Sadness behind Bee Gee day of honour

IT is the emotional return that means so much to Robin and Barry Gibb – but one that they have been secretly dreading.

Heading back to Manchester university to collect honorary degrees – which recognise the musical contribution of the Bee Gees – means revisiting the painful memories which have haunted the stars since their brother, Maurice, died from a heart attack last year.

“Maurice would have been so proud,” said Robin, 54, who was collecting a posthumous degree with Barry on behalf of his twin brother. “Really, this would have meant the world to him.”

The last time the Gibb family returned to Manchester publicly was at the time of a South Bank Show special in 1997, when Barry, Maurice, Robin and the boys’ mother, Barbara, now 83, were photographed outside their old Victorian home in Keppel Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy.

The bustling suburb was where six-year-olds Maurice and Robin first sought to perfect the harmonies that would become the signature of the Bee Gees’ massively-successful pop career.

The group went on to sell 110 million albums, had 19 No 1 hits and produced five songs for Saturday Night Fever, the defining album of the disco era – still one of the best-selling LPs of all time.

“We really are so honoured that the city where we grew up should have bestowed this honour upon us,” said Robin. “People ask whether Manchester really is that important to us – and it is.”

Robin and Barry will use the visit to Manchester to catch up with family members who still live in and around the city.

Asked about continuing speculation about whether the Bee Gees name will ever be used for another release, Robin added: “It is something that we are still talking about.”

Nor have the surviving brothers yet decided whether they will take legal action against the Mount Sinai Medical Center, in Miami, where Maurice died. “The last year has been incredibly difficult for us,” said Robin, who has a home in Oxfordshire.

“Returning home to Manchester without Maurice is a very hard thing for Barry and I to do. But we are grateful to have made such an impact in Manchester.”

They were born on the Isle of Man, where their mum was a singer and their father, Hugh, was leader of the Hughie Gibb Orchestra.

The family moved to Chorlton-cum-Hardy and the brothers made their first performance at the Gaumont Cinema in Manchester, in 1955, singing a version of Tommy Steele’s Wedding Bells.

“I think it was my suggestion that we go on and actually sing,” Robin recalls. “Maurice said: `You’re out of your box.’ But we did! All the kids went `Yeah!’ We were an instant hit.”

“We didn’t come from a very well-to-do background. We came from the backstreets of Manchester. We didn’t have any training, we weren’t born with silver spoons in our mouths and we didn’t go to universities of music. So it was a sort of street education.”

Indeed, Robin and Barry earned a reputation as teenie terrors, stealing from shops and starting fires, prompting Hugh Gibb to look for a way to save his sons from a life of petty crime.

The Gibb family emigrated to Australia in 1958, shortly after the birth of the youngest brother, Andy, who was to die in tragic circumstances after a brief career as a solo artist in the seventies.

“Manchester is still a fantastic part of Britain,” said Barry, 56, who bought the former family home two years ago.