“Dandruff” by Ivor Cutler - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1974Album Chart of the Decade: 1970s

TJR says

Taking their left-field roster further left than ever before, Virgin Records signed up Ivor Cutler for a 3-album deal in the summer of 1974. For this, we can thank Robert Wyatt, who had the good taste to feature Ivor on two of the tracks on his attention-grabbing “Rock Bottom” LP, issued in July. By November, Ivor’s 45-track extravaganza was in the shops. Clearly, he had been “saving them up” since his last long player, “Ludo”, way back in ’67. There are 13 songs, 23 poems (7 of which are written and spoken by his female equivalent, Phyllis King) and 9 short stories. With his quirky little songs, a smile is never too far away, although none are overly fantastic. More interesting than the songs themselves is the overall impact of the image conjured up; that of some sad-old music-hall relic, rejected and misunderstood by the proletariat. He sometimes sings them earnestly with gleeful abandon – living out a secret dream perhaps? – and sometimes with tongue firmly in cheek. He’s quite hilarious when he breaks into those exaggerated baritones – aren’t we all bathtub operatics?

Best of the songs is “I Worn My Elbows”: “I make you money by elbowing people about, I elbow the little man in his face, I push the big man in his place, I worn my elbows down to the bone for you”. He’s a hopeless romantic really. His “poems”, which he often likes to keep simple, are almost always quick little snips; only one goes over the minute mark. “Two Balls” is quite typical of these: “Two balls ran down a hill. One landed on its side, the other upside down.” There’s little doubt in my mind that Ivor’s greatest strengths lie in his storytelling; the longer the tale the better. It’s here where Ivor works hardest for his corn, and the end results are worth all of his sweat and toil. “Fremsley”, an out-of-the-fire-into-the-frying-pan tale of a sparrow about to meet his doom, is breathtakingly brilliant; you’re left hanging on every word, with rapid-gags left, right and centre that force you to re-listen even more intently second-time-around.

Before long, Ivor introduces the first of what would soon become a legendary story series, “Life In A Scotch Sitting Room”, a semi-autobiographical series which would regale us with ludicrous tales of the unspeakable hardships felt by even the middle-class families around the time of the Great Depression. Inexplicably, the first to appear is titled “Life In A Scotch Sitting Room, Vol. 2, Ep. 1” which begins with the immortal words: “We walked around eating porridge as taught…” Those very words chime infamously in the consciousness with every true Ivor Cutler fan, as does the doleful minor-key harmonium which underpins every piece in the series. He continues: “… or sat looking glum on the velvet suite staring at the Onyx clock which would not tell the time anymore, but it was decorative, like the Parthenon, except it held St Pauls dome at the middle. If you put your fingers in at the back you could make it chime by lifting the hammers, then letting them fall onto sturdy copper wires down below. Grandpa did it at least once every hour, and had to be restrained during the night, especially when losing at whist or nine-dot dominoes.” Thanks to Ivor, we can picture these believably grey scenes vividly – even if, deep down, we do know that he’s prone to slight exaggerations from time to time!

On side 2 of the LP, we get a second episode already, although the chaotic one chooses to title it plainly “Life In A Scotch Sitting Room” – no particular episode – a piece which demonstrates Ivor’s astonishingly descriptive and quite brilliant use of the English language as he describes in great detail a mysterious black book which dominates the sitting room: “The book was a foot-and-a-half square with a brass hasp, hinges and corner buffers, anointed with exquisite verdigris, intimately embedded under the heads of rivets and flush screws, and along the chasing. The binding was black-noir.” As the tale develops, young Ivor must face a shameful punishment for the smallest of crimes; a recurring theme in the series. Father seems exceedingly strict, bordering on sick. It’s doubtful that Richard Branson advanced his fortune any with this LP – but his reputation is greatly enhanced in my eyes. This deal was a much-needed shot-in-the-arm for Ivor Cutler’s career – and he rose to the challenge splendidly.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [00:14] 5.0.png Ivor Cutler - Solo On Mbira (Bikembe) In 5:3 Time (Ivor Cutler) Avant-Garde
A2 [00:19] 10.0.png Ivor Cutler - Dad’s Lapse (Ivor Cutler) Storytelling
A3 [02:06] 7.2.png Ivor Cutler - I Worn My Elbows (Ivor Cutler) Avant-Garde
A4 [00:13] 6.5.png Phyllis King - Hair Grips (Phyllis King) Poetry
A5 [01:15] 6.6.png Ivor Cutler - I Believe In Bugs (Ivor Cutler) Avant-Garde
A6 [03:13] 10.0.png Ivor Cutler - Fremsley (Ivor Cutler) Storytelling
A7 [01:01] 6.2.png Ivor Cutler - Goozeberries And Bilberries (Ivor Cutler) Avant-Garde
A8 [00:15] 5.6.png Phyllis King - Time (Phyllis King) Poetry
A9 [02:27] 6.2.png Ivor Cutler - I’m Walking To A Farm (Ivor Cutler) Avant-Garde
A10 [01:19] 6.3.png Ivor Cutler - The Railway Sleepers (Ivor Cutler) Poetry
A11 [02:54] 9.2.png Ivor Cutler - Life In A Scotch Sitting Room, Vol. 2, Ep. 1 (Ivor Cutler) Storytelling
A12 [00:42] 7.4.png Ivor Cutler - Three Sisters (Ivor Cutler) Storytelling
A13 [02:07] 6.7.png Ivor Cutler - Baby Sits (Ivor Cutler) Avant-Garde
A14 [00:07] 5.3.png Phyllis King - Not Big Enough (Phyllis King) Poetry
A15 [01:35] 6.4.png Ivor Cutler - A Barrel Of Nails (Ivor Cutler) Avant-Garde
B1 [00:10] 6.5.png Phyllis King - Men (Phyllis King) Poetry
B2 [01:35] 6.8.png Ivor Cutler - Trouble Trouble (Ivor Cutler) Avant-Garde
B3 [00:09] 5.4.png Phyllis King - I Love You (Phyllis King) Poetry
B4 [00:31] 5.8.png Ivor Cutler - Vein Girl (Ivor Cutler) Avant-Garde
B5 [00:43] 6.0.png Ivor Cutler - Five Wise Saws (Ivor Cutler) Poetry
B6 [03:08] 9.1.png Ivor Cutler - Life In A Scotch Sitting Room (Ivor Cutler) Storytelling
B7 [00:58] 6.2.png Ivor Cutler - The Painful League (Ivor Cutler) Storytelling
B8 [01:17] 6.2.png Ivor Cutler - Piano Tuner Song 2000 AD (Ivor Cutler) Avant-Garde
B9 [00:22] 7.3.png Ivor Cutler - Self Knowledge (Ivor Cutler) Poetry
B10 [01:11] 6.5.png Ivor Cutler - An Old Oak Tree (Ivor Cutler) Avant-Garde
B11 [02:15] 7.7.png Ivor Cutler - The Aimless Dawnrunner (Ivor Cutler) Storytelling
B12 [03:20] 6.4.png Ivor Cutler - Face Like A Lemon (Ivor Cutler) Avant-Garde
B13 [00:34] 5.7.png Phyllis King - A Bird (Phyllis King) Poetry
B14 [01:26] 6.2.png Ivor Cutler - A Hole In My Toe (Ivor Cutler) Avant-Garde
B15 [00:19] 5.7.png Ivor Cutler - My Mother Has Two Red Lips (Ivor Cutler) Poetry
B16 [00:28] 6.5.png Ivor Cutler - I Like Sitting (Ivor Cutler) Poetry
B17 [00:28] 6.8.png Ivor Cutler - The Forgetful Fowl (Ivor Cutler) Storytelling
B18 [00:08] 6.0.png Ivor Cutler - If Everybody (Ivor Cutler) Poetry
B19 [00:43] 8.2.png Ivor Cutler - For Sixpence (Ivor Cutler) Poetry
B20 [00:21] 7.6.png Ivor Cutler - I Used To Lie In Bed (Ivor Cutler) Poetry
B21 [00:31] 7.7.png Ivor Cutler - If All The Cornflakes (Ivor Cutler) Poetry
B22 [00:27] 8.0.png Ivor Cutler - My Sock (Ivor Cutler) Poetry
B23 [00:13] 6.2.png Ivor Cutler - When I Entered (Ivor Cutler) Poetry
B24 [00:15] 8.7.png Ivor Cutler - Two Balls (Ivor Cutler) Poetry
B25 [00:42] 5.5.png Ivor Cutler - Miss Velvetlips (Ivor Cutler) Storytelling
B26 [00:32] 5.8.png Ivor Cutler - Lean (Ivor Cutler) Poetry
B27 [00:35] 5.9.png Ivor Cutler - Fur Coats (Ivor Cutler) Poetry
B28 [00:44] 7.3.png Ivor Cutler - The Darkness (Ivor Cutler) Poetry
B29 [00:19] 6.9.png Ivor Cutler - A Beautiful Woman (Ivor Cutler) Poetry
B30 [00:19] 5.4.png Phyllis King - Making Tidy (Ivor Cutler) Poetry

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