”But we still sing… ’cause we’re optimists!”
Incredibly, it’s a decade since we lost one of our greatest poets, mavericks and all-round lovely eccentrics, Ivor Cutler. His gentle anarchy was loved across the generations: from his big break in the 50s on the BBC thanks to prime-time entertainer Ned Sherrin, the 60s in The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, to the John Peel audience, of which I was one, in the 80s/90s, and for whom he recorded twenty one sessions.
His absurdist appeal, which focused around tough childhood lessons, surreal details and his lugubrious countenance, made him a true outsider. Director/producer Paul Spencer’s 2006 film focuses on his fans and friends, but this conventional approach is both moving and hilarious. As Billy Connolly says, “The world needs Ivor Cutler to think differently… he encapsulates the Scots word ‘dreich’ (gloomy and overcast) perfectly”.
From his unorthodox teaching at proto-hippy school Summerhill in the fifties, to his final performance at Queen Elizabeth Hall in February 2004, we learn of his less than loving mother, and how he sought to gain her approval. It’s the tinge of melancholy which makes his work both poignant and hilarious, a kind of gallows humour and survival instinct combined with very Scottish suffering .
The Jewish kid who got picked on at school took his flair for art, poetry and playfully deadpan comedy and melded these skills into surrealist gems. The talking heads here are wildly varied- Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, Macca, Connolly, ex-partner and poet Phyllis King, and Robert Wyatt. All are united in praising his uncompromising stance in both career and disposition. His obsessions were many: art, insects, bicycles, The Noise Abatement Society, and making stickers which bore messages like ‘NO!’ and ‘slightly imperfect’.
Delightfully, there is also a kind of greatest hits package contained here-Bugs, I’m Happy, Life in a Scotch Sitting Room, Beautiful Cosmos and I’m Going In A Field feature- all delivered in that unmistakable dour Highland drone with the asthmatic harmonium, mouth twitching in silent mirth.
“God bless you, Mr Cutler.”
Screened at Glasgow Film Theatre