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October 2017

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The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler

Who is Ivor Cutler?

By Fiona Shepherd

"It is up to you whether you read advice is just to ignore it"
– Ivor Cutler
Some know him as the lugubrious bus conductor Buster Bloodvessel in The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour; others as the self-styled “stupid genius” who recorded more John Peel sessions than any other act, bar The Fall. It is reckoned that he was the only artist to have featured on Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4 – a renaissance man, but with cult appeal.
As well as Lennon, McCartney and Peel; Billy Connolly, Bertrand Russell, John Lydon, Stephen Fry, Will Self and Alan McGee are/were all fans. He has been dubbed Scotland’s alternative poet laureate, and Elvis Costello reckoned he should be made “a knight of Scotland”. He died in March 2006, aged 83, unknighted and, by his own estimation, “never knowingly understood” yet his reputation as a lovably idiosyncratic songsmith, hangdog humorist and absurdist vaudevillian endures. There is nobody quite - or even remotely - like him.
Ivor Cutler – Mr Cutler to all but his closest confidantes - was born in 1923 to Jewish parents in the shadow of Ibrox stadium in Glasgow. He was not a happy child. At the age of three, in a fit of sibling jealousy, he tried to kill his younger brother with a poker. Aged five, he subscribed to left-wing politics. He was bullied by his schoolteachers, suicidal at 15, then a wartime evacuee at 16.
Years later, he would satirise his austere upbringing in works such as Life In A Scotch Sitting Room Vol 2 and Glasgow Dreamer – “too dreamy”, said the RAF, who dismissed him from training. Eventually, he found his feet in London – a move he considered to be “the beginning of my life” - where he taught music, drama and poetry, in inimitable offbeat style, to primary school children.
He adopted a childlike perspective when he began writing his own droll, epigrammatic poetry and was pleased to say that by the age of 48 he was quite good at it. He composed naive “surrealist folk” songs, delivered in a deadpan baritone and generally accompanied by the signature wheeze of his harmonium.
He deemed his first gig in 1957 to be “an unmitigated failure” but caught a break from comedy producer Ned Sherrin. Appearances on the BBC Home Service, Monday Night At Home and Late Night Line-up followed, along with a considerable catalogue of albums, children’s books and collections of his poetry and prose.

Part Two