M1-35 Ivor Cutler

M1-35 Brooch Boat



The last time I saw Ivor was in the mid-80’s, as I was walking somewhere near Hampstead Heath in North London. He was his usual cheery but slightly self-absorbed self, and on spying me he lobbed a friendly wave and a merry hello from across the street. It had been a few years since we’d last met, when I had recorded him and his lonely harmonium in his slightly gloomy little flat (address above) with walls hung with African textiles. I remarked on how well he looked, really in the pink, and he immediately replied “Bach Flower remedies” – pronouncing “Bach” with that lovely soft Scottish brogue of his – “You’re in a bad mood and you want to be in a good mood, drink the right one and you’re fixed up in a trice,” he enthused. Personally I wondered if it was the brandy they are usually dissolved in that really did the trick.

Hugh Laurie had a cuppa tea, a bicycle ride and a jolly good laugh with Ivor around the same time, as shown on TV. Punk rock label Rough Trade had just released Ivor’s album “Gruts” and Methuen, an established high-quality firm (Kipling, Wilde, Einstein, etc.)  had just published his book of the same name. Typical of Ivor’s effortless way of straddling diverse categories.

Flash forward to 2010 – and I am on stage at Superdeluxe, Tokyo’s coolest arts/music club, delivering a potted history of Miniatures. It really was potted, because the rule at Pecha Kucha Night is that you have to present whatever it is you are talking about by showing 20 slides for 20 seconds each. This remarkably simple concept has gone seriously viral. It was started by Superdeluxe boss Mark Dytham and his colleague Astrid Klein as a modest showcase for architects in 2003, and is now a regular event in (currently) 687 cities worldwide. Anyway, one of my slides featured Ivor and several quotes by/about him (click to enlarge):


A man of many parts, Ivor played numerous roles in his 83 years: teacher, comedian, cartoonist, writer, poet, raconteur, singer, and um, pavement artist (see top of page), etc… Here’s a very partial 1978 biography he sent me, which I collaged onto the Miniatures poster – I am sorry a bit of it got covered up by Neil Innes’ son (click to enlarge):

Perhaps his most well-known role was in The Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” where he played Mr. Bloodvessel. When it came to collaborators, his taste was impeccable. He is featured on Robert Wyatt’s classic “Rock Bottom” album from 1974, taking over the second half of the last track “Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road.” A personal favourite of mine (I was fortunate enough to know both the gentlemen involved) was his marvellously spooky version of “The Dong with the Luminous Nose” orchestrated by the brilliant jazz arranger Neil Ardley.

Looking for Truth with a Pin is a BBC documentary about Ivor, featuring his mates Paul McCartney, Billy Connolly, and numerous others, wondering at his uniqueness, his humour, his sadness at the unfairness of life that speaks to us all.

“The King’s Penny” was how he rather irritatedly described the £1 cash advance royalty I sent to each Miniatures artist when putting this album together. Most indies labels when they offer a £1 advance as the legal minimum required for a contract don’t actually pay it. I did. Actually. Ivor was the only one who returned it, in a bit of a huff. But as soon as I explained that I was in fact a one-man operation and basically skint, he was all friendliness and compliance.

Jeremy and Dan are Ivor’s sons and are doing a sort-of brilliant job maintaining a “slightly inperfect” website under Ivor’s dictum, “If a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing badly” (their quote, not mine – wink). There you can see lists of Ivor’s many books and CD’s, read a long Ivor bio, and enjoy a different Ivor quote each time you go there. Today’s quote was:


Befriend A Bacterium, next time you’re feeling glum. Ivor did – he always had a way to pull himself out of the doldrums (to help others do the same, he had surreal sayings printed on little sticky labels that he would randomly post in public places). In the 50’s, before he taught at Summerhill, the famous free school, he left a conventional teaching job where he refused to carry out corporal punishment, and on his last day there he cut up his tawse (look it up) and handed the pieces to the kids. By golly, I’m glad we met. Thank you, Ivor.

Next up – he wandered in a blue desert.

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