Q&A with Adam McGrath (part 1)

Kia ora music lovers!

Adam McGrath (Image supplied)

The big music news for 2017 is that Christchurch City Libraries will be featuring Adam McGrath for New Zealand Music Month 2017.

Adam is best known for his work being the driving force of the band The Eastern, who are widely regarded as the hardest working band in the lands. But did you know about his social conscience and the value he places on not only community but public libraries too?

I posed a series of questions to Adam in order for us all to get to know him a little better…

So Adam, what was the first album you ever bought?

“When I was ten. I hadn’t seen or heard from my Dad in two, nearly three years. He never paid child support and his name was dirty in my house. So he was like a ghost that I vaguely remembered.

One day I got home from school and on the doorstep was ZX spectrum 16kb computer and a jar full of money delivered courtesy of my erstwhile father. I was stoked, my mum full of sighs. We plugged the computer in and it worked, surprisingly. Come the weekend we hit New Brighton mall for a little shopping with the jar money, Mum got some new threads ready for a dance at the working mens club. I got a GI Joe Cobra Bore, “rip and roar, cobra bore, lots of trouble for GI JOEEEEEEE!” I still remember the advert.

But for me the holy relic of purchases on this day was a copy on tape of ‘Raising Hell” by Run-DMC. This changed my life, made me obsessed and hungry for music in a way I had never felt before, either for toys, or lollies or anything else my young brain had ever thought it wanted. That desperate desire continues unabated today. After 1000 failed jobs and nowhere/nothing starts there was no choice but to give my self up wholly to the blessing and curse of full time music and song slinging. I blame my dad, Reverend Run, Darryl McDaniels, Jam master Jay and New Brighton Mall.”

Which instruments do you play (on stage and not)?

On stage; guitar and harmonica and the nodules in my throat. On record I’ve played bass, mandolin, and keyboard. However not a single one of these, on stage or off would anyone (including most people in my band) say I was anything more than a hack and a chancer.

Is there an instrument that you don’t play but which you would love to be able to?

I would like to play the tin whistle. However whenever I pick up a tin whistle everyone around me suggests I don’t take it any further.

What was your first guitar and do you still have it?

I guess what I call my first guitar was an old F-series Yamaha, I bought for $100 at a junk shop on Manchester Street. I used to go in and play it and listen to the proprietor’s problems, health emotional and otherwise. This served me in good stead because the guitar was actually $120. It had a crack and the top lifted off from the sides, so I taped it together with yellow and green and white insulation tape.

I took that guitar all around the eastern and southern states of America whereupon even in its battered state it kept me feed and watered as it sung out across street corners from Philadelphia to New Orleans to Nashville and many smaller more lonesome corners between. After some time I guess it sensed that I had improved enough for something a little better. It’s job done, it pretty much committed guitar suicide whereupon all parts of it decided to more or less break at once; machine heads popped off, bridge pulled up, neck snapping. It was time to let it go.

It was called Rosilita and the last I saw of her she was in a wardrobe in the town of Conshocken, Pennsylvania waiting for either the dump or the next pair of desperate hands crazy enough to take her out into the world.

From now until his library performances in May, Adam will be reaching into the depth of our digital resources, he’ll be searching and exploring our physical resources, and most of all he’ll be connecting with the people of Christchurch by hearing their stories and discussing their lives/loves/losses. He will use much of what he discovers to inspire new works, songs and music, and during May, Adam will be available for a series of “Live with the Library” concerts, during which he will tell his stories of us, the people of Christchurch.

And here are the dates and times for Adam’s performances;

Central Library Peterborough – The Showcase Concert 

Saturday 20 May, doors open at 7pm

Te Hāpua: Halswell Centre

Friday 26 May, 3:30pm-4:30pm

New Brighton Library

Saturday 27 May, 2pm-3pm

South Library

Sunday 28 May, 2pm-3pm

Stay tuned for the next installment of our Q&A with Adam McGrath!

NZ Music Month 2017 – Live in the library

Christchurch City Libraries has a brand new initiative for 2017 and it’s all about MUSIC!

NZ Music Month

We are celebrating Christchurch stories. We are celebrating music. And most of all, we are celebrating libraries and the way they can enrich any creative pursuit you are undertaking, at any stage of development. Christchurch City Libraries have a wealth of resources that can help you learn, discover or simply enjoy music.

Our collections and our communities can also inspire the creation of music and we are fortunate this year to have Adam McGrath to share his expertise.

Adam is best known for his work being the driving force of the band The Eastern, who are widely regarded as the hardest working band in the lands. But did you know about his social conscience and the value he places on not only community but public libraries too?

During the time of the earthquakes Adam and his band played widely across Christchurch, acoustically and at no charge. His drive was to help communities in their recovery in the best way he could – by giving relief from stress by way of music. He continues to contribute to the creative output of our city, playing regularly here in New Zealand, touring across Australia and over to Europe, sharing the stories he has gathered along his journeys.

Image supplied
Image supplied

In the lead up to New Zealand Music Month, Adam will be spending time in our libraries all over Christchurch. He’ll be reaching into the depth of our digital resources, searching and exploring our physical resources, and most of all he’ll be connecting with the people of Christchurch by hearing their stories and discussing their lives/loves/losses. He will use much of what he discovers to inspire new works, songs and music, and during May, Adam will be performing a series of “Live in the Library” concerts, during which he will tell his stories of us, the people of Christchurch.

Come and celebrate with us at one of our concerts – hear new work by Adam McGrath, performances from our communities, or even a group made up of some of the musical talent we have on our library staff. Who knows….. YOUR story may be put to music by Adam McGrath.

We’ll be speaking with Adam throughout his process and he’ll be giving us some insight into his creative processes, and his musical background. Keep an eye on our website for interviews, Q&A, and more. Stay tuned!

Browse our full list of NZ Music Month events and performances.

The Stations of the Leonard: Sylvie Simmons on Leonard Cohen

Sylvie Simmons signs booksSylvie Simmons is an award-winning writer and renowned music journalist. Her latest book is I’m your man: The life of Leonard Cohen. On Tuesday 14 May, she spoke (and sang, and played ukulele) in Christchurch. Her performance was brought to you via The Press Christchurch Writers Festival and her next appearances are at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival.

Sylvie was in conversation with Philip Matthews of The Press, and her musical interludes were accompanied by Adam McGrath of The Eastern on guitar (and occasional harmonies). They sang three Cohen classics: Sisters of Mercy, Famous Blue Raincoat and Suzanne.

Discovering Cohen

Search catalogue for I'm your manSylvie first heard Leonard Cohen on a compilation called Rock Machine turns you on (check out a YouTube playlist of the album). The Cohen song featured was Sisters of Mercy. It was:

Literally the day I hit puberty … something in that voice picked me up and threw me against the wall.

Sylvie said his poems and songs are often autobiographical, a combination of reportage and the metaphysical. And many are stories about women. Cohen sees “no difference between word and song” and in his discovery of the poetry of Lorca, he “heard the music of the synagogue”.

She had a three day interview with Leonard, and found him to be more himself on stage and off than any star (other than Keith Richards). He wore a suit, spoke in perfect sentences, and had a meticulous, elegant quality even in such simple things as making a cup of tea.

Cohen on stage and on tour

When Leonard Cohen first went on tour, he was nervous about exposing his songs on stage. He asked his lifelong friend – sculptor Mort Rosengarten – to make him “a mask of Leonard Cohen”. Sylvie suggests he “needed that extra layer of skin”.

He started the latest tours due to needing to recoup stolen funds. He found it hard to inhabit his earlier songs – coming as they did from a time of deep depression. Leonard played the role of “Rat Pack Rabbi” to the hilt. But nowadays he loves the life of touring, what he calls “the feeling of full employment” – he has even gone back to some of the older songs like Avalanche.

Biographer / detective

Cohen’s father died when he was young, and he lived with him mother and older sister. Women are a huge part of “The Stations of the Leonard”.

Search catalogue for Neil YoungSylvie says the biographer has to “go in like a detective” … ” a detective with a bit of poetry in my heart”. She felt she was polishing a gem in her writing, and noticed how Cohen is “disciplined in his quest and yet so emotional”. Her goal was to present his story “with diligence and heart”.

She has also written on Serge Gainsbourg and Neil Young . What the three men have in common is “each is a one-off”.

Questions from the audience

Audience members sought insider information on Cohen’s dramatis personae in certain songs.

One mentioned a New Zealander Graeme Allwright, a New Zealander who moved to France and became a famous singer (and interpreter of songs by artists such as Cohen in French). You can find some clips on YouTube including  L’Étranger / The Stranger Song which shows both Leonard and Graeme.

What (or who) next?

Who is the next artist Sylvie will write about? After her long sojourn in Cohen world –  “Cocktails and cabana boys” she said wryly.

Rockin’ at Central Library Tuam

Adam McGrath is really doing his bit for New Zealand Music Month at our libraries. He’s appearing at Aranui Library tomorrow (Friday 2pm)  and last night The Eastern opened Music Month at Central Library Tuam.

They were supported by two young singer-songwriters, Katie Thompson and Ivy Rossiter aka Luckless, both with strong and unique voices.

The Eastern has just returned from a tour of Australia – the last leg of 13 months of touring – and Adam’s voice was starting to show the strain. Not that it mattered in the least. Their high energy, foot tapping, let’s-get-up-and-dance music, combined with McGrath’s innate talent for engaging an audience, completely negated any vocal shortcomings.
The Eastern
None of this group stays still for more than about a second. As a result my photos were all either blurry or very blurry. The crowd of around 150 was equally energised and we all had a great night.

Adam McGrath at Aranui Library for Music Month

Adam McGrath, frontman of The Eastern,  will be rocking the Aranui Library this Friday, May 3 from 2 – 3pm as part of the NZ Music Month programme in our libraries. Adam and his bandmates have played and recorded in houses and all kinds of public venues since the earthquakes.

Here’s Adam and The Eastern at the Gap Filler fair in Addington in April 2011.

Flickr image

The alt country revival

I keep reading that some of our excellent local bands like The Eastern and Unfaithful Ways, (including Marlon Williams who will be performing at  New Brighton Library during New Zealand Music Month ) are in the forefront of an alt country revival in New Zealand. Great. Umm… what exactly is alt country?

It turns out that isn’t such an easy question to answer. It’s a sub genre of country – that’s obvious – but after that things blur a bit. Everyone agrees that it involves eschewing the slick productions of the mainstream commercial country music business. Instead it harks back to the music of the working people as preserved by people like Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams. However, its influences are extremely wide – rock, punk, bluegrass, traditional American folk, rockabilly and honky tonk for example.

Some of its best known proponents include Gram Parsons, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Wilco and  Son Volt. Here in NZ is seems to be influencing artists ranging from Flip Grater to the Phoenix Foundation.

Find out more about The Eastern, Unfaithful Ways, Flip Grater and other local musicians on our website.

Are you into New Zealand alt country? Tell me your favourite NZ artist.