.  And Barry had a health scare himself three years ago:  'There's an abnormality with my heart.  I didn't have a heart attack, but everybody goes and talks to the press.  It was my feeling that poeple should mind their own business - and I ferer to my brothers in the nicest possble way.'
     And then there was the untimely death of the youngest Gibb brother, Andy, in 1988.  The boyish pop star, who hd enjoyed a successful solo career, died of a heart attack aggravated by drugs and drink.  Barry has said Andy's death was the saddest, most desperate moment of his own life:  'Since then, I've asked myself a thousand times if I could have done more or said more to help him.'
     Addiction has been a problem for the Gibbs - Barry dabbled in amphetamines and pot, Maurice battled the bottle adn Robin conquered sleeping pills - but Barry was still shocked to discover his eldest son, Stephen, was addicted to herion.  Fortunately he has since fought it and won.
     'He's been clean and sober for some time now,' says Barry.  'His mother and I are very prouod of him.'
     There's been a lot of insecurity, too.  'It's a Gibb family trait,' says Barry. 'But I don't think I've met a single famous person who felt they were worth anything.'
     The Bee Gees' new album has been influenced by their turbulent past. 'We've seen a lot of adversity,' Barry says, 'and that's why the songs on Still Waters are so personal. You can learn from the bad things.  Musically, there's more rhythm-and-blues in what we're doign now, but our subject matter still runs deep.'
     These days, their look is different, too.  Gone are the long hair and ragged T-shirts, replaced by Donna Karan suits.  But Barry refuses to take the rap for the Bee Gees' previous incarnations:  'I understand the criticisms about the big hair and the medallions, but anybody who says something negative about all that stuff should look back at their own clothes!'
     Although he laments the passing of pop's age of innocence - 'everything you hear now is about sex, partying and drugs'  - he's never seriously considered giving it all up.
     'Music is a life trip for me,' he says.  'I love it - whether it's being in a group, producing other people or writinbg songs.  There's still a lot I want to do - I don't feel like an old man just yet!'

 From OK!, March 2, 1997
INTERVIEW BY CHRIS HUTCHINS  

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