When the Bee Gees made a triumphant UK comeback with 1988 Wembley Stadium performance

18 November 2022, 13:41

The British public couldn't wait to have the Bee Gees back on 'home soil' again.
The British public couldn't wait to have the Bee Gees back on 'home soil' again. Picture: Getty

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

The Bee Gees were arguably the biggest act of the 1970s.

The Bee Gees brought disco to the mainstream masses with Saturday Night Fever, and in turn became one of the most successful groups of that decade.

But when the 1980s came, the Gibb brother's fortunes weren't quite as favourable. In fact, the trio went into a major slump.

Deemed as cheesy and old hat in only a matter of a few years, disco came and went, and was left behind at the turn of the new decade.

Because of their enormous fame and attachment to disco music's mainstream appeal, the Bee Gees were also left behind by the charts, the music industry, and even some of their fanbase.

They found the next several years incredibly difficult. The public - at least in the US - just didn't want to be seen as fans of the band.

Rather than let the situation beat them up, they hunkered down in the studio and kept writing songs for the likes of Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, and Diana Ross.

Eventually, they decided to return to the stage themselves and the British public welcomed them back with open arms.

They remained the same creative force they were before their stint out of the spotlight, and they proved it during their epic Wembley Stadium comeback in 1988.

The Bee Gees were finally back in the UK. (Photo by Pete Still/Redferns)
The Bee Gees were finally back in the UK. (Photo by Pete Still/Redferns). Picture: Getty
Wembley Stadium was completely sold out, and an estimated 600 million people watched the concert from home. (Photo by Dale Cherry /Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Wembley Stadium was completely sold out, and an estimated 600 million people watched the concert from home. (Photo by Dale Cherry /Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Getty Images). Picture: Getty

And it wasn't exactly as though the stakes weren't incredibly high, given the occasion.

On 11th June 1988, the Anti-Apartheid Movement staged a huge concert at Wembley Stadium for Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday.

The anti-apartheid activist was imprisoned in 1962, so the AAM wanted to highlight his incredible bravery.

After the concert, a reported 77% of the British public immediately recognised Mandela and 70% of the public were calling for him to be released.

He eventually was released two years later in 1990, and would go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

The concert was broadcast in 67 countries around the world, so all the eyes of the world were on Wembley - an estimated 600 million people watched the concert.

Crucially, it marked the first time the Bee Gees had returned to perform in the UK for nearly a decade, and they made it count.

Aside from the Gibb brothers, the lineup was eye-popping with George Michael, Whitney Houston, UB40, Sting, Stevie Wonder, Eurythmics, and Dire Straits all appearing, with Eric Clapton joining the latter on guitar.

There was a special guest reserved for the Bee Gees' performance too, with Phil Collins taking up sticks for the two-song set.

Any fears of how they'd be welcomed after several years out of the spotlight quickly evaporated, as they entered the stage to 80,000 screaming fans.

They found their stride immediately - as soon as the drums powered in to the intro for their most recent single 'You Win Again', they were off.

"How you doing? You alright?" Barry says to the crowd, grinning from ear to ear.

After years of not releasing material as the Bee Gees, they were slightly disappointed as the song failed to perform well in the US due to the 'disco backlash'.

That wasn't the case in their former home of the UK however, with 'You Win Again' reaching No.1 in the singles chart and returning the Bee Gees back to the top again.

It's stay at No.1 even prevented George Michael's 'Faith' from reaching the top spot.

Barry Gibb performing at Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday concert. (Photo by Pete Still/Redferns)
Barry Gibb performing at Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday concert. (Photo by Pete Still/Redferns). Picture: Getty
Robin Gibb performing at Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday concert. (Photo by Pete Still/Redferns)
Robin Gibb performing at Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday concert. (Photo by Pete Still/Redferns). Picture: Getty
Maurice Gibb performing Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday concert. (Photo by Pete Still/Redferns)
Maurice Gibb performing Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday concert. (Photo by Pete Still/Redferns). Picture: Getty

And they were clearly enamoured about being on 'home turf' once again, given the incredible reception they got.

Note for note - as to be expected - they belted out 'You Win Again', but it was their second track that felt more poignant.

Choosing to take it back to the start for the band, they performed 'I've Gotta Get A Message To You' straight after.

The iconic chorus felt as though it was directed at both Nelson Mandela, as well as the 600 million people worldwide who they were promoting the message of his freedom to.

Their performance was one in a long list of incredible sets on the day, that increased visibility for Mandela's imprisonment and campaign to free the activist.

But what it absolutely did confirm is that the Bee Gees were truly back, and the world was pleased to see it.