Interviews: Bring It On

By John Dingwall

Rock legends R.E.M. are looking forward to raising a glass of single malt whisky when they head to Scotland next week for two live shows.

After 25 years at the top of the music business, they certainly have plenty to celebrate. But they wouldn’t be doing so with Scotland’s national drink if bassist Mike Mills hadn’t managed to overcome a strong aversion to it caused by a teen booze binge.

Now an respected elder statesman of rock, Mills was 15 – six years below the legal age for drinking in America – when he was almost put off the hard stuff forever.

The incident meant he couldn’t bear the thought of whisky, let alone drink it, for years.

But Mills, a keen golfer, happily admits he has rediscovered the joys of the tipple which once left him so ill.

And he revealed the band’s alcohol ban backstage at Glasgow Green and Loch Lomond has been lifted in order for him to enjoy a wee dram of Lagavulin.

Mills admitted: “Our rider is always really boring stuff, like soft drinks and water, nothing out of the ordinary although sometimes I wish there were. There’s never hard liquor back there but I have just started, in the last couple of years, to drink Scotch. I didn’t for a long time because of an incident which happened when I was 15. But recently, I’ve started enjoying a large single malt. For many years I couldn’t face Scotch but I now particularly enjoy a Lagavulin.’

The band are heading to Glasgow Green for a rescheduled date on Tuesday followed by their Saturday show on the banks of Loch Lomond.

The first concert, originally at Glasgow’s SECC, was cancelled because Mills suffered an acute ear infection which led to his collapse and a spell in hospital. He recalled: “It was virtually impossible to stand up. That was pretty serious stuff.

“Our policy is that one of us has to be in hospital for us to cancel a show and that was what happened to me. I’m just glad that we have managed to get back to Scotland so soon to play to those fans who have tickets.

“I have always enjoyed playing in Scotland and have great memories of all those gigs. It was especially great be able to play a great venue like The Barrowland in Glasgow. It was a tough crowd but we played well and won them over.

“The fans come there expecting to be entertained. Glasgow has a reputation for being a bit of a hard town but I have always enjoyed it there.”

Forty thousand fans will also take the high road and the low road to the Balloch Country Park site in Dunbartonshire for the gig which features support slots from Feeder, The Zutons, Ambulance Ltd and Aberfeldy.

The Loch Lomond show will be the first staged at the picturesque site since Oasis played two giant sell-out concerts in 1996. Golfing fanatic Mills laughed: ‘I hope we can do Loch Lomond justice when we play there. I’ve heard about the golf course but, unfortunately, I very seldom get time to play these days and I think the band would kill me if I took my clubs onstage.’

The legendary rock group, from Athens, Georgia, have sold a staggering 60 million records since forming in 1980.

The U.S. music legends have had many hits spanning three decades – “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”, “Losing My Religion”, “Shiny Happy People” and “Everybody Hurts”, to name a few.

But despite their superstar status, singer Michael Stipe is keen to turn his trip to Scotland into a family affair. He plans to bring his loved ones to Scotland for what he believes will be a truly superb occasion.

The singer said: ‘Scotland is one of those places, whenever my band tours, I tell my family they can come visit. They can go anywhere in the world with me and twice they have chosen Scotland. They love it. They have good memories of going to museums and stuff like that. It’s a place that they always want to come to. They come visit for a couple of days. It’s usually my entire family though mostly immediate family and we always have a great time in Scotland.”

The band’s status as one of the world’s favourite rock bands could have taken a serious dent when drummer Bill Berry was forced to quit the group in 1997 after suffering a brain aneurysm. And Mills admits that was the closest R.E.M. came to calling it a day.

“I’d say that was the biggest crisis for sure because everything was altered and we had to decide if we were going to recommit ourselves to this,” he said. “We did consider whether to call it quits. It was an option. We thought about whether to say, ‘hey, we’ve had a great fun ride and let’s stop it now’. But we chose to keep it going and I’m glad we did because we still enjoy playing as much as we ever did.

“If you can’t maintain the enthusiasm, there’s no reason to do it. That often depends on the crowd. We get our energy from the audience and that’s why it’s so good to have a rowdy crowd like the ones in Scotland.

“We’ve been fortunate through the years that we have been able to overcome the inevitable crises that every band has. We’ve also been successful enough to be able to afford to do what we want to do.”

Following the shows, R.E.M. will return to these shores for the Live8 gig at London’s Hyde Park on July 2. And the band are determined to keep the pressure on America’s President to drop the debt and support fair trade and increased aid to Africa – regardless of criticism they may face from right wing fanatics in doing so.

Mills said: “Our attitude towards George W Bush and politics hasn’t softened and I feel just as passionate about politics as I ever have, if not more so. As private citizens we are supposed to live in a democracy where we can exercise our opinions and thoughts. If anyone is going around bad mouthing us though, they haven’t done it to our face.”

Stipe added: “We’ve been yapping about politics since the early Eighties so being involved in speaking out about George Bush is no surprise to anyone, certainly not the fact that R.E.M. have an opinion on George Bush. We will continue to lobby him to do the right thing.”

Originally published on 10 June 2005 by Daily Record
Source: HighBeam

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