Bee Gee Robin Gibb dies at 62

One of the men who brought disco to the mainstream.

Robin Gibb – one third of the seminal disco outfit the Bee Gees – has died of cancer at age 62.

Formed with his late twin brother Maurice and elder brother Barry, the Bee Gees garnered a place in musical history with their distinctive falsetto harmonies and disco classics like “Staying Alive”, “How Deep is Your Love” and “Emotion”. The group has sold upwards of 200 million records, penned hit tracks for artist like Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Yvonne Elliman, and Olivia Newton-John, and seen thousands of others recording version of their music throughout the past four decades. Their soundtrack for the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever defined a moment in musical history and is often credited with turning disco into a global phenomenon.

Today the music industry pays tribute to the man broadcaster Paul Gambaccini called "talented beyond even his own understanding". He went on: "Everyone should be aware that the Bee Gees are second only to Lennon and McCartney as the most successful songwriting unit in British popular music."

A life in music:

22 December 1949 – Born on the Isle of Man to a band leader father and former-singer mother who encourage their sons to perform.

1958 – Robin and his family move to Australia, where he and his brothers adopt the stage-name the Bee Gees (an abbreviation of Brothers Gibb).

1963 – The Bee Gees are signed to Festival Records Australian subsidiary Leedon Records.

1967  – The Bee Gees introduced to the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein and are soon signed with Polydor Records. Robert Stigwood calls them “The Most Significant Band of 1967”.

1969 – Robin quits the group amidst difficulties with his brother Barry.

1970 – Robin rejoins the group and The Bee Gees enjoy US success with "Lonely Days" and "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" (later covered by Al Green).

1977 – A turning point in the band’s career: the Bee Gees compose and perform the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever, bringing “disco craze” to the mainstream and skyrocketing the band to international success. Tracks such as “Staying Alive”, “How Deep is Your Love” and “Night Fever” reach Number 1 in countries worldwide.

1983 – Robin releases a solo album, several more to follow throughout the decades.

1997 – The Bee Gees receive the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music.

2000 – The Bee Gees receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys.

2009 – Robin tops the charts again with the Comic Relief version of "Islands in the Stream", a collaboration with Ruth Jones, Rob Brydon and Tom Jones.

 

(How Deep is Your Love, 1977)

 

(Staying Alive, 1977)

 

(John Travolta dances to "More Than a Woman" in Saturday Night Fever)

 

Robin Gibb (centre) with his brothers and bandmates Barry and Maurice in 1970. (Photo: Getty Images)

Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

Getty
Show Hide image

“I see the world in rectangles”: Life as a Lego Master Builder

Nathan Sawaya stunned colleagues when he quit his job as a lawyer to play with Lego full-time. Now everyone from Lady Gaga to Barack Obama’s a fan.

Nathan Sawaya is describing his favourite Lego brick, shiny-eyed and grinning at the thought of it. But he’s not a child proudly displaying a beloved toy. He’s a 43-year-old former corporate lawyer, and well over six foot tall. The brick he is evangelising about is a small 1x2 socket plate with a stud in the centre of its top. He calls this a “Jumper”.

“You know your Lego lingo?” he asks, looking crestfallen when I shake my head. “It has only one stud instead of two, and it allows you to do even more detail because you can offset the brick a little bit. But in general, I focus on the rectangular pieces.”


Getty

Sawaya is one of the world’s eight Lego Master Builders, having left his job at a New York law firm when he was 32 to dedicate his life to building Lego constructions full-time. His most striking works include a torso of a man ripping his chest open with bricks spilling out, called Yellow, a lifesize T-Rex skeleton, a two-metre long model of Brooklyn Bridge, and replicas of famous paintings, including the Mona Lisa, and Edvard Munch’s Scream.

I meet him in a dark exhibition space in a tent on London’s Southbank, where his works are lit up around us. His latest constructions consist of a series of DC Comics superheroes, so we are surrounded by expressionless Supermen flying around us, capes realistically rippling, and a full-size Batmobile with glistening batwings. His boyish eagerness aside, Sawaya himself looks like a comic book villain – a hulking figure dressed in black from top to toe, with a long black overcoat, piercing eyes and thick dark hair.


Getty

Back in his early thirties when he was a lawyer, he would come home after a punishing day at work and do something creative – drawing, painting, sculpting with clay and wire. He soon began to experiment with Lego, constructing models out of sets he had lying around the house. His son, now 17, was never particularly interested in playing with it himself.

“Eventually I made the choice to leave the law firm behind and become a full-time artist who plays with toys,” he beams.

His family was supportive, his colleagues jealous, and his bosses confused – but it wasn’t long until Sawaya found success as a Lego artist. He has had exhibitions of his work on every continent but Antarctica, and gained some high-profile fans. When he was US President, Barack Obama posed with one of his installations – monochrome life-size men sitting on park benches in Washington – and Bill Clinton has a sculpture in his office, as does Lady Gaga in a music video.

“That is the magic of Lego,” he says of his popularity. “It has become a universal language in a way.”


Getty

Sawaya’s Master Builder status means he can buy all his bricks directly from Lego in bulk – not possible for us Lego civilians. He used to buy sets in toy shops and on eBay when starting out; now he can email asking for 500,000 red 2x4 bricks, say, and Lego ships them to him on wooden pallets. He has six million bricks on hand at his studio in Los Angeles. “Millions of each colour and shape and size,” he says. “And they’re all organised by shape and colour.”

He works away for hours at a time in his studio, with his dogs obediently at his feet, in what he describes as a “trance”. He plans designs on special “brick paper” like graph paper, but sometimes he free-builds from his imagination. “I do often see the world in rectangles,” he says, and sometimes he even dreams in bricks.

Just like children do with Lego sets, he simply snaps the bricks together – though he does dab glue between each brick, which triples the time it takes. He describes it as “therapeutic”, but says making a mistake can be “heartbreaking” – he can lose days and weeks of work at a time. “There may be times where I start questioning my choices in life,” he smiles.


Photos: Copyright Jane Hobson

Sawaya faced snobbery from the art world when he first began approaching galleries as a Lego artist. “Oh, is that cars and trucks and little castles?” was the response. He feels it’s now a more acceptable medium. “It makes art accessible,” he says. “And in doing that, it democratises the art world a bit. It allows people to relate to the art. Everyone has snapped a brick together at one point, every child has played a little bit with Lego.

“As an artist, my role is to inspire. And what better way to do it than through a medium everyone is familiar with? If someone sees a marble statue, they can appreciate it, but very few people have marble at home they can chip away at.”

The first Lego creation Sawaya can remember making was a little house, when he was first given the toy at the age of five. He then made a city that grew to 36 square feet. When he was ten, he was desperate for a dog. His parents refused, so he tore all his creations down and built a lifesize one. “It was blocky and very multi-coloured, of course,” he says. “But it was that ‘Aha!’ moment – when I realised it doesn’t have to be on the front of the box. It can be whatever I want.”

The Art of the Brick: DC Super Heroes is on at Upper Ground, Southbank, London, until 3 September 2017.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496