The Bee Gees were three brothers. Gibb Songs is about their public life as songwriters and recording artists, not their private life. But the beginnings of the group are inevitably tied to their family relationship.
Hugh Gibb, drummer and bandleader, married Barbara Pass in 1944. Their daughter Lesley was born in 1945 in the Gibb hometown of Manchester, England. The little family moved to the Isle of Man in the late summer of 1945.
The Isle of Man, Ellan Vannin in the Manx language, is located in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland. It has its own laws and government separate from those of the United Kingdom, although it is ruled by the Queen. The Isle is a summer holiday resort for England, and Hugh found musical work in season at the hotels, and did other odd jobs to get through the winters. ‘Hughie’ was well known and liked by the musicians who passed through the Isle each summer. There are no record releases of Hugh’s band, but on one occasion they did record a few instrumentals to one-off acetate disks, which still exist in private hands.
The Bee Gees were all born in Douglas, the largest town on the Isle of Man and the main port of entry. Barry Alan Crompton Gibb was born on September 1, 1946, and the twins Robin Hugh Gibb and Maurice Ernest Gibb on December 22, 1949. They are Manx by birth, but English by nationality.
The family returned to the Manchester area in January 1955, when Barry was 8 and the twins were 5. Hugh was struggling to find work while Barbara had her hands full with four young children. They lived in a series of flats, finally staying the longest in a place in Keppel Road in the Chorlton section. Other Gibb relations lived in the area, and cousins of the Bee Gees still do.
Hugh and Barbara heard the three brothers harmonizing naturally together by some date in 1955. Barry showed an interest in playing guitar too, and was given one for Christmas that year. He taught himself to play with an unusual open D tuning that makes his playing recognizable on disk and has affected to some degree all of the melodies he has composed. As Barry learned to play and all three sang together, in the endless days of childhood they performed privately every popular song of the day. Barry even began making up his own tunes, Robin and Maurice easily filling in harmonies. He recalls that the first song he wrote was called ‘Turtle Dove’, but neither he nor anyone else remembers the song itself.
It seems to have been December 28, 1957, when the brothers and two friends performed live before the public for the first time at a local Gaumont cinema, where children were invited to sing between films. They had planned to sing along to a 78rpm record Lesley had just got as a Christmas present, but on the way Robin or Maurice dropped and broke it, so they sang live. The song may have been ‘Wake Up Little Susie’ by the Everly Brothers, a good one for brothers singing in harmony. The audience loved it.
This led to a series of brief appearances in 1958, Barry age 11 and the twins age 8. Barry played rhythm guitar, and the three brothers and two friends sang along. Names they used included the Rattlesnakes, and Wee Johnny Hayes and the Blue Cats. Hugh sometimes sneaked them into adult venues to do a few songs.
The last of the five Gibb children, Andrew Roy Gibb, was born March 5, 1958, in Manchester. He would later record and perform as Andy Gibb.
In August 1958, the Gibb family emigrated to Australia, settling in Redcliffe, near Brisbane, Queensland. Hugh found work as a ‘bush photographer’. That is, he travelled to remote areas of the country taking family photographs. He found that despite the hope of new opportunities he could still barely provide for his family, and with five children to raise there was not much to go around.
At some date in the Australian summer, as 1958 turned into 1959, the boys began singing at the local Redcliffe Speedway between races to make money for themselves. A friend recalled that their idea was just to sell soft drinks to thirsty racegoers. But they discovered that by setting up in a space under the grandstand and singing a few songs they could gather a crowd and increase sales. Their vocal talent brought them to the attention of a radio deejay called Bill Gates who liked their sound and was interested to hear that Barry had composed some of the songs they were singing. Bill Gates made a tape of them doing four to six Barry Gibb songs early in 1959 and played it on radio. Barry recalls that it included ‘Let Me Love You’, one of the songs he’d heard them do at the Speedway, and ‘(Underneath the) Starlight of Love’, which Barry wrote when Bill Gates asked him for more original songs for the tape. A second tape was made at the start of 1960, and which tape Barry now recalls is uncertain.
Gates’s attempts at promoting the group included the matter of a name. They were dubbed the ‘B.G.s’ using initials in the style of some other groups of the time. The letters B G were for Barry Gibb, for Bill Gates, for the racecar driver Bill Goode who directed Bill Gates’s attention to the boys, and even for Barbara Gibb. By no later than 1966, when Robin and Maurice had come into their own, it was decided that B G stood for Brothers Gibb.
In 2008, Barry decided to celebrate 2009 as the fiftieth anniversary of the Bee Gees. He must have considered the Bill Gates promotions in 1959 as their professional start. Barry was twelve years old then, and the twins were nine.
The B.G.s made their television debut in March 1960. This was at the start of television in Australia, when the new stations were looking for local talent to fill air time. By this time Barry was constantly writing songs, but few titles from this time have survived. The group usually sang popular songs of the day in their stage, radio, and television appearances. There still exists a kinescope of the B.G.s doing Barry’s song ‘Time Is Passing By’ in their first television appearance. Hugh was now managing the boys, who were becoming an important source of income for the family.
Barry quit school at age fifteen in September 1961, and the Gibb family moved to the beach resort area of Surfers Paradise at about that time. The B.G.s spent the summer of 1961-1962 performing as often as possible at the many hotels and clubs in the Gold Coast area. Hugh wanted to model them after the Mills Brothers harmony group while the boys tried to get in current rock and roll numbers and those of harmony groups like the Everly Brothers. Their act included comedy skits and song parodies as well as songs. It was very much show business and not the revolutionary style of rock and roll acts.
In September 1962, Barry managed to audition songs to Col Joye, one of the top artists in Australia, and his brother and manager Kevin Jacobsen. Col still has a tape made about this time that includes ‘Let Me Love You’ and unknown others. Impressed, Jacobsen arranged for the B.G.s to sing in a multi-artist show in Sydney headlined by ‘twist’ star Chubby Checker in January 1963, their most visible appearance to date. Jacobsen also got them signed to Festival Records, and got Barry signed to his publishing company.
The Gibb family moved to the Sydney area in January 1963, and the Bee-Gees (so spelled) recorded their first record for Festival’s Leedon label around February.
1956. Barry recalls only the title. no record
THE ECHO OF YOUR LOVE
1959. possibly on the Bill Gates tape. no record
TWENTY MILES TO BLUELAND
1959. on the Bill Gates tape. no record
LET ME LOVE YOU
1959. on the Bill Gates tape and the Col Joye tape.
sung on television in 1960 and on radio in 1991. no record
(UNDERNEATH THE) STARLIGHT OF LOVE
1960. on the Bill Gates tape and the Col Joye tape. B side by Col Joye, May 1963
TIME IS PASSING BY
1960. performed on television, 1960. no record
The song ‘Hopscotch Polka’, formerly listed here, is not a Barry Gibb original, but a 1949 tune by Art Mooney.