‘A Flat Man’ by Ivor Cutler (1977 Club)

When I started to look for some books to choose for the ‘1977 Club’ I was pleased to see that Ivor Cutler had a book published that year. Unfortunately I didn’t have a copy even though I had several of his other books, records and CDs. When I began to look for copies the prices were very high, too high for me. But in the end I found an ex-library copy at about the price of a new book. What luck!

If you have never heard of Ivor Cutler then the Wikipedia entry describes him as ‘a Scottish poet, songwriter and humorist’ which is a fair description. I discovered him through John Peel’s radio show where Cutler’s poems and stories would often be incongruously placed between the likes of The Fall and Napalm Death. Many of us fell in love with his whimsical, surreal and sometimes just completely baffling poems, songs and stories. His poems were often set in a domestic or natural environment and often involve talking birds, cows or even bacteria—Ivor used to hand out stickers that said ‘befriend a bacterium’. His style is often childish or naive but will sometimes take a turn towards the dark side. He also wrote short stories mostly about his early life growing up in a poor Glaswegian neighbourhood in the 1920s/30s; these have been collected in books and records as Life in a Scotch Sitting Room, Vol. 2 and Glasgow Dreamer. He also wrote several children’s books.

A main part of the appeal of Cutler’s work, at least it is for me, is in his delivery; he is quietly spoken, has a soft Scottish accent and is usually accompanied with his harmonium which gives his readings a dreamy quality. Many of the poems in this little book are also included on the CD, released in 1998, which is also called A Flat Man. I would have included audio files from that CD in this post but I would have to upgrade my WordPress account to do so, so we shall have to make do with just the text. Anyone who is familiar with Ivor Cutler will no doubt be able to imagine him reading these poems. If you have never heard Cutler here’s a YouTube link to an episode of Life in a Scotch Sitting Room.

Let’s kick off with a couple of the more whimsical poems.

I Ate a Lady’s Bun

I got taken to gaol.
I ate a lady’s bun.
On her head.
She got a fright.
It was a surprise.
Do not worry I said.
I am eating your bun.
I am hungry for a bun.
Police she cried a good
neighbour heard her
and phoned the
police.

You must not eat a lady’s bun even
if you are hungry.
And I am in jail.

Irk

Hello Mr Robinson.
Hello Mr Cutler
have a cup of tea
then
we’ll look at Mrs Robinson
who’s lying dead
next door.

(the next day)

Hello Mrs Robinson.
Hello Mr Cutler
have a cup of tea —
sorry about yesterday.

I don’t know why Cutler uses ‘gaol’ and then ‘jail’ in the same poem, maybe it was just for the hell of it. Irk, for some strange reason, isn’t included on the CD version; I don’t know why as it’s one of my favourites in the book. It’s Cutler at his silliest best. Next up is one of the longer poems from the book. I can only imagine that this really happened.

Birdswing

Got a letter
from a thrush.
Come and see
me compose.
So I went.
She stuck
her beak
into the ink
and sputtered
on to the manuscript.
Then sang it.
Tra la la
tweet tweet
warble warble
ptui ptui.
When she finished
I was asked
for an opinion.
With a grave look
I opined:
Well
it’s very good.
Regular thrush music
good range
plenty of variety
nice timbre.
Look Cutler
said thrush
do you think
it’s worth
making a demodisc
or a tape
and
going round the agents?
I think
it’s chart material.
Look thrush
I replied
it could only succeed
as a gimmick.
Yea, I suppose,
she tweeted
and flew
into a stump.

Ok, here are a few of his shorter pieces.

Fistyman

A man with a hand
like a hammer
was hanging
a portrait
of his wife.

The Long Way

Do not walk
through a tree.
Walk round
without losing
face.

And pity
those whose
security
is
superior
physical strength.

Unexpected Join

The
earth
meets the
sky over
the
hill.

I was
told
by
a sparrow with
a lump on
its head.

I can’t resist including another one so here’s some wise advice from Mr Cutler.

5 Wise Saws

1. Do not kick a grocer
on the leg.

2. If you kick a grocer
on the leg, make sure
it’s not a green grocer.

3. If you throw a ball,
it moves in the air.

4. You can not erase a
love letter with a
nipple, no matter how
rubbery.

5. If you empty your bowels
at night, a shepherd
will have a red face
in the morning.

Ok, that’s enough for now. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed entering the wacky world of Ivor Cutler. By the way, I was lucky enough to see Ivor Cutler perform live at the Hackney Empire back in the late ’80s or early ’90s (I can’t remember the actual date) which was a wonderful experience.

This was read as part of Karen’s and Simon’s ‘1977 Club’.

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7 Comments

Filed under Cutler, Ivor

7 responses to “‘A Flat Man’ by Ivor Cutler (1977 Club)

  1. Oh, I’m so glad you chose this! I love Ivor Cutler – his voice and delivery are just wonderful, aren’t they? Life in a Scotch Sitting Room is one of my favourite – it makes me laugh like a drain. And I’m very jealous of you seeing him live!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      Yes, I so wanted to include some audio clips with it as half of the experience is Cutler’s delivery.The next best thing is to read them slowly. The first poem I quoted, I Ate a Lady’s Bun is nowhere near as good by just reading it, especially if it is read too fast.

      Although I didn’t include it the poem called Gorbals 1930, which is a bit like his LiaSSR stories, really made me laugh, it begins with the lines ‘The message boy/had/green snot running down/his nose.’…..hmmm…maybe I should have included it.

      Although I can’t remember too many specifics I remember seeing Cutler…there was a massive queue outside and it was a varied mix of older people along with punks etc. It was all a long time ago.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. piningforthewest

    Thanks for choosing Ivor Cutler. As a Scot I often forget that his sense of humour is appreciated much further afield. Sadly I never did get to see him perform.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      I just had to include Ivor Cutler when I found he’d published a book in 1977. I hope that his humour was appreciated beyond Scotland. I just hope that we don’t forget him.

      Like

  3. I am so out of my depth in the 1970s, it turns out – so many authors I hadn’t heard of! Thanks for joining in with this one 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonathan

      No problem Simon. Ivor Cutler will probably be one of the more obscure authors in the 1977 Club. Only those of a certain age would have heard of him.

      Like

  4. Pingback: The 1977 Club starts today! – Stuck in a Book

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