Mike Ragogna: RJ, 50 St. Catherine’s Drive is the last project your dad was working on before he passed away, so that must have been an incredibly challenging task for you to complete because of the emotional bond you had as father and son.
RJ Gibb: Yeah. He had started work on this project in 2006 to 2008, that’s when the recordings had taken place. I had at that time also composed a couple of popular songs with him. We composed the Titanic requiem together with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. That was later, we started that in 2010 and finished it in 2012 with the debut at Westminster Hall. But we had actually been working on some popular songs before that and we had planned to after the requieum as well. We had songs like “Instant Love,” “One-Way Love,” “Syndey,” about his brothers, which I actually did the production on after he wrote it himself. There’s another one that we had actually written for the Titanic requiem that was added later, “Don’t Cry Alone.” So there are four songs that we wrote together that will be on the album, but apart from that I did the final production. Pete Vettese and him started the production back in 2008 and then I started a couple of years ago and we just finished last year. Number 50, Saint Catherine’s Drive in the Isle of Mann was the first house my father lived in. It was actually the house he was brought back to from the hospital immediately following his birth. This was a project he wanted to do because he wanted to team back up with Barry. Barry wasn’t feeling well at the time but when he was feeling a bit better, they were going to get back together, so he shelved the album. So for about four years, it just lay dormant and then when it came back up that Warner wanted to put it out, we went into the studio and finished the production.
MR: Can you tell us more about that Titanic requiem, like how that came together and what everybody’s part was?
RG: Sure. My father and I had alwasy wanted to come out with an album together, we were working on popular stuff as I said but the thing is I was classically trained. When I started I was playing violin, trumpet, I then went on to play guitar and keyboards and that’s what I use to compose now, but my father had always adored classical music, we both loved Mozart and Schubert, so we teamed up with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. We decided to do a requiem because it was the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and we decided to do it as a tribute to the fallen of the Titanic. It debuted at Westminster Hall, sadly he never made the opening as he’d fallen into a coma and this was after going into remission about four times, so this was after a long, hard battle. I think the requiem kept him going for a long time as well because he had something to strive for. Although he did come out of the coma after the debut…we played the confutatis from the Titanic requiem and he woke up. He actually said to me he could hear the song playing, it was actually incredible. We thought we weren’t going to see him again, they’d pretty much written him off. He had been expected to sing that night at the debut, he was going to sing “Don’t Cry Alone,” but as he sadly couldn’t attend, they played a recording of the vocals and the Royal Philharmonic played along. It was the first time I’d ever seen at a purely classical concert people giving a standing ovation for a recorded vocal. But, of course, I think that’s the last time they thought they were going to hear him.
MR: How did that experience leave you? You must have been riding high.
RG: Yeah, of course. I didn’t know if that was the last time I would hear his voice played in a musical hall or at a venue. We always had hope for him, as I said he had gone through four remissions already, it was a hard battle and he was a hard fighter. As a realist, I knew what could happen and of course I think he also knew as well–he didn’t write himself off but he knew what could happen and I think that’s what made him strive to do so many things in the last few years. He knew he had cancer for about two and a half years. We accomplished a lot, after the requiem we wrote a lot of popular music together as well, those will be coming out at some point as well, he was making films as well in the garden, it was unbelievable. He’s made a few comedy sketches, he was always into the Goons–Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. He had a sharp wit, a very dry sense of humor, a very admirable sense of humor. I don’t think I’ll ever meet anyone like that again.
MR: To me, The Bee Gees seemed like they were Australia’s most popular export. Is that how Australia saw them?
RG: Well, yeah. He was born on the Isle of Mann and his parents were from Manchester. He went back to Manchester and they grew up the first part of their childhood there, but then they moved to Australia when they were about nine or ten. That’s when they started–my father said, “We’ve sung in some of the best toilets in Australia,”–because they used to go to the toilets to hear the echo for harmonies. Then they started playing for pennies at the race track and they were picked up by a DJ over there who backed them up. That’s when they had their first number one, “Spicks & Specks.” When they came back to England their father had gotten in touch with Robert Stigwood and the rest is history, really. They’ve always had a strong connection with Australia, even now. Their sister stayed in Australia and she very much considers herself Australian. A part of them always, I guess, considered themselves British but another part considered themselves Australian.
MR: Ambassadors, maybe.
MR: I think when you looked at the three of them I think even if Barry was the overt ladies man, Robin seemed to really pop out as the backbone of the band. How did the brothers function together as far as laying out responsibilities?
RG: I think Barry had the image as the ladies’ man and I think my father had the boyish, angelic vocals and Maurice was the tech man, very good with music. When my father even did a solo album it was Maurice who helped with the music as well. You know, “Juliet.” I just think Maurice was the music mastermind, my father was the vocalist and Barry could work the crowds and had a great voice when it came to some of the more modern stuff they got into at that time, which was sort of the start of modern house music, the disco era.
MR: Yes, a lot of people forget that. Were they as surprised as everyone else that they conquered the world in that format?
RG: It started in France, really. They had written these blue-eyed soul tracks, which is what they were calling it at the time. They had delved into the new dance music and they tried their hand at it and just came up with these tracks. Basically, they had taken one of their engineers at the time, Blue Weaver, put a heartbeat monitor on him and were listening to the beat and then they made one of the first drumloops by splicing together the tapes around the room. This was the way they created these dance tracks with the “thump thump thump,” the four beat that you hear in a lot of modern house. They didn’t know what to do with it really, they were just experimenting. Then Robert Stigwood said, “Look, I’ve got this new film coming out, it’s got no backing, no advertisement, do you guys have anything to put on it?” They said, “Well funny enough we’ve just been playing around with dance music if you want to hear what we’ve done in France.” I think the cows outside this small chalet were the first ones to hear “Stayin’ Alive.”
RG: They sent it over to him and he said, “Wow, this is great.” They took about nine of the tracks and put them on and without any advertising, just word of mouth, it got around. Disco was already around but I think this completely revolutionized the way it was done.
MR: Yeah. A lot of the older disco records had the emphasis on repetetive parts, extended dance mixes and all that, whereas The Bee Gees had a more lyrical, traditional song-like structure that they really deeply understood.
RG: Yes, and they applied that to the four beat dance feel. I agree. We were talking about some of the older tracks and coming out of Australia and “Spicks & Specks.” On50 St. Catherine’s Drive there are three potential singles and one of them is actually, “I Am The World,” which was the B-side of “Spicks & Specks.” The original version of the song was released in 1966 as the B-side of the hit. My dad decided to record a new version for the new album, he wrote a new middle eight for it. He loved the song because it was one of the first songs he actually wrote. There’s another one, “Days Of Wine & Roses,” where the song itself is actually a reverse. He played it backwards from a song, “Broken Wings.” He played that song backwards and he came up with “Days Of Wine & Roses,” which is another potential single for this album. But the third potential single is the song we wrote together, “Instant Love,” which is quite poignant because it’s the last time we actually sang together. It’s father and son together, sing a verse each and then duetting on the chorus. “I Am The World” is definitely coming out as a single but the other two are the ones people should look for as singles promoting the album.
MR: “Days Of Wine & Roses” is an Oscar Wilde reference. How did that particular inspiration come about?
RG: My father and I both had a lot of respect for Oscar Wilde because he’s one of the best wits of the nineteenth century. He didn’t have many plays, but I think what he was actually remembered for in society and what people wrote about him was what he would actually say to people. My father always respected great witty comedy and I think that’s probably what drew him to Oscar. A lot of his plays are not as witty as I would say he was in his private life and what people have written about him and their experiences with him as a person. I love his plays though, I love him as a literary giant definitely. It was Ernest Dowson, the poet who had originally penned the phrase, “They are not long, the days of wine of wine and roses.” Oscar Wilde used the quote when his literary peer Ernest Dowson died. My dad did admire him for his wit as we were just saying, but I think when he found the phrase as an ode to his friend it kind of reminded him of Maurice and of others he’d lost. I think it was kind of poignant thing because it also talks about the days when they were young and coming up in the world and remembering all the beautiful things in the past. I think it struck a note with him.
MR: “Wherever You Go” was originally called “Wing & A Prayer” and there’s a story behind that. The title originally came from the World War II patriotic song?
RG: Yes. “Wing & A Prayer” was actually a song that The Bee Gees wrote together. My father realized that people would remember it a lot easier if it had an original title, so “Wherever You Go” was the new title. It was changed to avoid confusion, basically. The original title came from the famous American second world war patriotic song by Harold Adamson and Jim McHugh. They wrote a song about a plane struggling home from combat, “Comin’ In On A Wing And A Prayer.” My father and myself have always loved military history, my father started helping the Bomber Command Memorial Fund which I still support now as well because Bomber Command here was the outfit that lost more troops than any other outfit. God, there were over fifty five thousand killed and they never put a monument up for them, they tried to distance themselves from them. They didn’t realize the strategic importance. It wasn’t just retaliation bombing that they were doing. Even Churchill, before he distanced himself, said, “It’s the bombers that will win the war,” because they brought one million Wehrmacht off the frontlines, brought them into the cities, and also brought all of the 88-millimeter flak guns into the cities to protect them. It took them off the frontlines and allowed the allies to advance. They also took out the entire Wolfpack in dock–the U-boats. But they were never recognized. He campaigned, it was one of the last things he did–and we did it as a family, really, as well. We campaigned to get the monument put up in Green Park, it’s now one of the most visited monuments in London.
MR: What’s the backstory on “Alan Freeman Days”?
RG: Well he was an Australian, he was a celebrated radio disc jockey in the United Kingdom in the sixties, seventies, and eighties. He’s someone that my father truly kept in his heart and admired and he loved the man over a long period of time because he had a special memory of Alan dating back to the late 1960s when The Bee Gees had temporarily split up. Soon after the split my dad released his first solo album called Robin’s Reign. Probably, the most famous solo song that my father wrote was “Saved By The Bell.” Alan Freeman, who was known as Fluff, told my father that there were certain entities who wanted the Bee Gees to get back together. My father did want to get back together as well with The Bee Gees but a lot of people didn’t realize this was the case.
When my father came out with a solo album because he wanted to keep working they thought it was going to stop The Bee Gees from getting back together. My dad just wanted to work in the mean time until The Bee Gees got back together. What they did was they tried to put spanners in the works and they asked the DJs–or tried to backhand the DJs not to play my dad’s song thereby reducing the chances of it becoming successful. But Alan Freeman was the only DJ who said no. He wouldn’t take any backhands and he stood up against these entitites and decided that “Saved By The Bell” was a number one hit, it should be out and it should be heard and he was going to play it regardless of the pressure. It went on to become a hit. It didn’t become a number one hit in England, it reached number two, but it’s still remembered as a classic.
My father never forgot what Alan did for him and he frequently communicated with Alan and visited him when he was sick and being cared for him at Brinsworth House which was a home for retired actors and others in the entertainment industry. So as president of the Heritage Foundation, which was where support of the whole Bomber Command Memorial came about he decided that Alan should have a blue plaque. Anyone who’s alive gets a green plaque if they’re being honored, say outside the building where they used to work, but they get a blue plaque if they’ve passed away. After Alan passed away he pushed and insured for Alan to have his blue plaque at Brinsworth house acknowledging Alan’s contributions, not just to him but to music in general. He was one of the great DJs of the sixties to the eighties. My dad wrote the song in honor of Mister Alan Freeman.
MR: What do you think your dad’s legacy is going to be? And what do you think the legacy of The Bee Gees is going to be?
RG: Well I think they’ve already proved themselves as one of the greatest acts of the twentieth century, they have one of the most extensive and most successful catalogs out there. There are people like Mozart who was basically honored for his accomplishments long after his death and there are people like my father who were honored during their lifetime. I think their legacy doesn’t matter either way. If you write amazing music, whether you’re honored during your lifetime or not these contributions to music will stick and people will try to emulate them and people will always be compared to people like The Bee Gees or to entities like them. They set the standard, really.
MR: Well, during the lifespan of the group, they contributed so much that it already mattered a lot.
RG: That’s right. I also think that what we all do is make something eternal, something that lasts long beyond our deaths. That’s why I said it didn’t matter if they were recognized after or during because that’s what we all strive to do is make our stamp on the world and to make something that people will love and cherish and to make people feel happier about themselves through music and just to make something eternal. That’s the only way we live forever is through our work and what we leave behind.
MR: That’s so true. What are you personally working as an artist now?
RG: Myself? I will continue to make classical works but at the same time I’m producing my own album at the moment which is a popular music album. I’m also working on house music and trance music for Ibiza. You’ll see not only this dance music that’s going to Ibiza but I’ll also be coming out with an actual popular album that I’ve been working on for the last year and a half. Apart from that I’m also a mentalist, a psychological magician really. I’ve been doing this kind of work since I was fifteen but I’ve really just decided to push it forward into the professional scene in the last two years. I’ve known quite a few mentalists during my lifetime including Uri Geller, he’s a close friend of the family. I’ve always been interested in this type of magic, psychological ideomotor response using hypnotics and neurolinguistic programming. It’s used to bring about effects that either make peope do what you want to do or make it seem like they’re happening. Basically, you could call it a type of magician or illusionist. But I’m doing Children In Need at The Savoy Hotel this October, which is being hosted by Terry Wogan. That’s the first big gig I’m doing as a mentalist. But apart from that I’m coming out with my popular music album and I’m doing another project in Ibiza as I said with dance music. And I studied for seven years under Andy Hinds at Classic Stage Ireland, so I’m also an actor. I’m currently in that sphere, I have an agent for acting. I’ve always been interested in the performing arts, which is where mentalism comes into it as well, because it is a performance art. That’s really where I am right now.
MR: RJ, what advice do you have for new artists?
RG: I would say never let anyone bring you down or tell you that what you’re doing isn’t good enough, believe in yourself, learn from your mistakes and always make music that you would buy. Don’t try and emulate everyone, don’t try and be another clone, there’s so many of the same out there but there’s only one you. The world hasn’t seen you yet, so who knows if you could be accepted or not as another entity in that field. Also, a lot of people have a lot of material hanging around for a while and to them it gets old, but no one’s heard it before. To everyone else, it’s new material.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne