Stayin' Alive after losing his brothers

Barry Gibb talks about being the last surviving Bee Gee, his siblings and his new album, In The Now

Barry Gibb releases his first solo album in 32 years tomorrow.
Barry Gibb releases his first solo album in 32 years tomorrow.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • "All I think about is yesterday," sings Barry Gibb at the start of his first solo album in 32 years, in a staccato familiar from his decades in the Bee Gees. "I need you here in the now."

His plea appears to address an elusive lover. But, on a deeper level, it alludes to the many family members he has lost over the years.

That list includes his youngest brother, Andy (gone at age 30, after a history of drug abuse, in 1988); his two siblings in the Bee Gees, Maurice (who died of an intestinal blockage at 53 in 2003) and Robin (of cancer at 62 in 2012); as well as their 95-year-old mother, Barbara, who died in August.

The song, In The Now, serves as the title track of Gibb's new album, out tomorrow.

"I really wanted to show people everything I've experienced," Gibb, 70, said. "This is my life flow."

He said he could fully explore it only after losing all his brothers. "I've always had to deal with people not wanting me to put out solo albums," he said with a laugh. "It's a group, you see, and no one wanted us to do anything on our own."

Barry Gibb releases his first solo album in 32 years tomorrow.
I thought I should have gone first. Once you lose three brothers, what you learn is very, very deep.

SINGER BARRY GIBB on the deaths of his siblings in Bee Gees, Maurice and Robin, as well as youngest brother Andy

In fact, two earlier solo attempts by Gibb were never released: The Kid's No Good, recorded in 1970, whose masters were lost; and an unnamed work in the late 1980s. His sole previous solo effort to be issued, Now, Voyager, arrived in 1984.

In a sense, even the new album came about by default. "It would never have crossed my mind that someday I would be in this situation - where there was no one else around to make music with," he said.

From his home in Miami, he spoke by telephone about the survivor's guilt he has experienced as the last living Bee Gee, his complex relationship with his brothers, as well as the new songs that aim to put it all into perspective. Your father, who died in 1992, acted as your first manager when you and your brothers performed as teenagers in Australia in the early 1960s. How popular were you there? As kids, we were always on television in Australia. It took a lot of gall and strength for us to leave the country I loved to try our luck in England. We went because The Beatles and The Hollies were doing all of these fantastic harmonies and we knew we could do that. The month that Strawberry Fields Forever came out in 1967, we tried to get signed. We didn't have any money and my father and I went to all of the agents and nobody wanted to sign us. After Robert Stigwood signed the Bee Gees, you had two separate periods of success: first, in the late 1960s - with hits often sung by Robin, such as Massachusetts and I Started A Joke - then in the mid- to late-1970s, with the disco-era songs fronted by you. What effect did such a pitched career arc have on you? Our career was an up, then a down, then an up and then a down again. We would have a huge hit, followed by a flop. We never had a chance to build an ego or a strong attitude towards what we did because we were always on the defensive to prove ourselves. Was there also pressure from within the group? There was always enormous competition between me and Robin. Over time, he was becoming more distracted, probably by substances. We all had our problems with smoking or pills or booze. But Robin almost came to the end of his rationale at one point.

Some people have said of us: "You were competing with Abba or with the Jacksons." But, to us, we were competing with one another. Whatever Phil Collins had with Genesis, we would all have liked to have had that. You wrote for Robin the song, End Of The Rainbow, which appears on the new album, although he never told you directly that he was dying of cancer. Was there resentment towards him for withholding that information? I suppose there was. But I try to put myself in his place and maybe I wouldn't tell him either. Robin didn't want to be treated as an invalid. He denied he was sick until it was obvious. Robin was passing and I came to the hospital in London and sang the song to him, although he was in a coma. I don't know whether he heard it. But it helped me. The track, End Of The Rainbow, is a country song. Wasn't the whole new album originally meant to be country? I began by gravitating towards the music I particularly loved when we started. You have to remember that in Australia in 1958, country music was rock 'n' roll. Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash were rock stars, although now we know them to be country stars. I spent so much time in Nashville, but my record company told me that it had a lot of trouble getting me on country radio and I think that's probably true.

At one point on the album, you sing, "If tears were diamonds/I'd be a rich man now". Given all your losses, have you experienced any survivor's guilt? Absolutely. First of all, I'm the oldest brother and being the eldest always makes you want to watch out for your brothers, even when they don't want you to. I thought I should have gone first. Once you lose three brothers, what you learn is very, very deep.

At this time in my life, I think of birth and death as two elements of the same thing. This is going to happen to us all, no matter what. So now, I seize this very moment.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2016, with the headline 'Stayin' Alive after losing his brothers'. Print Edition | Subscribe