I love that big talk, give me some more A personal history of Ivor Cutler
It was summer 1984 when I went for a drink with my cousin Digger and he couldn’t stop singing this song he’d heard on Peel the night before: “I spied a Jelly Mountain, and I chased it to the sea. I waded in with a banana skin and had it for my tea. I swam the English channel, and climbed up onto France. I said the 12 times table, the French for gloves is gants.”
It’s fantastic when something like that enters your life, a magical moment I’ll never forget. It was so bizarre, so funny…….so Ivor Cutler.
The challenge then was to find some stuff by him. There were 3 of his LPs on the virgin label, going cheap (£3.49) in Virgin records in town. I started with the one that had him on the cover, this odd looking old man, bare to the waist looking ready to box ‘Jammy Smears’ (1976).
It was instant hero worship. Within days I could recite chunks of ‘Life in a scotch sitting room’, sing his odd little ditties about men with woolen eyes who couldn’t see very well and clever lemon flower juice that burned my foot.
It wasn’t all laugh a minute either. Some of it was quite sinister, some of it quite dreamy and the Phyllis April King poems were just deeply odd. The LP was produced by David Vorhaus the man behind another (odd) masterpiece An Electric Storm by White Noise……… but thats another story.
The coming weeks meant more trips to town to get Velvet Donkey (1975) and Dandruff (1974). There then appeared a new LP on the shelves Privilege (1983 Rough Trade records), all of which followed the same formula of 30 or so tracks, some songs, some monologues, some poems and 2 episodes of Life in a Scotch sitting room: Volume 2 (there is, of course, not a volume 1).
“Ivor is a bit like sex – Every generation likes to think it discovered it” – Roger McGough
I was always making tapes for friends and Ivor was always on those tapes. There’d be other stuff people liked, but they ALWAYS commented on Ivor. Around that time Dig recalls coming down to Little Hulton for a drink in The White Lion (a working mans pub in a working class area) and there would be the likes of our mate Spud, spontaneously reciting poetry “a moth landed on my canvas shoe”.
In 85 Ivor came to Manchester to perform as part of a music festival. What an experience! I started giggling as he walked onto the stage. At first I was the only one who seemed to find it funny – The audience were almost afraid to laugh, not sure if we should due to his stern looks of disapproval. After the interval it was different as he whipped everybody into hysterics. This pattern seemed to be repeated at all the gigs I saw him do.
It was great to see his harmonium, the odd wind piano that pervades his LPs. This was on one side of the stage, a real piano on the other side and a microphone in the middle for his poems. He would occasionally crack up whilst reading, unable to keep up the po-faced fascade.
After the gig finished, I left him a letter on top of the Harmonium with a stamp addressed envelope for a reply and god bless him, he sent me a letter with a bunch of little golden stickers with Ivors witticisms on them. Some of the stickers were funny “This label can be removed and used as the source of a nutritious meal” some unfathomable “Patella hammers where are you?”.
My brother Dave was a medical student in Edinburgh so there was always somewhere to stay when the Fringe Festival was on. In August 86 Ivor played there at the Assembly Rooms. He was in the mood for audience participation and got us to do trumpet sounds in ‘Sing to the Moon’ – “Lovely, sounds like flugel horns. I prefer flugelhorn but if I’d have asked you to do them you’d think I was being pretentious “DONT YA MEAN TRUMPETS IVOR!?”” .
I moved to London in September 1986 to start work in central London at Bloomsbury Health Authority. There were 4 of us who trained together (Julie, Shirley, Debbie + I) who kept in touch. I used to go up to Newcastle to see Julie and made my first trip up there in November 86 to see an Ivor gig with her. He just released the GRUTS LP and book.
That month, I also got to see The Stranglers, Xmal Deutschland, Pop Will Eat Itself, The Shop Assistants, My Bloody Valentine, The Dragsters, Cocteau Twins, Dif Juz, Alice Cooper, Spizz Sexual & the last ever Smiths gig in December (with Pete Shelley supporting). London has always been the place to be for gigging.
I went out for a drink with my boss Sandra and her husband Tony over that Christmas and they gave me a lift back to my nursing home accommodation in Mecklenburgh Square and came in for a coffee. I had a poster of Ivor on my wall advertising his GRUTS gig. “I’ve seen him as a patient at Kentish Town” announces Tony “You’re Joking!” “Honest – I remember him because when I asked what his profession was he said ‘Humourist’ with such a deadpan face I didnt know what to make of him”.
I looked him up next time I was at the clinic and sure enough, he was a patient there. I made sure he was booked in to see me on his next and subsequent visits. He was the same off stage as on, deadpan with a twinkle in his eye and a pocketful of stickers. Patients had to ring up for appointments at that clinic and I picked up the phone a couple of times to hear his unmistakable voice “I’d like to make an appointment please” “MR CUTLER!” “Is that Bob?” “Yes Mr Cutler” “I think we know each other well enough for you to call me ‘Ivor’ now”. What a Privilege!
I put one of his stickers ‘Slightly Inperfect’ on the phone at work and people didn’t use it for days thinking it was broken! Another one I stuck up “Thatcher is an 8 letter word” had “So is Scargill” scrawled under it by a Tory colleague. There was a receptionist at the clinic with an odd taste in music (she liked to be called ‘The Madam’) and I made her a tape of Ivors stuff. One time when he came she said “I really like your stuff, Bob made me a tape” “You shouldn’t do that!” he admonished me with a stern look – Ivor did not like bootlegs!
There were lots of arty people who had their feet done in Kentish Town. One lady did this picture for me and when I commented that it looked like Ivors work she gave me a rather disapproving look and said “I was on a course with him once and he was rather vulgar” and we left it at that. Another of the artists there was Harry Baines who I met after returning from a year out to India. He’d done a lot of art that was inspired by his trips to India and would happily give you bits of signed artwork if you were interested.
It was June 87 before Ivor played again, this time at Londons Shaw Theatre, then again 18 months later at The Hackney Empire. Another colleague (Julie) was dragged to these events (and the odd Frank Sidebottom gig) in return for rather more up market theatre trips with her (if you can call Dame Edna Everidge ‘up market’ that is).
I once saw him cycling near Covent Garden and had a chat with him. You could tell it was his bike due to the sit up handlebars and the stickers on it. My favourite was ‘Fresh Air Machine’ – he gave me one for my bike, which was pride of place until it got nicked.
I wrote to him on a couple of occasions after leaving London, the last time in 2000, and always got a cheery reply usually on the back of some promotional material or other.
There’s an excellent on-line Ivor Yahoo group (thanks to John Gibbin and an army of really nice Ivor fans) that I joined a few years back. There are extensive files of old Peel and Kershaw sessions to download there and I finally got a copy of ‘Jelly Mountain’ – Fantasitic!
I was unable to make it to Ivors last gig in 2004 (bits from it were on the excellent BBC4 documentary looking for truth with a pin) partly cos I couldn’t be bothered with the hasstle of going to London mid-week. A guy from Texas admonished me on the Yahoo group as he’d just done a 600 mile round trip to watch Paul McCartney.
I wrote to Andy Kershaw saying it was about time for another session early in 2006 to be told that he was too ill to perform nowadays, so it wasnt a huge surprise then when news filtered through of Ivors death in March 2006, still made me incredibly sad. Our Dig summed it up for me:
“Middle-age is shit isn’t it. It’s when all your favourite people die!”.
Bob the Chiropodist