No. 26 in Top 50 Bee Gees’ Songs 1966-72
By Robin Gibb
Lead Vocal: Robin
Recording: 1970 [Robin – Sing Slowly Sisters solo project: unreleased*]
“Fresh farmer’s milk that never turns sour”
Robin began work on what became known as his Sing Slowly Sisters sessions in early January 1970. With its lyrical invocations of the quiet English countryside, Cold Be My Days could be his contribution to the ‘back to nature’ vibe of early that year.
As the ’60s party ended, many of rock’s cognoscenti took to the hills as if in self-imposed exile, Paul McCartney not least among them. The mood was of reconnecting with self and with nature following indulgence and excess. Robin’s exile was not out of choice and was more about immersing himself in the freedom of composition than it was literally taking flight. Not for him the homely rural Ram, the cystalline purity of Another Diamond Day or the warm Celtic-rock of Open Road; Sing Slowly Sisters is a collection of unfettered loneliness, loss and longing born in the refuge of his own home. Possibly Robin was listening to Fairport Convention or any number of rare, semi-forgotten ‘mixed up minds’ 45s which peppered the turn of the decade as there is something of that mood here.
Although tinged with a peculiarly English melancholia, ‘Cold Be My Days’ also allows in much light and contentment. The song records with fondness Robin’s days of horse-riding with Barry and Molly, his first wife. Uncharacteristically, it is written not from the viewpoint of backward-looking regret but entirely in the present tense. With its constant rousing returns to ‘Shipston-On-Stour’ you can hear him rejoicing in the place.
English folk song
At over six minutes, Cold Be My Days is one of Robin’s longest songs, extending its old English folk song sensibility by way of some pleasing classical-type variations on the melody, almost evoking ‘call and response’ in a couple of places. String quartet and (later) harpsichord evoke an atmosphere of pastoral bliss. You can see the dew soaked cobwebs, feel your breath dissolve into the frosty air.
Nature features surprisingly rarely in Bee Gees’ songs. Here, though, Robin furnishes some of his loveliest and most pictorial lyrics – ‘Warm be the air on a wet afternoon’, ‘Damp be the dew on a long summer’s night’. The line ‘I work my fingers to the bone’ is especially touching because he obviously loves that too.
‘Cold Be My Days’ is full of tenderness but not the over-sweetness which characterises Barry’s 1970 offerings on Cucumber Castle. Only the scratchiness of the surviving recording detracts from an altogether memorable and charming piece.
∗ subsequently released 1st June 2015