Song of the Week 15: Women of the World – Ivor Cutler/ Jim O´Rourke

This week´s SOTW begins with a short song/poem composed by the Scottish poet, songwriter and humorist, and all round eccentric Ivor Cutler, who recorded numerous sessions for John Peel´s radio show. He was the bus driver (Buster Bloodvessel) in The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour movie from 1967 and also appeared on ex-Bonzo Dog, Monty Python and Rutles singer/songwriter Neil Innes TV Show.

Born to a middle class Jewish family of Eastern European descent, Cutler cited his childhood as his major inspiration, especially his sense of displacement after his younger brother was born: “Without that I would not have been so screwed up as I am, and therefore not as creative.” In 1942 he signed up for the war effort, joining the Royal Air Force as a navigator, but was soon after dismissed for his “dreaminess”. 🙂 He thereafter moved to London, where he was employed teaching music, drama, dance and poetry to 7 to 11 year olds.

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Cutler wrote children´s books and was a teacher for 30 years in inner city schools in London. He also gave private poetry classes. Live, he would often accompany his singing with a harmonium, but also at times on piano. After Magical Mystery Tour, George Martin produced a jazz/boogie woogie influenced album by the Ivor Cutler Trio featuring Gil Lyons on bass, percussionist Trevor Tomkins and Cutler himself on piano and harmonium. It´s considered the most traditionally musical of his records. His recordings with John Peel introduced him to a wider audience. In his own words: “Thanks to Peel, I gained a whole new audience, to the amazement of my older fans, who find themselves among 16-to-35s in theatres, and wonder where they came from.”

He dressed in his own distinctive style, wearing hats covered in badges, golfing trousers (known as plus fours, four inches longer than knickerbockers), travelling mostly by bicycle and often communicating by means of sticky labels printed with Cutlerisms (“never knowingly understood”, “kindly disregard” and “to remove this label take it off”).

He loved bizarre, surreal juxtapositions and paid close attention to the little details of existence, delivering them in naive language, with a frail, halting voice. He liked to bypass the intellect by delivering his monologues in the role of a child.

He released the single Women of the World in 1983, recorded with Linda Hirst, through Rough Trade Records:

Women of the World take over

Because if you don´t the world will come to an end

And we haven´t got long

Men have had their shot and look at where we´ve got

Another eccentric, Chicago born musician and record producer Jim O´Rourke, of Irish American heritage, took up the mantle, covering the song on his brilliant 1999 album Eureka, with album artwork that features a naked fat bald guy being pleasured by a bunny.

Before his solo albums, O´Rourke was fixture on the avant garde/ experimental/ improv scene, but that´s not to say he doesn´t have his melodic side. He´s since released an album of Burt Bacharach covers, and there´s also one of those on Eureka (Something Big).

He takes the Cutler refrain, altering it slightly to: “Women of the World take over for if you don´t the world will come to an end, it won´t take long” and layers it with lush melodic orchestration, fingerpicked acoustic guitar, piano, and backing vocals, ending it with a reverse treatment of the same song complete with a phasing effect.

I saw him about 10 years ago in Whelan´s, Dublin, and he was shepherded off the stage through the crowd by minders as semi drunken revellers tried to talk to him. Seemed a little on the precious side, but I don´t know, maybe he had a headache.

Nonetheless, I like the way an experimental artist such as our Jim can put on the melodic hat whenever he feels like it. I´ve often thought when listening to some of these avant garde artistes that want to be experimental at all costs, is that the most experimental thing they could do would be to write a melody in C major with three chords. They try so hard to be different that they end up always sounding the same. At least in Jim´s case… “it’s a good bet to expect the unexpected with Jim O´Rourke – no matter which hat he’s wearing (solo artist, bandmate, producer, remixer, etc.), each of the endlessly prolific projects that bears his name takes on a shape and identity all its own while retaining the originality and ingenuity that have become the hallmarks of his singular body of work.” From a review by Jason Ankeny

Here he is with Women of the World:

That´s all for this week. See you next time…

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