Runtime - 22:13
Adam McGrath was in Nashville, Tennessee, working out how to play with Waylon, Willie and the boys when there came an epiphany.
“This is not where I’m meant to be at all! It was pretty clear to me. I realised what I’m meant to be singing about.” He returned to New Zealand to dig up his own singular roots.
Twenty years later it’s album release night at a sold out Lyttelton Arts Factory. It’s his first solo album, a big departure for Adam who for 16 years has led the Eastern ‘family’ in thousands of gigs throughout New Zealand.
The solo album promises to be a slower, more personal work.
Growing up in Bishopdale, he was a single child in a state house with his beloved Mum. “Mum was abandoned as a baby. She got the name Dawn because she was found it dawn. When we were kids everyone hated my Mum, including me. She yelled at everyone all the time. My friends would be biking past the house and she'd come running, yelling for literally everything and nothing. ‘Man your Mum,’ my friends would say. But when she died all my pals turned up at her funeral. They all said she was the only one who gave a shit. My Grandma said about my Mum that she only ever wanted to love. She just didn’t quite have the skills to do that. Once I figured that out, I had no issues with my Mum at all. I just totally loved her.”
Father figures came and went. McGrath speaks of a favourite step dad, but another whose input was brutal. He is affected today by the abuse he suffered and dealing with it is something he speaks to Frank Film about.
“I had some pretty significant assaults on me when I was pretty young. Stuff like that sits in you. I was a very angry kid. I got told that you have these two responses to traumatic things. Fight or Flight. I’m a fighty sort of person. So there’s all this stuff that needs to get figured out, so I can feel like a whole person. And to be a whole person to other people, probably.”
Touring the streets of Bishopdale, Adam is telling stories. Opportunities in Bishopdale were slim. “Join the army, play league or go to jail. Probably my three picks.”
“At Burnside High I ended up in, I guess, the top stream class. I was like this giant guy with a red mullet.” Adam was not the easiest pupil. Teachers found him disruptive. But schooling was not all wasted. In his twenties McGrath completed a double major at Canterbury University. French and American studies. “I didn’t want to go to the graduation, gowns were not for me. So I went to the office. ‘How do I sign off on this?’ They wanted a hundred and sixty dollars. I said I’ll get to that. And that was a hundred years ago.”
Fellow singer/songwriter and dear friend, Lindon Puffin, remembers McGrath’s days playing bass in a punk band. He describes Adam’s progression from punk to folk. “It’s the same ethos; politics, social issues, both can move between punk and folk. He reckons McGrath really is the troubadour - a title, he says, they all slung around in their CVs, years back. “But he is. He’s the hardest working musician in the country he’s been that for a long time, and I don’t think anyone else wants that title.”
Says Adam, “I pick up stories and I turn them into songs, and I go somewhere else and I drop them off. That’s how it kind of works.”
The Eastern play a couple of hundred shows a year. McGrath organises everything himself. “Others have tried to help,” Puffin tells Frank Film, “but it’s impossible to keep up with him.” He’s forever adding shows. Political, union, community shows, he does it all. And if by some chance he finds a way to make money, he finds a way to give it all away.”
Lindon has spent the last two years encouraging Adam to lay these songs into a solo album. It’s a big night, the culmination of such personal work being realised.
Increasingly in the last decade, McGrath tales have been spoken as well as sung. Delivering it live to a home crowd is daunting. It’s going to be a mix of song and story. Puffin speaks of McGrath’s skills with live audiences. “He plays so often he’s got really good at singing, and the story telling too is more and more refined. He does a really good show now. The integrity is there. The heart too. He gives it all every single night and I don’t know how he does it.”
‘Dear Companions,’ is released.
The concert lasts three hours.
But McGrath won’t earn much from the night. Puffin tells us he’s giving profits from the concert to a mate in need.
Producer/Director/Cameraman/Interviewer: Gerard Smyth
Second Camera: Richard Hansen
Editor: Oliver Dawe
Production Manager: Jo Ffitch
Sound Design/Mix: Chris Sinclair
'Air Jordan’s', 'The Stepping Razor', 'Crow River', 'Up Spinner', 'C-City Street Kid'
Written by Adam McGrath. Published by Concord Music Publishing New Zealand Pty Ltd