Hugh and Barbara Gibb were respectively a dance band leader and a singer who plied their trade on the ferry that crossed the harbor at the Isle of Man and around the clubs of Manchester whilst raising their five children – daughter Lesley, Barry, twins Robin and Maurice, and youngest son Andy. Barry and the twins were performing as part of a skiffle group known as The Rattlesnakes, at the local Gaumont cinema as early as 1955 and their amateur and semi-pro gigs were promising. Father Hugh greatly revered the crooning harmonies of the Mills Brothers, and stressed to his three eldest sons, the importance of replicating their dulcet harmonies and smiling, polite demeanor.The youngsters were however unhappy about enduring the bitterly cold Manchester winters and were bored with schoolwork, they became quite mischievous – truancy, petty thievery and a touch of arson brought them to the attention of the law – and their parents, who were also looking to secure their future employment, decided to make a fresh start in Australia.(Maurice and Robin pictured with singer Tommy Steele in the UK)The Gibbs joined the other million British immigrants who became Ten Pound Poms, the subsidized cost of the boat fare to Australia; along with the Gillards (Julie), Abbotts (Tony) and Bonds (Alan) who all arrived in Australia this way.En route the three boys entertained their fellow passengers on the SS Fairsea by giving impromptu performances in the stern of the ship, their fellow passengers, who were mesmerized by the Gibbs performances, included one Redmond “Red” Symons (above), future lead guitarist with the Skyhooks, and Welsh girl Carol Jones (below), who would settle in Melbourne, marry Ron Minogue, and have two daughters – Kylie and Danii.When the family arrived in September 1958 Barry was twelve and the twins were nine years old, their father mentored the boys and they made their Australian public debut in 1959 at the Redcliffe Speedway in Brisbane, picking up pennies from the track in reward for their efforts. Their name the Bee Gees was coined after combining the identical initials of speedway manager, Bill Goode, who had recommended them to local 4BH DJ Bill Gates, with the initials of the group leader Barry Gibb, originally calling themselves the B.G.s. Their mother’s name was Barbara Gibb, another BG, and surely a good omen for the future, Barbara and Hugh pictured below.The brothers were uniquely talented, they wrote and performed their own songs from an early age and Bill Gates proved to be an important promoter of the group, introducing them to Sydney DJ Bob Rogers, and assisting them to secure appearances on local Brisbane TV shows Anything Goes, Brisbane Tonight, Strictly for Moderns, and Cottee’s Happy Hour.Throughout the 1960’s Barry and ultimately Robin emerged as successful songwriters, penning hits for Jimmy Little – One Road 1964, Bryan Davies –I Just Don’t Like To Be Alone 1964, Col Joye – (Underneath the) Starlight of Love 1963, Ronnie Burns (above)-Coalman and Exit Stage Right in 1966/67, and Johnny Young – Craise Finton Kirk in 1967. But despite these hits for others, the Bee Gees first five singles, all released on Lee Gordon’s Leedon label, had flopped, they moved across to Spin Records, recently established by Clyde Packer and Harry M. Miller, and it was to be their sixth release, and first on Spin, that would provide the breakthrough hit, even though they almost gave it away!Given the group’s lack of chart success thus far in Australia they seriously considered giving Spicks and Specks to Dinah Lee to record, but fortunately they were dissuaded from doing so by Sydney songwriter/producers Nat Kipner (below) and Ossie Byrne (above with the Gibbs). Nat and Ossie believed that the song had everything required for a hit pop song of the 60’s , an overwhelming sense of pathos, an addictive hook, a great melody, an anthemic chorus, in short, it had hit written all over it, especially with Barry’s soaring vocals yet to be superimposed over the top of it.Spicks and Specks was recorded with producer Nat Kipner at Ossie Byrne’s four-track St. Clair studio in Hurstville (Syd), it was a haunting, slightly melancholic piece, and became their biggest hit in Australia prior to departing for the UK in ’67, peaking at #5 locally and becoming the 25th biggest-selling record of the year, ironically after their record label Festival had failed to renew their contract.
The excellent Barry Gibb melody is anchored on the bold and resonant piano riff devised and played by Maurice on a one-time pianola that had its music roll player removed, the piano riffs obsessively behind the lyrics which are drenched in alienation, despair, heartbreak, and loss, but as the song shifts up through its key changes, it allows Barry’s vocal to end with a triumphant rallying call which is the song title repeated. A constantly recurring rhythmic ostinato bass pattern, which producer Bill Shepherd (below) had introduced on the Tony Barber hit Someday, was also a feature, which involved duplicating the electric bass line on a piano and then double-tracking it. A military drumbeat and brassy orchestration (courtesy of a small horn section from the local pub in Coogee), including trumpet by Geoff Grant (real name Geoffrey Streeter), all combined to produce a song that sounded remarkably like the Beatles.A grainy black and white promo video was shot at Bankstown Airport (Syd) with the brothers cavorting around light aircraft with several go-go dancers, including Denise Drysdale, in tow, and mugging to the camera in imitation of the Goons and the Fab Four’s zany stunts in their latest movie.
The record did not actually explode onto the charts, it entered the Go-Set national top 40 at #37 on Oct. 19, wedged between the Beach Boys God Only Knows and the Rolling Stones Mother’s Little Helper, it climbed to #18 the following week and by early November Spicks and Specks entered the Top 10 at #5, and remained on the charts until the end of the year. The brothers had now set their sights on success in the UK and were confident enough to write in advance to Brian Epstein and request that he audition them upon arrival and take them under his wing!Bill Shepherd had also alerted expatriate Australian agent Robert Stigwood (above), then a Director of Epstein’s NEMS enterprises, to the imminent arrival of the Gibbs, and with Epstein’s blessing, and after an audition, Stigwood did not hesitate to sign the brothers to Polydor Records for five years. Stigwood had successfully guided the careers of Johnny Leyton, Mike Sarne and Mike Berry to that time, and would emerge as one of the most powerful manager/publisher/promoters in the UK, with a stable of artists including the Bee Gees, the Who and Eric Clapton (below Stigwood with Eric Clapton), with ambitious future projects in the pipeline to take his Robert Stigwood Associated Ltd. into musical theatre and films.Stigwood was a canny and aggressive operator, he sensed that the time was right for a Beatles-sounding group like the Bee Gees to capitalize on the absence of the Fab Four from the touring scene, as they had retreated into their Abbey Road recording studios, and he was proven to be correct.Upon arrival in the UK the Bee Gees took up residence in the London suburb of Hendon, they were Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb, Vince Melouney, and Colin Peterson. and with Robert Stigwood they drew their plans to conquer the world, history records that the Bee Gees went on to sell over 200 million records and collect five Grammy Awards, in one of the most illustrious careers in popular music.