>Those soaring harmonies and songs with an amazing ‘feel good factor’ … the Bee Gees never fail to bring a smile to the face. If you’d like to experience all of the magic of this phenomenal band in action, don’t miss the Australian Bee Gees – the ultimate tribute to a wonderful era in music history, appearing at the MEC this month. Michael Clift, who captures Barry Gibb’s vocals and style to a T, tells us more about the group who are bringing back thousands of wonderful memories …
Where were you born?
I was born in Queanbeyan and spent the first 26 years of my life there. I moved to Melbourne in 1990, and I was there up until last year when we started our Vegas residency.
How did all the band members meet and come together?
We had an original band project, and we were like other original bands – self funded and independent. We didn’t have much money for recording sessions and videos, or promotion, because you don’t generally make much money as an independent band in Australia …
So we thought we would put together a tribute band. We thought, “Everyone’s doing Abba and the Beatles, Elvis – how about the Bee Gees”?
We booked a little line up that we had, picking who’d do which role … and that’s how it all started – quite by accident! So it wasn’t a situation where we advertised for Bee Gees to audition; we were actually already together as a group. It was a fluke that we could slip into the certain roles, because it’s very specific … we’re playing characters.
And now it’s been 16 years, 2,000 performances and 40 countries! That’s pretty amazing!
It is, yeah. I’m doing some editing of home movies of footage we shot on the tours and going back to ‘96/97, and it really hits home to you when you see that old footage. It feels like such a long time ago since we began. It has been a real evolution and taken up a huge chunk of our lives.
How challenging is it to adopt the personas and sing the way the Gibb brothers did?
Very challenging, because apart from being very talented singers, writers and performers, they had a distinct style – and since they were brothers, they were singing together and performing as kids, even before they were the Bee Gees in Manchester. Before they even were a professional act, they harmonised with close harmonies, and that’s something very intrinsic.
We really had to learn that – we had to work on the music to sound like them and to work on the characters, ’cause we wanted to delve a bit more into the characters, rather than just putting on wigs and outfits … we wanted to get to who they were as performers and people and try to recreate what they had, the magic they had. I think that’s why we’ve managed to stick together and made it to Las Vegas.
There aren’t many tribute bands in the main hotel (The Excalibur); we are the only one. There are a few playing in hotels off the Strip, but we’re the only one on the Strip.
You’ve been given a long residency there?
It’s a four year residency. The first year was pretty much like you’ve got three months and if it’s not working, you’re out of there! It was a big thing for us, because we relocated and left our family in Australia – it was a big risk to bring them all over.
It’s one of those things where if we didn’t try it, we would have kicked ourselves. It was a big risk, but one we thought was worth taking.
The songs you sing, are there some in particular that seem to be crowd favourites?
There are quite a few. The Bee Gees had so many hits; they had 20 number one US hits, which is phenomenal … and to put it in perspective, the Rolling Stones didn’t have one US number one hit in their whole career. To have 20 is incredible! It gives us a lot of material to work with and such a catalogue of massive songs.
It also depends: a lot of people love the ’60s stuff; some love the disco stuff but are not quite as familiar with the ’60s. A lot of Americans, the true fans, know all of the catalogue; a lot of the accidental fans probably know the ’70s, more because the Bee Gees were so huge in America in the ’70s … when they came to the US and were based there from the ’70s onwards, they had huge hits like the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. The ’70s is more of a focus for people until they see the show and realise how many great songs they had in the ’60s and beyond too – we pretty much cover everything in the show.
Do you personally have a particular favourite?
Personally for me, I always loved To Love Somebody, and Staying Alive is a fantastic song. I really love the melody and how the song is put together in Staying Alive, and it’s a great song to sing. There’s something about Staying Alive in the way it comes together; it’s such a hard song to get the rhythm right, as there’s such an amazing groove to it and the way it pushes along.
People always think about the harmonies and the vocal sounds in Staying Alive, but it’s the rhythm, the way it drives, that’s really hard to reproduce. It took years to get that song right!
Kudos to you for reaching the high register in that song!
Well, the Bee Gees sort of discovered falsetto in the early ’70s in a recording session. The song was actually Nights on Broadway and the producer, so the legend goes, sent Barry back into the vocal booth to do some scats and described the way the black Motown singers would use a falsetto.
It was just to see if he could do it, as he had never tried it before; so it’s the first time he ever attempted falsetto – and he realised he could. If you listen to that track, it’s pretty good for someone who hadn’t done it before! It’s a very difficult thing to discipline, but if you’re going to do the Bee Gees or Barry Gibbs, you have to nail it.
Anything else you’d like to share about the show?
It’s an audiovisual show. We have a big projector and screens, which really aid in setting the mood and tell the story of the Bee Gees.
I think that what we basically do is not just play the music and stand there on stage; we do the stage in character as if the Bee Gees were on stage in 2012, as if they were still touring – we try to present the show in a way that’s not a retrospective type of show, but it is a very nostalgic show.
The main feedback we get from the people who see the show in Vegas is the nostalgia of bringing people back to that period in their lives.
It’s important to keep the Bee Gees legacy going by doing the show with respect and doing the best job we can.
Interview by Jo Atkins.
This story was published in issue 66 of the Manning-Great Lakes Focus