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 Sunday, 12 January, 2003, 18:02 GMT
Gibb's death a huge loss to music
The Bee Gees face a huge gap with the death of Maurice Gibb
The Bee Gees in their world-conquering days

The death of Maurice Gibb leaves a gaping hole in a British group who never attained a fashionable credibility but rose above the fickle tastes of fans and the media to carve a career over 40 years.

There are certainly arguments for suggesting only the Rolling Stones challenge the longevity of the Bee Gees in terms of successful acts with UK links.

In terms of sales, the brothers Gibb exceed the achievements of Jagger and co.

In fact, although the Bee Gees long left these shores to make a permanent home in Florida, it is not going too far to suggest that they are one of the few home-grown examples who have achieved American superstardom.

If figures such as Sinatra, Streisand and Minnelli have become the gods of this Olympus, the Bee Gees have a reputation as performers and songwriters that undoubtedly places them in the upper firmament of US showbusiness.

While the senior Barry became the handsome face of the Bee Gees from the mid-1960s, the younger twins Robin and Maurice provided perfect vocal foils.

Maurice's upper register harmonies became a distinctive feature of the band's sound.
Maurice Gibb sang the highest notes in the trio's songs
Maurice played bass, but his voice was his biggest contribution

More than that, the brothers all wrote and over the next few decades an impressive body of self-composed work was produced, much of it featuring in the UK and US top tens.

Why did the Bee Gees make the initial mark they did? There were various reasons.

They wrote some strong early songs and they possessed the muscle of a management team who could ensure they went places.

Stylistically they recalled the Everly Brothers in some ways but carried even stronger echoes of another group with authentic Manchester connections, the Hollies.

Furthermore there has been a strong tradition of successful family groups in popular music - from the Carters of country fame, through to soul giants like the Jacksons and the Isleys.

But the Bee Gees' trajectory was never forever onward and upward.

After the Sixties whirl, the early 1970s were bleaker. Yet in 1977, in a return to form, the group were able to leave a massive thumb-print on recent pop history.

There is every possibility that without a film called Saturday Night Fever and a Bee Gees' soundtrack of the same name the ubiquitous club culture of the early 21st Century would have not have emerged.

When disco arose in the early Seventies, a reaction to the macho excesses of white rock, its appeal lay only at the margins, with gays, blacks and women.

Maurice Gibb
The Bee Gees were one of the few UK groups to be US megastars
Travolta's performance and the Bee Gees' music turned disco into a global powerhouse and laid the way for house and techno, rave and clubbing in the 1980s.

With Saturday Night Fever, the brothers had no need to worry again about the next royalty cheque, but they continued, with minor lulls along the way, to compose and record.

When the outstanding You Win Again hit the top of the British charts in 1987 it was a reminder that the band, now domiciled on the other side of the Atlantic, had not gone away, and the 1990s saw them pay several visits to the top five.

It is not without irony that as Maurice reaches the end of his personal odyssey, the Gibb brothers still have a top five hit - Sacred Trust by One True Voice, the manufactured boy band who emerged from ITV's PopStars - The Rivals.

Can the Bee Gees continue? The answer is both yes and no.

The vocal sound that was instantly recognisable dies with Maurice as the singing style owed everything to the three-voice alchemy.

But it seems improbable that Barry and Robin will not maintain their singing and recording careers in due course.

The family has survived terrible tragedy before - the death of younger brother Andy in 1988 was a shattering blow but one of the group rose above.

Perhaps, given time, they will rise again but not, sadly, on the wings of Maurice's high-flying notes.

Simon Warner is a pop critic and lecturer in the BA in popular music at Leeds University.

Maurice Gibb

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