Ivor Cutler died peacefully at home at the age of 83 earlier this month (03/03/06), and to people of a certain age (which would be most of us here at TM-Online) it feels like the end of an era - especially so, as has been noted elsewhere, now that John Peel and Vivian Stanshall are also no longer with us. TM-O's Andy Basire wipes away a tear so that he can see to type properly...
Born in Glasgow (15/01/23), he has been variously described as a poet, songwriter, singer, artist, philosopher, storyteller and eccentric all of which are true but none of which really come close to truly describing what he actually did, indeed he was only an entertainer of any renown for the last half of his life, although many would argue he was an entertainer (renowned or not) for all of it, especially whilst working as a teacher at AS Neil's radical free-thinking Summerhill School in Suffolk and then for the Inner London Education Authority. It was in these environments that he gained, and retained, both his strong empathy with children and his lifelong love of childish things, once remarking “those who come to my gigs probably see life as a child would. It's those who are busy making themselves into grown-ups, avoiding being a child - they're the ones who don't enjoy it”.
Despite what he described as the ‘unmitigated failure’ of his first gig at the Blue Angel in Islington in 1957 he nevertheless decided to take his work to the BBC who ‘found them to their taste’ and was invited to read on the forerunner of Radio 4, the old Home Service, frequently performing to the accompaniment of a clanking, wheezing pedal-driven harmonium (an instrument he continued to cart around with him throughout his entire career). His television debut came in the late 1950s on Cliff Michelmore's Tonight programme, resulting in a series of performances which even today can best be described as magnificently surreal and in 1961 he released his first record, the Ivor Cutler Of Y'Hup EP. In 1967 he appeared in The Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour film (both Lennon and McCartney were fans) as Buster Bloodvessel, subsequently recording a jazz album entitled Ludo with producer George Martin, then former-Soft Machine singer Robert Wyatt asked him to contribute harmonium and voice to his post-accident Rock Bottom LP (1974) and this collaboration led to Cutler being signed to Wyatt's record label Virgin for whom he recorded three LPs in the mid-1970s: Dandruff (1974), Velvet Donkey (1975) and Jammy Smears (1976) – all of which are well worth tracking down. An impressive decade was then rounded off by what many consider to be Cutlers masterpiece, the live recording Life In A Scotch Sitting Room, Vol. 2 (needless to say there was never a Vol. 1).
Those lucky enough to encounter the great man live will attest to the quietness of his performances - audience members often found themselves on the wrong end of a stern ticking off if they became too rowdy - and when asked once if he really was a member of the Noise Abatement Society he remarked "Yes, for years and years, it makes my life a great misery, noises. I always carry earplugs with me, when I do die I shall be glad to get away from loud pop music and motor cars, but I shall miss - insofar as when one is dead one can miss anything - the beautiful kindnesses of those people to whom courtesy comes naturally. Unfortunately there are fewer of those people than of the other kind who deal with their problems in a very anti-social way."
The loss of his beautiful mellifluous Scottish brogue, mildly enunciating each acute observation, each lunatic bon mot, each thought provoking utterance is genuinely saddening, fortunately we still have a significant body of work to rediscover, from the gently amusing to the laugh-out-loud funny, just don’t laugh too loud, Ivor wouldn’t approve.
Ivor Cutler also published numerous children’s books (well worth tracking down are the Herbert series Herbert the Chicken, Herbert the Elephant, Herbert the Questionmark and Herbert the Herbert) and over fifteen prose and poetry collections (equally worth tracking down are the beautiful illustrated mini Arc Publication’s Private Habits, LARGE et Puffy, Fresh Carpet and A Nice Wee Present from Scotland)