Back in 1983 I was given the opportunity to interview a long-time hero of mine, the parched-dry Scottish humourist, poet and songwriter Ivor Cutler, so I jumped at it.
If you’ve suffered the severe deprivation of not knowing who Ivor was, check this out…
So, anyway, the interview took place at Ivor’s tiny flat at the top of an ancient house in Archway, London on 19 April 1983 and, as you might expect, Ivor kept me on my toes throughout our yakking.
He was in the first flush of enthusiasm for the Able-label company and was kind enough to give me one of each of the (often quite surreal) labels he had had made up, so that I could stick them in my diary. So here, below, is that diary page with Ivor’s self-effacing autograph at the top, labels in the middle and my observations beneath.
The one you can’t read, in the top left of the image, says “this label has no purpose’, and the ones with really tiny print say “befriend a bacterium” and “quiet”.
Wayward notions like the label that says “Upside down” or “to remove this label take it off” or “kindly disregard” are quintessentially Ivor – anarchist but very funny with it.
On another occasion, I was admiring a small canteen of delicately made bone-handled knives, forks and spoons on his mantelpiece and he challenged me to guess why it had been given to him. I made a couple of feeble attempts along the lines of “Birthday present?” or “Housewarming gift?” then gave up, to Ivor’s immense satisfaction.
He took delight in stringing me along, chiding me, trying to make me guess again, all the while knowing I’d never guess the truth.
Eventually, grinning wryly, he said, “Ivory Cutlery.” I looked closer and realsied that, yes, of course, the handles were made of ivory.
Ivor Cutler’s Ivory Cutlery had been given to him by Robert Wyatt and his wife Alfreda Benge, and was clearly one of his most treasured possessions.
People of my age often agonise over the loss of great rock musicians – Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Buddy Holly, John Lennon – spending considerable amounts of valueable time pondering what these people might have done had they lived longer. I miss those people, but I’m fatalistic enough not to worry about that sort of thing.
However, when Ivor died in 2003, he left a huge gap. There was, quite literally, no one like him before or since. When I think about it, Ivor Cutler and Simon Jeffes of Penguin Cafe Orchestra are just about the only two musicians who I can honestly say I really miss.
The legacy of Hendrix and most of the other deceased rock greats lives on, not just in endless ruthless nostalgia marketing campaigns, but in the work of other guitarists and singers and songwriters who were so clearly influenced by them.
Ivor and Simon, however, aren’t imitated, partly because they never achieved huge mainstream success, but also because they can’t be.
People as rare as those two come along only once in many lifetimes. They make the world a better place and, when they die, they are irreplaceable.
Oh, shit, I’ve gone all maudlin. I’ll stop now.