Monday, March 14, 2011
Looking for Truth with a Pin (Ivor Cutler Documentary)
Ivor Cutler (15 January 1923 – 3 March 2006) was a Scottish poet, songwriter and humorist. He became known for his regular performances on BBC radio, and in particular his numerous sessions recorded for John Peel's influential radio programme, and later for Andy Kershaw's programme. He appeared in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour film in 1967 and on Neil Innes' television programmes. Cutler also wrote books for children and adults and was a teacher at A. S. Neill's Summerhill School and for 30 years in inner-city schools in London. He told Andy Kershaw on his radio show that he also gave private poetry lessons to individuals.
In live performances Cutler would often accompany himself on a harmonium. Phyllis King appears on several of his records, and for a number of years was a part of his concerts. She usually read small phrases but also read a few short stories. The two starred in a BBC radio series, King Cutler, in which they performed their material jointly and singly. Cutler was known to have had a long term relationship with King, but they never married or set up home together. Cutler also collaborated with pianist Neil Ardley and singer Robert Wyatt.
Cutler was an anti-intellectual and 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 summary applied by supporters and detractors alike. Others included "Kindly disregard", reserved for official correspondence, and "to remove this label take it off", designed to confuse pedants.
Many of Cutler's poems and songs involve conversations delivered as a monologue and, in these, one party is often Cutler as a child, a part of his intended "bypassing the intellect". Cutler describes poverty and neglect from his parents with great stoicism. He focuses on acceptance and gratitude for the basic elements of life, nature and love, which allows him to make points about mother-love in particular. The humour develops from the child's curiosity and the playful or self-serving lies the parent tells him to get, for example, a chore done or simply to stop the incessant questions. Cutler recited his poems in a gentle Scottish burr, and this, combined with the absurdity of the subject matter, is a mix that earned him 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. The reception room of his home contained a number of pieces of ivory cutlery, deliberately intended as a pun on his name.