NEW YORK -- Maurice Gibb is remembering the Bee Gees' first major concert at the Gaumont Theatre in Manchester, England. "We used to mime to records after the main feature. We were using an Everly Brothers record, and as I crossed the street I dropped it and it smashed. The theater manager said, 'Well, boys, you'll have to sing,' and he put the microphone in front of us. So we sang 'I Love You Baby,' 'Lollipop' and 'Book of Love' and the kids went crazy. They applauded and the manager said, 'You've got to come back next week,' and he gave us half a crown each. "Robin and I had just turned 7." Robin and Maurice Gibb, the world's least identical twins, are now 39. Lion-maned brother Barry is 42, and during the '70s they smashed a few more records along the way. In fact, until Michael Jackson's "Thriller" came along, they had the biggest-selling album of all time, the soundtrack to an innocuous little film called "Saturday Night Fever." For most folks, this would be good news, but that's when the Bee Gees' problems began. "Anybody who's had a successful project shouldn't have to endure what we've had to endure because of it," says Barry Gibb soberly. This may seem an odd sentiment from a group that's sold 100 million records, including 30 million copies of "Saturday Night Fever." Yet the Bee Gees, who will perform tonight at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, were blamed for starting a joke that started the whole world laughing -- disco. Maurice Gibb insists they were innocent of conspiring to make the mindless dance-floor aesthetic of disco rule the world. Ironically, because the Bee Gees were too busy to actually write songs for a movie whose script they never even saw, they simply let their manager (who was also the film's producer) have a few songs already recorded for their upcoming album. Those songs were "Stayin' Alive," "Night Fever" and "Too Much Heaven." And in the process, they became the symbol of -- and ultimately the caricature for -- discomania. "No one suspected," says Maurice. "There was no big budget or hype. The film was made on a shoestring. It came out and suddenly everybody wanted to dance. I don't know what it was." It was about $75 million at the box office, and the two-album soundtrack spent half a year at the top of the charts, won the Bee Gees five Grammys and helped make them the only group ever to write, perform and produce six consecutive No. 1 singles. At one point in 1978, they had written, produced and/or performed the top four charted singles: "Love Is Thicker Than Water" for younger brother Andy Gibb, "Emotion" for Samantha Sang, and "Night Fever" and "Stayin' Alive" for themselves. Almost as quickly, the upside of being the hottest act in the world provoked a downside. "The media made it as if people were afflicted with {disco}," says Maurice Gibb. "And then there were the Village People, 'Disco Duck' and 'Kung Fu Fighting,' all these stupid, silly records that were based on what we were doing but nowhere near it. But because it was 'disco,' they felt they could get away with it, and people accepted it. Unfortunately, it cheapened what we did." Eventually, radio stations just said no to anything the group offered, promoting Bee Gee-Free weekends. The media vacillated between Bee Gee-bashing and Bee Gee-baiting and the group became the butt of all too many comedians' routines. In England, a caustic parody album made the rounds: the Hee Bee Gee Bees singing "Meaningless Songs in Very High Voices." These were not good times, and after signing off with the "Spirits Having Flown" and "Living Eyes" albums, the Bee Gees vacated the premises. Between 1979 and 1986, they stopped recording entirely. The tour that brings them to the Post Pavilion tonight is their first in a decade. "We instinctively pulled away from making records as the Bee Gees," Barry Gibb concedes. "We'd been saturated, we'd been penalized for it, we were in trouble. We were getting too much airplay and people stopping playing us because of that. "But more than anything else, we're songwriters, so we started writing for other artists, stretching our song writing," he adds. "And instead of using our own voices all the time as the instruments, we started using people like Barbra Streisand, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. The fact that they would be interested in us working with them is incredible enough and it was a fantastic experience." It wasn't a bad experience for the artists either, producing a few No. 1 songs ("Islands in the Stream" for Rogers/Parton, "Woman in Love" for Streisand). When the Bee Gees themselves went back into the studio for 1987's "E.S.P.," they called the first single "You Win Again," which turned out to be prophetic by hitting No. 1 in eight countries but not even denting the Top 40 in America (Warner Bros. has included it again on their brand-new album, "One"). Then last year, younger brother Andy Gibb died of heart failure brought on by long-term abuse of drugs and alcohol. He'd been brought back into the family fold, and -- for the first time -- would have been a fourth Bee Gee in the studio and on the road. But at age 30, he slipped again, his body exhausted by drugs. "For two years he was straight before he died," says Barry Gibb, still sorting out the tragedy of his younger brother's death. "He'd learned to fly, he was doing all sorts of things. He was very energetic and healthy and playing tennis. I'm the only other brother who plays, so we'd play all the time, and we wrote songs together and recorded them. We were going to be together, go out as a force. He wanted to do another solo album to prove he was good at what he did and then he was going to join us. He'd just signed with Island, and that's when he died. "Andy went downhill in the last three weeks of his life. Maybe it was the idea that he was going back in the studio," he continues. "To me Andy's problems were not drugs and booze; to me they were a massive insecurity, psychological problems compounded by the drink and cocaine. Maybe they also caused it, but at the end of the day you were dealing with a person who was tremendously insecure and had no confidence in himself at all, yet had a lot of talent and needed to use it. He seemed to have lost the will or desire to use it." "We wanted to revitalize him, get his confidence back, refocus him," says Robin Gibb. "He was really young when he died. There was a hell of a lot he could have done. Maybe he never should have pursued a solo career. Maybe he should have gotten confidence without having success first; maybe it would have been better for his first four or five records to have died. "It's like the old Shakespeare saying -- Andy did have success thrust upon him. He wasn't born into it, he wasn't prepared for it, he went from being a young kid to being a young star who could get anything he wanted, and he'd spend it until there was nothing left. He had girl friends but relationships were 'hae a penny' because there was another one tomorrow. Yet when the chips were down, nobody was there, and he couldn't deal with that." Andy Gibb's death "spiritualized the whole family," says Barry Gibb. "They say it causes soul growth when you lose somebody. Before, you don't look at the metaphysical side of life much at all. After, you start to look at everything like that: 'How long have I got ... we're not immortal ... I must get back to making something happen for myself, to working hard, to being fruitful and not taking my family for granted.' "The trauma of losing Andy, the idea that we were wasting what we were doing, everything compounded to make us start performing again," he explains. And so the Bee Gees made surprise appearances at three high-profile events, all in a 10-day period: the Atlantic 40th anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden, the Prince's Trust Concert and the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute, both in London. "It was the first time we'd been on a stage since 1979, so we were more excited than nervous," Maurice Gibb recalls. "I think everyone was surprised to see us in jeans and T-shirts and not in white suits and medallions and all that sort of rubbish. But we had never been that way except for a period of time when everybody wore medallions and flare trousers. The funny thing is we always used to wear jeans, because we were from the Beatle period, from the late '60s. I hated flare trousers, bell bottoms and things like that. ..." "The Bee Gees are not the essential victims of 'Saturday Night Fever' -- we're very proud of the music -- but of what it went on to do to everybody," says Barry Gibb. "I think John Travolta suffered more than we did. He's a fine actor and he doesn't get the parts he should get and he's penalized for doing that film. Other people got caught up in that as well. We wanted to be full-frontal, we wanted to be live, to stand up there and be counted like everybody else is counted and not be the victims of whatever trend-setting situations happened 12 years ago." "We are not responsible for something that everybody loved," adds Robin Gibb. "We didn't make the film, we didn't go out and promote it, it was completely organic. Now people are beginning to understand that images fade away and what is left at the end of the day is the music." Ups and downs are nothing new to the Brothers Gibb (the source of the name, of course). They've been around, across and over, too, from the time they were born on the Isle of Man and made frequent trips -- after all, their father was a band leader on the Isle of Man-Liverpool ferry. Despite a decade in Australia and another decade in Miami Beach, their North Country accents are still strong, particularly with Barry and Robin; one hears a lot of John Lennon in their speech. According to Robin Gibb, traveling helped the Gibbs develop the familial harmonies that define their sound. "That's how we became more creative. It's like the Beatles and the Beach Boys. The Beach Boys were family members, and the Beatles came from the same part of the world, grew up together. There's a natural harmony that comes from being and living with people, spending time with them; it's a very personal thing." In England they'd started out as a novelty act, the Rattlesnakes (later Wee Johnny Hayes and the Bluecats), inspired by Elvis, Bill Haley, Paul Anka, Tommy Steele, Lonnie Donegan and the late '50s skiffle movement. After moving to Australia in 1958, they settled in Sydney, the hub of the country's music and business activities. In 1962, they signed their first record contract with Festival Records, but had no notable success until the single "Spicks and Specks" went to No. 1 in Australia; by the time it hit the top of the charts in February of 1967, the Gibbs were "halfway across the Indian Ocean on our way back to England," says Barry Gibb. "In Australia then, the recording industry was young, and we felt left out because that whole Mersey boom was happening in England and we were missing it all. We really wanted to be home for that and we got home to London just for the tail end, the 'Sergeant Pepper' period, which was magical." They auditioned for Beatles manager Brian Epstein in the same studio where the concert sequences for "A Hard Day's Night" had been filmed. Epstein didn't manage them himself, passing them on to a fellow Australian, Robert Stigwood. Between 1967 and 1970 they had a string of hits, mostly featuring Robin Gibb's high-pitched, vibrato-laden lead vocals, moppy ballads like "New York Mining Disaster, 1941," "Words," "To Love Somebody," "Massachusetts," "I've Just Got to Get a Message to You" and "I Started a Joke." In 1970, they broke up for 15 months (citing too much success and too little maturity), reuniting with two more huge hits, "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" and "Lonely Days." It was an era when the Bee Gees were known for their ballads, but they soon moved into another arena entirely. "Our problem is that we're really a European folk group who got mixed up in R&B music somewhere along the way," says Barry Gibb. "We actually enjoy it and that has been our demise, 'Fever' or no 'Fever.' Maybe we should never have done dance music. "But we like dance music." So did consumers, who took "Jive Talkin' " and "You Should Be Dancing" to the top of the charts two years before catching "Saturday Night Fever." Both songs were from "Main Course," the album that brought the Gibbs to Miami to work with veteran R&B producer Arif Mardin. He's the one who gave the Bee Gees their buoyant parquet-pounding pulse, who groomed Barry Gibb's falsetto with "Nights on Broadway," and who forever changed the sound -- and the perception -- of the group. Then came the fateful phone call from Robert Stigwood. "We weren't looking at 'Fever' as a career vehicle," says Maurice Gibb. "We just got caught up in the Robert Stigwood syndrome: Anyone he managed he also wanted involved in his film projects, as opposed to keeping them separate, and I think we got blinded by that. He asked for three songs, we gave him three songs off what would have been our next studio album." "We didn't know what the film was about," reiterates Barry Gibb. "We didn't know there was a conflict of images which could perhaps hurt us later on. In those days, you didn't think too much about images." Turned out to be a big picture, of course, and a big soundtrack with the Bee Gees' picture on the cover, not John Travolta's. "If our picture hadn't been on the front of the album, I'm sure it would have been a different story," Maurice Gibb theorizes. The funny thing, he adds, is "that was a {publicity} photo, it wasn't even posed for the album." Hot on the heels of "Saturday Night Fever" came the chill of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," one of the worst rock musicals ever made. Another Stigwood production, it starred Peter Frampton as Billy Shears -- his fortunes were at their height thanks to "Frampton Comes Alive," still the best-selling live album of all time -- and the Bee Gees as his backup band, the Hendersons. Five weeks into the shooting, "How Deep Is Our Love" came out and went to No. 1. The "Fever" album came out, and started selling a million copies a week. That's when the troubles began, though the Gibbs insist there was a platinum lining even in the grayest clouds. All three brothers are in second marriages, and the break allowed them to concentrate on family matters at their Miami Beach estates. "It ended up providing security for our kids," says Maurice Gibb. "When our kids were first born, that was always our main goal, to make sure they'd have nothing to want for later on in life if anything ever happened to us. We're not that materialistic. Sure, I have a house here and in England, where most people who have supposedly earned as much as us have four or five houses. We're very sensible, we don't flaunt it, but we do make sure it works for us and that it's there for the kids." In other ways, the Bee Gees were ready for a break by 1980. "Nineteen fifty-five was when we first stepped on stage, so we've been doing it longer than people think," admits Barry Gibb. "After we toured America in '79, the exhaustion of being the Bee Gees set in and we couldn't even see what tomorrow was going to bring." Looking back 20 years, or 30-plus, the Bee Gees can see a series of peaks and valleys in their careers, though Barry Gibb points out that their perceptions are quite apart from chart status and platinum rewards. "We see lulls in different places," he says. "When we first left Australia, we were told by the media in Australia that we didn't really have a chance in England or internationally, that we were just a local group and we should stick to that. Then when we got to England, we were told we didn't have a chance. That was 1967. "Then in 1972, the Bee Gees had sort of run their course, that was it, that had been our career and the media more or less chopped us: 'That's the end of the Bee Gees and thank goodness, glad to be rid of them.' There seems to be an inclination to reject certain artists at the end of each decade in favor of the new decade and what that might bring. We were always a target for that. "All I remember is that all along the way, we've always been told we can't do it and we've always been reminded by experts that our music is now out and it can no longer apply to what's going on today, so we're sort of used to {it}. We're used to the idea of having failures as well as successes, but the up-and-down process is much more helter-skelter than others might see it, and it's much more emotional and traumatic to us. "We've gotten pretty hungry from it and pretty persistent because of it, pretty determined, and very close. As much as we get laughed at here and there, or we get told we're out here or there, we just continue on and keep our fingers crossed. As a family, we fight pretty hard now, and we're not about to give up what we do. We're not about to be rejected by anybody."