McCartney gave him fascinating singing tips, as well as style inspiration.
‘McCartney hasn’t changed his keys down. He’s still singing in the keys he always did and I’m still doing that. A lot of artists have lowered their keys. He’s always been inspiring to me. What he said was, “Always look down [when you’re singing] on your highest note,” and I said yes, OK.’
The Beatle was also responsible for his famous Bee Gee beard. ‘I grew it in 1968 because McCartney grew a beard for The Long And Winding Road. He’s always been that big of an influence on me. Even when The Beatles broke up! I thought, “That’s it, we should break up.”’
Did he feel as the oldest Bee Gee he was always the leader? ‘Yes, yes, because the oldest brother is always put in that position. Watch over Maurice and Robin, watch over Andy. And often they didn’t want to be watched over. Maurice and Robin were twins so they were always secretly chatting. I was the one that had to make sure we got paid.
‘I had to look out for business. I enjoyed it. It was important that we were not cheated and I think that was pretty common. You hear all these horror stories about the manager making a fortune. Robert Stigwood was kind to us. We were all given about £100 per week and in 1967 you could live well on that money – and that was before we had any real success.’
The Bee Gees in their late Sixties and Seventies heyday were known as Medallion Men. Today Barry is wearing beaded bracelets under his black shirt and a discreet silver neck chain with a mystic symbol on it (‘I’ve outgrown all that gold and diamonds and chains that I used to wear, but I do love jewellery.’)
They were never style icons. Kenny Everett used to do a fabulous take-off of the Brothers Gibb. They were mocked at the time when the cool kids were into Bowie and Roxy, but over time Bee Gees songs have been reassessed, with How Deep Is Your Love lauded as a pop song as flawless as Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. By the time they created the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever in 1977, their falsetto came into its own.
They were unbelievably productive. Some of the most famous songs, such as How Deep Is Your Love and Jive Talkin’ were written in less than a day. ‘Yes, there was a half-day when we wrote Too Much Heaven, Tragedy and Shadow Dancing and a couple of other songs in one afternoon. I think we were high. Amphetamines, nothing heavy. We never took heavy drugs like heroin or cocaine. There were no songs written on that,’ he says adamantly.
Does he have any vices now? ‘I never drink alcohol except sake, which I love. You don’t get a hangover. You never feel bad.’ He tells me that the last time he got drunk was as a teenager. ‘I got so drunk mixing different drinks at a convention, I woke up in the bridal suite. I was so violently ill they put me in the room and left me but when I woke up I did wonder if there was a bride. Fortunately there wasn’t.’
He starts to talk about his new album In The Now but he’s drawn irresistibly back to his brothers. ‘It’s about the denial of the past and the future. Yet it’s about the moment and how to seize it. It’s about the loss of the people closest to you so it’s live in the moment, grab every moment because you see what happens.’ The eyes tangibly sadden. ‘Mo was gone in two days.’ He died from complications from a twisted intestine in hospital in Florida.’ Maybe that’s better than long and tortured? ‘Which is what Robin went through. Andy went at the age of 30. All different forms of passing and for our mum devastating. She’s 95. She had a mild stroke two weeks back.’
He seems overcome with sadness. ‘There’s been so much passing in my family that at one point I said I’d prefer to go in my sleep or on stage but I never said [that] while singing Stayin’ Alive’ [as was reported a few years ago]. Perhaps that was made up because it’s a funny line.’
There are 12 songs on the new album and three bonus tracks. ‘Daddy’s Little Girl is one of them and that’s written for my daughter Ali. She’s 24 and still lives with us. I’ve never met a lady with a stronger opinion. Star Crossed Lovers is written for [his wife] Linda.’ They met at a taping of Top Of The Pops in London when she was the reigning Miss Edinburgh.
When we first met our manager didn’t want me to have a girlfriend so she always had to stay at home. I always had to seem available. Everyone was against it but that made her stronger and we’re still together 49 years later.’
After the high of Glastonbury, is he up for another tilt at the summit, this time without his brothers? ‘I’ll happily hit the road if this album means something. It’s an enormous effort to go on tour without that momentum and I want that momentum.’ Is it harder to go out on stage when he’s been used to his brothers standing beside him? ‘It’s not hard if your eldest son is standing next to you. He’s not a Bee Gee. He wouldn’t like that. He’s Steven. He’s covered in tattoos. He’s a metalhead with a heart of gold. He plays on the album. He’s part of the band, in fact it’s the best bunch of musicians I’ve ever had. I want to be on tour so I need to create a reason for people to come and see me. I need to feel that full-cycle feeling, you know? That I can come back.’
Many people think he never actually went away. While there was no conscious decision to stop, there was no decision to write a new album while Robin was alive either. His illness took a toll on any creative output. ‘The feeling is I am reintroducing myself as an individual.’ When he did Guilty with Streisand, a huge hit in 1980, he was an individual, not a Bee Gee. ‘But I was never allowed to go on about it. We won best duet at the Grammys and my brothers never mentioned it. It’s that kind of brothers and sisters thing. If I would ever say we won this many Grammys they would always go one less saying “No, no, it was this many.”’
Is there a vault of unreleased Bee Gees songs? ‘No. Robin always emptied it out. I would always say, “That’s not good enough to go on the album, Robin” and he would say, “Yes, but it’s another song. Let’s put it on.” In the eyes of the record company the more songs you give them the better deal it is for them, but I don’t feel it was necessary.’
Does he see the Bee Gees’ influence in any of the current music-makers? ‘I always felt that I used to hear it with Prince and Michael Jackson. The multi harmonies, the grooves. A lot of people have told me that I made a difference to them, and I’d like to keep doing it for as long as I possibly can.’
This year there’s been a pop icon death overload. Bowie, Prince. How did this affect him? ‘Prince!’ he says adoringly. ‘I’ve always loved Prince. I didn’t quite understand a lot of David Bowie because he was such an artist. I admire it but I was more involved with people like Prince. The R ’n’ B influence, the falsetto is more me. We worked in his building where he lived in Minneapolis. We did a performance for the music industry of Minneapolis at one point. He was there but hiding behind a speaker so we never met.’ Hiding behind a speaker? ‘I know. You can’t be that shy, right? But there you are.’
Does he have a bucket list of things he wants to do before he dies? ‘No, I have a f*** it list. I have a list of things that I know I’ll never do. I’ll never walk through the Grand Canyon, not with my ankles. I’ll never get to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I hate heights. I just think in terms that I’m going to be quite happy with whatever comes around the corner.
‘I’ve grown up in three different cultures. I’ve seen the Pyramids and I’m a real fanatic on the ancient worlds. There is no evidence of how that civilisation developed. Those people might already have been there before. I’m fascinated by civilisations that were around 20,000, 30,000 years ago that could be as advanced as we are now in different ways.’
Does he feel he’s been here before? ‘Perhaps. I’ve had a few incarnations. I try not to question it. There’s been so much loss in my family, for me it’s a standing mystery.’ Does he believe he will see them again? ‘I don’t want to question it. Don’t want to go there.’
Barry with his good friend Sir Paul McCartney
Part of him is very modern. His shirt and bracelets, his attitude. And part is very old school. ‘I don’t do Instagram or emails but I do text. I have a Twitter account that goes through Ashley, my second-eldest son. I try not to think about that stuff too much.’
In the olden days he always used to see himself as a lion with his virile mane. In a 1979 authorised, illustrated biography of the brothers called The Greatest, there were caricatures of him as a lion, Robin as a red setter and Maurice as a badger.
I assumed he would have been a Leo and he says, ‘I’m actually a Virgo. I’m ambidextrous, left-footed, play the guitar right-handed and I think I’m a little too old for a lion but I’ve still got a bit of a mane going on.’ Pause. ‘Although I have always associated myself with a lion,’ he says rather proudly. ‘In South Africa I bought a walking cane with a silver lion’s head on it so if there’s ever a time when I can’t walk I’ll be able to be helped by the lion and it’ll still be a lion walking.’
Although he’s known pretty well at his local Indian, he says restaurants are rare for him. ‘I’m such a home body. I don’t rise early and I don’t get going till about noon. I’m still useless to everybody till 2pm and then I get sharp and I start to look forward to what’s on TV that evening. I read three books at a time. I love ancient history. At the moment I’m reading a book about the French Revolution, another about the conscious mind and I’m obsessed with Egyptology. I’m into the unknown, the supernatural. All that world. I like things that can’t be explained – like ghosts.’
In the meantime his album ponders all kinds of shadows, yet he’s not a sad man. He laughs a lot and jokes with me. ‘And I love a good curry,’ he says.
Barry Gibb’s new album ‘In The Now’, is out on October 7.
Source : dailymail