Cucumber Castle (1970)

Way before Saturday Night Fever and even longer still than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Bee Gees had been around. Brothers Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb first started recording in 1958 yet before that, they were a skiffle group out of Manchester called the Rattlesnakes and another act called Wee Johnny Hayes and the Blue Cats.

The family moved to Australia, where they started singing at the Redcliffe Speedway for Bill Goode. That’s where they got their name, which does not stand for Brothers Gibb, but instead because Goode and Barry shared the same initials. Throughout the 60s, they would record their own songs and write for other artists, not really finding much success until in 1967, when Go-Set, Australia’s most popular and influential music newspaper, named “Spicks and Specks” as their best single of the year.

That — and demos sent by their father to Brian Epstein, who passed them to Robert Stigwood — got the brothers signed to Polydor and a campaign that proclaimed them the most significant new musical talent of 1967. They were compared to the Beatles, which worked just fine, because when a white-labeled radio station single of their second release, “New York Mining Disaster 1941” ended up at those stations, it was just assumed to be a new Beatles song and placed into heavy rotation. Their next song, “To Love Somebody,” which was written by Barry for Otis Redding, was a huge success without any subterfuge.

For a time, the three brothers received a Beatles-like reaction from fans and had numerous big hits like “I Started a Joke” and “Words.” Yet by 1969, there were problems. Robin collapsed and fell unconscious, then was sent to a London nursing home for exhaustion; he missed recording sessions in America and felt that Stigwood was pushing for Barry to be the star. After “Lamplight” was put on the b-side of the song “First of May” as a single, he left the band and pursued a solo career. Drummer Colin Petersen also soon left the group and was replaced by Pentangle drummer Terry Cox* — and Gibb sister Lesley — to record the songs for Cucumber Castle.

Sadly, the album was a failure and the Bee Gees broke up.

There was a movie made to promote it and that’s what we’re really here to discuss.

Prince Frederick (Barry Gibb) and his brother Prince Marmaduke (Maurice Gibb) receive an audience from their dying father (Frankie Howerd, who played Mr. Mustard in the Bee Gee’s Beatles cover movie, but is better known as a long-time British comedian) who tells them that he is breaking the kingdom into two kingdoms for his sons. Frederick will be the ruler of Cucumber while Marmaduke will be the king of Jelly. And then he gets better and changes his mind.

While this film is a trifle, it’s worth it to see Lulu — the castle’s cook! — sing “Mrs. Robinson” and a great performance of “Well All Right” by Blind Faith, plus appearances by Ginger Baker, Vincent Price, Spike Milligan, Roger Daltry, Donovan, Marianne Faithful and Mick Jagger. Seriously, this little show had an A-list cast!

Cucumber Castle was oh-so-briefly released in the U.S. in the early days of VHS and Beta by the Video Tape Network, but quickly was quickly pulled due to a licensing issue. It’s been one of the rarest commercial releases ever and has never been officially reissued ever.

It was directed by Hugh Gladwish and Mike Mansfield, who went on to make the music videos “Charlotte Sometimes” for The Cure, “Goody Two Shows,” “Prince Charming,” “Ant Rap,” “Desperate but Not Serious,” “Stand and Deliver,” “Puss ‘n Boots” and “Strip” for Adam Ant, “Bark at the Moon” for Ozzy Osbourne and lots of video work for ELO.

*Peterson played on some of the album tracks and was in the movie, but got edited out after he departed.

A postscript:

After Cucumber Castle stalled, Maurice made an unreleased solo album. Barry did the same and only a single was released. And Robin had a decent hit with Saved by the Bell” and was constantly touring.

Somehow, someway, on August 21, 1970, the three brothers came back together with Barry announcing that the Bee Gees “are there and they will never, ever part again” as well as Maurice publically apologizing for things he’d said about Robin.

Sure, they went through a creative rut, but after adopting a more R&B sound on Mr. Natural, they recorded Main Course in Miami where “Nights on Broadway” and “Jive Talkin'” became monster releases. Their next album, Children of the World, pushed by the single “You Should Be Dancing,” finally made them huge stars in America. And then they did this little disco soundtrack and things worked out pretty well after that…

You can watch this on the incredible White Slaves of Chinatown 3D YouTube channel, which is always full of such amazing video and movie footage.

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