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Bee Gees: Children of the World by Bob Stanley

For someone trying to enlist the reader in the notion that the Bee Gees have been unjustifiably overlooked by history, Bob Stanley spends a great deal of time in the first few chapters of his book almost apologetically defending their talent. It’s almost cringe-worthy as he says, in as many words, “Look, I know they’re not mainstream or popular, and they might even be a bit geeky... but they’ve got real talent”. Fortunately for the reader, he eventually stops apologising for saying so, and begins to tell the brilliantly-researched story which proves the point the Bee Gees are megastars, and they deserve to be. “Show, don’t tell,” my former editor used to repeat.

I don’t agree with Stanley’s opening gambit, even though I do understand the point he’s making. The brothers Bee Gee didn’t ever have the cool of, say, The Beatles, who they knocked off the number one chart spot a short time after the three brothers hit the United Kingdom pop scene. But they did have longevity, and they are still the only band to have singles in the British Top Ten charts every decade from the 60s through to the 90s.

I think the lack of cool associated with the Bee Gees stemmed from their beginnings – in poverty and in Australia – which in the 1960s was still a very apologetic society. The brothers Gibb were born in the UK, although the family emigrated to Australia as 10-pound Poms, desperate for a better life, but also in a bid to escape the life of crime the brothers had begun on the grimy streets of Manchester. Their parents, Barbara and Hugh, were musical. Barbara sang, Hugh was a band leader, but by the time the boys were born on the Isle of Man, demand for the big bands was dying off. The family was constantly on the move, often leaving in the dead of night to avoid confrontation over unpaid bills. It was not the life they had intended for their growing family.

Australia, as they hoped it would be, turned out to be just the ticket. Hugh reinvented himself as a photographer, but they still struggled financially, and the boys initially began singing in public in the hope they could boost the family fortunes. Later in life, the boys would recall their early life in Brisbane, Australia, as the golden years. In 1999 Barry Gibb wrote a letter to the Redcliffe Museum.

“It was a wonderful tropical existence that I relive over and over in my heart and mind.”

When the lads discovered Redcliffe’s Speedway, they wasted no time in offering to sing during the race breaks, which brought them to the attention of the racetrack’s owner Bill Goode. “They stopped me in my tracks,” he would later recall. “Geez they were good.” Bill Good enlisted the help of a local radio station disc jockey, Bill Gates, who wanted to sign them straight away. With so many BG initials around, the logical name for the emerging group was decided – The Bee Gees were born. The oldest of the three – Barry – was only 12. His twin siblings were 10 years old, and their group was already augmenting their cover material with their own songs.

By the early 1960s, they had their own TV Show – The Bee Gees Half Hour - and this was my introduction to them at 10 years of age. Soon they were in the Australian Women’s Weekly. The nation was calling them their own, and I had a tiny teenage crush on Maurice.

It was Maurice who, in 1966, began to flesh out the distinct opening line of their first number-one single, Spicks and Specks. But by the time they found out it was a hit, the band was on a ship returning “home” to the UK, their sights firmly set on hitting the big time. And they did.

There are so many things I loved about this book: the trip down memory lane, the reminder of all of the songs that topped the charts – these are the ones that have provided a soundtrack to our lives. And – to my mind – placing the top ten at the beginning of each chapter is pure genius.

But returning for a moment to the point that Bob Stanley made at the opening of the book. I’ve suggested that the answer to the bands lack of identity may have resided in their tender ages when they came to fame. There’s also the fact that they – child stars that they were - took on the responsibility for edging their family out of poverty. And child stars often lament their lack of childhood. But there’s another aspect to the band which was highlighted at the beginning of Chapter Five in a quote by Barry Gibb at the cusp of their fame: “First of all we had no idea who we were. If you think about it, we were not a rock group, we were not a pop group, we were three brothers who weren’t really a band.”

Reviewer: Peta Stavelli

Allen and Unwin


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