Published: 28/03/2014 17:32 - Updated: 27/03/2014 17:48

Cutler's last stand

Ivor Cutler
Ivor Cutler

HE may have had many job titles — songwriter, poet, musician, humorist, playwright and children’s writer — but Ivor Cutler was certainly a one-off.

Now Nairn-based Matthew Lenton hopes to introduce a new generation to the work of one of Scotland’s most unique cultural exports, and remind older fans of the singular genius that was Ivor Cutler.

Cutler, who died in 2006 at the age of 83, was born in Glasgow to a middle-class Jewish family, but it was not until middle-age when he became known as a songwriter after moving to London to work as a teacher.

The only artist to have his songs played on Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4, Cutler also made an appearance in The Beatles’ film Magical Mystery Tour, and numbered among his fans the late John Peel, whose radio sessions helped bring Cutler’s work to a wider audience, Billy Connolly, Stephen Fry, philosopher Bertrand Russell, and authors Iain Banks and Will Self.

Famously deadpan and lugubrious — Cutler would instruct his audience to applaud at 50 per cent their normal volume — his eccentricities included turning up at the BBC with half a boiled egg stuck to his forehead.

Yet his songs and poems could also be deeply moving, as with Going In a Field, the song which introduced Lenton to Cutler’s work.

"I always found his songs and his poems and his stories very evocative," Lenton said.

"They always pulled me into a distinctive imaginative world and that is what great artists do. They pull you into a world that has its own logic and beauty."

Lenton has paid tribute to Cutler and his work by devising The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler for Vanishing Point and The National Theatre of Scotland, bringing together the story of Cutler’s life with his words and music, which Lenton reckons stands comparison with the work of Russian absurdist writers like Nikolai Gogoln and Daniil Kharms.

"If he hadn’t been Scottish, I think he would have been treated more seriously," Lenton said.

Which does raise the issue of whether she should regard Cutler, with his distinctive Glasgow brogue and Caledonian dourness, as a particularly Scottish.

"It’s a good question, and particularly in this year," Lenton said.

"I think some of the pessimism and dourness of the Scots was something that weighed him down.

"He left Scotland when he was 40 and he always said that was the beginning of his life. All his work he created in London.

"What it makes me reflect on, in this year of the Scottish referendum, is whether Scotland wants to be a place that people want to leave to go to London, or whether it can be a place people don’t want to leave.

"Cutler left Scotland to go to England and I’m an Englishman who came to Scotland and understands it’s a different place. Those things are implicit in the show, though it’s not in any way political. It’s more a celebration of his life and work."

 

The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler is at the OneTouch Theatre, Eden Court, Inverness, on Friday 4th and Saturday 5th April.

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