october 1 ,2016
IT started with an invitation and became a challenge. Barry Gibb wasn’t contemplating a new record until he was asked to make one by Columbia Records boss Rob Stringer
All those songs which have sold all those records, from You Should Be Dancin’ and Stayin’ Alive to Islands In The Stream and Chain Reaction, were written because Gibb says he had “someone to please”.
As he prepares to release only his second ever solo record In The Now, the man responsible for some of the greatest pop songs in history reveals all the typical insecurities of the artist.
He cites contemporaries such as Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen as his heroes, his influences, as if their talent is greater than his.
There is no ego about Gibb.
He measures the enduring love of his music against the lean days when they weren’t on the charts, and the backlash the Bee Gees suffered in the dying days of disco cut so deeply he wears it like an open scar decades later.
But it was the absence of his brothers Maurice and Robin which stoked his greatest self-doubt when it came to writing new songs.
Filling the breach, giving him the support and courage to forge ahead, are his sons Stephen and Ashley who have collaborated with their father on and off over the years but formed a more formal trio for the In The Now sessions.
Gibb is a sensitive, emotional man and particularly tender about family with the recent death of the matriarch Barbara in August at 95.
“This is me emptying out. I can’t be the Bee Gees, I’m what’s left of the Bee Gees and I don’t want to be what’s left of the Bee Gees. I just want to find out what I am because I am obviously not in a group anymore,” he says quietly, sitting in the vast loungeroom of his home on the Miami beachfront.
“It’s a very strange situation to be in because I had always perceived myself to be the eldest brother of the Bee Gees.”
Before Stringer came with the offer of a record deal, Gibb’s wife of 46 years, Linda kicked him off the couch. McCartney also weighed in, telling him to “get on with it.”
The couch is where Gibb had retreated after Robin’s death in 2012, sitting in the dark watching hours and hours of television.
“Some people have said it was (depression) but I’m not sure it was. I think I’m probably bipolar anyway but I wouldn’t call it a depression, I would call it acceptance. This is it,” he says.
“I watched television for months and Linda walked in one night and said ‘You have got to get off your ass. Get on with it. Stop thinking everything is finished because everyone is gone, you’re still here.’
“It woke me up.”
It is unsurprising In The Now is Gibb’s most personal album. In Home Truth Song, his nod to Springsteen, he sings “I ain’t the poster boy you made me”.
The closing track End Of The Rainbow is for his brothers, including youngest Andy who died in 1988.
“It’s hard to sing,” he says. “I sang part of it to Rob when he was in a coma — I don’t know if he heard me,” he says.
“I was trying to sing to him that it was OK, the dream came true and the end of the rainbow is here. I was trying to say that to him because he was always anguished about the next record.
“Later, when I was finishing it with my sons, I realised it was more of a song about time, that time difference between England and Australia, which always meant something to an immigrant family like ours.”
His greatest muse, Linda, inspired the title track and Star Crossed Lovers.
“Linda and I weren’t allowed to be together because I was a teenage artist, nobody in the business wanted me to have a girlfriend, you’ll lose fans. We fought against that and stayed together,” he says.
Meaning Of The Word is about his first crush when he was still in school in Queensland. Gibb becomes coy when asked about the subject of his teenage lust.
“It’s the only secret I have in my life and I have too much respect for that lady ... and I don’t know who she is now or where she is so it doesn’t matter. If you’re 14, it is a great crush. Then I did something wrong, that’s another secret, and I never saw her again,” he says.
“I went on with a number of girlfriends, all of who dumped me because I was too possessive. Every time I dated a girl, it had to be an absolute relationship and that didn’t work for girls that age.”
No doubt they were kicking themselves when the Bee Gees became one of the biggest groups in the history of pop music and Barry Gibb, the trio’s sex symbol.
On the walls leading into the loungeroom are hundreds of photos of the superstar with his beautiful wife — a former Miss Edinburgh — their family and a dizzying amount of famous people, from Elton John to Bjorn Borg.
One striking image features Michael Jackson playing air-guitar on tennis racquets with the Gibb children, which also include Travis, Michael and Alexandra.
The Stayin’ Alive singer tells an hilarious tale of Jackson seeking refuge at the mansion while hundreds of fan screamed outside his Miami hotel.
He was also on the receiving end of Jackson’s regular prank calls to friends.
“He would visit people he was a fan of; he told me Off The Wall was inspired by (Saturday Night) Fever,” Gibb says.
“Sometimes he would call me up and pretend to be his own secretary. That high, frilly, innocent voice of his was one of three or four different voices he had.
“He liked being here during the Victory tour; he didn’t want to be at the hotel. He would sit in the kitchen and watch the news which was showing everyone at the hotel and he would giggle.
“The pair of us would sit in this room and get drunk and sing. I had a microphone and speakers in here and we’d sing all kinds of things, new ideas, his new songs, my new songs.”
The microphone and speaker set-up is now in the Gibb master bedroom. While he has access to the state-of-the-art studios in Miami, including the legendary Hit Factory where he recorded the soundtracks for Grease and Saturday Night Fever through to In The Now, Gibb rehearses for his live performances in his bedroom.
“It’s completely intimate and I can shut all the doors, turn the lights off, put on a little spotlight and pretend I am on stage,” he says.
In The Now has given Gibb a new lease of artistic life and a reason to keep making and performing music. He wants to keep going with his sons and Stephen will join him again in the band when he takes the album on the road.
“I love collaboration and I love that it is in the blood, in their blood. I never wanted to be on my own,” he says.
In The Now is out on October 7. Barry Gibb hosts his own radio show on smoothfm on Sundays at 4pm from October 9.