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Ivor Cutler

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Ivor Cutler
Background information
Birth nameIsadore Cutler
Born(1923-01-15)15 January 1923
Govan, Glasgow, Scotland
Died3 March 2006(2006-03-03) (aged 83)
London, England
GenresPoetry, trad jazz, comedy, spoken word
Occupation(s)Poet, singer, musician, songwriter, humorist
Instrument(s)Harmonium, piano
Years active1959–2006
LabelsDecca, Virgin, Harvest, Rough Trade, Creation

Ivor Cutler (born Isadore Cutler,[1] 15 January 1923 – 3 March 2006) was a Scottish poet, singer, musician, songwriter, artist and humorist. He became known for his regular performances on BBC radio, and in particular his numerous sessions recorded for John Peel's influential eponymous late-night radio programme (on BBC Radio 1), 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.

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, singer Robert Wyatt, guitarist Fred Frith, and musicians David Toop and Steve Beresford.

Early life[edit]

Ivor Cutler was born on 15 January 1923[2] in Govan, Glasgow, into a middle-class Jewish family of Eastern European descent. His father Jack Moris Cutler was a draper and jeweller.[3] 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."[4] He was educated at the Shawlands Academy.[5] In 1939 Cutler was evacuated to Annan.[6] He joined the Royal Air Force as a navigator in 1942 but was soon grounded for "dreaminess" and worked as a storeman.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]

Musical career[edit]

Cutler at his flat in Gospel Oak, North 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.[8] He gained popularity playing songs where he would often accompany himself on either a piano or the harmonium,[8] and this success led to the release of a series of records starting with 1959's Ivor Cutler of Y'Hup EP. Cutler appeared in the pop musical film It's All Over Town in 1964, and 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.[10] In the film, Cutler plays would-be courier Buster Bloodvessel[11] 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 album, 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.[8] 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."[12]

In the 1970s, Neil Ardley had Cutler sing on his album A Symphony of Amaranths (1971),[13] and former-Soft Machine drummer Robert Wyatt asked Cutler to play harmonium and sing on two of the tracks on his album Rock Bottom (1974). The collaboration with Wyatt led to Cutler being signed to Wyatt's record label Virgin Records, for whom Cutler recorded three albums in the mid-1970s: Dandruff (1974), Velvet Donkey (1975) and Jammy Smears (1976). Each of these discs intersperses Cutler's poems and songs with readings by his performing companion Phyllis King. Wyatt would later cover Cutler's song "Go and Sit upon the Grass".

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 album Life in a Scotch Sitting Room, Vol. 2, regarded as a particularly autobiographical work,[8] 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.[13]

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 albums—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).

Books and poetry[edit]

Poetry and books for children were an important part of Cutler's literary output.[14] There were crossovers, where parts of the public performances, albums, and books had the same name; the most notable and regular favourite at performances was Life in a Scotch Sitting Room, Volume 2, combining the book[15] with the album.[16]

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 (the latter phrase is a play on 'never knowingly undersold', which was for many years the slogan of the John Lewis Partnership). Others included "Kindly disregard", reserved for official correspondence, and "to remove this label take it off".[17] The reception room of his home contained some pieces of ivory cutlery, a pun on his name.[10] He was a member of the Noise Abatement Society and the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

Composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer Jim O'Rourke covered Cutler's 1983 song "Women of the World" on his album Eureka (1999). In October 2012 in Seattle, Washington, the Mark Morris Dance Group premiered a work entitled "Wooden Tree," featuring recordings of Cutler's renditions of his songs.[18] In 2014 a new play, The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, a co-production by Vanishing Point and National Theatre of Scotland, was performed.[19]

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.[20]

He retired from performing in 2004, and died on 3 March 2006,[10][21] from a stroke, while at his home in London.[22]

Reflections upon his poetry, humour and legacy continued well after his death.[23][24][25]




  • 1980 Brooch Boat Ivor's contribution to Morgan Fisher's Miniatures LP. A compilation of 51 one minute masterpieces by 51 different artists (Cherry Red)
  • 2005 An Elpee and Two Epees[28] (the Decca recordings)
  • 2012 Essential Masters 1959-1961 (Comedy Classics, the Decca recordings in a different order)
  • 2017 Gruts For Tea Again (Coda)


  • 2005 Looking for Truth with a Pin, and Cutler's Last Stand documentary and live performance (Claptrap)


  • Many Flies Have Feathers (1973). Trigram Press.[29]
  • A Flat Man (1977). Trigram Press. ISBN 0-85465-053-9 [30]
  • Private Habits (1981). Arc Publications. ISBN 0-902771-89-2
  • LARGE et Puffy (1984). Arc Publications. ISBN 0-902771-70-1
  • Fresh Carpet (1986). Arc Publications. ISBN 0-902771-68-X
  • A Nice Wee Present from Scotland (1988). Arc Publications. ISBN 0-902771-73-6
  • A Fly Sandwich and Other Menu (1991). Methuen. ISBN 0-413-65940-2
  • Is That Your Flap, Jack? (1992). Arc Publications. ISBN 0-946407-76-2
  • A Stuggy Pren (1994). Arc Publications. ISBN 0-946407-94-0
  • A Wet Handle (1996). Arc Publications. ISBN 1-900072-06-8
  • South American Bookworms (1999). Arc Publications. ISBN 1-900072-35-1 [31]
  • Under the spigot (2001). Arc Publications. ISBN 1-900072-66-1[32]
  • Scots Wa' Straw (2003). Arc Publications ISBN 1-900072-94-7
Children's books
  • Meal One. (1971) [34] Armada Lions Edition (1988) [35][36]
  • Balooky Klujypop. (1975) Heinemann.[37]
  • The Animal House. (1976) Armada Lions.[38][39]
  • 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 [40]
  • 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
  • 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 (BBC Four documentary, 2005) (IMDB entry)
  • "I'm going in a field" - musical performance/outtake on the Magical Mystery Tour Blu-ray. (2012)


  1. ^ Espiner, Mark. Goldman, Lawrence (ed.). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2005–2008. p. 279.
  2. ^ https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/ivor-cutler-6107077.html
  3. ^ Espiner, Mark (6 January 2011). "Cutler, Ivor (1923–2006)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/97072. ISBN 978-0-19-861412-8. Retrieved 28 June 2021. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ "Cult poet Ivor Cutler dies at 83". BBC News. 7 March 2006. Retrieved 7 July 2021.
  5. ^ "Ivor Cutler – Obituaries". The Stage. 15 March 2006. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  6. ^ The Guardian, 7 March 2006. "Unassuming master of offbeat humour whose eccentric take on the world entertained generations".
  7. ^ Obituary, The Daily Telegraph, 7 March 2006.
  8. ^ a b c d e Mason, Stewart. "Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 10 March 2006.
  9. ^ Smith, Claire (13 March 2004). "Survival of the wittiest". The Scotsman.
  10. ^ a b c Mark Espiner (7 March 2006). "Obituary: Ivor Cutler | From". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
  11. ^ Film dialogue from 00:07:31: "Oh, that's Mr Bloodvessel. He's quite harmless. He comes on all the trips. He thinks he's a courier. Last trip, he thought he was the driver."
  12. ^ Garner, Ken (1993). In Session Tonight. London: BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-36452-1
  13. ^ a b Gibson, David (3 April 1995). "Cutler Collection". Retrieved 10 March 2006.
  14. ^ "Peel's poet; Profile", The Times, p. 19, 26 March 2005, ISSN 0140-0460
  15. ^ Cutler, Ivor; Honeysett, Martin (1984), Life in a Scotch sitting room, vol.2, Methuen, ISBN 978-0-413-55430-7
  16. ^ Cutler, Ivor (2002), Life in a Scotch sitting-room. vol.2, Cherry Records, retrieved 7 July 2021
  17. ^ "The Times & The Sunday Times". Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  18. ^ Upchurch, Michael (5 October 2012). "Baryshnikov is one of the gang in Mark Morris' 'A Wooden Tree'". Seattle Times. Retrieved 26 March 2023.
  19. ^ Rogers, Jude (16 March 2014). "Ivor Cutler: 'He didn't live by the same rules as everyone else'". The Observer. Retrieved 16 March 2014.
  20. ^ John Peel programme, circa 1986
  21. ^ "Ivor Cutler". The Independent. 9 March 2006. Retrieved 19 July 2020.
  22. ^ "Ivor Cutler dies". Chortle. 7 March 2006. Retrieved 26 March 2023.
  23. ^ Burnside, John (30 September 2016), "Season of mists . . . and foraging with Ivor", New Statesman, 145 (5334): 83(1), ISSN 1364-7431, retrieved 26 March 2023
  24. ^ "Celebrate the silliness of poetry.(Features)", The Times (London, England), NI Syndication Limited: 9, 3 October 2012, ISSN 0140-0460
  25. ^ Aspden, Peter (18 March 2006), "Surreal-life story", The Financial Times: 46, ISSN 0307-1766, retrieved 26 March 2023
  26. ^ "Ivor Cutler Albums and Discography". AllMusic.
  27. ^ "Ivor Cutler albums and discography".
  28. ^ An Elpee and Two Epees is a CD compilation of Cutler's first three releases.
  29. ^ Cutler, Ivor (1973), Many flies have feathers, Trigram Press, retrieved 1 March 2017
  30. ^ Cutler, Ivor (1977), A flat man, Trigram Press, ISBN 978-0-85465-053-8
  31. ^ Cutler, Ivor (1999), South American bookworms, Arc, ISBN 978-1-900072-35-9
  32. ^ Cutler, Ivor (2001), Under the spigot, Arc, ISBN 978-1-900072-66-3
  33. ^ Cutler, Ivor (1962), Gruts, Museum P, retrieved 1 March 2017
  34. ^ Cutler, Ivor; Oxenbury, Helen (1971), Meal one, Heinemann, ISBN 978-0-434-93350-1
  35. ^ Cutler, Ivor; Oxenbury, Helen (1988), Meal one, Picture Lions, ISBN 978-0-00-662882-8
  36. ^ Also sound recording - Cutler, Ivor; Parker, Sally (1988), Meal one, Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind, ISBN 9780434933501, retrieved 1 March 2017
  37. ^ Cutler, Ivor; Oxenbury, Helen (1975), Balooky Klujypop, Heinemann, ISBN 9780434933525, retrieved 1 March 2017
  38. ^ Cutler, Ivor; Oxenbury, Helen (1976), The animal house, Heinemann, ISBN 978-0-434-93353-2
  39. ^ Ivor Cutler; Oxenbury, Helen (1977), The animal house, New York Morrow, ISBN 978-0-688-22110-2
  40. ^ Ivor Cutler; Benson, Patrick, ill (1988), Herbert five stories (1st U.S. ed.), New York Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, ISBN 978-0-688-08147-8{{citation}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

External links[edit]