Ivor Cutler, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

For a man who has just turned 81, this was an inspired performance. Ivor Cutler wandered on stage, alone, in front of a capacity QEH crowd, wearing a lumber-jack shirt and a cap decorated with a sunflower. As a member of the Noise Abatement Society, he had asked for applause at "50% of normal volume", and his opening remarks were so quiet that it seemed he would never be heard. But behind the doddering facade there still lurked a humourist and performer with a magnificent sense of the absurd, acute sense of timing, and - most important of all - a great back catalogue to rely on. "You'll leave this theatre in a different state," he promised as he opened a book of his best-known work, Life in a Scotch Sitting Room Vol 2 - a series of gloriously surreal, often brutal stories inspired by his Glasgow childhood. He then launched into Episode Four - the one that deals with varnishing the floor.

Back in 1978, Cutler released a live recording of Scotch Sitting Room on EMI's progressive rock label Harvest, as evidence of his standing in music circles (he had, after all, counted John Lennon among his fans, and taken part in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour). The album was almost immediately deleted, but has since acquired cult status and been re-released. The author may look frail these days, but his monologues were delivered with the same deadpan enthusiasm as those original recordings, and to equal effect. Episode Two, in which the family pretend to go to the seaside (grandma pours treacle to make the sound of waves while girls blow salty spit into their brothers' faces) was still an unlikely triumph of the grotesque and ridiculous.

He had two other "types" to display. Moving to the harmonium, he demonstrated his sometimes-sturdy, sometime-shaky vocals on bleak, sad, whimsical and often very funny songs, one involving a gym mistress and death, another about tea and the cosmos. Then he read brief poems that sounded like children's stories with a brutal edge. "Are there any children here?" he asked. "Oh dear." Cutler's cult status is secure.


Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

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