Hamish Hawk on Ivor Cutler: Why I Love

Last year, we were bowled over by Hamish Hawk’s Heavy Elevator album (our review here). The Edinburgh musician produced an incredible suite of songs and performances, that evoked a courageous post-alternative musical journey, to connect memories, emotions, place, and cultural reference points.

We are honoured to welcome Hamish Hawk to At The Barrier in the latest in our series of Why I Love articles where he shares his affection for Scottish poet and songwriter, Ivor Cutler.

Hamish Hawk
Photo: Emanuele Centi

It was 2010, and I was in a job that involved a lot of sitting around. I wouldn’t say I’m workshy by nature, but having plenty of time to think was one of the reasons I came to really enjoy the job. The surplus of spare time meant it was essential to bring something to work to occupy yourself with, and in my case it was an iPod Mini. One day on the walk to work mine ran out of battery. This was back when you wouldn’t carry a charger every time you left the house, so I was at a sudden loss. Fortunately a colleague was having a busier day than me (with fewer opportunities to sit about), so he kindly offered me his iPod Classic. The original and best, roughly the weight of a suitcase.

His music library was so completely foreign and fascinating to me; a quick scroll down the list of artists gave me the palpable sense that my music collection was about to get a whole lot more exciting very quickly. All the names: Dawn of the Replicants, Einstürzende Neubauten, Gong. I’d heard of Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, but only because the White Stripes used ‘Sure ‘Nuff ‘n’ Yes, I Do’ as their stage entrance music. I stopped scrolling at random and clicked on a name. The name was Ivor Cutler.

I was greeted by just about the most ‘Scottish’ voice I’d ever heard recorded. A gentlemanly, twinkly-eyed Scots brogue, the kind that would suit coming out a wireless. Behind the voice, I could hear the low hum of a harmonium. Seconds into his album ‘Velvet Donkey’, I was completely transfixed. I’ve been an Ivor Cutler devotee ever since, and I count myself extremely lucky to have come across him.

Ivor Cutler

Ivor Cutler is described (if he’s ever mentioned, which is entirely too infrequently) as a poet, songwriter, humorist and absurdist, but all categories fail ultimately to pin him down. A teacher-turned-songwriter and poet, he released only a select few albums from 1959 onwards, alongside numerous poetry collections. He was the darling of many 60s musical icons, from Paul McCartney to Viv Stanshall, and even starred in The Beatles‘ 1967 film ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, as friendly courier Buster Bloodvessel.

But all of that is by the by. Ivor Cutler’s music and poetry has had a profound effect on my life and writing, and I think it’s a crime that he is not more widely read, heard and celebrated. His poetry is sophisticated yet warm, hilarious and poignant, full of life-affirming moments that truly stay with you. I’ve laughed till I’ve cried, and cried till I’ve laughed listening to Ivor Cutler, and I’ll never tire of his beautifully unique view of the world.

He taught me to write my own way, and to embrace the contradictions associated with being a writer and performer; he taught me that the line between joy and sorrow is wafer thin, and at times imperceptible. He furthered my love of words with his descriptions of the world, and I only wish I could thank him for that. I implore you take a walk around Ivor Cutler’s world. There’s just nowhere out there like it.

Our thanks go to Hamish Hawk for his brilliant words about an absolute legend.

Hamish released Angel Numbers earlier this year…you can listen below and read our thoughts here.

Hamish Hawk:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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