The wacky world of Ivor Cutler

PAUL McCartney wanted to take him to dinner.

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  • Citizens show celebrates the life and work of a true Scottish eccentric
    Citizens show celebrates the life and work of a true Scottish eccentric
  • Citizens show celebrates the life and work of a true Scottish eccentric
  • Citizens show celebrates the life and work of a true Scottish eccentric

He was adored by John Peel, John Lydon and Elvis Costello.

Now, the legend that was the anarchic Ivor Cutler, Glaswegian musician, poet and singer, is being celebrated in a new touring play.

The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler is named after one of Cutler's most tender songs and produced by Vanishing Point Theatre Company in association with the National Theatre of Scotland.

The play takes the artist's work and life as inspiration.

"We talked long and hard about how to tell Cutler's story," says actor/co-creator Sandy Grierson.

"And we decided to use his work which is integral.

"You can tell his life with his text and in the process create a comprehensive story.

"We've also collaborated with Phyllis King, Cutler's long-time creative partner."

Ivor Cutler's life - he died in 2006, aged 83 - was colourful, although the colours he saw were several shades of grey.

His stories, poems and songs were often dry and melancholic, surreal but funny, highlighted in work such as Gruts For Tea.

"Daddy, we've had gruts for three years now. I'm fed up with gruts," he wrote.

Billy Connolly loved Cutler's dourness. "He captures dreich, that depressing grey drizzly weather that seeps into you, like no-one on earth," he said.

Born into a middle-class Jewish family in 1923, young Ivor's life was influenced by anti-semitism and the Great Depression.

He would later describe the poverty of his early life and the neglect he experienced from his parents with great stoicism.

But there's no doubt Cutler developed a 'wayward' personality.

During the Second World War, he was dismissed from the RAF for looking at clouds rather than navigating his plane.

And during his post-war stint as a teacher, he had pupils improvise a song about killing their siblings.

An eccentric, he dressed in plus-fours and hats adorned with many badges and travelled mainly by bicycle - but that didn't slow up his career as an entertainer, making his mark on radio and TV in the 1950s.

Fame arrived when Paul McCartney caught him on the BBC's Late Night Line-Up and in 1967 he played bus conductor Buster Bloodvessel in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour, his dour demeanour perfect for the part.

Ivor's success continued, albeit in a low-key manner - he was signed by cult labels, from Harvest and Virgin to Rough Trade and Creation.

THE man with the owlish glasses who played harmonium on stage hated the notion of fame.

But until his death at the age of 83, his surreal act - he would sing songs about bugs, herrings and his father pointing at thistles - continued to enthrall younger audiences such as singer KT Tunstall.

"Here was an adult with a child alive and well inside," she says. "You are meant to suppress your inner child as you grow older, to gain approval, to be accepted, but he didn't. He didn't want to conform. He just enjoyed himself."

DJ John Peel pointed out that Cutler was probably the only performer whose work had been featured on Radio 1, 2, 3 and 4.

This theatre celebration of Cutler's life, which features a four-piece band, and flits in and out of his life with his songs, promises to be as anarchic as the performer's own life.

"I'd always thought of our play as being an anti-Mamma Mia," says director Matthew Lenton. "We wanted to illustrate properly what an eccentric Ivor was."

And of course, the show will feature famous 'Cutlerisms', such as 'Never knowingly understood', 'Kindly disregard,' reserved for official correspondence, and 'To remove this label take it off'.

l The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, the Citizens' Theatre, April 10-19, the Beacon Theatre, Greenock, April 23.

Arts and Entertainment

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