A new documentary tracing the lives of the Bee Gees is not just the story of a band – it’s a celebration of family.
While The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart touches on the early lives of Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb in Australia, it picks up the story as they journey to England and then to the US, capturing the soaring highs and the crushing lows, their remarkable resilience and their ability to continually reinvent themselves as musicians and songwriters.
Producer Nigel Sinclair says with so much material to draw on, the team behind The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart created a narrative that reflects the brothers’ journey as a family.
A respected producer of documentaries about the music industry, Sinclair’s work includes The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, Amazing Journey: Story of The Who, and Foo Fighters: Back and Forth, but he says this project was like no other.
“First of all, you start out trying to decide what this story’s all about, what is it about these people that is remarkable and the first thing that jumps out at me is family. Their unusually tight commitment to family.”
Nigel says the second thing that struck the crew was the Bee Gees’ unparalleled talent and creativity.
“This was a story of three brothers who were actually all prodigies, not just one, as is usually the case. Every time there’s a crisis, they go back to song writing. That’s how it happens that they wrote 1000 songs and had 24 top 10 number one hits.”
Speaking from Los Angeles, Nigel says while the influence of Australia – including Redcliffe, where they played their first gig – is unmistakable, director Frank Marshall and the producers made a difficult decision not to dwell on their years here in the film – although at one point Barry says living in Miami reminds him of his Australian childhood.
“They cut their teeth as musicians and, most importantly, as harmonic composers there,” Nigel says.
“So, we get them to England and then they have this explosive journey, then they fall into a wilderness of despair and then they have another amazing success.
“And then they have the disco backlash, which was absolutely horrifying, which we really didn’t realise until we started researching, that it was really unpleasant, unpleasantly motivated.”
Nigel says community outrage about disco music - which had its origins in African-American and Latino dance music and underground gay culture - had a profound impact on the Bee Gees, with radio stations refusing to play their music and death and bomb threats dogging their touring schedule.
“It’s been said that the Bee Gees aligned themselves with a movement that supported counter-culture and tolerance and got caught up in it,” he says
“That (disco backlash) was really shocking. It was actually horrible. Robin was very upset by it (but) Barry is a person with a very equitable temperament. He just sort of knuckled down and made an album (Guilty) with Barbra Streisand that sold millions of copies.
“For about five or six years they went on and wrote songs for other artists, not as the Bee Gees but as three brothers.”
Nigel says the documentary would not have been complete without including younger brother Andy, who was to have performed with the reformed Bee Gees, but died of a heart attack in 1988 at the age of 30.
“Andy’s relationship with his brothers artistically has always been there on the table,” he explains.
“Barry wanted to include Andy (in the film) because he became a very successful singer under his guidance and briefly performed with the Bee Gees.
“We wanted to follow his journey and it had some great joys and some sorrows and you saw Maurice trying to care for him (as he battled with addiction) and it would have been incomplete if we hadn’t covered Andy’s trajectory.”
Nigel says it was a privilege to follow the story of the Bee Gees and Barry was very focused on honouring his brothers’ contribution.
“It was clear to us that Barry was ready to tell this story as an older man looking back on his life,” he explains.
“As you see in the beginning of the film when he says `my brothers are gone and we can’t bring that back and my memories are my memories’.”
Barry’s memories are supplemented by interviews with Robin and Maurice, including from a set of comprehensive recordings in 2000, as well as footage of Andy.
“I would say Barry was our spiritual guide in putting this film together,” Nigel says.
“But to be clear, we were independent. It was Frank’s film with some help from the producers, but Barry brought to it an emotion, a sense of spiritual settling up with the past.”
Explore the Bee Gees career spanning over four decades as you stroll down Bee Gees Way. The open-air museum will take visitors through an historical account, and meteoric rise of one of the world’s biggest pop groups.
The monument features more than 60 captioned photos and 13 album covers spanning the band’s career. Visitors can explore the musical phenomenon from their humble beginnings to their career highlights. Take in a huge 70-metre mural featuring artwork of Barry, Robin, Maurice, and Andy Gibb.
Every night from 7pm until 9.30pm visitors can witness light shows set to the Bee Gees greatest hits. This is a must-see event for anyone planning a trip to Bee Gees Way.
Discover more about the Bee Gees’ time in Redcliffe here.