Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Berlin pavements are absolutely covered in dog-shit, and this morning I was reminded of a story Ivor Cutler had once told me. Apparently he used to get so pissed off with dog shit on the pavements in Camden that he went round for weeks and months drawing cartoons around the offending items in chalk.
Allegedly, as a consequence of this, the problem attracted huge publicity, and Camden council changed its laws and started a massive dog-shit-clean-up campaign.

It was whilst I was trying to work out what he would use instead of chalk today, under Berlin snowy conditions, that the very sad news came through that he had died on March 3rd.

I had the fortunate pleasure of being on the receiving end of a complaint phone call from Ivor back in 1990. He was calling to complain about the volume of a performance at the RFH a week after I had started to work as a programmer there. When I agreed with him, he seemed a little confused, and we started talking about other things. Approximately 10 minutes later it was like we were the best of friends and he came to meet me the next day to give me a 'poetry lesson'. I never did get on with the Ivor poetry method which seemed to consist of getting into a kind of relaxed hypnotic state whereby your subconscious would produce noises and nonsense words. My tendency to lapse into Keatsian verse frustrated him immensely, and he soon gave up on me as a disciple and our friendship became based upon the lunchtime foyer performances, throughout which he would sit next to me on the left hand side of the bar maybe twice a week for many years.

He was a great music lover and very open-minded to all kinds of perfomances as long as the music was truly convincing and emotional from the heart. What he hated was any kind of amplification, and we would sit down at the beginning of each month to go through the programme so as I could mark up for him the gigs I knew he would like from a volume perspective. He was immensely moved by some music - John Law's Trio, Kate Williams' Trio and Mark D'Inverno's Trio in particular I remember moved him to tears.

Some days we sat and simply listened to the music, and other days we had deep conversations about very silly things, and light-hearted conversations about very serious things. He was a strange mix of attention-seeking and shy, not quite understanding why the large sunflower on his hat was attracting quite so much attention, and often, when feeling unsociable, hid behind me at the bar when anyone looked like they were approaching to talk to him. He loved to make friends of strangers, which was far preferable to him than being approached by a fan who had recognised him. He would put a sticker on someone's hat or mug of coffee when they turned round for a second, then stand at a distance to watch the reaction, getting huge amounts of pleasure from a stranger's smile or look of momentary confusion. We spent many lunchtime gigs choosing the right sticker for the right stranger in order to elicit the best reaction. He would often arrive at the gig with a story of how he had handed a sticker to someone across the gangway on a tube train on the way, or to a cashier in the supermarket that morning, and how said-person was his new 'best friend.'

He had many quirky characteristics such as his random crazy dance routines, and a pocket full of wondrous objects - an old tin full of the kind of sweets and herbal tablets only found in the dustiest of village sweet shops or apothecaries, a dictionary of shorthand, a chinese character book, a huge array of stickers in a plastic bus-pass holder and all manner of badges and other oddities.

Like a child he gained pleasure from the very simplest things and had abrupt and dramatic mood changes, and like a teenager he was always in search of romantic love. He didn't really understand getting older at all and to me it was always like talking to someone truly ageless.

Someone should make a postcard in his honour, rather like the Elvis one, reading 'What would Ivor have done?' or 'What would Ivor have said?'

RIP Ivor. You touched millions of lives and will be missed by far more people than you could ever have imagined.


Blogger codenameLizzy said...

To where the Earth meets the sky over the hill.

9:21 AM, March 07, 2006  
Blogger michael said...

Thanks for sharing this with us. He was a lovely, strange and delightful human being that we also had the pleasure to meet once or twice. A little appreciation at my audio blog-


7:25 AM, March 08, 2006  
Blogger est said...

beautifully written and said my friend.made me feel sad reading it. robert wyatt and his partner alfie benge came to our qeh gig and after we sat chatting about ivor and smoking fags ouside.

8:22 PM, March 08, 2006  

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