Up's and Downs

Biography - For Ups and Downs

I first saw one half of Ups and Downs in Sally’s, a dingy bar in South Brisbane, sometime in the late ’70s. Singer, budding songwriter and bassist Greg Atkinson, along with his brother, drummer and harmony vocalist Darren, were playing in a crack three-piece band whose original songs were complemented by a power-pop playlist of the era: Police, Cheap Trick, the Records, Joe Jackson, pretty much anything that was any good at the time.

What struck me, apart from their obvious youthful talent, was how effortlessly they played these songs, yet with all the energy and verve each tune demanded. And there were those harmonies: crisp and clear, a soaring, natural blend that went way beyond shared blood.

By 1983, Greg and Darren had formed Ups and Downs with guitarist John Flade, adding Peter Shaw, ex Furious Turtles – also on guitar – a year later. The next time I saw the Atkinson brothers was in Sydney, in 1986. In those days, if you wanted to take it to the next level, you had to Go South.

Ups and Downs were manna to a moribund Sydney music scene still mired in a mindless homage to Detroit rock that had ruled for a decade or more. Sydney bands of the era sang in Iggy Pop accents, played like the Stooges crossed with the MC5, and looked like clones of those psychedelic garage-rock outfits from the Nuggets compilations: all pudding-basin haircuts, tight black Levi’s and loud shirts.

Ironically, Ups and Downs copped early flak for their own longish hair and paisley shirts, as had The Church before them. Notwithstanding a reverently reworked cover of Neil Diamond’s Solitary Man that bore all the band’s early hallmarks: thoughtfully orchestrated guitars, a deft arrangement, and those soaring sibling harmonies - what the pundits were quickly starting to notice, however, was the quality of Ups and Downs’ original material. These songs were so good, they invited reference points like REM, most often, or The Cure, early U2, the Woodentops, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Smiths. Notice they weren’t comparing Ups and Downs to anyone crap, which said plenty.

Singles and a mini-album (1986’s Sleepless) came and clogged up the top of the (real) indie charts, an ARIA nomination beckoned, a more commercial sounding album flirted with the mainstream, tours and TV shows followed, and, later, a final EP, Rash, heralded a return to their earlier roots – but the world had moved on. So did they. Until now.

Almost 30 years later, Ups and Downs are back with their first album of new material since 1988’s Underneath The Watchful Eye. The independently released This Sky’s In Love With You finally delivers on the potential thwarted by the music industry of their Sydney days.

Some things remain the same – the soaring two-part sibling harmonies, the orchestrated twin lead guitars, cascading rhythms and Cure-like bass lines. And there’s something else – three decades of wisdom and the wit of ages. Their power-pop smarts still rule.

PHIL STAFFORD

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