“ -' IVOR CUTLER ‘ Rediscoverd every Festival. John Sweeney had never heard of him. We sent him to find out.
At first inspection the Scottish poet, humourist, bicyclist and eccentric Ivor Cutler is a fish out of water, albeit an agreeable fish in a particular noxious stretch of water. There’s nothing wrong with Cutler’s sense of humour. Quixotic, queer, yet somehow sardonic and gentle, his softly spoken Scottish monologues about Lung Fish, feet salad and gruts (a peculiarly penitent species ofvegetable), will have them rolling in the aisles at this year’s Edinburgh Festival. There is, one could argue however, something seriously wrong with my generation’s sense of humour. Reared amid mass unemployment, mindful that the MOST POWERFUL MAN ON EARTH is a dull cretin who was once outshone in his work by a chimpanzee; hardly knowing, as a voter, any other Prime Minister than Margaret Thatcher, the things that tickle our ribs are bleak, irredeemably bleak. Like Alan Bleasdale’s scorching scene in the film No Surrender when a busfull of ga-ga, spittle-dribbling, senile dementia vegetables (the human kind) are wheeled into the middle of a nasty bun-fight between two gangs of bigoted Catholic and Protestant pensioners. My idea of gentle irony is that were it not for the evident wealth of her husband and the BUPA scheme he can easily afford, our go-getting Premier would be a partially-sighted cripple still waiting
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for her first eye operation. 80 anybody in the business of making people of my age laugh has to top the reigning, laughable absurdities that make do for reality ‘these days’. By these harsh standards, the curved logic that Cutler presents in his one-man shows may seem by no means nasty enough to jar or surprise our jaded, blood-drenched, earbashed wits.
Don’t be fooled as Gustav Lambert would have it: ‘our ignorance of history makes us slander our own times. Things have always been like this.’ With rickets, Hitler, Mussolini, and mass unemployment (again) things were not terribly, wonderfully, marvellous when Cutler was a young lad growing up in Glasgow. Cutler gets particularly wound up about rickets. ‘Thatcher the Milk Snatcher. For that woman to take milk away from schoolchildren strikes me as evil, really evil.’ His sweet, slightly quavering old man’s voice curdles as he articulates her name.
Don’t be fooled too by the gentle voice. Cutler has a line in veiled mockery which is all the more disturbing as it is delivered with the temperate tones of sweet reasonableness. For want of anything better to kick off with, I started our chat in his bizarrely furnished rented flat in London’s Tuffnell Park with a pompous curriculum vitae of .l. Sweeney. Cutler was swift to prick my ego — ‘you’re not typical of people who interview me.’ Why? ‘Well you’re rather older. I don’t mean you’re ancient. It’s usually people in their early 20$. ’
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There was a deﬁnite undercurrent here. The unsaid point Cutler appeared to be making was that he is an unimportant, marginal chap and that if someone of my advanced (late 20$) age had nothing better to do than interview him it was a pretty pathetic show all around. His next unsettling notion was to start praising The List as a literary organ of renowned merit. ‘The idea of being full of respect for a reporter is something which gives me a lot of pleasure,’ One can but say ‘erm’ to that sort of stuff and swiftly change the subject.
How old are you? ‘How old am I? Oh Gosh!’ I know it’s boring, but you have to have it in somewhere. ‘Well, actually you don’t. I think I’ll put my foot down. In a way it’s pretty irrelevant because it’s nothing at all to do with what comes out of me creatively, which I suppose is the most important part of me as far as you are concerned.’ I suppose it’s a pretty stupid question. ‘. . . They’re all beside the point.’ They’re interesting though, and they can help you connect. ‘They may help you connect. I don’t think they do anything for me. I’m not being coy, just awkward I suppose. Being awkward can be good because it puts people up the mark. Radio interviewers can come up with some
crap and then they expect you to feed them and I just say yes or no.’ Which he did. This guy might look like someone who is long qualiﬁed for his pensioners’ bus pass but he has all the verbal attack of a literary Frank Bruno.
I put it to him that his act had been described to me as ‘offbeat, quirky,
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‘ Quixotic whimsy’. Did he like those words? ‘No, I don’t like them at all. You don’t know my work then?’ Pause. No. Cutler let out a long, rather unpleasant cackle. I may have been making heavy weather of this interview, but he was having a
helluva good time. ‘You haven’t seen or heard any of my work then?’ No. Pause. I’ve got a lot of cuttings. ‘It isn’t the same thing.’ It isn’t
anything like the same thith
admitted. I suppose words which are captured don’t appeal to me because they don’t give much information — they’re more likely to mislead. Long pause. Are you playing the silence game? ‘No. I’m just waiting for you. I don’t have to do the work.’ Sorry, I tend to gabble on. There will probably be more me than you on this tape. ‘I’ve noticed that you’re doing that. You’re on the wrong foot in away, not having the time to do the homework you would have been happier having done and then you hope by talking to generate in me the response which would be useful for the article.’ You’re being wily. ‘Well, not wily, in a way I’m giving you the kind of capital you’re looking for, because the substance of this kind of sentence is not without its merits.’
Ivor Cutler is a clever so and so. Don’t waste your time trying to sort out what I made of him. Go and see the real thing, it will puzzle you and yet cheer you up. He made me feel quite human for the rest of the day. Ivor C utIer is appearing at The Assembly Rooms, 54 George Street (venue 3) Tickets: 226 2427/8. 18—30 Aug (not Tue 26), 5.45pm. £4.50 (£4). [Fl
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