Jacqui Ham
They Made Magic

These pen portraits build up into a gallery of special people. These people have made unique contributions to popular culture. Some of the stories will be fairly familiar, and some may seem slightly strange. There are some glaring omissions, and some odd inclusions. A thread of narrative runs through, and itís all as subjective as hell.

Just occasionally you read something on pop matters that has you punching the air with sheer joy.  One of those moments for celebration came chancing upon a delightfully detailed Ut interview online at warped reality magazine, where Andrea Feldman had long been flying the flag for one of the great pop groups.  The reissue by Blast First of the In Ut’s House and Griller titles by Ut gave the perfect opportunity for Andrea to delve, and it gives a great excuse to air my Ut story.

Way back in the mid-‘80s when I started a new job I was distracted by an envelope on one of my new colleagues’ desks, addressed to one Jacqui Ham.  I was intrigued.  Jacqui Ham was a member of Ut, the cantankerous pop explorers.  Could it be her?  Eventually I plucked up the courage to ask.  My new colleague didn’t have a clue what I was on about, but promised to check with her partner who mastered records for a living.  And, yes, it turned out it was our Jacqui Ham, and he had been erm utterly astonished to hear his partner come home talking about Ut, warning her that the new work colleague must be into some strange stuff.

It was an early incarnation of pop writer Everett True, when he was The Legend!, that woke me up to the possibilities of Ut when scribbling for Alan McGee’s erm legendary fanzine Communication Blur, which made up for deficiencies in literacy with its extraordinary enthusiasm which was completely contagious, vitally important, and incredibly inspirational.  I seem to recall The Legend! comparing Ut to the Young Marble Giants, in terms of stark simplicity, but that could be my memory playing tricks on me.  Was it the Raincoats?

And memories do play tricks on me.  I somehow had got it into my head that there was an article on Ut in an old edition of much-loved Manchester fanzine Debris by Lizzie Borden, with photos by Birrer.  Dave Haslam’s great magazine definitely did run an Ut feature (1987-ish), but it turns out it was by Elizabeth Johnson and starts fantastically: “For me, Ut represent one of the most intense musical experiences in the known universe.  Are you ready to have your head trip with infinite velocity, sheer and primal ferocity?””  She goes on: “To consider their music a random clang of guitars, erratic rhythms, and screamingly abstract vocals is to commit exorcism on their cohesive dark-sided collage”.  Birrer did take the pictures, by the way.

And anyway a Lizzie Borden did write for Debris, and in fact in a slightly earlier edition reviewed Diamanda Galas’ The Divine Punishment: “She is a rare flame of brilliance shining her talent on subjects as these and illuminating them in such a unique way, that anyone who is brave enough to bear that torrent and whirlpool of sound can see them by a flaming light of truth.”  The next review is of Marc Riley decimating the NME C86 cassette. 

Lizzie Borden is if anything best known for the early ‘80s film, Born In Flames, which like much of the art of the time was a response to having little money.  While in turn it is known for the Lora Logic/Red Crayola title track, the film itself is an absolute gem, enriched by its revolutionary feminist theme, and the more things change the more they remain the same sense. 

Born In Flames features a freewheeling improvising Adele Bertei as a revolutionary preacher on a pirate radio station, somewhere between her days as a member of the Contortions and her solo “success” strangely in the wake of Madonna, with records like the great Little Lives where she sings about Jim and his saxophone and the gang hitting the East Side back in ’79 and how “crazy visions kept the fools on the run but times keep changin’ and money keeps changin’ hands when Angels with Dirty Faces turn into Babes in Moneyland”. 

Ut emerged from that same downtown NYC art/punk no wave scene that has since been the stuff of so many dreams.  Interestingly where DNA’s Arto Lindsay traced roots and connections to Brazil and Caetano Veloso, so the girls from Ut traced roots and connections to the UK underground and The Fall in particular.  Maybe more than anyone Ut understood where The Fall were coming from and what they were saying and how they were behaving.  And it seems Mark E Smith was incredibly accommodating and encouraging and supportive of Ut’s stretching of pop possibilities.

The reissue of In Ut’s House and Griller respectively highlight how far ahead Ut were as a pop unit.  Their determinedly democratic approach to structuring sound reached fruition on these wonderful sets, and was is most striking is the taut tenacity that is held so strikingly in check, with an impressive discipline, along the lines of Mark E Smith hectoring his boys not to start improvising.  As with The Fall and Fire Engines, there is no such thing as a conventional guitar solo in an Ut song.  It’s what you always dreamed Sonic Youth would be.

Emerging from the same milieu, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon has been quoted as saying her group was always trying to catch up with Ut.  The interesting thing, perhaps by dint of their background (check out Andrea’s interview!), is how Ut avoided the cliches of american rock which so attracted many contemporaries and who claimed that their upbringing was so coloured by the Black Sabbaths, Bostons, and Kiss curls of sound on the AOR radio.  Despite being way ahead, Ut left behind such a slim set of recordings (you need to hear the early 12”s and live recordings by the way), whereas Kim coolly has seemed so organised, with Sonic Youth, and her X-Girl clothing range with Daisy von Furth, and side projects like Free Kitten (we love their rendition of Teenie Weenie Boppie) and the astonishing SYR 5 with DJ Olive and Ikue Mori, and before that Harry Crews with Lydia Lunch, whose own Teenage Jesus kick started so much.

Unlike many pop peers Ut knew when to stop, but devotees new and anew are urged to track down offshoots like Jacqui Ham’s Dial (and that envelope by the way contained a DAT of Dial) and Sally Young’s Quint who both continued the pioneering work of the parent group.  Quint’s addition of trumpet adds a strangely warped pop veneer eerily reminiscent of Ut contemporaries the June Brides, which can only be a good thing.

© 2006 John Carney