By: Lucy Mangan | THE GUARDIAN
To me, Ivor Cutler was simply the author of the children’s book Meal One, in which a child and his mother find ways of coping as the plum stone the boy has dropped down a crack in the floorboards rapidly grows into a tree and takes over the house. It was charming and yet slightly unsettling at the same time.
By the end of Ivor Cutler by KT Tunstall – Sky Arts’ beautiful, heartfelt love letter from the singer to the poet/singer/humorist/unimpeachable link in the chain of great British eccentrics, and her long-time idol – I knew a lot more. Including that Meal One perhaps contains the essence of what turned out to be a charming and yet slightly unsettling man, whose career grew and flourished for nearly 60 years and which he seems to have at times allowed to take over his house.
Born Isadore Cutler in 1923 into a well-off Jewish family in Govan, Glasgow, he joined the RAF during the second world war until he was found sketching clouds in mid-air and dismissed for being “too dreamy”. Postwar, he became an inspired and inspiring teacher who, informed by the poverty he saw around him and the antisemitic bullying he had suffered growing up, couldn’t bear the then-routine corporal punishment of students.
But his life, he said, didn’t really begin until he moved to London in 1950 and started to find his creative way and voice, and build the career that best suited both, gathering passionate devotees along the way via radio and television appearances and live concerts. They encompassed poetry, prose and songs – daftness and melancholy suffusing the whole – as he accompanied himself on the harmonium and piano. Several books appeared, too. Tunstall reads out parts of Life in a Scotch Sitting Room Vol 2 (there was no Volume 1) through tears of laughter. Her own memories of being dragged out walking with her family give his descriptions of such excursions extra torque as his deadpan, Chic Murrayish tones filled the air. “Mother became descriptive. ‘Look! A patch of grass.’”