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Robin Gibb

Robin Gibb, singer, composer and part of the three-brother group the Bee Gees, died on 20 May 2012 of liver cancer. He was 62.

Most of the newspapers mention his Manx place of birth, although the Financial Times alludes to it only obliquely:

Robin Hugh Gibb was born in December 1949 into a musical family that moved in short order the few miles across the Irish Sea to Manchester, and before he was 10 migrated to Australia.

The Manchester Evening News is particularly good on the young Gibb brothers’ time in Chorlton-cum-Hardy (it even titles its obituary “How Bee Gees star started singing career in a Chorlton picture house at the age of five”):

On the day that Robin Gibb and his brothers Barry and Maurice wandered down to the Gaumont picture house in Chorlton-cum-Hardy to lip-sync to a hit record, he could not have imagined he was going to be in the biggest pop trio of all time. That Saturday afternoon in 1955, they picked out an Everly Brothers record and headed off to do their turn, but the record got damaged on the way and the Gibb boys had to sing another song – for real.

The Independent is strongest on the Gibbs’ years in Australia (which, it notes, were partly to avert the threat of reform school):

Barry, Robin and Maurice took to their new surroundings and appeared at speedways and clubs in Queensland. This brought them to the attention of Bill Goode, a racetrack promoter, and his friend Bill Gates, a Sydney disc jockey, who featured them on his radio show in 1960. Soon Barry Gibb & the Bee Gees made their TV debut, singing and goofing around like the Goons. Hugh quit his job as a photographer to manage his sons and helped turn them into all-round entertainers.

There’s some debate over the Bee Gees in the mid-Sixties – their breakthrough in Australia, their return to the UK, and promoter Robert Stigwood becoming their manager. The Guardian reckons that they moved before their single “Spicks And Specks” hit No.1 in Australia, and how Stigwood got to hear of them is left obscure. The Independent says that Stigwood heard of the boys because their father sent records to various London agents following the success of “Spicks And Specks”. The Daily Telegraph mentions an album, which eldest brother Barry sent to record companies. The Manchester Evening News doesn’t mention Stigwood at all, just saying that “Spicks And Specks” reached No.1 as they were signing a record contract in the UK. The FT names the record company (Polydor) but doesn’t go into much detail beyond that.

The Telegraph charts the turmoil that Gibb went through in his personal life after being catapulted to fame in the late 1960s:

On arriving back in England he had met and married Molly Hullis, a secretary from Brian Epstein’s office. The pair were together in 1967 when they were caught up in the Hither Green rail disaster, in which 49 people were killed. “I remember it very vividly,” he later recalled. “Children were trapped, passengers were being given anaesthetics to have their limbs removed. It was horrendous, like Dante’s Inferno. I just wanted to escape.”

By his own admission, he neglected his marriage. He also took refuge in amphetamines: “I took the pills to stay up all night and make records. You had to work through the night because studio time was expensive. I never took serious drugs like LSD or cocaine — I was scared stiff of them.”

The divorce was acrimonious.

As for Gibb’s part in the disco revolution in the late 1970s, the FT – which features an excellent 11-page photo gallery – hits the nail on the head with this:

He is best remembered, along with elder brother Barry and younger twin Maurice who together comprised the Bee Gees, for taking a hedonistic underground off-shoot of R&B from New York’s black, Hispanic and gay clubs to the global mainstream. Their breakthrough came with songs co-opted into a 1977 Hollywood soundtrack album and, like the film it backed, was called Saturday Night Fever. It remains among the 10 biggest selling albums of all time.

The Independent covers the last couple of decades of the Bee Gees’ career well:

They would hit commercial lows again – the albums One (1989), High Civilization (1991) and Size Isn’t Everything (1993) – but also make remarkable returns to form – Still Waters (1997), This Is Where I Came In (2001) – as they entered their fifth decade. In 1997, the Bee Gees were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to the annoyance of some purists who hadn’t factored in the joy they had brought hundreds of millions. Robin and his brothers were made CBEs in 2002.

The wrap-up line of survivors varies between the papers. The Guardian and Telegraph both mention Barry, as does the MEN (obliquely, by referring to his presence at Robin’s bedside). The FT doesn’t, but instead says that he is survived by “his second wife, Dwina, children Melissa, Spencer, Robin-John and Snow and an unrivalled pop legacy”.

(Robin Hugh Gibb CBE, born 22 December 1949 in Douglas, died 20 May 2012 in London)


Financial Times, 21 May 2012: Bee Gee Robin Gibb dies aged 62 (requires registration)
The Independent, 22 May 2012: Robin Gibb: Bee Gees singer and songwriter whose work fuelled the disco revolution
Manchester Evening News, 21 May 2012: Robin Gibb (1949-2012): How Bee Gees star started singing career in a Chorlton picture house at the age of five
The Telegraph, 21 May 2012: Robin Gibb
The Guardian, 20 May 2012: Robin Gibb obituary

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