Friday, March 23, 2007

Remembering Ivor Cutler

I found out by chance, just the other day, that one of the contemporary British writers I most cherish - the magnificently eccentric Scot, Ivor Cutler - was dead. He died over a year ago: the first anniversary of his passing, in fact, fell on the day of my party at the start of the month. It is so easy to lose touch with the news back home, particularly with events like this which are not seen as "world-shattering" by news editors and are given prominence only in the domestic arena, only for a few days.

Belatedly catching up on the obituaries, I found this one from The Guardian to be the best, though links to others on his official website are all worth checking out.

I'm not sure if he quite qualifies for inclusion on this site as an 'unsuitable role model', since all of those to win that accolade thus far have been distinguished by their heavy drinking: Brian O'Nolan, Jeffrey Bernard, Peter Cook (all avowed alcoholics), Shane MacGowan (and a druggie too), Jem Finer (not, so far as I can gather, a 'problem' drinker like Shane, but fond of one or two - all the Pogues could drink for Ireland in their heyday!), Charles Bukowski (perhaps not quite an alcoholic, but fond of painting himself as one in his literary persona), Tom Waits (a 'reformed' man now, but reputedly quite the boozehound back in the '70s).

I haven't read anything to suggest that Ivor suffered this vice. Then again, I haven't read anything to suggest he was a teetotaller either. Anyway, I am not inspired only by boozing prowess. Ivor was a kind, gentle, exquisitely funny man, with a uniquely skewed viewpoint on life (how can you not love someone who collects ivory-handled cutlery as a concrete pun on his name??). He was also a lifelong schoolteacher - brilliant, I'm sure, and adored by his pupils, but challengingly unconventional! Yes, there's much to admire in the man and his life, his performance and his writing. [There's a nice tribute show on Radio Clash, featuring a lot of Ivor's own recorded work and some covers of his songs by others, here.]

I especially love his fictionalized, surreal recollections of his impoverished Glasgow childhood in "Life In A Scotch Sitting-Room, Vol. 2", an excerpt from which I just posted over on Froogville.

He is perhaps best-known for pieces of whimsy like this:

If your breasts are too large
You will fall over
Unless you wear
A rucksack

Much of his poetry, though always winningly quirky, has considerably more depth to it than this. I must dig out some further examples.
RIP Ivor.

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