Monday, 14 April 2014

Ivor Cutler and Aidan Moffat

Review: The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler and Aidan Moffat's "Where You're Meant To Be"

I first started listening to Ivor Cutler's music with my children. The fundraising CD "Colours Are Brighter", aimed at children and adults, had an eclectic selection of artists from Franz Ferdinand to Four Tet and Belle and Sebastian. However the one that got everyone singing along in the car was Ivor Cutler's "Mud". This led us to look up some of his own albums and "Ludo" became a regular for long car journeys. Its surreal, gentle humour appealing to all ages. So when we saw that there was a stage show trying to tell his life story he were keen to get tickets, but with a degree of trepidation as to how they would sum up a man who described himself as "never knowingly understood".
Ludo by Ivor Cutler

However Vanishing Point theatre company and National Theatre of Scotland have co-produced an excellent piece of theatre in The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, currently on at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow before touring. To try to get to know the man behind the person, writer/actor Sandy Grierson interviewed Cutler's partner Phyllis King and recreates these interviews here before the actor literally and metaphorically dons the costume and mannerisms of Cutler. Accompanied by the five onstage musicians they tell the story of his life interspersed with his poetry and interpretations of his songs. It was humorous, and as full of pathos as Cutler's songs and poems. It followed his life from Glasgow childhood, to navigator's training in the air force, art school, life as a teacher, to failing memory in old age. A nice touch was a link to a Spotify playlist of some of the songs which are used in the play, which we listened to in the car on the way to the theatre. This added to my children's enjoyment of the whole show a lot and we've been singing "I Need Nothing, I've Everything I Need." ever since.

Ivor Cutler seated aside yon Paul McCartney fella
There were some really interesting programme notes from Vanishing Point artistic director Matthew Lenton (an Englishman who has moved to Scotland). He wonders whether we still live in a country where ambitious artists like Ivor Cutler have to head south, to London, to follow their dreams. He wonders is "the cultural and political introspection of London" now alienating the rest of the UK? Should Scotland set its own agenda, in the arts, on the NHS, etc? They also have to make it clear that the views expressed are his own and not those of Vanishing Point or National Theatre of Scotland. Theatre seems to be successfully engaging in political issues, whether tangentially as in this case, or more directly (for example in the issue of refugees and asylum seekers in Benjamin Zephaniah's Refugee Boy and David Greig and Cora Bissett's Glasgow Girls, both seen at the Citizens in recent weeks).

Cover art by Aidan Moffat for Malcolm Middleton's HDBA album
(it's not Ludo, it's Frustration)

I think that Aidan Moffat is the nearest thing we have in Scotland today to an "oblique musical philosopher", as Ivor Cutler once described himself. I also hope that we know how to support and nurture our current deadpan poet, musician, artist and storyteller. Any of the tracks on the Scottish Album of the Year award winning album with Bill Wells, "Everything's Getting Older" such as "Dinner Time", could be considered a modern day version of Cutler's "Life in a Scottish Sittingroom".

Aidan Moffat in Tom Weir mode for Where You're Meant To Be

He is currently being employed by us taxpayers as part of the Commonwealth Games 2014 cultural programme, to tour the country re-interpreting Scotland's folk traditions in all their glorious bawdiness. Under the title/command/question, "Where You're Meant To Be" he'll be travelling to the likes of Lewis, the Faslane Peace Camp and Drumnadrochit before finishing off at the Barrowlands in Glasgow. The whole event will be made into a film by Paul Fegan to be shown at the closing of the Games and tickets throughout are free. I was fortunate enough to grab a ticket for the opening night on Monday 14th April, to be serenaded by Aidan and his band on boat down the Clyde, on an unexpectedly balmy Spring evening. Accompanied by James Graham (Twilight Sad), Jenny Reeve (Bdy_Prts) and Stevie Jones (from Alasdair Roberts troupe) who gave us a great wee support set. However the early evening star of the show was the River Clyde. I could not have been happier than to be sailing through Glasgow with clear skies on a beautiful evening with free whisky, and then there was still Aidan Moffat to come!

As we head down the Clyde the sunset is reflected in the Crowne Plaza Hotel
behind the Glenlee ship whilst the full moon rises above the Transport Museum
If Aidan's remit was to modernise some old songs, he has done it with bells on. These old songs are often saucy and daft, but to hear something like the Big Kilmarnock Bunnet redone with a daft laddie from Falkirk set up to meet a lady of the night at Blysthwood Square works a treat (I mentioned this old song recently in a football related jaunt to Kilmarnock). As a Partick Thistle fan I felt a wee bit let down by his re-working of Harry Lauder's "I Love a Lassie" as a different version rings out at Firhill with far worse lyrics than Aidan has conceived to pillory his English father-in-law. However others, such as the Kirriemuir Ball, were just silly, funny and struck the correct chord of modern vernacular, where effin' and blinding are just punctuation marks for most Scots in their normal conversational, away from work voices. Nice to see Cardinal Keith O'Brien up for special mention too in one ditty. Cutler also turned his hand to writing books for children and Mr Moffat for an encore recited from a children's book he has written, to be published soon. As he put it, after all the sex and drinking of the earlier songs, you inevitably end up with children.
Aidan Moffat singing on the boat. It wasn't listing, I was
 At the risk of sounding like a big sook, this was my perfect evening. Free tickets, Scottish nostalgia with a modern, sweary twist, a trip down my favourite river in the world, and me and my brother raising a (free) glass of whisky to the NHS surgeons at the Golden Jubilee Hospital as we passed Clydebank, where a few months ago he underwent exemplary and successful open heart surgery. If you get the chance to catch his show grab it. I don't know when will we see, its like again.
Coming back up river into Glasgow at the end of a great night out.

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