Sir Barry Gibb: 'Christmas songs haven't been appropriate for 50 years'

By Colin Paterson
Entertainment correspondent

Published
image copyrightGetty Images
image captionSir Barry Gibb says Christmas songs are a "marketing trick"

The Bee Gees are members of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1978 seven US number one singles were written by Sir Barry Gibb. However, one thing they never did was compose or release a Christmas song.

The one surviving member, Sir Barry, says that was deliberate. "We've always avoided it. I think it was appropriate maybe 50 years ago. These days I think it's too much of a marketing trick."

Their 1969 top 10 single First Of May did start with the line: "When I was small and Christmas trees were tall," but it was released in February and is about longing and regret, rather than festive cheer.

The closest the Bee Gees came to a Christmas release was when at the peak of their fame, in the festive period of 1978, they made a "Fan Club Only" seven-inch single.

image copyrightMichael Ochs Archives
image captionL-R: Robin Gibb, Sir Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb

The A-side featured a seven-minute message from the trio "welcoming all their new fans", reading out the track listing for their forthcoming album Spirits Having Flown, and talking about their love of sailing.

It ends with an impromptu acoustic version of Silent Night, but in no way can it be classified as a proper Christmas release.

"Robin did have a Christmas album," admits Sir Barry, referring to his brother's final studio album My Favourite Christmas Carols, released in 2006. "But I wasn't involved with that," he adds.

Barry Gibb's dislike of Christmas songs is one of the things we learned from his interview with BBC Breakfast. He was speaking from his home studio in Miami ahead of the release of a new feature length documentary The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.

The film covers all aspects of the Bee Gees career; from the brothers being born on the Isle of Man, growing up in Manchester and then moving to Australia, before becoming pop stars in the 1960s and then reaching new levels of fame with the advent of Disco.

It also deals with the lows; power struggles, drug problems and premature deaths.

Sir Barry's dislike of Christmas songs is just one of the things we learned from his interview with BBC Breakfast, which will be broadcast on Saturday.

Here are five other things we took away from the chat.

1. People still invade the garden of his Miami home

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe success of Saturday Night Fever drove fans to Sir Barry's Miami home

Sir Barry has lived in Miami since 1975, when Eric Clapton suggested the group relocate there. After the success of Saturday Night Fever he would wake up to find fans on his lawn.

"It got to the point where people were climbing over the walls and coming into your grounds," he reminisces, before pausing and adding, "Actually that still happens, but for different reasons.

"There are people that walk in under the impression that the house is for sale. Our house is probably the best position on the bay, so you get unusual people with lots of money who say, 'We'll buy your house'. I go, 'It's not for sale!'"

2. Boyzone are the best

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionBoyzone's version of Words is Sir Barry's favourite Bee Gees cover

Elvis Presley, Al Green, Diana Ross, Dolly Parton, Barbra Streisand - just some of the hundreds of acts who have sung songs written by the Bee Gees. Sir Barry's thoughts on who has done the greatest version of one of their songs might raise eyebrows.

"I would say Boyzone is my favourite," referring to their 1996 cover of Words, which gave Ronan Keating and the boys their first UK number one.

"And Take That's How Deep Is Your Love is special to me because they are really nice guys and for them to do that was a great compliment."

3) Steven Spielberg is on board for a Bee Gees film

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionCould Steven Spielberg make a hit Bee Gees film?

After the success of Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody, next up is a Bee Gees film.

"Everyone is in place," Sir Barry confirms. "Mr Spielberg, Paramount, the Murdoch sisters are all investing in that film.

"It could be a couple of years away. It's the same guy who made Bohemian Rhapsody, Graham King, so he knows how to put it together."

It has been suggested that Bradley Cooper would be a good choice to play Sir Barry, but he is not so sure.

"I don't think Bradley has ever considered anything like that, but I know that if I'm involved enough with the writer I can really bring out and depict my brothers' personalities better than anyone else."

The new documentary details the internal band battles, the mega levels of success, the disco backlash (which in 1979 culminated with disco records being blown up on the field before a Chicago White Sox baseball match - which then had to be postponed) and the premature Bee Gee deaths - a combination that would certainly provide a dramatic narrative for a film.

4) Sir Barry will not be doing a Bob Dylan… just yet

image copyrightPA Media
image captionBob Dylan has sold his back catalogue, worth anything between $200m and $450m (£150m - £340m)

This week Bob Dylan sold his back catalogue of songs to Universal, a collection worth anything between $200m and $450m (£150m - £340m). Sir Barry was very interested in the news.

"There might come a time in your own life where your own music you don't really listen to. You want to survive into your old age and you want to be very comfortable. You want your family to be comfortable," he says.

"You don't want to be short of money if that's the case. And really, I'm sure Mr Dylan has come to that conclusion over the years. I think he's a few years older than I am." (Sir Barry is 74, Dylan is 79.)

And will he be following suit?

"Maybe in a couple of years. I'm not ready to give up on making records and writing songs. The closer I get to 80 though... That's like a ringing bell, I'm telling you."

5) He's teamed up with Dolly Parton - again

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionDolly Parton has worked with Sir Barry on his new album

In 1983 Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers had a worldwide hit with Islands In The Stream, written by the Bee Gees (although interestingly, it was originally intended for Marvin Gaye).

In January, Sir Barry will release his new album Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers' Songbook, Vol. 1, for which he went to Nashville to work with some of the biggest names in country, including Parton, asking each to record their favourite Bee Gees song.

"Dolly Parton stood in the same spot at RCA Studios and told me, 'This is where I stood when I recorded I Will Always Love You and Jolene in the same afternoon'. That's exhilarating."

And Parton's choice of Bee Gees song to record? Words. We hope he didn't tell her he prefers the Boyzone version.

How Can You Mend A Broken Heart is on Sky Documentaries this Sunday at 21:00 GMT and then available to buy on DVD and Digital Download from Monday.

Follow us on Facebook or on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts. If you have a story suggestion email entertainment.news@bbc.co.uk.

Related Topics

More on this story