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Velvet Donkey - Ivor Cutler

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Genre: Folk / Artist: Ivor Cutler / Audio CD released 2004-01-26 at Virgin

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      27.03.2009 20:18
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      A collection of Cutler classics

      I have vague recollections from early childhood of hearing Ivor Cutler. My avant-garde parents would often position my pram, as I was nodding off to sleep, near the radio whenever the John Peel show (God rest his soul) was broadcast, and in between sessions of 'Stiff Little Fingers' and 'The Fall', Peel would insert a calming Cutler interlude. Ivor Cutler was a Scottish poet, songwriter and humorist who was renowned for his own unique singer songwriting style of surrealist folk poetry and music warmly expressed in his dulcet baritone voice and delivered in his distinctive Scottish accent. He rose to prominence in the 1960s performing on various TV and radio programmes and famously played the part of the bus conductor Buster Bloodvessel in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour film of 1967. During the 1970s and 80s a Cutler revival took place due to his regular performances on BBC radio, in particular his sessions recorded for John Peel and Andy Kershaw.

      Velvet Donkey was originally released in 1975 and consists of 31 short tracks most of which last for less than two minutes, the shortest being the opening 8 second one liner. The main exception in terms of length is the ultimate 6 minute 'The Stranger". The tracks are mainly a mixture of poetic orations, short stories and conversational monologues. Ivor Cutler mostly speaks the words but does sort of sing some of the poems whilst playing on his harmonium. Performing alongside Cutler is Fred Frith who plays viola on several tracks and Phyllis King who reads six of her own poems and short stories. King is also responsible for the album cover design. Cutler's poems and songs are famous for their eccentrically imaginative and observant lyrics. His subject matter owes a lot to a harsh childhood upbringing but his bleak descriptions of poverty and parental neglect as well as his many absurd social commentaries are so often tinged with a gentle cynicism and wit inspired by a child-like curiosity.

      Velvet Donkey covers a broad range of Cutler's output and includes philosophical musings (I Think Very deeply, Bread and Butter), wise sayings (If your Breasts are too big...), tales of the absurd (The Dirty Dinners) and funny little songs such as 'Gee, Amn't I Lucky' which goes...

      Gee, Amn't I Lucky
      I ain't got a nose like yours...

      ...When I go walking the roads of the world
      Tenderly looking for you
      What do I find but you clutching your nose
      Mending your nostrils with glue.

      Gee, Amn't I Lucky
      I ain't got teeth like yours...

      ...When I am lying in bed at night
      Seeking out crumbs with my tongue
      I crunch up the bits with my bonny new teeth
      Ain't I glad that my teeth are so young...

      Some tracks appear on other albums. Track 10 is on the semi-autobiographical 1978 recording 'Life in a Scotch Sitting Room, Vol. 2' on which Cutler recounts stories from his childhood. My favourites on this CD, perhaps because of their humorous aspect are 'I am a Yellow fly', 'The Even Keel' and the non-politically correct 'Useful Cat'. Alongside the humour and weird wit is also some quite delightful prose; 'I, Slowly' and 'Uneventful Day' are soothingly delivered in the soft vocal tones of Phyllis King.

      Ivor Cutler excelled at making the ordinary extraordinary and his work continues to influence many contemporary songwriters and poets. Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos regards Cutler as a huge influence, writing in The Guardian that: "Cutler's determination not to become mired in intellectualism is one of the main principles of our band." Although his poems will for many be an acquired taste, there is plenty on this album to savour and enjoy, albeit in small doses perhaps.

      Tracks:
      If Your Breasts - 0:09
      I Got No Common Sense - 0:34
      Useful Cat - 0:27
      Oho My Eyes - 1:30
      The Dirty Dinner - 3:34
      Yellow Fly - 1:37
      Mother's Love - 0:25
      The Meadows Go - 1:11
      Phonic Poem - 0:47
      Life in a Scotch Sitting Room Vol. 2, Ep. 2 - 3:40
      Birdswing - 0:49
      Nobody Knows - 1:54
      Uneventful Day - 0:31 (King)
      Little Black Buzzer - 1:53
      Bread and Butter - 0:42
      A Nuance - 0:35
      Go and Sit upon the Grass - 2:09
      The Even Keel - 0:37
      Pearly Gleam - 1:54
      The Best Thing - 0:22
      Life in a Scotch Sitting Room Vol. 2, Ep. 7 - 3:34
      Once upon a Time - 0:49
      There's Got to Be Something - 2:01
      The Purposeful Culinary Implements - 1:10
      Gee, Amn't I Lucky - 1:34
      The Curse - 2:07
      I Think Very Deeply - 0:54
      I, Slowly - 0:23
      Sleepy Old Snake - 2:33
      Titchy Digits - 0:32
      The Stranger - 6:00

      I purchased my CD at HMV on special offer for £5. Unfortunately the album booklet sleeve comes without lyrics and, as I have just discovered whilst writing this, it is exceedingly difficult to find Cutler's lyrics online.

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    • Product Details

      Disc #1 Tracklisting
      1 If Your Breasts
      2 I Got No Common Sense
      3 Useful Cat
      4 Oho My Eyes
      5 Dirty Dinner
      6 Yellow Fly
      7 Mother's Love
      8 Meadows Go
      9 Phonic Poem
      10 Live In A Scotch Sitting Room
      11 Birdswing
      12 Nobody Knows
      13 Uneventful Day
      14 Little Black Buzzer
      15 Bread And Butter
      16 Nuance
      17 Go And Sit Upon The Grass
      18 Even Keel
      19 Pearly Gleam
      20 Best Thing
      21 Life In A Scotch Sitting Room
      22 Once Upon A Time
      23 There's Got To Be Something
      24 Purposeful Culinary Implements
      25 Gee Amn't I Lucky
      26 Curse
      27 I Think Very Deeply
      28 I Slowly
      29 Sleepy Old Snake
      30 Titchy Digits
      31 Strange