"My way of writing poetry was to go to a jazz concert and just let the music come through me and just write nonsense poems, so that one was listening to the noise of the words rather than the meaning. I wouldn't allow my intellect to get in the way. After six years I found certain sounds more to my taste than others and I gradually began to use actual words".
Ivor Cutler was born in Glasgow on 15th January 1923 to a Jewish middle-class family.
"My parents were orthodox Jews. My father moved from the orthodox to the progressive synagogue. He had been able to read Hebrew but wasn't understanding the traditional service. For me the language was then exposed as boring. I liked the incomprehensible noise of foreign words."
Victimised by anti-Semitic teachers at school for not being a "real Scot" he got the strap 200 times for not being able to write. In his twenties he looked into other religions, visiting various churches on Sundays. He converted to atheism and then, in his early twenties, having explored astronomy, he decided to become an agnostic.
When he was fifteen he thought;
"I'm going to be a composer. I'm going to make simple but strong melodies like Drove or Schubert. I've got a thing which I call my first Piano Concerto and it's only in three lines, because I didn't know what a concerto was. I took it to school and showed it to the music teacher and she was knocked out. It was a load of rubbish. Then I did a serious one called "Funeral Bells", because being a humorist I'm naturally a lugubrious kind of bloke, and suicide always has a big attraction to guys like me."
In 1950-51 he taught at A S Neill's Summerhill. He then moved to the Inner London Education Authority in 1954 for whom he worked until 1980. From 1961 to 1970 he taught music, African drumming, movement, drama and poetry to 7-11 year-olds.
Fame first came in the late Fifties. He was lying on his bed with a primitive tape recorder for company and, as he puts it, a story came out of his brain. Surprised at the ease at which he could bypass his intellect he tried again, and a second story emerged and was also recorded. Then a third. Writing poetry then began to manifest itself.
"One day I went into a place called Box & Cox and the boss man there was a fellow called Boxy. I was dressed up all peculiar, a big bag on my back with paintings in it and a dirty old duffel coat. I put on a deadpan voice and said, "I understand you buy songs here." He said, "Yes", carefully. I said, "Would you like me to sing one of my songs for you?" He said, "Yes", it was five o'clock in the evening, he had a fire going, he was relaxing.
So he got one or two of his chums and pointed to a piano that was against the wall and he sat behind me. I said "I've got different songs. It could be a funny one or it could be a serious one." He said, "Oh, play what you like." So I sat down and played this funny one. After a while I was listening, I heard. I carried on to the end, turned around, and Box was lying on the floor, his face purple. I said, "It's OK, you can laugh." He said, "We get some funny people in here and they would be terribly hurt if we laughed, because they see themselves as being very serious." So he took me on and started me in my music career"
Cutler was invited to read his idiosyncratic poems and stories on the forerunner of BBC Radio 4. Frequently he performed to the accompaniment of a pedal-driven harmonium which could only, as far as listeners could tell, play in a depressive minor key. He broadcast thirty-eight stories on the BBC's Monday Night At Home between 1959 and 1963. Cutler's artistic career started with a gig at the Blue Angel in Islington in 1957, which he reckoned was "an unmitigated failure". In the 60s he became a popular figure on UK radio, and in 1961 released his first record, the "Of Y'Hup" EP. He started writing poetry aged 42 three of his poems appear in Faber's collection of Scottish verse edited by Douglas Dunn.
Cutler found an avid fan in John Lennon, who persuaded him to take the role of Buster Bloodvessel in the Beatles vehicle Magical Mystery Tour (1967). Beatles producer George Martin produced his album Ludo (1967), released as the Ivor Cutler Trio.
Cutler remained active in his later years. He wrote children's books as well as collections of poetry and prose; recorded albums for such influential labels as Virgin, Rough Trade and Creation; and continued to record radio sessions for John Peel and Andy Kershaw. In February 2004 a frail looking Cutler gave a farewell performance of poems, songs and stories at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall. Highlights from the show were later broadcast on BBC Four under the title Cutler's Last Stand as an accompaniment to a documentary, Ivor Cutler: Looking For Truth With A Pin.
He died age 83 on 3 March 2006.
Some examples of Ivor's Music
Jackfish - A Cowboy Song MP3 1.9MB
Women of The World MP3 1.2 MB
I Built A House (around a mouse) MP3 1.2 MB
(I am going to watch my woman walking down the street with a) Bounce Bounce Bounce MP3 2.1 MB
I Ate A Ladies Bun MP3 0.4 MB
Cobbled together from various BBC sites, Wiki and here, and more downloads here.