Craig Brown

The problems of being a Bee Gee

The group’s name prioritised Barry Gibb, and was a source of resentment to his twin brothers for the rest of their lives

Despite their many hits, the Bee Gees were never hip. Barry, Robin and Maurice in 1970. (Getty Images)

For quite some time, the prospect of death has held a fresh terror. The British Heart Foundation’s step-by-step guide to cardiopulmonary resuscitation advises performing chest compressions ‘to the beat of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees’. This means that the last sound some of us will ever hear is ‘Stayin’ Alive’, with our chests as the drums:

Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’
And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive!
Ah! ah! ah! ah!
Stayin’ alive! Stayin’ alive!

Despite their success, the Bee Gees have always been regarded as naff. They are to pop music what Fanny Cradock was to cookery or Julian Fellowes is to the world of letters. Bob Stanley is on a mission to rescue their reputation. ‘I’ve written this book as an attempt to give them their rightful place at the very top of pop’s table,’ he declares in his introduction: ‘I also want to explain why and how the Gibb brothers have been othered, and – unlike the Beach Boys – rarely treated with the respect they should have earned as a right.’ He argues that, from the beginning, they were regarded as out-siders, though this could be said of virtually every pop star, apart from Julian Lennon and Ziggy Marley.

The name prioritised Barry Gibb, and was a source of resentment to the others for the rest of their lives

They were born on the Isle of Man –described by Stanley as ‘an island with a strange mystique’ which, in the late 1940s, ‘used the birch for capital punishment’, which sounds very time-consuming. Barry and his younger twin brothers, Robin and Maurice, avoided the birch, though not for want of trying. Once the family moved to Manchester, Maurice stole toys from Woolworths, while Barry and Robin were enthusiastic arsonists, setting fire to a shed, a car and a shop. Before long, Barry was caught stealing a child’s pedal car and given two years probation.

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