The Ones We Love: Celebrating R.E.M. (1982 - 1992) Australian Tour
Coming up this August & September a unique series of concerts across Australia, The Ones We Love: Celebrating R.E.M. - it promises to be a rare opportunity to experience your favourite R.E.M. songs live. It features an All-Star line-up of Vocalists paying tribute to R.E.M. and performing songs from their rich back catalogue including – Losing My Religion, The One I Love, Man on the Moon, It’s The End of the World, Radio Free Europe, Drive, Orange Crush, Everybody Hurts, The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight, Nightswimming, Stand, Fall on Me, Driver 8, Shiny Happy People plus plenty more. Backing them are some of Australia’s finest musicians who will honour the sound that was uniquely and undeniably R.E.M.
Jeff Martin (the Tea Party)
Steve Kilbey (The Church)
Ron S. Peno (Died Pretty)
Trish Young (The Clouds)
Alannah Russack (The Hummingbirds)
Ashley Naylor (Even)
Greg Atkinson (Ups & Downs)
Peter Fenton (Crow)
In advance of the shows Black Sheep Radio's Mike battled a power cut to bring you an interview with Greg Atkinson, lead singer and bass player of 80s Aussie rockers Ups and Downs, ahead of The Ones We Love: Celebrating R.E.M. tour starting this week.
MS: First of all Greg, thanks for taking the time to speak to Black Sheep Radio. The show looks great, how did you get involved?
GA: The guys in the backing band - Exploding Boys - had the idea and thought it was something we could take to a larger audience. I knew a couple of the guys from doing a tribute to Glide/William Arthur, a couple of years ago. Being a massive R.E.M. fan I jumped at the chance.
MS: Locally we've seen Tex Perkins’ tribute to Johnny Cash, and Chris Cheney & Tim Rogers touring The White Album. Is this literally what it’s about – a celebration and tribute to R.E.M.?
GA: It’s interesting because when a band has been around a long time, and they get big, their sound kind of gets bigger with it. I had been a fan of R.E.M. without actually thinking too much about it, but as we went back and listened to their first four or five albums, it made me realise actually what a big fan of the band I was. I'd forgotten how good they were.
MS: R.E.M. certainly still resonate today, from when they burst onto the scene all those years ago through to the chart success, and there's a heap of great tracks there.
GA: That's the thing about a band that has had such a long trajectory as R.E.M. have, rising up from literally Indie Rock Gods to being big in the mainstream, there's such a diversity there. Some of the singers in the show will be doing the big hits but my brother and I (Darren Atkinson) will be mostly focussing on songs from the first couple of albums. We'll be chucking in a big hit though just to acknowledge that latter day stuff.
My relationship with R.E.M. – both my own personal relationship and that of Ups and Downs - was specifically with the first two albums, and that's where we came into the scene, on that wave of bands like R.E.M. that were hitting the cover of the NME. Hip bands making great, poetic, rhythmically interesting, slightly dark music. That was right up my alley.
MS: You'll have to forgive me a bit, but you can tell from my accent I'm not from round here! I only arrived in Australia in 2004, so I missed that real wave of Aussie bands apart from the obvious stuff like INXS.
GA: Even INXS had some good albums!
It was a big time for us, as fans but also as a band. We'd moved to Sydney on the back of a successful single and were being compared to R.E.M. - there was a wave of bands that came out at that time, inspired by R.E.M. and bringing a similar sound. Much in the way that Nirvana inspired a new generation of artists some years later. R.E.M. had intelligence, had great melodies, and appealed to anyone drawn to that genre.
MS: So the travelling crew, have you had any rehearsals yet or is it a case of look, you're all accomplished enough…
GA: No, we've had a couple of rehearsals; we set aside a couple of days with the backing band but not a lot really. Basically I've been singing these songs in the car for the past few months, every day, so I could get all the Michael Stipe nuances - and the lyrics of course! It actually surprised me considering how much a fan I was, how few of the actual lyrics I knew – it’s one thing mumbling along in the car but I can't just do that on the night!
When you're a kid you just sing what you think you're hearing, and to be honest its much the same when you're in your twenties, which is what I was when R.E.M. came out. When you spend some time with the song as you're older, you think 'Wow, I actually know what they're singing now!'
You know, even at that age, in my mid-twenties, I was like a kid in a toyshop whenever I went into a record store, just loving new music and being excited and inspired by these bands. Radiohead had the same impact on me later… a band that can make you rethink the way you have accepted music to be. I hadn't imagined music that could go in these directions, or could even have that imagination to take you to new places.
MS: And it must be great to be able to actually play along to it as well?
GA: Yeah, although this time I won't actually be playing an instrument, which is going to be strange for me. I haven't done a lot of just standing there with just a mic, maybe a bit with Ups and Downs now and again, but I feel semi naked!
MS: So, the first show is on Friday in Brisbane - you must be excited?
GA: Very much so. My brother and I will be heading up to Brisbane on Thursday so we can hang around with our mother, so looking forward to squeezing in some relaxing time before the show too.
MS: As we said, you played the Northcote Social, and this time is a bigger venue at the Palais. You must have played quite a few places in your time...
GA: I'm pretty sure we played there with Ups and Downs. We did the Corner, the Prince of Wales...
MS: We are blessed with venues in Melbourne.
GA: I always loved coming to Melbourne; I love the feel of the city. It has more art culture than Sydney and more respect for its architecture. The NSW govt is demolishing things left right and centre make space for some bloody highways or something or other. But yeah, I love coming to Melbourne, and it gives me a chance to hook up with my daughter.
MS: There's obviously quite a big crew for this set of shows, is everyone travelling together or will you be splitting up for some of the gigs?
GA: Darren and I will be heading to Brisbane on our own, but next week we'll all be on the same plane, laughing and joking about trotting out on stage to become R.E.M.. It’s quite a surreal thing, being in a band now.. back in my twenties this was all I did; it was normal. Nowadays it’s quite surreal, that being in a band is just one of the things I do. I can see it from a new perspective, so when something big like this comes along, it's like wow, yeah!
MS: So it’s a bit like The Blues Brothers getting the band back together!
GA: Something like that, yeah! Although maybe with less of the wacky antics.
MS: Ok, well thanks for talking to Black Sheep Radio, we really appreciate it and wish you the best of luck for the upcoming shows.
The dates are as below and can be purchased through https://metropolistouring.com/tours/celebrating-rem/