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
• Obituary: high notes and harmonies
• Bob Stanley: a tribute in words and music
• Life in pictures

Robin Gibb, one-third of the Bee Gees and a singer-songwriter who helped to turn disco into a global phenomenon by providing the core of the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, has died from cancer.

With his distinctive, quavering voice, Gibb notched up dozens of hits and sold more than 200m records as a performer and writer along with his twin brother Maurice, who died in 2003, and elder brother Barry.

The siblings, whose catalogue includes Massachusetts, I've Gotta Get a Message to You, How Deep Is Your Love and Stayin' Alive, established their pop legacy by placing their falsetto harmonies at the centre of the 70s disco boom.

It was an era whose look they also captured, posing for the cover of the Saturday Night Fever album with toothy smiles, bouffant hair and tight white outfits.

Born on the Isle of Man to English parents on 22 December, 1949, Gibb started out performing alongside his brothers as a child act encouraged by their father Hugh, a band leader, and their mother Barbara, a former singer.

The family moved to Australia in 1958, where the brothers continued to perform and took the name Bee Gees, an abbreviation of brothers Gibb. Seeking to move beyond the Australian market, they returned to the UK in the mid-60s and had their first major hit with New York Mining Disaster 1941, which reached the Top 20 in both the UK and US.

A later single, To Love Somebody, was co-written by Robin, but the lead vocals were taken by Barry. This led to tension and Robin quit the group in 1969.

The Bee Gees regrouped in 1970 and enjoyed their first US No 1, Lonely Days. The following year they had another hit with How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, later covered by soul legend Al Green.

Their manager, Robert Stigwood, brought them on board for Saturday Night Fever, a film he was producing, and the songs were written in little over a weekend. Disco was already established but the music and the film combined to give it even greater popularity.

The band's sales took a hit with the end of the disco boom and they concentrated on solo material and producing hits for other artists before staging a comeback in 1987.

Gibb, a sensitive, teetotal vegetarian, was described last night as "a musical giant" by the British singer songwriter Mick Hucknall, one of a number of celebrities paying tribute to him.

The DJ Mike Read, who was a family friend, said the singer had an "incredible voice", adding: "Robin had the voice, the pathos, and he was a great writer."

"In his head he could come up with some great melodies. I was delighted to work with him. He had a gift for melody and a gift for lyrics and left a phenomenal legacy, a phenomenal catalogue."

The former deputy prime minister, John Prescott, tweeted: "Just heard about Robin Gibb. A good friend, a brilliant musician and a man who turned all of us into wannabe Travoltas!"

In recent years, Gibb had found it particularly hard to come to terms with the 2003 death of his twin. In an interview seven months later, he said: "He was part of the fabric of my life. We were kids together, and teenagers. We spent the whole of our lives with each other because of our music. I can't accept that he's dead. I just imagine he's alive somewhere else."

He was later to contract the same bowel condition that led to his brother's death, leading to his own protracted bout of ill health.

In 2011 he finished recording his first solo album in seven years, a collection tentatively titled 50 St Catherine's Drive.

Doctors performed surgery on his bowel 18 months ago but a tumour was discovered and he was diagnosed with cancer of the colon and subsequently of the liver.

He fell into a coma last month after contracting pneumonia but his family later said he had "beaten the odds" just days after doctors said he "was in God's hands". His family announced his death yesterday in a statement "with great sadness".

He last performed on stage in February, supporting injured servicemen and women at the Coming Home charity concert held at the London Palladium and had been due to premiere his classical work The Titanic Requiem in April with son Robin-John, but the event went ahead without him due to his poor health.


Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

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