Saturday, 26 November 2011

SPIRALS AND CIRCLES, Ut and me

IN November 1989 I wrote my first live review for the National Music Press, Melody Maker. It was the germinal - not seminal! - most willful Ut. (See Reflection - Ritual - Revolution Part 1) I didn't always "get" the adoration of my male colleagues for The Fall, but I "GOT" Ut, my female The Fall. In November 2011, twenty years later, I have the honour to see Ut live again. They haven't performed, officially, during all this time. I haven't reviewed bands for ten years. In fact, I have fled London, raised a toddler to a teen (she is my protest album so take that Polly Harvey) and taken a post-grad. But somehow, yet again Ut happen to be part of my new beginnings, as a live review "first", this time in the role of Lives Editor at the ground breaking on line music magazine www.thegirlsare.com Spirals not circles.

This review was originally published in the girls are

Ut @ The Croft, Bristol

THE moment Nina Canal hits the drums hard and the bass rumbles in on ‘Confidential’, you remember the interwoven rhythms and deep, dark tones; how the guitars and bass roll forward, layer over layer and the drum beats are hard and heavy, even groovy, driving the whole thing on. All these elements are the calling card of legendary three piece Ut.



You are forgiven if you do not recall their fierce grandeur, along with other ultimate heroines, like Viv Albertine, Pauline Murray, The Raincoats, or once-upon-a-time label mates Sonic Youth. Ut never chased the fame monster and they haven’t toured for over twenty years, originally forming in New York in 1978. This is not so much a championing of their return, more a vague idea that actually happened; three dates, London, Bristol, Brighton, songs from the album’s Griller, the critically acclaimed In Gut’s House and the latest Conviction.



The faithful gather, feeling proud: cool girls in dresses and lipstick hog the front, rock chicks in hip trousers lounge knowingly on the side and men who know their musical reference points shuffle awkwardly at the back. We shout to Ut to turn the guitars up, they oblige, with a smirk - and in that moment you can see how come Mark E Smith, of The Fall, and Sally Young became mates. The story goes: The Fall came to town and the girls realised, “We need to be in the UK.” A tour and friendship followed (1981).



The band are my female, The Fall, in this they’re triumphant. Tonight they play ‘Canker’ and ‘Rummy’, together on the LP Griller and here too, but the other way around. The rhythms are faster, less broken and more confident now, so that it feels safe to attach one’s emotion to the things and let go, e.g. I won’t fall over, as I may for ‘Hotel’. It’s often beautiful, holding a pause, sometimes a primitive force, which in the past male music critics have labelled as “threatening”. Frankly, Ut may as well just say: “This is the next emotion.” No song titles required.



Ut are both the most feminist band I know yet also the most staunchly, “We don’t want to be lumped in with all the girl bands,” (my quote) bunch of women you are ever likely to meet, with P. J. Harvey trailing close behind. All those little signifiers of the signified that is a rock show, created by a male dominated industry, are always noticeably absent. There is no lead guitarist, although there is a lead guitar and vocalist for every song. There is no instinctive, supportive bass guitarist, although there is an instinctive, team-playing bass guitar. There is no image, barely scrubbing up and possibly not even washing behind their ears. There is no sex, at least not the orgasm part.



Infuriatingly, the massive energy and hope that is raised during each song is soon broken because every new instalment demands a change of role and instruments, (Jacqui Ham, opener, ’Bedouin’, Sally, ‘Big Wing’). During the change over’s, guitar straps fail, amplifiers need adjusting. Having always thought this behaviour was an almost Brechtian approach, insisting on objectivity from its audience, rather than encouraging empathy, perhaps instead, it’s just because they all write the songs. It’s more likely the instrument choice supports the emotion of the song and when writing, performing couldn’t be further from their minds. They’re true anarchists.



In the time between Ut’s last tour and 2011 women have owned  rock: acts such as Courtney Love, L7, Babes in Toyland, Daisy Chainsaw, Kenickie, Mambo Taxi, Riot Grrrl for example, as well as a veritable pop explosion of “love them or hate them” pop divas, like Lady Gaga, Beyonce and the grittier, Kreayshawn. On top of all that, the only artist to win the Mercury Award twice is a woman and now there is a really neat form of underground pop emerging, from bands like The Hysterical Injury, Bearsuit and Slow Club. Tonight’s Ut gig has put all that in perspective. I feel all grown up and ready.


Ready?