Celtic connections review: Return to Y’Hup: The World of Ivor Cutler, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

COMPARED to other artists who have received the loving Celtic Connections tribute treatment over the years, the late Ivor Cutler – sage, storyteller, songwriter – is quite a cult concern.

Ivor Cutler is a unique figure, but still commands broad affection
Ivor Cutler is a unique figure, but still commands broad affection

Return to Y’Hup: The World of Ivor Cutler, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****

But thanks to his many John Peel sessions and the enthusiastic patronage of The Beatles (Cutler played bus conductor Buster Bloodvessel in the Magical Mystery Tour film), this unique figure still commands such broad affection that this launch show for the Return to Y’Hup tribute album featured 20 musicians from across Scotland’s indie and folk fraternities.

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Arguably, the modest and lugubrious Mr Cutler would mutter about the fuss, yet he was still there in spirit and speech, welcoming the audience to the fictional island of Y’Hup round which the first half of the show was built, where the clatter of cowbells heralded tales of strange fauna such as Instance the Yam and a wonderfully melodramatic Boo Boo Bird.

There were also recorded cameos from Cutler’s partner Phyllis King and associate Robert Wyatt, while Cutler’s own harmonium – strictly a First World War field organ, we were told – took pride of place stage front.

A succession of musicians took turns to pump its antique pedals but, despite the potentially overwhelming force of numbers, the ensemble, led by drummer Matt Brennan, guitarist Malcolm Benzie and saxophonist Raymond Macdonald, did a beautiful job of arranging the songs and stories sensitively – and suitably insensitively.

There was a strong sense of play throughout, particularly with the galloping cacophony of A Tooth Song and the mike-swinging garage rocking antics of Johnny Lynch aka Pictish Trail on Good Morning! How Are You?

The Shapely Balloon, his droll fable of frustration, was lovingly recited by Karine Polwart. Stuarts Braithwaite and Murdoch, of Mogwai and Belle & Sebastian respectively, also exhibited a flair for delivering Cutler’s idiosyncratic nuggets of wisdom and longtime fan Duglas T Stewart of the BMX Bandits shared a charming encounter with the man himself before joining Macdonald for a remarkable kazoo and free jazz saxophone duet on Flim Flam Flum.

Cutler’s songs responded well to imaginative treatment. James Yorkston led the simple shanty Hold the Barrel Steady, Bathers frontman Chris Thomson helmed a bossa nova I Believe In Bugs and Rick Redbeard provided soulful baritone on a ravishing Cowpuncher and a Bird. Sarah Hayes and Emma Pollock supplied tender harmonies throughout and Brennan and Anna Miles captured the touching togetherness of Beautiful Cosmos before the massed breezy indie chorale of Women of the World and Morse Code singalong of Little Black Buzzer rounded off this singular show.

Fiona Shepherd