A UB40 is an unemployment benefit attendance card; you used it to “sign on” (hence Signing Off, their excellent first album, in 1980). A friend of the Birmingham reggae band suggested: “Why don’t you call yourselves UB40? You’re all on the dole [unemployed]. You’ve all got a UB40 card.” Ali Campbell’s reaction: “It gives us 3 million card-carrying fans instantly. It makes sense.” It certainly made more sense than an earlier plan to call themselves Jeff Cancer and The Nicoteenies. How sad to see this great band’s descent into bankruptcy and the family feuding that has led to two rival versions of UB40 locked in a bitter legal dispute.
“UB40 with Mark King of Level 42 on bass” according to The Life of Rock with Brian Pern, a 2014 Spinal Tap-esque BBC TV comedy.
The United States of America
LA experimentalists who combined psychedelic pop, electronic sound and radical lyrics to fine effect on their eponymous 1968 album. For some reason they were booked by the Fillmore East to support The Troggs, whose fans booed them off the stage. They broke up soon after. The album is well worth tracking down, containing superb material like The Garden of Earthly Delights, Love Song for the Dead Ché and I Won’t Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar. Singer Dorothy Moskowitz said the band’s name was deliberately provocative: “Using the full name of the country for a rock group was a way of expressing disdain for governmental policy. It was like hanging the flag upside down.”
Ut, corresponding to the modern Do (as in Do-Re-Mi), was the first note in a musical scale developed by Guido of Arezzo in the 11th century, named after the Latin hymn Ut queant laxis. Step forward a few centuries to New York’s No Wave scene in the 1980s and the band Ut, whose 1988 album In Gut’s House was described by the Washington Post as “rich, spooky, urgent, and quite unexpectedly beautiful”. Band member Nina Canal was a contemporary of Viv Albertine and Stuart (Adam Ant) Goddard at Hornsey School of Art, north London, in the early 70s and Ut had a following in the UK after John Peel played them. After 20 years, they reunited in 2010 and they appeared at All Tomorrow’s Parties in Camber Sands, Sussex, in 2013.