In a wintry January what better time to get away from it all, to the lush paradise isle of Y’Hup – even if it is an imaginary place conjured up by music.
That’s what a celebration of the work of Glasgow-born surrealist Ivor Cutler does for anyone wearied from the Scottish glaur and gloom.
The island’s name comes from the 1959 debut EP ‘Ivor Cutler Of Y’Hup’, which envisages a mystical world of which the celebrated poet, musician and songwriter was a ‘citizen’ – despite being born in Govan in 1923.
Since his death in 2006 Cutler’s standing among the Scottish music community has only increased – Glasgow band Scunner organised a ‘Spangled Cabaret’ with members of Teenage Fanclub and BMX Bandits in attendance, while a stageplay ‘The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler’ toured Scotland in2014 toured Scotland in 2014.
And now, we have a full album of Cutler covers with a personnel list which reads like a who’s who of Scottish music – members of Franz Ferdinand, Camera Obscura and Mogwai among those signing up to pay tribute.
Matt Brennan aka Citizen Bravo is co-creator of the new album alongside Raymond MacDonald of the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, and although not having encountered the work of Cutler before coming to Scotland he quickly realised the esteem in which the subject of his tribute was held.
“A friend put ‘Beautiful Cosmos’ on a mixtape and that was just so alien,” Brennan recalls. “It was like nothing else I’d ever heard, so I searched for more music from this artist and became a fan very quickly.
“He’s a bit of a cult figure,” he continues, “but particularly among musicians in the UK and based in Scotland he’s a highly revered figure.”
The 26-track release contains new versions of all the tunes on the original EP, but with its running time a mere 16 minutes, there is plenty of space for later and perhaps better known material.
Of which there is plenty – a dozen or so albums alongside myriad books, and that’s before we get to the ‘Life In a Scotch Sitting Room’ monologues which many will know him for and which form a large part of the 22 sessions for the John Peel radio show between 1969 and 1991. He was also revered by the Beatles, playing bus conductor Buster Bloodvessel in the Magical Mystery Tour film, while in his seventies he became a labelmate of Oasis on Creation Records.
But it’s Cutler’s music that has seen musicians queueing up to take on his entire back catalogue. The album’s opening song, ‘Here’s A Health To Simon’ is a case in point, with Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, Sarah Hayes from Admiral Fallow, Karine Polwart and Rick Redbeard sharing vocals with a sample of Ivor Cutler himself.
“Between the four of us (eagleowl’s Malcolm Benzie and Andy Monaghan of Frightened Rabbit act as producers on the record) we have a lot of friends who we knew were fans of Ivor Cutler, but also we could draw from within different musical areas – Raymond works more in the avant garde whereas I’m closer to a more indie-schmindie scene, so we spread our contacts out in those directions, and to folk music (Karine Polwart and Kau’s Kris Drever also appear) – different genres and also artists at different stages in their careers – so emerging acts like Zoe Graham, Kapil Seshasayee, Jo Mango, as well as more established artists – but basically anyone we though might be a fan of Ivor Cutler or carried that influence in their music.”
Other more familiar names on the album include The Pictish Trail, Emma Pollock and James Yorkston, as well as two English vocalists, Cutler’s longtime companion and collaborator Phyllis King, and the living legend, Robert Wyatt.
The latter will sadly not be part of the album’s launch at Celtic Connections on January 29th, but a star-studded lineup with many of the acts who appeared on the record will perform at Glasgow’s Concert Hall. Meaning that everyone will get the chance to be a citizen of Y’Hup for one evening.
“Y’Hup is mysterious but not scary – it’s wondrous and friendly,” smiles Brennan. “It’s a sanctuary for outsiders.”
‘Return to Y’Hup’ was released by Chemikal Underground on January 24th. More at chemikal.co.uk.
out now. This article originally appeared in the St. Andrews Citizen.