The Seagull and the Harmonium

I told you in my last post that I had a half remembered story about a Harmonium and here it is. You couldn’t make it up. I had to ask my Dad for the details and here they are such as we can remember. It concerns Ivor Cutler, Scottish poet, songwriter and humourist. My Dad had always told me that the Harmonium that Ivor Cutler accompanied himself with on several recordings was his.A bold claim and one worth investigating.

Me: Dad, how is it that Ivor Cutler ended up with your Harmonium?

Dad: Well, I had a tubular bell, but I swapped it with the lady with the performing seagull for the harmonium.

Me: Why did the lady with the seagull want the tubular bell?

Dad: Well the seagull couldn’t play the harmonium.

You couldn’t make it up. It seems that in Leytonstone in the 1950’s, there lived a theatrical family. The trained seagull, called Peter after their son who died, had star roles in films. My Dad did mention Kes, but I can’t see a seagull having the acting skills to play a Kestrel with any conviction. She also had a crocodile, or so we are told.The husband was a ventriloquist who never got other the death of his son, replacing him with the dummy but I know no more than that. My Dad swapped his tubular bells (origin unknown) for this family’s harmonium. Had he kept his Tubular Bells, he might have been on Mike Oldfield’s Records. I’m guessing that the harmonium proved too much for Beachcroft Road. A friend of Dad’s, also in the film business heard that Ivor Cutler was on the hunt for a Harmonium and the deal was done.

All of this sounds rather fantastic, in the true sense of the word, but there are several things that make this sound plausible. Firstly, my mum had Ivor Cutler records in her box of singles. Secondly, as children, we were all brought up at bath time singing “I am the boo boo bird” which features on Ivor Cutler of Y’Hup released in January 1959. This was usually accompanied by drying our  parts that the bird mentions in the song, with a towel while standing on the toilet lid. When singing “I’m Invisible”, we covered ourselves completely in the towel, and for some reason added the line “They all dropped off”

If you want to listen to the Boo Boo bird and hear the Harmonium, the clip is below. I’ve emailed my aunt for more details. Did the crocodile have any parts in films or was the Seagull the bread-winner?


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