The Gibb family emigrated to Australia in July in 1958, landing in Brisbane on board the SS Fairsea on September 1 1958, the youngsters, Barry, Robyn and Maurice, had been unhappy in England, they disliked the bitterly cold Manchester winters and were bored with schoolwork. There was a general lacked of parental supervision, and they had become quite mischevious – truancy, petty thievery and a touch of arson (shops, billboards, letterboxes) 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. The brothers below with father Hugh.
The Gibbs joined the other million British immigrants who became Ten Pound Poms, the subsidized cost of the boat fare to Australia; when the family landed in Brisbane, 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, below) who had recommended them to local 4BH DJ who played their songs (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 (above with Hugh), another BG, and surely a good omen for the future.
The brothers were uniquely talented, writing and performing 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. In 1962 the brothers opened for Chubby Checker at the Sydney Stadium, they were ascending through the isolated, self-contained, and competitive Australian music business although still technically children. They lied about their ages and quit school as soon as legally possible, although their father Hugh, who barely scraped out a living as a photographer and sometime laborer with the Scarborough Council, had artfully avoided most of the child labor laws in force in Australia at the time, keeping the boys on a grueling round of club, pub, and television appearances.
Throughout the1960’s Barry and ultimately Robin emerged as successful songwriters, penning hits for Col Joye – (Underneath the) Starlight of Love 1963, Ronnie Burns –Coalman and Exit Stage Right in 1966/67, and Johnny Young – Craise Finton Kirk in 1967, but despite these hits, the Bee Gees first five single releases –The Battle of the Blue and the Grey, Timber!, Turn Around and Look At Me, Wine and Women (which staggered to #47 after record sales were allegedly inflated by paying fan club members to buy the record), I Was A Lover, A Leader of Men; all flopped, as did the album The Bee Gees Sing & Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs, however it was to be their sixth single release 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 the song to Dinah Lee to record, but fortunately they were dissuaded from doing so by Nat Kipner (below) and Ossie Byrne (above with the Gibbs), who saw that the song had hit written all over it, although their record label Spin required some convincing.
Spicks and Specks was recorded with co-producer Nat Kipner at Ossie Byrne’s four-track St. Clair studio in Hurstville (Syd), it was a haunting, slightly melancholic piece, with a bouncy beat, layered vocals, a Barry Gibb a capella solo lament halfway through, and a cornet outro, in an apparent nod to the Beatles. It was 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 Spin/Festival had failed to renew their contract, which convinced the brothers that they were unappreciated in Australia.
The excellent Barry Gibb melody is anchored on the bold and resonant piano riff devised and played by Maurice, and a constantly recurring rhythmic ostinato bass pattern, which producer Bill Shepherd (above), had introduced on the Tony Barber hit Someday, which involved duplicating the electric bassline on a piano and then double-tracking it. A military drumbeat and brassy orchestration 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 Fab Four’s zany stunts in their latest movie.
The brothers had now set their sights on success in the UK, their father Hugh was confident enough to write in advance to Brian Epstein, including acetates of several of the boy’s songs, 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 with Eric Clapton), 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.
In a deal that confirmed that the brothers and their father were absolute novices when it came to wheeling and dealing, Stigwood negotiated to buy 51% of the publishing rights for all Bee Gees songs for the paltry sum of £1,000 for NEMS. Brian Epstein didn’t like the Bee Gees and thought Stigwood had wasted money on them. But he soon came to regret his lack of judgement in regard to them, and became extremely jealous of the lucrative manager/employer position that Stigwood manoeuvred for himself, with a band that was clearly going to dominate the charts, and make Stigwood’s breakaway company, The Robert Stigwood Organisation (RSO) huge profits in the future.
Stigwood had successfully guided the careers of Johnny Leyton, Mike Sarne (above with Wendy Richard, who duetted with Sarne on the hit single Come Outside, and became better known as the Cockney salesgirl in the TV series Are You Being Served?), and Mike Berry to that time. He would emerge as one of the most powerful manager/publisher/promoters in the UK, with a stable of artists that included the Bee Gees, the Who and 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. On August 22nd 1967 Barry Gibb married his Australian girlfriend of two years, Maureen Bates (below), who had occupied a sinecure position as Secretary of the Bee Gees Fan Club, so she could tour with Barry.
Six months after the nuptials Barry departed for the UK and left Maureen behind, they soon become estranged, and after Barry fell for Lynda Gray, a 17-year-old Top of the Pops hostess, in September of the following year (below), the marriage was headed for divorce.
Upon arrival in the UK the Bee Gees took up residence in the London suburb of Hendon, and with Robert Stigwood 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.