Word play

From Fleabag to Fleas... Actor Bill Paterson appears in (probably) the world premiere of a play by Ivor Cutler at this year’s Archway With Words festival

Thursday, 5th September 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Bill Paterson and Ivor Cutler

Actor Bill Paterson and Ivor Cutler

IVOR Cutler cut a very recognisable figure as he pedalled around Kentish Town on his bone-shaking old bicycle, offering lucky passers-by stickers with his poems and homilies printed on them.

The poet, writer, singer and performer, who died in 2006, became a renowned cult figure in the 1960s and 1970s – and now his words are due to be brought back to life by actor Bill Paterson at this year’s Archway With Words festival.

Bill, who lives in Highgate, was a friend of Ivor’s and will be showcasing Cutler’s work and performing – perhaps for the first time ever – a short play Cutler wrote.

Bill, as AWW organiser Stephanie Smith states, “Yes young ’uns, Fleabag’s dad…”, first met Ivor in the 1970s. “I call the piece I am doing ‘probably’ the world premiere as I don’t think it was performed anywhere,” he says.

Bill, born in the same city as Ivor – Glasgow – remembered hearing him in the late 1950s. “There was an evening magazine show called Tonight. They’d have some news and chat to some celebrities and that type of thing. Then, out of the blue, came this strange man with a harmonium doing little musical pieces. It was quite a brave and perhaps odd choice of the TV director – it was a fairly avant-garde thing to have on a mainstream show. I remember sitting up and thinking: My God, what is that? I then realised he was Scottish and that also struck me – he was from my city, this man who wore funny hats, velvet jackets and played the harmonium.”

Ivor was working for the ILEA as a teacher in primary schools while writing and performing songs and poetry, and Bill admired him from afar.

“He became really quite hip and cultish, with fans such as John Peel and John Lennon,” says Bill. “And I knew a film director whose children had been taught by him, so I kept getting these reports about this crazy teacher.”

Then, in the mid-70s, Ivor contacted Bill. “He told me he had these scripts he wanted to show me. He knew I was a Scottish actor working in London who was interested in new writing, so I cycled over from where I was living in Fulham all the way to Dartmouth Park,” he recalls. “From then, I got to know him well.”

Bill kept hold of the scripts and is now set to perform one of them with the help of three others at AWW: the world first, he assumes. “Neither of the plays were ever performed, as far as I can make out,” he says. “I have the original scripts and I have looked for information that they were ever performed anywhere, and I don’t think they were.”

Bill will take the role of narrator in a Cutler composition called Fleas and will read poetry and letters from Ivor to help explain Cutler’s back­ground, interests and illustrate why he was such a good writer.

“When you read his work aloud you realise how clever they are,” Bill says. “His personal quirkiness made them feel eccentric, but there is much more to his work. They are actually very profound.”

Mary Dickins

Other highlights of the AWW includes poetry from Kentish Town’s Mary Dickins. An anthology called Happiness FM, set to be published by Burning Eye Books next year, highlights, like Cutler, her skills as a wordsmith and her gentle take on the world around her.

“I have always written poetry,” says Mary, an educational equality expert who teaches at London Met University and has lived in Kentish Town since the 1970s. “But I started getting into spoken word and performance when I turned 60. Previously, in my work, I have written rather serious academic stuff. Poetry became an antidote,” she adds.

Mary draws on her experiences as a lecturer when she reads. “I could always make people laugh when I was giving a lecture,” she says. “So I thought I’d see if I could do that with a different audience.”

She has appeared with the touring Poetry Takeaway – a converted burger van that gives away free poetry at festivals and other events. “In my work I want to look at the complexity and contradictions in 21st-century life,” she says. You’ll meet uninhibited Russian grand­mothers alongside creepy fans of Professor Brian Cox, and learn how to complete you personal bucket list without ever leaving your sofa.”

She pitches her poetry to one and all. “I want people to be able to understand it, for it to be accessible, and for it to be relatable. I think sometimes poets write for other poets, but I prefer to write for people.”

• Archway With Words runs from September 14-21. Bill Paterson’s event is on Saturday 14th, 7.30pm at Nightclub Kolis above Archway Tavern; Mary Dickins appears on Tuesday 17th, 7.30pm, at Northern Soul Bar. Full details at www.archwaywithwords.com/


This year’s Archway With Words highlights include:

John Hegley and Esther Freud

Grass Arena author John Healy discusses his new novel, The Metal Mountain, set in Kentish Town.

• Esther Freud is joined by Ava Wong Davies to read excerpts from a new collection of essays entitled At The Pond – a study of life at the Kenwood Ladies Pond on Hampstead Heath. There is also a screening of the documentary, The Ponds, by Patrick McLennan.

• John Hegley hosts two sessions of his brilliant poetry – one in the afternoon for the children and then an evening show for adults.

• Author and social commentator Colin Grant presents a pre-publication preview of Homecoming: Voices of the Windrush Generation, based on interviews, giving a portrait of Caribbean British lives.

• For full line-up and details of venues and how to book see www.archwaywithwords.com

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