Ivor Cutler

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Ivor Cutler
Cutlerportrait.jpg
Background information
Born (1923-01-15)15 January 1923
Origin Glasgow, Scotland
Died 3 March 2006(2006-03-03) (aged 83)
Genres Spoken word, trad jazz, comedy rock
Occupations Poet, songwriter, humorist
Instruments Harmonium, piano
Years active 1959–2004
Labels Decca, Virgin, Harvest, Rough Trade, Creation

Ivor Cutler (15 January 1923 – 3 March 2006) was a Scottish poet, songwriter and humorist. He became known for his regular performances on BBC radio, and in particular his numerous sessions recorded for John Peel's influential radio programme, and later for Andy Kershaw's programme. He appeared in The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour film in 1967 and on Neil Innes' television programmes. Cutler also wrote books for children and adults and was a teacher at A. S. Neill's Summerhill School and for 30 years in inner-city schools in London. He told Andy Kershaw on his radio show that he also gave private poetry lessons to individuals.

In live performances Cutler would often accompany himself on a harmonium. Phyllis King appears on several of his records, and for several years was a part of his concerts. She usually read small phrases but also read a few short stories. The two starred in a BBC radio series, King Cutler, in which they performed their material jointly and singly. Cutler also collaborated with pianist Neil Ardley and singer Robert Wyatt.

Early life[edit]

Cutler was born in Glasgow into a middle-class Jewish family of Eastern European descent. His father Jack Moris Cutler was a wholesale jeweller and had premises at 85 Queen Street, Glasgow.[1] He cited his childhood as the source of his artistic temperament, recalling a sense of displacement when his younger brother was born: "Without that I would not have been so screwed up as I am, and therefore not as creative."[2] In 1939 Cutler was evacuated to Annan.[3] He joined the Royal Air Force as a navigator in 1942 but was soon dismissed for "dreaminess".[4] He moved to London where he was employed by the Inner London Education Authority to teach music, dance, drama and poetry to 7- to 11-year-olds.[5] Cutler's deeply held views on humanity meant he disliked corporal punishment and on leaving a teaching job he held in the 1950s he cut up his tawse and handed the pieces to the class.[6] He was married briefly and had two children.

Musical career[edit]

Ivor Cutler at his flat in Gospel Oak, N. London in 1973

Cutler began writing songs and poetry in the late 1950s, making the first of many appearances on BBC radio on the Home Service, where he featured on the Monday Night at Home programme on 38 occasions between 1959 and 1963.[5] He gained popularity playing songs where he would often accompany himself on either a piano or the harmonium,[5] and this success led to the release of a series of records starting with 1959's Ivor Cutler of Y'Hup EP. Cutler continued to make appearances on the BBC's programmes during the 1960s, and as a result of an appearance on the television show Late Night Line-Up, he was noticed by Paul McCartney, who invited Cutler to appear in The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour film.[7] In the film, Cutler plays bus conductor Buster Bloodvessel, who becomes passionately attracted to Ringo Starr's Aunt Jessie. Following this film role, Cutler recorded an LP, Ludo (1967), produced by The Beatles' George Martin, and credited to the Ivor Cutler Trio, made up of Cutler with bassist Gill Lyons and percussionist Trevor Tomkins. The LP, taking inspiration from trad jazz and boogie-woogie, sees Cutler playing the piano as well as his usual harmonium, and is considered the most traditionally musical of all his records.[5] After its release Cutler continued to perform for BBC radio, recording the first of his sessions for John Peel in 1969. Cutler's work on Peel's shows would introduce him to successive generations of fans, and in the early 1990s, Cutler said, "Thanks to Peel, I gained a whole new audience, to the amazement of my older fans, who find themselves among 16-to-35s in theatres, and wonder where they came from."[8]

In the 1970s, Neil Ardley had Cutler sing on his A Symphony of Amaranths LP (1971),[9] and former-Soft Machine singer Robert Wyatt asked Cutler to play harmonium and sing on two of the tracks on his Rock Bottom LP (1974). The collaboration with Wyatt led to Cutler being signed to Wyatt's record label Virgin Records, for whom Cutler recorded three LPs in the mid-1970s: Dandruff (1974), Velvet Donkey (1975) and Jammy Smears (1976). (It also led to Wyatt covering Cutler's "Go and sit upon the grass".) Each of these discs intersperses Cutler's poems and songs with readings by his performing companion Phyllis King.

During the decade Cutler used his sessions for John Peel to introduce numerous episodes of his Life in a Scotch Sitting Room series, culminating in the 1978 LP Life in a Scotch Sitting Room, Vol. 2 (Volume 1 was a track on the 1974 album Dandruff), regarded as a particularly autobiographical work,[5] on which Cutler recounts tales from his childhood amid an environment of exaggerated Scottishness. Cutler also produced the work as a book, which was published in 1984 with illustrations by Martin Honeysett.[9]

Cutler contributed the track "Brooch Boat" to the cult 1980 album Miniatures, produced and edited by Morgan Fisher, which consisted entirely of one-minute-long recordings. In the 1980s, Rough Trade Records released three LPs—Privilege (1983), Prince Ivor (1986) and Gruts (1986). Cutler also released the single "Women of the World", recorded with Linda Hirst, through the label in 1983. In the 1990s, Creation Records released two new volumes of poems and spoken word work: A Wet Handle (1997) and A Flat Man (1998).

Reception and legacy[edit]

Cutler was a noted eccentric, dressing in a distinctive style including plus-fours and hats adorned with many badges, travelling mainly by bicycle and often communicating by means of sticky labels printed with "Cutlerisms", one of which, "never knowingly understood" came to be applied by supporters and detractors alike. Others included "Kindly disregard", reserved for official correspondence, and "to remove this label take it off".[10] The reception room of his home contained some pieces of ivory cutlery, intended as a pun on his name.[11]

The hallmarks of Cutler's work are surreal, bizarre juxtapositions and close attention to small details of existence, all described in seemingly naive language. In performance his delivery was frail, halting and minimally inflected. His writing sometimes edged into whimsy or the macabre. Many of his poems and songs are in the form of conversations delivered as a monologue. In these, one party is often Cutler as a child, a poetic voice which he adopted in order to bypass the intellect. Cutler describes the poverty of his early life and the neglect he experienced from his parents with great stoicism. He expresses acceptance of his lot and gratitude for the basic elements of life, for nature, and for parental love, even though that love might bear the marks of strain. In these works the humour arises from the child's curiosity and the playful or self-serving lies the parent tells him in instructing him to do a chore or in order to stop the incessant questions.

Cutler earned a faithful cult following. John Peel once remarked that Cutler was probably the only performer whose work had been featured on Radio 1, 2, 3 and 4.[12] Cutler was a member of the Noise Abatement Society and the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. He retired from performing in 2004, and died on 3 March 2006.[7]

In 2014 a new play, The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, was performed.[13]

Discography[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

Poetry
Prose
Children's books
  • Meal One. Armada Lions.
  • Balooky Klujypop. (1975) Heinemann.
  • The Animal House. Armada Lions.
  • The Vermillion Door (1984). Walker Books.
  • The Pomegranate Door (1984). Walker Books.
  • Herbert the Chicken (1984). Walker Books.
  • Herbert the Elephant (1984). Walker Books.
  • Herbert the Questionmark (1984). Walker Books.
  • Herbert the Herbert (1984). Walker Books.
  • One and a Quarter (1987). ISBN 0-233-98060-1
  • Herbert: 5 Stories (1988). Walker Books. ISBN 0-7445-4778-4
  • Grape Zoo (1991). Walker Books. ISBN 0-7445-2327-3
  • Doris the Hen (1992). Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-93354-6
  • The New Dress (1995). The Bodley Head. ISBN 0-370-31873-0
Other
  • Befriend a Bacterium: Stickies by Ivor Cutler (1992). Pickpocket Books. ISBN 1-873422-11-3 (A collection of stickers that Cutler used to hand out to people).

DVD video[edit]

  • Looking for Truth with a Pin (2005) (IMDB entry)
  • "I'm going in a field" - musical performance/outake on the Magical Mystery Tour Blu-ray. (2012)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Will of Jack Moris Cutler, dated 31 January 1975. National Records of Scotland SC36/51/586 p 337
  2. ^ BBC News (7 March 2006). "Cult poet Ivor Cutler dies at 83". Retrieved 10 March 2006.
  3. ^ Guardian (7 March 2006). "Unassuming master of offbeat humour whose eccentric take on the world entertained generations".
  4. ^ Obituary (7 March 2006). The Daily Telegraph.
  5. ^ a b c d e Mason, Stewart. "Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 10 March 2006.
  6. ^ Smith, Claire (13 March 2004). "Survival of the wittiest". The Scotsman.
  7. ^ a b Espiner, Mark (7 March 2006). Obituary. The Guardian.
  8. ^ Garner, Ken (1993). In Session Tonight. London: BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-36452-1
  9. ^ a b Gibson, David (3 April 1995). "Cutler Collection". Retrieved 10 March 2006.
  10. ^ Obituary, The Times
  11. ^ Mark Espiner. "Obituary: Ivor Cutler | From". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 July 2013. 
  12. ^ John Peel programme, circa 1986
  13. ^ "Ivor Cutler: 'He didn't live by the same rules as everyone else'". 16 March 2014. Retrieved 16 March 2014. 
  14. ^ An Elpee and Two Epees is a CD compilation of Cutler's first three releases.

External links[edit]