Robin Gibb: 'I don't sing with my voice, I sing with my heart' – a classic interview from 1969

To mark the sad death of Robin Gibb, we visit Rock's Backpages – the world's leading archive of vintage music journalism – for this interview with him by Keith Altham, first published after the Bee Gees' temporary split in August 1969 in Top Pops

With Robin Gibb hurtling up the charts with his first solo single, Saved By the Bell, it would appear that the answer to the question, "Who was the key figure in the Bee Gees' success?" has been firmly given. If Robin had a motto it would be covered by that line from the Max Bygraves hit of yesteryear – "You've Gotta Have Heart."

Robin informed me during a recent interview. "I sing how I feel. I know I haven't got a great voice but I manage to touch something inside other people that they understand. It is an accident but the best kind of accident – one with no blood involved."

Robin quite rightly believes that his distinctive vocal style is an important ingredient in his success although he likes people to listen to the lyrics he writes as well. The imperfect, broken quality of his voice is something that he quite deliberately retains and regards the suggestion of taking singing lessons with understandable indignation.

"If I did that it would not be me, would it?" he says. "Dylan sings in the same way as me. He uses his heart as an instrument. Even I can't understand completely why this works but it does. It's not possible for any artist to jump outside themselves and see themselves for what they are. Even when you look in a mirror you get a reversed image!"

There has never been any secret made of the fact that Robin is an over-sensitive personality and he reacts like a finely strung instrument to the vibrations of life as those tensions and frustrations tear at him. He maintains that he has never objected to constructive criticism but that gossip in the press and those elements who seem intent upon prying into his private life both hurt and anger him.

"I actually like constructive criticism in the press but there is too little of it," said Robin. "The thing that really hurt me, and was the deciding factor on my splitting from the Bee Gees, concerned a feature which was conducted between a reporter and my wife. It took things entirely out of context which she had said and slandered both my character and her own. It made it look as though Molly was a bad influence on me instead of the inspiration she is."

What other inspirations does this talented young composer draw his work from?

"Perhaps because I am unduly sensitive, things like the Hither Green rail crash in which I was involved affect me deeply," said Robin. "That had a lasting effect upon me – I saw bodies and people being given the last rites. I'm frightened stiff of death.

"It also enabled me to work out who my friends were. The curious merely wanted to know whether I had seen any dead bodies – the friends were those who wanted to know how I felt.

"Sometimes things that I read touch me – writers like Lewis Carroll and Charles Dickens affect me. I read this piece in one of Dickens' books where he was trying to get published an article condemning the spectacle of public hangings. The law of the day slapped a writ on him for interfering with public entertainment!"

Not surprisingly for so delicately-balanced a personality, Robin is something of a sentimentalist and unashamedly admits to seeing the Julie Andrews' film Mary Poppins no less than five times.

"I love the music they write for Julie," said Robin. "I would love to write a song for her. I tried to get Mary Poppins for my home movie projector – the Sherman brothers write beautiful songs. Rogers and Hammerstein, I like all that kind of music."

For so sensitive a person it would seem that the very idea of a solo career might have been a frightening decision – was it?

"No, I was getting too hurt where I was," said Robin. "Music to me is an adventure and I can do far more on my own. It was restricting writing for the Bee Gees but I enjoyed it until they began to judge what I was doing. I'm not going to be judged. O.K. SO I KILLED A MAN – BUT I'M NOT GOING TO BE JUDGED!"

The stars are another influence on Robin – those in the sky – not on the stage. He explains his belief in astrology thus:

"It's a fact that the moon has an effect upon our seas and tides. It is a fact that some people behave strangely during certain phases of the moon. Multiply the effects of one small asteroid by all the billions of stars and that is why I believe in the influence of the stars".

Amongst his independent projects now are a musical around the character of Dickens' Scrooge and another around the figure of Henry VIII.

"I'm a British history fanatic," said Robin. "History fascinates me – my particular hero is Sir Winston Churchill. I doubt whether there will ever be a greater man.

"I've written the songs for Henry VIII and the story can be written around those songs. It's a happy-sad story rather like most of my work. Full of pathos."

Finally I talked to Robin about the choice of Saved By the Bell for his first single. Was it a difficult choice to make and did he write the song as a deliberate single?

"Everything I write I write to the best of my ability," said Robin. "That is every song I have written could be a single – I never write A-sides that would be an insult to my ego. Mother And Jack on the flip of Saved By the Bell could just as well have been an A-side. All the tracks for my first LP could be singles."

Keith Altham

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Robin Gibb stuns doctors by waking from coma
Doctors put Bee Gees singer's recovery down to his 'iron will'

Sean Michaels

23, Apr, 2012 @9:18 AM

Article image
Bee Gees' Robin Gibb making 'spectacular' recovery from cancer
Singer feels 'fantastic' following treatment for colon cancer

Sean Michaels

06, Feb, 2012 @11:07 AM

Article image
Robin Gibb to undergo further chemotherapy
Doctors fear Bee Gee's cancer may have spread to his liver, according to singer's friend

Sean Michaels

10, May, 2012 @11:45 AM

Robin Gibb – a life in pictures

One-third of the Bee Gees and a singer-songwriter who helped to turn disco into a global phenomenon has died aged 62

21, May, 2012 @12:25 AM

Robin Gibb, pioneer of disco, dies at 62

Bee Gee who notched up dozens of hits both with his brothers and solo dies after a protracted struggle against cancer

Ben Quinn

21, May, 2012 @12:27 AM

Article image
Bee Gees' Robin Gibb diagnosed with liver cancer
Singer briefly hospitalised last week and is now recovering at home, according to reports

Sean Michaels

21, Nov, 2011 @9:52 AM

Article image
Robin Gibb cancels tour due to stomach pains
Bee Gees singer advised by doctors to pull Brazil dates after waking up in 'terrible pain'

Sean Michaels

06, Apr, 2011 @11:00 AM

Article image
Bee Gees' Robin Gibb undergoes emergency intestinal surgery
Singer had recently recovered from colon cancer, but now faces further setback

Sean Michaels

29, Mar, 2012 @9:36 AM

Robin Gibb: a tribute in words and music

Barry may have been the leader of the Bee Gees, but Robin was the eccentric, the grit in their oyster, says Bob Stanley

Bob Stanley

20, May, 2012 @11:26 PM

Article image
Robin Gibb: Twitter salutes the Bee Gees singer

Justin Timberlake and Mick Hucknall are among the famous fans to pay their respects to the late Bee Gee

21, May, 2012 @12:01 PM