Citizen Bravo, Raymond MacDonald and Friends – Return to Y'Hup: The World of Ivor Cutler
- David Pollock
- 24 January 2020
Ambitious project celebrates the legacy of the late Scottish humorist, poet, philosopher and surrealist
The National Museum of Scotland's Rip It Up exhibition rightly attracted much praise when it was shown in 2018, for it was a fun and well-informed trawl through the history of Scottish pop music, yet there was a certain inevitability about the complaints which were levelled at it; not least that individual favourite artists might have been missed out along the way.
While it's possible to feel a certain sympathy for the curators' inability to correctly second-guess the wisdom of the crowd, it's also fair comment on the part of recording artist and academic Matt 'Citizen Bravo' Brennan and Raymond MacDonald of Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra that Ivor Cutler was one omission whose presence would have widened and enriched the exhibition's frame of reference. After all, for this double tribute album they have managed to gather together a bunch of the key Scottish and otherwise-connected recording artists of the past three decades, all of whom can claim some sort of sonic affinity with the late Cutler.
Based in London throughout his adult life, where he worked as a teacher for three decades, Cutler appeared in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour film, worked with the Rutles' Neil Innes and became a favourite of John Peel. Yet in his lengthy repertoire of harmonium-led compositions, the delicate balance of poignancy, playful nonsense and guarded wisdom he revealed was as resonantly Scottish – and particularly Glaswegian – as his upbringing. This album attempts, say its makers, to reconstitute in song the fictional island of Y'Hup, a location which Cutler's early work would often revisit.
There are playful liberties taken in the ways Brennan and MacDonald have chosen to map the imaginary psychogeography of Y'Hup. These range from the spoken word narrations of Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos ('Instance the Yam'), BMX Bandits' Duglas T Stewart ('Vitamin P') and Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite ('The Path'), describing the imaginary fauna, weather and geography of the island, to vocal interventions by Cutler's partner, the poet Phyllis King ('Latitude and Longitude'), and his sometime collaborator Robert Wyatt on the wryly apocalyptic 'Out of Decency'.
Each of these spoken elements is accompanied by a sighing harmonium line of the sort Cutler might have played himself, but when his songs are interpreted they often come fully rearranged in the style of the contributing guest; the breezy indie-rock of Emma Pollock's 'Size Nine and a Half', for example, or the widescreen folk-pop of Karine Polwart's 'Pickle Your Knees', her tone emphatic in its devotion to Cutler's joyously nonsensical lyric.
'Su Chi', featuring Stuart Murdoch, is a light, gorgeous piece of Syd Barret-esque psychedelia, while Pictish Trail reconfigures 'Good Morning! How Are You? Shut Up!' as a frantic ska bounce. Cutler's most well-known songs are both here, with Camera Obscura's Tracyanne Campbell taking lead on 'Women of the World' as a piece of shuffling, flute-abetted West Coast whimsy, and Anna Miles guesting on an ethereal 'Beautiful Cosmos'. These songs are love letters, not just to Cutler, but to the indelible, indefinable sound and attitude of Scottish pop which he helped configure from afar.
Out Fri 24 Jan on Chemikal Underground. A full-band concert takes place as part of Celtic Connections at the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Wed 29 Jan.