Maurice Gibb: Singer and bass player with the Bee Gees


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The Independent Online

As a founder member of the Bee Gees, Maurice Gibb was a vital part of one of the most successful groups in pop history. Together with his twin brother, Robin, and their older brother Barry, Maurice helped create a unique vocal sound that unleashed a string of influential hits, spanning four decades. As a singer and bass player, he made an important contribution to a remarkable musical enterprise that took the brothers from childhood “wannabe” entertainers to international stars.

Although attention was invariably focused on Barry and Robin, as the group's most creative writers, Maurice was the all-important third voice in the Bee Gees' blend of vocal harmony. Self-deprecating and witty, he saw himself as the one who helped defuse any tensions within the group. When Barry Gibb famously walked out on the television chat show host Clive Anderson in 1997, after enduring a series of belittling remarks, it was left to Maurice to hold the fort. Out of loyalty to his brothers, even Maurice eventually followed Barry and Robin out of the studio, albeit with a smile and an apology.

Maurice seemed the most easy-going and casual Bee Gee, quietly surprised and satisfied with their success and happy to enjoy an uncomplicated, fun lifestyle. In his latter years he was immensely proud of his own children's achievements in music and appeared to accept the often mercurial ups and downs of the group's career with phlegmatic good humour. Whether they were in or out of fashion and or had lost favour with the critics, he never seemed bitter or angry. If Barry or Robin occasionally seemed upset, Maurice Gibb could be relied on to smile and turn a tricky situation into a joke.

Yet beneath the good-natured exterior, Gibb had his own problems to deal with - including a failed first marriage and a long battle against alcoholism. The latter was rooted in prolonged exposure to the Swinging London life style of the late Sixties. Hanging out in nightclubs with his idols like the Beatles gave Gibb a taste for partying that ultimately became a destructive downward spiral. Even so, once he had recognised the problem, he successfully fought against it and rejoined his brothers in their musical odyssey.

Maurice Gibb, twin brother of Robin, was born in the Isle of Man in 1949, three years after Barry. The brothers came from a Manchester-based showbusiness family and gained early experience performing as a child act in the city's cinemas. When it seemed as if the brothers were in danger of running wild and getting into trouble their parents decided to emigrate, and in 1958 took their family to Australia. The brothers resurrected their act and, inspired by the Everly Brothers, performed regularly as a harmony trio in Brisbane, Queensland. They took the name Bee Gees as an abbreviation of “Brothers Gibb”.

The group signed to a local record company and released a series of singles written by Barry. When they topped the Australian chart with “Spicks and Specks”, the brothers decided to return to England for an audition with Robert Stigwood, then a director of NEMS Enterprises, the Beatles' management company. Stigwood became the Bee Gees' manager and secured them a contract with Polydor Records. Their self-penned single “New York Mining Disaster 1941” was a Top Twenty hit in April 1967. This was followed by the debut album The Bee Gees First (1967) and the quality of the writing resulted in early comparisons with the Beatles.

The Bee Gees' second single “To Love Somebody” was a flop but was successfully covered by many other artists including Nina Simone. In October 1967 the group had their first UK No 1 hit with “Massachusetts”. The Bee Gees were willing to experiment, even at the risk of occasionally confusing their fans, but gained a reputation as imaginative writers. While the spotlight invariably fell on Barry and Rob, Maurice contributed to their work in the studio and on stage with backing vocals. He also developed his role as a bass player and arranger and played guitar, piano, organ and Mellotron.

When the Beatles arrived in London from Australia in 1967, Maurice Gibb was only 17. He later recalled meeting John Lennon in a nightclub. The Beatle arrived still wearing his Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band uniform, which he had donned for the album cover photo shoot, earlier that day. Gibb and Lennon became friends and Lennon later gave him a guitar for his 21st birthday. Maurice Gibb also recalled that it was Lennon who first introduced him to drinking Scotch and Coke.

Towards the end of the Sixties the Bee Gees were still capable of topping the charts with songs like “I've Gotta Get a Message to You” (1968). However, internal bickering about musical direction led to Robin quitting in 1969, to launch a solo career. Barry and Maurice carried on as a two-man Bee Gees and had a No 2 hit with Don't Forget to Remember' (1969).

In April 1969 Maurice Gibb hit the headlines when he and the Glaswegian pop singer Lulu were married in a wedding ceremony that attracted 3,000 screaming fans. The couple said they had met in a BBC TV canteen, but they had already bumped into each other on the same night-club circuit frequented by the Beatles. Lulu was 20 and Gibb was still only 19 when they set up home together in Highgate, north London. It was hailed as the showbusiness marriage of the year, but the couple soon ran into trouble.

Gibb proved profligate and bought a Rolls-Royce, a Bentley and an Aston Martin during one notorious four-day spending spree. He also didn't want to give up night-clubbing and heavy drinking became such a problem that Lulu was forced to ask for a divorce, four years into their marriage. It was a bitter blow and Gibb went to Ibiza to stay with his parents, while attempting to fend off bouts of depression. Eventually he accepted that he had become an alcoholic and many years were spent fighting his addiction. Lulu later described their marriage as “a nightmare”, yet they remained on good terms.

During a lull in Bee Gees' activity, Maurice Gibb attempted to record a solo album called The Loner but the material was never released, apart from a single track, “The Loner”, credited to the Bloomfields. Maurice and Barry also worked on a film and album called Cucumber Castle (1970) and both released failed solo singles. It seemed as if the Bee Gees were finished in England. Then, in late 1970, Barry and Maurice reunited with Robin and the Bee Gees recorded two US hits with “Lonely Days” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”.

Back home, the group began playing in cabaret at such venues as the Batley Variety Club. It was an opportunity to play live, but didn't do their credibility much good. They even suffered the ignominy of having a projected album rejected by Polydor. Their manager Robert Stigwood came to the rescue by signing them to his new RSO label. He encouraged the group to go for a tougher, more American R&B sound.

The brothers teamed up with the producer Arif Mardin, famed for his work with Aretha Franklin. Arif took care to show Maurice funky new bass-playing techniques to beef up their sound. The result was a positive new album Main Course (1975). “Jive Talkin'” taken from the album shot to No 1 in Billboard in June 1975.

The group based themselves in Miami, Florida, and launched into a hugely successful new phase when they became undisputed kings of Seventies disco. Their falsetto vocals were highlighted on the group's next album, Children of the World, which went platinum, while “You Should Be Dancing” (1976) was another US No 1 single.

Stigwood encouraged the group to write the soundtrack for a proposed new movie called Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta. The film was a smash hit and the soundtrack album sold 30 million copies. During 1978/79 the Bee Gees enjoyed six chart toppers - “How Deep Is Your Love”, “Stayin' Alive”, “Night Fever”, “Too Much Heaven”, “Tragedy” and “Love You Inside”.

The Bee Gees' reputation seemed secure, until they agreed to appear in a movie version of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band which proved to be an embarrassing flop. By the end of the Eighties, the group were concentrating more on production and writing for other artists, including Diana Ross and Kenny Rogers. At the same time their younger brother Andy, who was never a member of the Bee Gees, began to enjoy considerable solo success and took some of the attention away from his older brothers. During the Eighties, the group wrote music for the latest John Travolta vehicle Staying Alive (1983) and the group also enjoyed a “come back” UK hit single with “You Win Again” (1987).

Maurice Gibb enjoyed all the fruits of the Bee Gees' unprecedented success. He married his English girlfriend Yvonne Spencely in 1975 and they had two children, Adam and Samantha. Yvonne was credited with helping Maurice overcome his drinking problems and he become a more sober and contented man. Then, in 1988, came the blow of the death from heart failure of Andy Gibb, aged 29. Maurice took his brother's death badly and the tragedy sparked a return to drinking. He managed to overcome this by checking into clinics and receiving treatment.

He also indulged in his favourite hobby of paint balling and owned a paint balling shop called Commander Mo's, not far from his home in Miami Beach. Apart from his hobbies and love of practical jokes, he also took a keen interest in the burgeoning musical careers of his children and produced their records.

Maurice Gibb had seen his group survive and prosper during 40 remarkable years during which time they became the number five best-selling group of all time with over 100 million album sales. The Bee Gees were elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and showered with many more awards during the late Nineties. Maurice, with Barry and Robin, was appointed CBE in the 2002 New Year Honours list for services to the music industry.

Yet Maurice Gibb always remained modest about his role in the Bee Gees. He said:

I was always between Barry and Robin in the group and being down to earth was always most important for me. I was always the peace-maker - the man in the middle.

Maurice Gibb, singer, bass player and composer: born Douglas, Isle of Man 22 December 1949; CBE 2002; married 1969 Lulu (marriage dissolved 1973), 1975 Yvonne Spencely (one son, one daughter); died Miami, Florida 12 January 2003.