Barry Gibb on the Bee Gee's shifting fortunes
At the age of 70, Barry Gibb is finally striking out on his own.
"The truth is that my brothers really didn't ever want me to make a solo album," admits Gibb, the last Bee Gee standing. "And I probably felt the same about them. We wanted to be close and we wanted to be individually recognised and we all felt threatened by each other's success. That's how it was, deep down inside – a mixture of feelings all the time."
Gibb was the eldest of four brothers, all gone now. The youngest, Andy, died at 30 in 1988, struggling with drug addiction after a pop career in which Barry wrote and produced his biggest hits. Barry's other two brothers shared the stage with him for most of his life as the Bee Gees, one of the most successful groups of all time.
Maurice died aged 53 in 2003, and Robin died aged 62 in 2012. "Your world turns upside down," says Gibb. "But somehow you get through."
Gibb has a very warm, genial, relaxed presence, exuding a humility you might not expect from an undisputed superstar.
"You've made my day, man," he says, when I praise his new album, Into the Now, a luxurious collection of rich melodies, stirring grooves and meaningful lyrics. Drawing on rock, pop, folk, disco and country, peppered with sparkling Bee Gee harmonies and focused on Gibb's distinctive vibrato vocals, it is an absolute joy from start to finish, a masterclass from one of the world's greatest songwriters. "Every song had to count, because I knew I might not do this again," he says.
His mother died in August this year, aged 92, and Gibb has dedicated the album to her memory, and the closing track, End of the Rainbow, to his brothers.
He explains: "You can say things in music; things you can't say in real life. It's like an emptying out."
Gibb wrote End of the Rainbow while Robin was nearing the end.
"He was on his deathbed, and that song just came up. It's about the dream coming true; whatever you were searching for. I sang it to him in hospital." After Robin's death, Barry thought his career might be over.
"There was a period where I just didn't want to do anything. I began to really just watch television. I thought, well, maybe that's it. I gave up for a long time."
Slowly, however, the songwriting impulse was rekindled. "I was restless. It was something I was particularly good at."
Born in Manchester, raised in Australia, the Bee Gees formed as a family group in 1958, going on to sell more than 220 million records worldwide, with nine No. 1 hits in the US (five in the UK, where they notched up 26 Top 20 singles between 1966 and 2001).
He admits: "I was aggressive about making records. There was a time when I would spend 18 hours a day in the studio, with my brothers or not."
Barry wrote and produced massive hits for brother Andy, Frankie Valli (Grease), Dionne Warwick (Heartbreaker), Barbra Streisand (Woman In Love), Diana Ross (Chain Reaction) and Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton (Islands in the Stream).
"There was a time when it wasn't cool to even be seen with the Bee Gees," he notes, pointing out how their status as "poster boys for disco" left them stranded when fashion changed.
"At the Grammys (in 1981), Barbra and I won Best Duet. We were standing in the wings and they didn't present it to us. She was so pissed off. We never got the award.
"And at the party afterwards, she's still a bit pissed off and Meat Loaf is standing nearby. He was at his peak then, and the photographer says, 'Can I take a picture of you together?' and Meat Loaf goes, 'Oh, no way, man'. It was like we were tainted."
These days, Gibb is viewed with a little more respect. Coldplay invited him to perform To Love Somebody and Stayin' Alive at Glastonbury.
"I was a nervous wreck... but it was nice that people knew the songs."
He seems genuinely touched by recognition from new generations.
"Noel Gallagher told me he always listened to my music. That to me is staggering. Because in the period when Oasis became big, we were gone. That was not our time."
He has arranged to meet Noel again. "We're going to go for a curry. We can talk about what it's like to be in a band with brothers."
Like the Gallaghers, Gibb doesn't hide the fact that there were always tensions in the Bee Gees. "I remember lots of intense arguments, not speaking to each other for weeks and then coming back together again... it doesn't stop you being brothers. We broke up in 1969 and yet my brothers came to my wedding (in 1970) and we started talking again – and suddenly we were back in the studio."
Although they worked closely, Barry was perceived as leader. "I was the eldest, but everything had to be unanimous. If one of us was unhappy about anything, we wouldn't do it."
He ponders whether he misses that conflict and compromise in the studio. "It is easier to be selfish and have your own way. It was never easy back then."
He has collaborated on his new album with his two eldest sons, Stephen (43) and Ashley (39) as co-writers and musicians. "They have to be happy too. So I am not really free. I'm still working as a member of a team and I think that will always be the case. I don't like being on my own."
He has been married for 46 years, to former model Linda Gray, and they have five children and seven grandchildren, with homes in Buckinghamshire and Miami.
Gibb has, by most reckonings, been through a rough time. "You turn around and everyone's gone." There are a lot of songs on the album about losing people close to you. Yet the overall mood is vigorous and almost defiantly optimistic. "I'm doing what I've been doing since I was 10 years old. I'm chasing my little dreams."
For someone who has been rich and famous for as long as Barry Gibb, he really does come across as extraordinarily well-balanced and genuinely nice. "I am sort of devoid of ego," he shrugs. "Over the past few years, because of all the loss in my family, I've read a lot of great spiritual books, and I knew it was time to let it go. I turned 70 this year. And I'm happy about that. I'm in the zone where anything can happen to me. I could get sick tomorrow. I can't afford the time to get distracted by who I think I am. I'm past it. I really am."
In the Now is out now. Gibb will perform at Auckland's Vector Arena on April 11. Spark customers are able to access pre-sale tickets until midday Wednesday, October 19, with the general sale beginning at 2pm on Thursday. For more tour information, see Livenation.co.nz.
- The Telegraph, London