Bendigo's hitmakers for the Bee Gees

Ben Cameron | Bendigo Weekly | 25-May-2012

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Bob, (fourth left) with the Bee Gees and below, Claire and Bob Georgeson.
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We’ve gotta get this message to you: the woman who helped break the Bee Gees in Australia lives right under our noses.

With the sad passing of Robin Gibb, the songwriting genius behind songs like I Started A Joke and New York Mining Disaster 1941, the Bendigo Weekly has discovered Strathfieldsaye’s Claire Georgeson handpicked their first ever hit.

In the 1960s, Claire was working for Festival Records in Adelaide,  Australia’s oldest independent record company, after being poached from EMI by her future husband, Bob.

Claire’s job was to screen new music and pick out songs worthy of air play, and when she came across a record called Spicks and Specks and gave it a spin, she knew she had a hit on her hands.

“It wasn’t their first record, they made seven records prior to that which didn’t catch on,” Bob said.

“It had a good sound to it and I thought ‘that’s a catchy little number’,” Claire said.

“I gave it out to the radio stations saying it was going to be a hit. They started playing it and got heaps of requests for it.”

Claire obviously had an ear for music as Spicks and Specks went to number one, but she wasn’t the only one getting excited about the potential in the Gibb brothers: when they arrived in Adelaide for a tour, they got their first taste of broadening exposure.

“When they were in the taxi they heard Spicks and Specks being played (on the radio),” Claire said.

“They’d never heard it played on the radio before. They were very excited, they were only boys then.”

Bob, a more vibrant and genteel 89-year-old you couldn’t find, worked for 25 years with Festival, earning his own gold record for services to the industry.

While he also sold sporting equipment through his job (“the Bee Gees bought a very expensive fishing rod and a rifle”) Bob’s  main job basically involved laying on the charm, taking visiting artists to meet and greets at radio stations, setting up television interviews, and taxiing them to gigs and after-show parties.

Those names read like a who’s who of music royalty in the 1950s and 60s, everybody from Johnny O’Keefe, Jimmy Little, Peter Allen, Rolf Harris, Sammy Davis Junior, Bill Haley and the Comets, The Carpenters, Burt Bacharach, Olivia Newton John, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Ella Fitzgerald, Dionne Warwick and Louis Armstrong.

“Some were really nice, others were far from it,” Bob said.

“Shirley Bassey was a pain in the bum.

“I used to take the Bee Gees to a little restaurant in Burke Street.

“They were very nice guys, they had refreshing attitudes, not full of themselves like many of the others were.

“They were also well behaved, which was refreshing too (laughs).

“Rupert Murdoch was involved in those days. I knew Rupert from when he was just a young man starting out as a copy boy in the newspaper industry.

“He introduced Olivia Newton John to Hollywood, he singled her out and said ‘that’s a star’.

“He eventually became the head of Festival Records.”

The Bee Gee’s career eventually took flight after they left Australia for England in 1967, but their records continued to be released through Festival on the Leedon label until 1974, and the Bee Gees would often call in to see Bob during this time.

“They always remembered they got the first airplay that they knew of in Adelaide,” Claire said.

Although she hasn’t spoken to any of the brothers in many years, Claire’s memory of Robin is as a quiet soul.

“He was perhaps more withdrawn than the others,” she said.

“Barry was very extroverted, he was always going to be the front man, but the twins were very close.

“They were all very close, through their ups and downs, they were always together.”

Bob finished with Festival in 1983.

“My job involved a lot of international travel, but the stress got a bit too much for me,” he said.

“So we retired to North Harcourt, then moved to Strathfieldsaye seven years ago.”

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