I was a little unsure how to tackle this collection of demos and other rarities from 1968-70, comprising CD3 of Saved By the Bell: the Collected Works of Robin Gibb 1968-1970 . The pieces are not slight but they are, by their very nature, often incomplete or unfinished.
Works in progress
All 23 tracks here are previously unreleased. They were never intended to be made publicly available let alone form a coherent album. They add further weight to the sheer quantity of material Robin produced during his time away from the Bee Gees and his fertile imagination around this time. They also provide insights into his working practices and how the songs later shaped up.
With the CD clocking-in at 73.55, hearing it in one sitting isn’t always easy listening. This is partly because of the raw emotion conveyed pretty much across all tracks, also the slow, sometimes wavering pace of the songs (many of them in ¾ time) and the unadorned sonic quality of many of the recordings.
#2 Janice and #3 Love Just Goes are perhaps the most extreme examples of all of Robin’s tendencies at this time. The dirge like Janice enjoys a good chorus melody and benefits from plucked then bowed strings but with its heart-wrenching relentlessness coming in at 5.36, is a little too unremittingly sad to be a comfortable listen. Still, the song’s expressiveness cannot be denied.
The rendition of #4 August October is likewise slow and prolonged, low backing vocals accentuating a mournful air. Despite a rather splendid ending, August October was to benefit hugely from the contrasting faster pace adopted on the final Robin’s Reign version.
Sessions for Brian Matthew and Johnnie Walker (#6-10) offer interesting variations on familiar songs and also provide historical insights into the needle-time saving practice of BBC sessions during the 60s and 70s.
#6 Saved By the Bell is a smooth rendition with lots of backing vocal and what sounds like a double tracked vocal whilst #8 August, October is mandolin heavy.
Again I’m struck by the sheer good naturedness of the slightly overlooked #9 Weekend, sounding a little punchier here maybe due to compression. #13 Give Me a Smile highlights how the bass moves the chorus along.
Interviews with Brian Matthew (#7) and David Wigg of The Daily Express (#11) again reveal Robin’s array of projects at this time, most of which were never seen to see fruition. It’s interesting to speculate whether they may have done so had he not returned to the Bee Gees’ fold in 1970.
Talking to the always upbeat Brian Matthew, Robin speaks of his ‘unlimited horizon’ for writing and unsurprisingly describes himself as a dreamer. If you didn’t know of his huge success, he might be any aspiring English songwriter with a head awash with ideas. The conversation ends in a half humorous, half bewildered fashion.
Then follow a clutch of the most interesting tracks, representing ‘new’ songs.
#12 The Band Will Meet Mr Justice (demo) sounds like and is from 1968, delivered in busking style on acoustic guitar whilst #13 The People’s Public Poke Song (demo) is a nonsense animal song which again wouldn’t have been out of place as a quirkier piece on Bee Gees 1st. #15 The Girl to Share Each Day (demo) – again acoustic guitar only – is a romantic song from Robin’s perspective of invisibility and vulnerability. #16 Come Some Halloween or Christmas Day (demo), with its Indian Gin and Whiskey Dry-like melody meanders rather (well it is a demo) and would benefit from a little trimming. #17 Heaven in My Hands is slightly ragged in places with snatches of weird lyrics.
#18 Most of My Life (demo) is the final track on Robin’s Reign and not one of my favourites but here it is set to organ only which inadvertently creates the odd effect of Robin in a deserted church, seated at the instrument, singing this to himself, recalling the wonderful Lord Bless All. The plaintive quality of Robin’s voice makes an organ pairing particularly expressive.
#19 Goodbye Cruel World (demo) sees Robin ‘crying and wanting to go home’ whilst #21 Don’t Go Away (demo) offers more soulful, anguished vocals. The likable #20 Down Came the Sun (demo) was later to appear on Robin’s Reign.
Two final tracks are credited to Robin Gibb Orchestra and Chorus with both #22 Moon Anthem and #23 Ghost of Christmas Past sounding most fulsome after the primitivism of what has gone before – fitting attempts to provide finales for this disparate collection.
This CD is essentially for Robin devotees. The material is not lacking, it’s just that absorbing a body of ‘work in progress’ is inevitably not the nuanced, satisfying experience of a Robin’s Reign or Sing Slowly Sisters. The value of the rarities is largely scholarly and completist.
As I mentioned, I also find a one-sitting listen quite draining. The insularity and emotionally charged nature of these songs – fervent, tender, passionate, sentimental sometimes almost disturbed – make heavy demands on the listener. It’s as if Robin has retreated from the many mansions splendour of Odessa into just one (windowless) room.
None of this detracts from Andrew Sandoval and his team’s huge and worthy achievement in allowing us all to hear this material after four decades. Nor from Robin Gibb for writing it.
Complete track listing CD3:
1. Alexandria Good Time – 3.14
2. Janice – 5.36
3. Love Just Goes – 5.06
4. August October “Agosto Ottobre” (Italian) – 2.34
5. One Million Years “Un Millione de Ani” (Italian) – 4.13
6. Saved By the Bell (BBC) – 2.52
7. Robin Talks With Brian Matthew (BBC) – 1.37
8. August October (BBC) – 2.22
9. Weekend (BBC) – 2.05
10. Give Me a Smile (BBC) – 3.29
11. Robin Talks With David Wigg (BBC) – 1.41
12. The Band Will Meet Mr Justice (demo) – 2.46
13. The People’s Public Poke Song (demo) – 1.49
14. Indian Gin and Whiskey Dry (demo) – 1.53
15. The Girl to Share Each Day (demo) – 2.14
16. Come Some Halloween or Christmas Day (demo) – 3.43
17. Heaven In My Hands (demo) – 2.11
18. Most of My Life (demo) – 3.51
19. Goodbye Good World (demo) – 3.08
20. Down Came the Sun (demo) – 2.47
21. Don’t Go Away (demo) – 5.10
22. Moon Anthem (Robin Gibb Orchestra & Chorus) – 5.34
23. Ghost of Christmas Past (Robin Gibb Orchestra & Chorus) – 7.43
Saved By the Bell: the Collected Works of Robin Gibb 1968-1970 [Rhino, LC 02982, June 2015]