Image: Barry Gibb, seen here playing with the Bee Gees in 1979, is returning to native Redcliffe in Qld to unveil a memorial statue (George Rose/Getty Images)
'On the night the Bee Gees, who weren’t the Bee Gees then, were first heard by a public audience, I was running the speedway at Redcliffe and one of the drivers came to me and said there were three young kids outside wanted to sing at interval for a coin drop. Being harassed as I was and overbusy and looking for something to fill up time, I said, ‘Yeah, sure.'Interval time came and I was busy rushing around then, and whilst I was doing this I heard these harmonious voices coming over the cheap old Tannoy speaker that was in the pits. And it just stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t hear them or see them actually singing on that night, or see them performing or see them collecting coins off the track, because I was doing what I was doing, but I did get hold of the driver who had come to see me. I said, ‘Where did you find these blokes?’ And he said, ‘They live just opposite the showgrounds.’ On the next day I hopped in my car and drove down from Brisbane to Redcliffe and went visiting.
And they were home. Barry was twelve; Robin and Maurice were nine. Barry had a tea chest with a piece of wood attached and some fishing line which he used as a bass fiddle. Either Robin or Maurice had a timber fruit case built the same way and an old drum as drums for the other one. And I said, ‘Well, you know, I’ve come down to listen to you have a bit of a session so that I can work out whether I think you’re future talent or not.’ Barry, being the leader of the group, said, ‘What would you like to hear? One of the songs we’ve written?’ I said, ‘What do you mean? You write songs as well?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Well, how many have you written?’ He said, ‘About 180.’ So I was further put into the mind-boggle stage.
How they got such music out of such crude bits of timber, I just… I couldn’t believe it. And, you know, their singing was just great and the way they could harmonise together—just absolutely beautiful. So I went back to Brisbane; I rang Bill Gates. I knew Bill Gates through 4BH, where I used to do radio advertising for my business. We talked about it and we decided that we would try to promote them.
Now, from there we had dinner at my place and Bill brought up the subject of calling them a name if we were going to promote them. And it was his suggestion that because our initials were all the same—BG for my own, Bill Gates—BG, and Barry Gibb (we weren’t aware that Barbara Gibb was another one)—that’s the name we put to them and that’s the name they were happy to accept and that’s the name we put on the contract that we later got done.
That was the one and only performance at the speedway, because we went straight into the gear to try to get them recognised and try to get them earning some money, because these kids were broke and the family was broke. The father, Hugh, was a travelling salesman, trying to sell brooms—I don’t know, I wouldn’t know what—around Queensland. And mum had just had Andy and they needed work, they needed money.
And they were doing… the kids were doing the best they could to get money for the family. So we—or Bill Gates I should say—organised the 4BH studio. A chap by the name of Keith Fowle, who was a kid at the time, probably 16, he made himself available every Sunday to come and cut the little doughnut platters that we had in those days. And Bill had found a three-piece band that wanted to give their time also to be part of this potential venture. And so we spent Sunday after Sunday after Sunday trying to get some kind of recognition for these kids, doing the records.
Image: Barry Gibb is the last remaining Bee Gee following the death of brothers Robin and Maurice (P. Felix/Hulton Archive)
Bill would send their records away to overseas, anything Australian in record people, to absolutely no avail. The best we ever got back was one or two answers to say, you know, ‘They’re a bit underdone yet, bit young yet. Call us later.’ And that was the general attitude to it. And it went on from then, which was 1959, up into 1960, '61, at which time we had a massive credit squeeze which virtually put my building company out of business. I had to give away any thought of being able to try to do… run my business, save the investors money, and to promote the Bee Gees as well.
So the only thing I could do was to hand it over to the father, Hugh. For me, basically, that was the end of it, because I had to try to keep doing what I was doing.
Barry was mature beyond his years. Well-spoken, and he kept the other two pretty much under control. So, in general… generally, they were pretty good kids. They couldn’t dress impeccably because they just couldn’t afford it. But they dressed cleanly. They dressed neatly. They deserved the stardom that they reached.
Give them an opportunity to sing, they’d sing. Barry was determined, I think, to make sure that they got somewhere. The other two were there to sing. But I would say as a group you would have to make determination part of the whole thing, because even though Barry was the lead person, he was the eldest, he did a wonderful job.
They self-organised any small gigs. We weren’t in that arena yet—we were going for bigger stuff. So Hugh had come back from the bush; he’d taken over that role as a family subsistence sort of thing. He got them quite a lot of small gigs. Bill Gates pushed them over 4BH; you know, it was really, really a very, very strong promotional effort.
It was three boys who sang with their own voices, sang their own songs mainly. Their voices blended beautifully. Barry was the lead part of any singing they did. It wasn’t until they got back to overseas that the real entrepreneurs of music were able to bring out in them what was the thing, I think, that made use of that high-pitched voice situation, which wasn’t as evident—it wasn’t anywhere near as evident in the early days. It was boys’ voices, which were high pitched anyhow. But when they become adult and their voices were high pitched, that I think is what made them stars in their own right.
I think Redcliffe is entitled to claim the Bee Gees as a group that started their careers at Redcliffe. Yes, there’s no doubt about that. And I’m proud and I’m sure Bill Gates also is just as proud to have been part of it and to have recognised the talent that they had and to virtually launch them into what became a very, very marvellous career—and rather a sad one, as it has turned out.
This is the first occasion that I will probably be close enough since 1961 to say hello… oh, no, I’m sorry, I did see them at a gig at the Grand Hotel at Coolangatta probably in ’62 or thereabouts.
I’ll probably say, ‘Hi, do you remember me?’