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Barry Gibb’s Backstage Dilemma

November 16, 2016

Barry Gibb and John Merchant at the In the Now album launch, Miami, October 2016
As the Bee Gees icon releases his new album, longtime producer and friend John Merchant takes us behind the scenes of his set at Later with Jools Holland.
Barry Gibb has written, arranged, produced and performed on dozens of pop classics, as part of the Bee Gees and as a solo artist. In September 2016 he entered London’s BBC2 studios for an appearance on Jools Holland’s popular music show – where he was facing a rare dilemma. John Merchant, his producer and close friend for 28 years, was there: read his personal reflections.
September 27, 2016, 3:15 pm
It’s the afternoon sound check on the set of Jools Holland’s Later, and we have a problem: the show’s producers and Barry1 can’t agree on what the final song of the night should be. For most artists, this wouldn’t be an issue: they’ve already played their new song “In the Now,”2 and now they have to play their hit, end of discussion. That’s not the case here.
Right now, they have to choose among his pop hits from the late 60s,3 his era-defining smashes from the 70s,4 more than twenty number ones from the 80s and 90s,5 or something from the last sixteen years, including songs from his new album.6
The discussion leads to three possibilities: “To Love Somebody,”7 “Nights on Broadway,”8 or “You Should Be Dancin’.”9 Barry favors the soulful and slower-paced 60s song, the band10 votes for the funky mid-70s groove of “Broadway,” and the producers want the fireworks of the disco classic.11
After 28 years of working with Barry and his brothers, I’ve seen this scene play out before, and it always ends with one of the Fever-era hits.12 They’re undeniably great, and his signature falsetto slays every time, including this summer at Glastonbury with Coldplay.13
Gibb and Merchant with Coldplay backstage at Glastonbury Festival, June 2016
But today is different: as a solo artist later in his career, Barry is ready for a new approach to music, something more subdued and subtle, less flashy and more thoughtful.14
Of course, the producers are not the first to consider Barry’s considerable collection of songs:
“In terms of bands, there are five extraordinary catalogs that make me feel ill with envy. It doesn't have to be said the Bee Gees are up there with the Beatles.” (U2’s Bono)
"You can easily speak about the Bee Gees in the same breath as Lennon and McCartney and Elton John and Bernie Taupin. In a way, unusually for most pop singers, they actually got better as they went on.” (Sir Tim Rice)
“I think there's an affinity between the Bee Gees and the Beatles, particularly with their earlier material, in the linking of very good hooks, very good melodies which stick in the mind. That within itself is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do." (Sir George Martin)
As I write this backstage, I have no idea which song they’re going to choose tonight. But if I had to guess, I’d bet it’s going to be great.
September 27, 2016, Later
And it was!
In the end, the second song after “In the Now” was “Jive Talkin’.” So, win-win really. The show’s producers said they had never had an audience reaction like that before. But don’t trust me on this one either:

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