Sunday, December 24, 2017

Life In A Scottish Living Room and Ivor Cutler

Ivor Cutler was born in Govan, Glasgow into a middle-class Jewish family of Eastern European descent. His father Jack Moris Cutler was a wholesale jeweller and had premises at 85 Queen Street, Glasgow. He cited his childhood as the source of his artistic temperament, recalling a sense of displacement when his younger brother was born: "Without that I would not have been so screwed up as I am, and therefore not as creative." In 1939 Cutler was evacuated to Annan. He joined the Royal Air Force as a navigator in 1942 but was soon grounded for "dreaminess" and worked as a storeman. He moved to London where he was employed by the Inner London Education Authority to teach music, dance, drama and poetry to 7- to 11-year-olds. Cutler's deeply held views on humanity meant he disliked corporal punishment and on leaving a teaching job he held in the 1950s he cut up his tawse and handed the pieces to the class.

Cutler was a noted eccentric, dressing in a distinctive style including plus-fours and hats adorned with many badges, travelling mainly by bicycle and often communicating by means of sticky labels printed with "Cutlerisms", one of which, "never knowingly understood" came to be applied by supporters and detractors alike. Others included "Kindly disregard", reserved for official correspondence, and "to remove this label take it off". The reception room of his home contained some pieces of ivory cutlery, intended as a pun on his name.

The hallmarks of Cutler's work are surreal, bizarre juxtapositions and close attention to small details of existence, all described in seemingly naive language. In performance his delivery was frail, halting and minimally inflected. His writing sometimes edged into whimsy or the macabre. Many of his poems and songs are in the form of conversations delivered as a monologue. In these, one party is often Cutler as a child, a poetic voice which he adopted in order to bypass the intellect. Cutler describes the poverty of his early life and the neglect he experienced from his parents with great stoicism. He expresses acceptance of his lot and gratitude for the basic elements of life, for nature, and for parental love, even though that love might bear the marks of strain. In these works the humour arises from the child's curiosity and the playful or self-serving lies the parent tells him in instructing him to do a chore or in order to stop the incessant questions.

In October 2012 in Seattle, WA, the Mark Morris Dance Group premiered a work entitled "Wooden Tree," featuring recordings of Cutler's renditions of his songs. The premiere, choreographed by Morris, included Mikhail Baryshnikov as one of the group of dancers.

In 2014 a new play, The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, a co-production by Vanishing Point and National Theatre of Scotland, was performed.

Cutler earned a faithful cult following. John Peel once remarked that Cutler was probably the only performer whose work had been featured on Radio 1, 2, 3 and 4. Cutler was a member of the Noise Abatement Society and the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. He retired from performing in 2004, and died on 3 March 2006.

Reflections upon his poetry, humour and legacy continued well after his death.