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Saturday 24 March 2018

Bee Gees voice that gave fans far more depth than just disco

Robin Gibb, who has died aged 62, was one of the three brothers behind the Bee Gees, the phenomenally successful pop group responsible for such high-pitched hits as Stayin' Alive, Night Fever, How Deep is Your Love, More Than a Woman, Jive Talkin' and You Win Again.

Although best known for their disco-driven songs of the 1970s, powered by Barry Gibb's falsetto, the Bee Gees (it stands for "Brothers Gibb") first achieved success in the 1960s on the back of Robin's lower registered, if still adenoidal, vocal performances.

It was he who sang the theme of their first British number one Massachusetts (1967), and the follow-up success I've Just Got to Get a Message to You (1968), which also reached the top spot.

Then the trio went off the rails. Fuelled by drugs and alcohol, the brothers fought during the production of the 1969 album Odessa.

Rivalry between Barry and Robin over who was the true star of the band (Robin's twin brother, Maurice, confined himself to the bass, keyboard and backing vocals) forced a split, which saw Robin depart for a solo career that he would intermittently reignite in the years to come.

Re-united, Barry began experimenting with falsetto that the band set to funky, higher-tempo melodies.

Their renaissance started with Jive Talkin', which in 1975 reached number one in America and number five in Britain. And in 1977, the Bee Gees contributed to the album that would secure their place in the history of popular music. The brothers wrote eight songs for the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever (1977), the celebrated film starring John Travolta.

Suddenly the Bee Gees, who had been preparing themselves for a return to musical obscurity before the album, were among the hottest tickets in popular music.

Robin Hugh Gibb was born in Douglas, on the Isle of Man, on December 22, 1949. Barry was three years older. Their father was a jobbing drummer and the boys grew up in relative poverty in Manchester.

In 1958 the family, complete with a fourth brother, the newly born Andrew, moved to Brisbane in Australia. Robin and Maurice left school at 13, and with Barry they began performing in local clubs.

From the outset they concentrated on the close harmony vocals and detailed arrangements that would become their calling-card for decades to come; and soon they recorded an album which broke into the local charts.

Barry Gibb sent the album to record companies in Britain, and in 1967 the brothers returned to England, where they were signed up by the promoter Robert Stigwood, a business partner of the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein.

Their first release, for Polydor, New York Mining Disaster, was a small hit. But it was followed by a series of successes which began to cement the trio's fame -- To Love Somebody, Words, and then the number one hits Massachusetts and I've Gotta Get A Message to You. By the time the 1960s drew to a close, the Bee Gees were stars on both sides of the Atlantic.

After Saturday Night Fever the Bee Gees had a further success with the title track for the film Grease (1978), performed by Frankie Valli; but as the popularity of disco waned so did that of the group which had come to be defined by it.

The Bee Gees fell out with Stigwood, and in 1988 their younger brother Andy (a successful singer in his own right) died from myocarditis aged 30.

The group came back in 1987 with You Win Again (their fifth British number one) and wrote Islands in the Stream and Chain Reaction, respectively hits for Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton and Diana Ross.

Increasingly the Bee Gees became noted for their wider influence on the music industry and in 2002 all three Gibb brothers were appointed CBE.

Gibb claimed to follow a macrobiotic diet -- his only vice in the dietary department being vanilla ice cream.

He had, however, suffered for years from crippling stomach pains, and in 2010 underwent surgery for a blocked intestine -- the same condition which led to the death of his twin brother Maurice in 2003, a blow which Robin felt deeply.

In April 2011 Gibb was forced to cancel a series of concerts in Brazil after suffering severe abdominal pains.

He was again taken ill in October. He had recently been undergoing treatment for liver cancer, but on February 13 returned to the stage to perform at a charity concert at the London Palladium, receiving a standing ovation.

He is survived by his wife Dwina, with whom he had a son.

He had a son and a daughter by his first wife, Molly; and in 2008 his housekeeper, Claire Yang, gave birth to his daughter.

The only surviving Bee Gee is Barry, now 65.

Robin Gibb, born December 22 1949, died May 20, 2012. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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