Originally released on Rough Trade in 1983 by a 60-year-old Ivor Cutler, Privilege is a highly enjoyable 45 minutes in the company of one of modern culture’s true outsiders.
A one-man conundrum occupying an unlabelled category of his own somewhere among Surreal Folk, Nursery Rhyme, whimsical Sea Shanties and Lullabies, this is the only album where his distinctive Caledonian brogue is accompanied by another voice, that of Linda Hirst, a young, classically trained vocalist, now vocal professor at Trinity College of Music.
How does one review an Ivor Cutler album? Is it suffice to say that if you are a fan then this collection of words and music finds our man on top form, in a light, playful and almost jolly mood, lacking the darker side to which he was occasionally prone? For those unfamiliar with his world, for he did create his own world, you can find ditties, odes and tales of insects, donkeys, killer bees, piranhas, an embarrassed eagle, a blue bear, sticky trees, creamy pumpkins and picnics. The only comparisons I can make with his music are the songs from Trumpton and Camberwick Green or those from the works of Oliver Postgate, but given a bizarre, surreal (that word again) twist.
Championed by the likes of John Peel, Robert Wyatt, Alan McGee and Paul McCartney, the late Ivor Cutler was also a hero to a pal of mine, Gerald Diffey, who once ran a café named after another Cutler album – Gruts. Here I must apologise to the Cutler family, who have reissued this album, as I was due to write this review two weeks ago. The reason for the tardiness is that I was in Australia visiting Mr Diffey. I took Privilege with me, thinking that he may enjoy it.
He not only knew the album from its original release, he sang along to the wonderful ‘A Doughnut in my Hand’ and told me the following story:
Gerald found himself in America in 1984 to work as a Summer camp teacher. His pal, a Scot by the name of Eric, got himself a job to deliver a brand new Oldsmobile from Washington DC to Houston, Texas, a journey of some 1200 miles. Eric, however, set off due north to pick-up Gerald from New York and the two of them embarked on an adventure, living in the vehicle, and listening all along to a cassette of this album;
“I need nothing, I’ve everything I need,
I walk along the dusty road, A doughnut in my hand.”
Alas, although the Oldsmobile was hit by another car on one occasion and vandalised on another, the crimes could not be reported, as they were way off their approved trajectory at the time.
Eventually they made it to Houston. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the car resembled Withnail’s sorry Jaguar, with around 2000 miles on the clock, so Eric set about readjusting the tachometer. However, it is not an exact science, and when the car was finally delivered it had fewer miles on the clock than when it left Washington DC. Eric was last seen fleeing the country in a shifty manner at a considerable rate of knots.
Whether Mr Cutler would have been amused or appalled by the idea of his songs being used as backdrop to the fiendish deeds of a pair of desperadoes, I cannot say.
Ivor Cutler & Linda Hirst – Privilege is released on Hoori House Records